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How Not To Fail at London Theatre, 101

So. The Craptacular went on a bit of a trip recently, hopping across the Atlantic Sea to ogle some cute boys with even cuter accents, drink some beer, and see some theatre. With an re.

And it was a bit of a debacle.  We’re not just talking flight delays here, either—though we had several of those, too—no, we’re talking missed shows and failed ticket buying attempts and ending up at a show we could have seen in New York City without that pesky trans-Atlantic flight.

But we here at The Craptacular made lemons out of lemonade. Or lemonade out of lemons, or whatever the British would say in this circumstance.  And we’ve decided to share what we learned so that you, dear theater-going tourist, don’t make the same mistakes we did.

Below a list of things you should NOT do.  Because London Theatre is not the same as New York Theater, and we aren’t just saying that because they spell things funny over there.

Do not roll into the country with no tickets.
Obvious, right? Yeah. You’d think. Except, we basically did just that. Because sorting out when/where/how to get tickets while we were still in New York wasn’t entirely straightforward. And because we’d both just figured… if we wanted to see something old like Les Mis, we’d be fine anyway. And because with the exception of The Book of Mormon, it’s been like a decade since we had trouble getting tickets for any show on Broadway at the exact moment we wanted them, without much advance planning.

Not so much in London, y’all. The theatres are different, the audience is different, and the ways in which you buy tickets are different, too. It’s not as simple as rolling up to TKTS at 7:30pm and seeing what you can see that night. Plus, living all the way over here, you’re probably not tapped into exactly what the numbers are like for every single show at every given moment, so you might, for example, not realize that Les Mis is selling out all the damn time.  Speaking of which…

Do not assume you live on a planet in which Les Mis cannot possibly be sold out every night 26 years after opening.
Because fuck if you don’t live on that planet right this very minute. That damn show—starring the dashing Hadley Fraser, who we really wanted to see, as the youngest Inspector Javert in the history of France—is selling out the house nightly. They even sell standing room tickets like it is The Book of Mormon, only French and Catholic and less funny. Les Mis is doing some big freaking business over there on the West End, y’all.

We attempted to grab a handful of tickets from one of the Leicester Square ticket discounters on Friday night around 7pm and were laughed off the premises. Apparently they’d run out by 10:15 am that morning. You know, around the time we were chilling in a plane at 38,000 feet, trying to sleep. Then, we figured we could just hit TKTS and/or the box office and find at least something.  Yeah. Not so much.  Both of those attempts left us empty handed as well. First and foremost because…

Do not assume TKTS works the same way.
It does not. And we don’t just mean it is lacking the glowing red steps or the flashy live ticker that keeps a tally of which shows still have tickets available in real time. We mean TKTS is a different sort of operation in London entirely. One that closes well before show time.

In New York, we’re used to knowing at least generally what’s up on the board because we’re tapped into all the theater news here. But more importantly, we’re also used to rolling up to the booth about 15 minutes before curtain and snagging tickets for something we want to see. Not so in London, y’all. Because the booth will not still be open that close to show time. In fact, it will send all its stock back to the theater an hour before curtain and you will roll up to an empty window and be completely shit out of luck on a Friday night—one of only three possible theatre slots for the weekend.

And last but not least, after you fail to get tickets for anything on Friday night…

Do not go drinking instead of going back to buy some damn tickets first.
Because you will wake up early the next morning—after a late night that involved WAY too much beer and cider—and haul your possibly-still-intoxicated ass down to Leicester Square and you will continue to be shit out of luck on those Les Mis tickets. And worse, you will realize you could have prevented that by going back to Leicester Square to buy tickets for the next day before you had started drinking.

Because that is a pretty cool advantage of buying theatre tickets in London. Not only is TKTS not the only game in town for discounted theatre tickets–there lots of options for buying them on the pedestrian blocks that lead into Leicester Square–but everyone can sell those cheap tickets to you in advance.  That’s right. You don’t actually have to wait for the day of the show and just deal with whatever happens to still be in stock.

You can show up days or weeks in advance (and sometimes even earlier) and grab cheap tickets for whatever you’d like to see at your leisure. Without the agida of standing in line as minutes tick by while other tourists debate their deep emotional feelings about Wicked versus Blood Brothers and  you know each second means less tickets are available for that show you really want to see. And without the histrionics and the huffing and puffing and foot stomping and watch checking and whining that your really impatient redheaded friend is going to pull. The. Entire. Time.

So there you have it. Four things you really, really shouldn’t do if you want to see tons of theatre while you’re in London.

With all that said...
It’s probably only fair to point out that we had an amazing weekend anyway.  Tube delays and ticket buying failure and missed shows and all. Even without Hadley Fraser’s teenaged Javert Jr. in our lives.

Because the shows we did manage to see were wonderful. And the beer was delicious and the V&A has a great exhibit on theatre costumes and Borough Market exists in that beautiful city. And because there was plenty of time to see the most Craptacular site in all of London, and perhaps, all of the world—Princess Diana and Dodi al Fayed’s memorial in the completely bedazzled Egyptian Escalator at Harrods.

But seriously. Next time we’re picking all our shows and buying all of our tickets in advance.

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