INVESTIGATION: Should you join your favourite theatre as a member?

Would becoming a member of your favourite theatre make it easier for you to get the most in-demand tickets? We became a member of six of our favourite London venues to see what the value for money is.

Read on to find out what membership of the Almeida, Barbican, British Film Institute, Menier Chocolate Factory, National Theatre and Old Vic gets you.

Almeida Theatre:

WHERE?: nearest Tube Highbury & Islington or Angel

COST?: membership starts at £50 a year

VALUE FOR MONEY?: ***

WHAT DO YOU GET?: We joined early in 2015 because we were enthused by the Greeks season at the 325-seat studio theatre and our £50 membership enabled us to get excellent seats for each of the three productions including Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel in Bakkhai. There is also an event for each production but none of these looked sufficiently enticing to attend.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW? Depends on the theatre’s programme but probably not.

Barbican:

WHERE?: nearest Tube Barbican or Moorgate

COST? membership is from £50 a year, although we chose the £105 package

VALUE FOR MONEY: **

WHAT DO YOU GET?: We joined for a year in summer 2014 because we wanted tickets to see Benedict Cumberbatch in Hamlet and we achieved our aim. There is free access to exhibitions and we went to one for Jean-Paul Gaultier. There was also access to a members’ lounge although the menu was poor and we were often the only people there. We went to a Q&A with Pride director Matthew Warchus but felt for such a gigantic venue, the Barbican occasionally appeared to be designed more for the benefit of its staff rather than any potential customers. For example, it’s not a venue to cater for any after-show entertainment.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW? Most definitely not.

British Film Institute:

WHERE? nearest Tube Waterloo

COST?: membership is from £40 a year

VALUE FOR MONEY: *****

WHAT DO YOU GET?: We joined a year ago with fairly low expectations but it comes with our highest recommendation. In the last year we’ve been to Q&As (often with film screenings) with Pedro Almodovar, Judi Dench, Julie Walters, the Inside No 9 team, members of the Downton Abbey cast, John Waters and Todd Haynes to name but a few. There’s priority booking and the opportunity to watch new and classic films with an audience which often bursts into spontaneous applause at the end of a screening (no popcorn rustling, surly tweens or crying babies). We saw Apocalypse Now there recently and it was unforgettable. The back bar is also one of London’s best kept secrets.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW? We just have.

Menier Chocolate Factory:

WHERE?: nearest Tube London Bridge

COST?: membership is from £45 a year, although we chose the £75 package

VALUE FOR MONEY: ***1/2

WHAT DO YOU GET?: We chose this package because we wanted to see Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl and achieved our aim despite the entire three-month run selling out in hours at the 180-seater theatre. There are priority bookings, meal deals at the excellent venue restaurant and cast Q&As for each production which we’re really looking forward to.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: It’s certainly one of our favourite theatres because of its size, booking a restaurant table before the show means you can make a real night of it but it probably depends on the Q&A and next season.

National Theatre:

WHERE?: nearest Tube Waterloo

COST?: membership is from £15 a year

VALUE FOR MONEY: **

WHAT DO YOU GET?: We joined in January because we were excited about the (hugely disappointing as it turned out) production of Everyman. This membership enables priority booking but we’ve never found it difficult to get tickets at this venue, it’s generally so huge that it feels unwelcoming, the queues to pick up tickets are often lengthy and the productions are of such varying quality that we’re unlikely to rejoin. Occasional Q&As are offered but we weren’t quick enough to get tickets for the only one we tried to book.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: No.

Old Vic:

WHERE?: nearest Tube Waterloo

COST?: membership is from £35 a year, although we’re currently a £65 premium friend

VALUE FOR MONEY: ***

WHAT DO YOU GET?: We upgraded to a premium friend because we wanted the opportunity to buy tickets for the star-studded gala (featuring Annie Lennox among many others) to say goodbye to artistic director Kevin Spacey and it was one of the highlights of our year. Priority booking is also enabled but this is a venue where we have not found it difficult to get tickets, especially more recently. We’ve been in the front row for amazing productions of Clarence Darrow and High Society this year. Unfortunately Spacey’s departure has also heralded the putting on of twice as many productions but with a subsequent halving in quality.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: Unlikely.

  • Enjoyed this investigation? Follow its author on Twitter @NeilDurham. Email: neildurham3@gmail.com

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