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What are previews anyway?

Why is a first preview not the same as an opening night? Why are previews cheaper than usual? We look at what exactly a preview is

© Ben Hewis

Your favourite show is about to open and you're steaming with excitement, but when the first date comes around, it's not heralded with a grand opening at all. In fact, it's called a preview. So what is a preview anyway?

The long-awaited Hamilton opens in previews (as long as the building work gets done!) on 6 December, with an opening night on 21 December. It's that date that members of the press and critics are invited to asses: tear apart or swoon at the show in all its musical glory.

So what's with the previews? The definition of preview is, literally, an advance view. Usually sold at a reduced rate, these early showings give producers, actors and all creatives a chance to let the show settle down, to bed in, to relax and become the show it wants to be. Which is why when critics broke the embargo and went in to see Benedict Cumberbatch's Hamlet at the Barbican before press night last year, the theatre world kicked up such a fuss.

In an interview with Front Row in March, producer Sonia Friedman - who produced Hamlet and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - said her decision not to have a different pre and post opening price for the Shakespeare backfired. Some critics took that as a way round the usual press night embargo and went in to review earlier.

"We were all taken by surprise, we felt very let down," she told Kirsty Lang. "The preview process is really crucial for the creative team to learn what they are doing in front of an audience.

"You hope that you will have done all the work necessary in that preview period with an audience to be ready for that show of critics to then give their verdict. That's the gentlemen's agreement."

So does that mean previews aren't the proper show? Not necessarily. There will be tweaks - in Hamlet, they moved the "To be or not to be" speech to the beginning during previews, but by press night it was further into the play. It's also true that actors will have got more used to their parts, the stage and a live audience by opening night.

But you could also argue that it's exciting to see something in such early stages. It's also a great opportunity to see the play for a whole lot cheaper (preview prices for Hamilton are £20, £32.50, £47.50 or £79.50, as opposed to £20, £37.50, £57.50 or £89.50). And really, you're getting pretty much the finished thing.

Meet the cast of the West End production of Hamilton here.