Dafydd Rogers and David Pugh: 'Premium price seats are just plain greed'
As they announce a West End run for The Girls, producers Dafydd Rogers and David Pugh explain why they aren't selling premium price tickets
You've decided to get rid of premium priced tickets for The Girls…
David Pugh: We know the economics, premium seats are just plain greed. All people hear about now is how expensive it is for people to go to the theatre. We're doing it so that whenever you see an advert for The Girls, it will have the prices on there, and those will be the prices you pay. We only have four price bands: £69.50, £59.50 £49.50 and £29.50. And we are having reduced price previews, so from 28 January until we open on 21 February, the prices are £55, £45, £35, £25. It's all about clarity. We want people to know what the actual price is.
Dafydd Rogers: We are going back to a time when tickets prices were on the poster and people knew how much ticket prices were.
What do you, as producers, lose from getting rid of premium ticket seats?
DR: Well, it's revenue, but if you look at it in a more global, philosophical way, there are increasingly only two types of audience. The first is the premium seat audience, which producers justify by saying people are buying them so the market will allow them. The other is the discount market, who want top price seats but they only want to pay £20 for them. We are losing our core audience, what our business used to thrive on.
Who is that ‘core audience'?
DR: They are regular theatregoers who would look up the new musical in town and say – I'll see that. That audience is being eroded. They used to come to the West End three, four, however many times a year but now they are coming only for their wedding anniversary. At final nights of The Girls in Leeds and Salford, 35 per cent of the audience had seen the show in that venue before. We'd love that to happened in the West End.
Several shows do try to appeal to audiences with on the day cheap tickets…
DP: To me, that's people saying: yes, I might be charging all that money for a top price ticket but we are giving a few seats cheaper. But to who? Are you telling me a nurse can come off her night shift to queue for Ian McKellen tickets? We are becoming absolutely elitist. I have had enough of it. I don't want to do shows for rich people.
And you have scrapped booking fees?
DP: There are certain areas that our hands are tied on. It's difficult to get a theatre in the West End these days, so you aren't in a good negotiating position. When we negotiated the contract, we never negotiated having no booking fees. The ticket agents are still getting their booking fees, it's just that we [the producers] are paying for them. So yes, the audience won't be paying booking fees.
What are you hoping to achieve by changing your ticket pricing in this way?
DP: It's clarity. We are trying to get a much broader audience to the theatre than we used to have. We are trying to let people know exactly what the prices are. So they can see the price that they will need to pay when they ring the box office or go online. That's it, no add-ons. You can't argue the actual price, £29.50 to £69.50 is carefully budgeted for the 1,000-seater at the Phoenix. That's what the true cost is.
Is ticket pricing the biggest issue facing theatreland today?
DR: Yes, we do think so. The problem comes when producers say: ‘there's a secondary market, and if we don't do premiums then disreputable agents will do it and why should they get the money?' To me, that's a dirty argument. There is a whiff of desperation in what is going on in ticketing at the moment. Unless we think, as a business, about our audience and protect them from behind the scenes, we will lose our audience. We have got to be more responsible. Once you rip somebody off, it takes a hell of a long time to get them to go back into the theatre.
The Girls will have been to Leeds, Salford and more before it heads to the West End, why the long lead up?
DR: We have always been conscious that often musicals come into the West End too soon. So we wanted to do it the very old fashioned way and do thorough preparation. We did the classic out of town – in Burnsall, the girls' original village hall, in Leeds and at the Lowry. I think we're now ready.
DP: Since the Lowry, we've shaved eight minutes off act one, two and a half minutes off act two and the set has been partially re-designed. It's been a lot of fun.
How did you get involved originally?
DP: We approached the original girls to do a play 16 years ago, but we got a note from them saying 'thank you but we are only discussing feature films'! But nine years ago Tim Firth, who wrote the original film, came to see us to say 'I know you were interested', Disney had the rights to the musical, so we went on to do the play. Then four years ago Disney said we could do the musical.
Is the musical very different to the play?
DP: Tim decided he would like to develop it so we learn more about the husbands, we learn about the sons, we learn about the daughters. He wanted to make it a village green musical. Tim and Gary [Barlow] wrote 82 songs, and there are 14 in the show. Our of town, audiences have been loving it.
The Girls runs at the Phoenix Theatre from 21 February, with previews from 28 January.