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 eight of our favourite venues and bought one group membership to see what the value for money is.

  • Read on to find out what membership of the Almeida, ATG, new Bridge Theatre, British Film Institute, Chichester Festival Theatre, Donmar Warehouse, National Theatre, Old Vic and Young 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 wanted excellent seats at the 325-seat studio theatre for the Greeks season starring Ben Whishaw and Bertie Carvel. This membership gains a star this year because criticism of the website has been acted upon and the quality of the productions in the last 12 months has been stellar, not least HamletInk and Mary Stuart which have all transferred to the West End.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW? Most definitely. We’d still like the theatre to be a bit more forthcoming about who will be appearing at friend events because north London is a bit of a journey for us and we’ve yet to make one but the new season looks interesting. There’s a new Mike Bartlett play (Albion) and a Tennessee Williams we’ve not seen.

ATG Tickets:

WHERE?: numerous venues in and out of town including Piccadilly Theatre, Savoy and Harold Pinter Theatre

COST?: membership starts at £35

VALUE FOR MONEY?: *

WHAT DO YOU GET?: 10% off drinks, although at a recent Piccadilly Theatre visit we were told our drinks would be cheaper without the card. We’ve noticed on recent visits to the Piccadilly and the Savoy that venue staff fail to serve all the bar customers before the curtain goes up, meaning those without £95-a-year Lounge access miss out on at least the first 10 minutes of their show. There is priority access for tickets and we’ve good seats for Hamlet at the Harold Pinter tomorrow. The piano bar at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking is a real treat.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: Definitely not. Our advice to ATG customers is to get to the venue early if you want to enjoy a drink before a show, as well as the show.

Bridge Theatre:

WHERE?: nearest station London Bridge

COST?: membership starts at £50 (£35 for the under 35s)

VALUE FOR MONEY?: ***

WHAT DO YOU GET?: This 900-seat home to Nicholas Hytner’s London Theatre Company opens in October and members get priority booking as well as invites to events at the venue. We’ve got great seats for opening shows including Young Marx starring Rory Kinnear and Ben Whishaw (again) in Julius Caesar, which looks to have a pit audience and some sort of promenade-style performance.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: Too early to decide, depends on the quality of the productions. The member events look a little middle-of-the-road and middle-aged.

British Film Institute:

WHERE? nearest Tube Waterloo

COST?: membership is from £35 a year

VALUE FOR MONEY: ****

WHAT DO YOU GET?: We joined three years ago with fairly low expectations but it comes with a recommendation for a low-value membership, although we’ve docked it one star because we don’t think the programme has been quite so strong in the last 12 months. However, we have been to a premiere for the 5* centrepiece of the BBC’s recent Gay Britannia programme, Against The Law starring Daniel Mays, and a memorable Q&A with Alison Steadman looking back over her career. 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. The back bar is also one of London’s best kept secrets. Members receive 10% off food and soft drink.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW? Recommended for a low value membership. The jump to £235 for the next member level seems too steep.

Chichester Festival Theatre:

WHERE? Chichester is in West Sussex

COST?: membership is from £35

VALUE FOR MONEY: ***

WHAT DO YOU GET?: We joined this summer because of the promise of one of our favourite actors, Sir Ian McKellen tackling King Lear. We were disappointed by a lacklustre adaptation of Tennessee Williams’  Sweet Bird of Youth, after two great revivals of The Glass Menagerie (Duke Of York’s) and Cat On A Hot Tin Roof (Apollo Theatre) already this year.

WHAT DO YOU GET?: Access to tickets days before the public.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: Doubtful – too far from London for us, although it has been a hothouse for West End transfers, particularly musicals.

Donmar Warehouse:

WHERE? Nearest Tube Covent Garden

COST?: membership is from £75

VALUE FOR MONEY: (no stars)

WHAT DO YOU GET?: One of our favourite West End venues is our biggest disappointment. The venue won our 2015 Best Play monsta and two the following year for Best Revival and Actress. However, our joining in January appears to have coincided with a difficult time at the venue. The website is worse than the Almeida before its revamp, almost impossible to use in our experience. We enjoyed Limehouse but, in our opinion, this year’s programme has seen a dropping off in quality. Recent musical Committee was one of the worst things we’ve seen here.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: Not without a huge improvement in value for money. Avoid.

National Theatre:

WHERE?: nearest Tube Waterloo

COST?: membership is from £25 a year, although we upgraded to £80 priority membership

VALUE FOR MONEY: ****

WHAT DO YOU GET?: This membership enables priority booking and we’ve had excellent seats for fine productions including Angels In America, Mosquitoes and Follies. Occasional Q&As are offered and we enjoyed Denzel Washington but thought the annual Private Eye show horribly self-indulgent. The quarterly magazines are of good quality. Common, however, was so weak, despite the presence of the usually reliable Anne-Marie Duff, that we escaped before the interval. An extra star for the Stephen Sondheim Q&A. He’s 87 – our hearts melted.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: We upgraded our membership for the second year – and will continue with it.

Old Vic:

WHERE?: nearest Tube Waterloo

COST?: membership is from £35 a year, although we’re currently a £250 associate

VALUE FOR MONEY: *****

WHAT DO YOU GET?: We’ve been members of the Old Vic since 2012 and our favourite memory is the opportunity to buy tickets for the star-studded gala (featuring Annie Lennox among many others) to say goodbye to artistic director Kevin Spacey, one of the highlights of our 2015. Priority booking is also enabled. We’re now associate members and the quality under Matthew Warchus has improved so much we’re upgrading for our next 12 months. We now get a mention in production programmes, enjoyed a fascinating Backstage Notes event in the Old Vic’s rehearsal room with the cast of Woyzeck (including John Boyega, pictured above) and thought the recent Queers events, to mark the 50th anniversary of the partial lifting of the law against homosexuality, an absolute triumph.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: We’re upgrading. Warchus found his feet with the family-friendly Groundhog Day and The Lorax and the attempts to broaden the venue’s appeal – we’ve been to late-night gig theatre plus comedy and pre-show monologues – have been wonderful.

Young Vic:

WHERE?  nearest Tube Waterloo

COST?: membership is from £35

VALUE FOR MONEY: ***

WHAT DO YOU GET?: The Benedict Andrews revival of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof divided critics but is one of our shows of the year and we were able to get near-front row seats for the production currently wowing the Apollo, the Young Vic’s first West End transfer not to open at the venue. The Young Vic has recently unveiled its new season and there are interesting works including The Inheritance and Fun Home.

ARE WE GOING TO RENEW?: It’s the potential to be a hipper Old Vic and the decision will depend on what the next year promises.

  • Picture by Manuel Harlan via Facebook courtesy Old Vic.
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