I don’t know where my love of all things theatrical began, because I’m the opposite of posh, and everyone thinks the theatre is posh. Playwrights are posh, “Luvvies” even more so. Perhaps it was the memorable school trip to see A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream in which the stage was transformed into a muddy lake with ACTUAL WATER and a female Puck dangled from a rope with one purposeful boob poking out of her leotard. Everyone sniggered, but my mind creaked open, just a little. Perhaps it was my mum inveigling me to be her Shakespeare-watching companion because my dad refused to go with her (he just doesn’t get it, alright?) and taking me to lots of local productions, most of them, in my memory, on rickety chairs in tents. Perhaps it was doing drama and theatre studies at school, where you got to hang out in a groovy black-walled studio space, doing what felt like messing about and read Brecht, Ibsen, Chekov and Churchill.
Now I love the theatre for the experience. The event of it. The way it’s never the same performance twice. I love seeing new writing unveiled before my eyes: the cleverness, the creativity, the staging, the design, the music, the acting, and simply being in the theatre itself. Some theatres are rarefied and beautiful and wrought in gold and plush red velvet. Some are ultra-modern and minimal, and sensibly built for purpose, occasionally rearranged at will to incredible effect. Some are teeny studios, outdoor amphitheatres, strange unlit basements and, er, tents (can’t escape the tents).
But there’s one thing I often wonder when I scan the audience: why is everyone so old? Last night, watching The Deep Blue Sea at The National Theatre, there were swathes of sweet snowy-headed pensioners with pressed trousers belted at nipple height. Even the most experimental performance spaces tend to have an older demographic. The traditional West End theatres positively teem with seniors. I’m not an ageist monster – this is borne out by research by the Audience Agency, suggesting the average age of a theatre goer is 52, and the largest age group represented in theatre audiences is 65 – 74. Younger people, the research concludes, are simply getting their art elsewhere. But they shouldn’t. Young people come to the theatre! You are missing out on some amazing sh*t!
Part of this has to do with ticket prices – being a drama fan is an expensive business. Theatre tickets in London are among the priciest in the world. In 2014 they averaged at £42.19 in the West End which is a LOT. But you can get around it: The National, The Donmar Warehouse and The Old Vic all do cut price tickets for £10-£15. Everywhere does cheaper previews. I’m signed up to all the newsletters and as soon as tickets are released I POUNCE. This does mean I book a lot of tickets months in advance (I already have some for December – loser!), but paying a tenner to see a great play is well worth copious Google calendar alerts. Often West End, fringe and regional theatres have their own offers – Hampstead has concessions for under 30s and the Young Vic for under 25s. For other offers, seating plans and optimal seat advice, Theatre Monkey is your lo-fi friend. See you in the audience.