THANKS TO A RECENT project by the Arts Council England, this now also includes London‘s drama scene. Below are 12 theatres where, if you are 25 and under, you can see fantastic stage productions for free. Theatres that offer cheap tickets regardless of age are marked as (26+).
National Theatre, Waterloo
This is where you’ll see the best of the best, from Tom Stoppard to Alec Bennett. Seeing cheap shows at the National Theatre is complicated, but worth it. Fill out the NT’s Entry Pass form, attach proof of age, and either mail it in or drop it off in person (if you’re smart, you’ll get your friends to sign up at the same time). In 2-3 weeks, you will receive your membership card by post. Your first ticket is free (must be a Mon-Thurs show booked by phone). Every subsequent ticket for any show at the National can be booked online for only 5 pounds.
Donmar Warehouse, Covent Garden
Becoming a member of the Donmar Discovery program is similar to the Entry Pass; you need to drop off the application form at the box office with proof of age. But unlike at the NT, a DD card only entitles you to book a ticket for a special performance of the production — though you will also score a free poster and invitation to a post-show discussion with the cast.
Shakespeare’s Globe, London Bridge (26+)
This is the best deal in London: every production at this reconstructed theatre has 700 standing tickets available for only 5 pounds. While this means standing for the length of the show, it also guarantees you the best view and the chance to experience Shakespeare as he intended it. Arrive early to grab a good spot at the front, and don’t forget comfortable shoes and a raincoat.
Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square (26+)
This theatre, established in 1870, is known for its modern, hard-hitting productions. Be quick to book, because seats sell out extremely quick (often before the production even opens) — including their special 10 pound Mondays. To book up to six free tickets, call the box office or e-mail email@example.com. Like at many of the other theatres, you may only book free tickets once.
Old Vic, Waterloo (26+)
The Old Vic — currently under the artistic direction of Kevin Spacey — promises one hundred 12 pound seats in every show for those age 25 and under. (They can do this because their theatre seats over 1000 in four levels.) One can either call to book Under 26 tickets by phone, or submit a form to get a membership card. Be aware that sometimes you can snag normal balcony tickets online for as little as 10 pounds.
Barbican Centre, Liverpool Street
It’s quick to register online for the Barbican’s freeB scheme, and you can start booking tickets online before your membership card even arrives in the post. FreeB allows you to book up to two tickets at select concerts, theatre productions, film screenings, and art exhibitions.
Battersea Arts Centre, South London (26+)
While the BAC is currently not offering any free tickets, normal tickets for their contemporary productions are usually quite reasonable. If you call the box office, you can secure student discounts, and Tuesdays are Pay-What-You-Can nights. On the downside, it’s a bit of a trek to Zone 2.
Lyric Hammersmith, West London
Also in Zone 2 but a little more Tube-accessible, the Lyric is a relatively new and modern theatre with a rooftop garden. To find out which shows they have free tickets for, ring up the box office.
Arcola Theatre, Hackney
Until the new Overground line debuts, this theatre is a 15-minute bus ride from Islington in northern London. Call the box office to book your free tickets and, like at many of the other theatres, don’t forget to arrive early to collect them.
The Royal Shakespeare Company, on tour and in Stratford-upon-Avon
If you decide to visit Shakespeare’s hometown, time it for a Tuesday to get free tickets at the Courtyard Theatre. Stratford-upon-Avon is a two-hour train ride from London, with advance rail tickets starting at 10 pounds. While on tour in London and all over the UK, the Royal Shakespeare Company also offers 5 pound tickets for those under 26.
English National Opera, Charing Cross (26+)
If anything is more inaccessible to young adults than the theatre, it is the opera. But no longer, thanks to the ENO’s Access All Arias scheme for Under-30s. Apply online and, in about three weeks, you will receive your membership card in the post. For any production, you can then go online to book stall tickets for £30 each (normally £50-90), or dress circle tickets for £10 (normally £20-60) — maximum two per member.
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Southbank (26+)
The OAE blurs with theatre; as one of the top “period instrument” orchestras in the world, they are known for their gutsy and fervent performances. Late at night, after their official monthly — and expensive — concert, the OAE puts on a one-hour “Night Shift” of their favorite parts of the concert. The event features a live band before, intimate interviews with the conductor interspersed throughout the concert, and a live DJ until midnight. Tickets are £8 advance, £6 to sit on the stage with the orchestra, and a mere £4 for student tickets (and while they say this includes a free drink, it actually entitles you to an entire open bar).