Last week, a wave of excitement shivered among theatre junkies. A cryptic email by the National Theatre, and snippets of information ingenuously gathered by the most inventive among us, pointed to a new Punchdrunk production (or rather experience) coming to town. Quickly the rumours were confirmed, the National Theatre website got very busy, and The Drowned Man – A Hollywood Fable became a hot ticket. To top up the excitement, a mini preview show – a bit like a live trailer – played in a secret location in Dalston (not so secret that the Telegraph didn’t get to review it though).
I have to admit my enthusiasm is somewhat muted. Mainly because the ticket prices don’t feel right. First of all, considering it’s a National Theatre co-production, the tickets are fairly expensive (standard tickets £39 or £47.50 depending on the day, previews a bit cheaper, limited number of concessions at £19.50). The ticketing policy is also unclear and some of the pricing information is only provided after you start the booking process.But the main source for my dissatisfaction is the presence of premium tickets. Premium seats are nothing new, most theatres have a variety of ticket prices based on the fact that, unless you stage a production in someone’s living room, not all seats are equally good.
The premium prices for Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man (at a massive £85 a ticket) are somewhat different. Premium tickets – we are told -include an invitation to an additional prologue and access to hidden secrets within The Drowned Man: A Hollywood Fable. Which begs the question: who is being cheated? The experience is conceived and executed with the artist making choices about what to offer. This is their job. At any given time, they strive to make the best choices and give the ideal experience and by the nature of theatre, this can change from performance to performance.
In this case, if you can pay more, you get more. More content, more play, more experience. Either the premium ticket holders get an overstuffed production or the standard ticket holders get half the play. It’s hard to see how it can be otherwise. At prices beyond most people’s means, expressions like “money grabbing” and “cash cow” don’t feel entirely inappropriate.
P.S. Dalstonist has nice piece of the “secret” (and free) preview somewhere at Kingsland High Street. At this point, this adventure feels more interesting than the main attraction later in the year.
UPDATE 22/06: Yes the production is actually here, this is what I thought about it.