When I spent time in Vienna as a student, I went to the Volksoper and the Wiener Staatsoper on an almost weekly basis. It was one of the best times of my life; I watched shows that I never would have considered before such as The Magic Flute and Swan Lake. Some I liked, others not so much. Was I rich? Definitely not. Yet I was able to enjoy all this because the pricing system in Vienna allows mere students the same cultural experience as anyone else. If you have the money, you can choose to pay 186 euros for the privilege of having a good seat at one of the top operas. Yet if you don't have the money, there is the wonderful option of choosing a Stehplatze (or standing place) which costs just 3 euros.
Enjoy a world class opera for just 3 euros at Vienna's Staatsoper.
Yes, that's right, for less than half the price of a cinema ticket, you can enjoy a world-class opera as long as you're happy to stand through it (and queue for several hours before). This might not be for everyone, but it offers choice and makes theatre much more accessible. I am happy to pay top dollar for something I know I will like, but if I had never seen a ballet before, I'd certainly be reluctant to fork out £75 for something I wasn't sure I would enjoy.
I would absolutely love theatres in Manchester to embrace this brilliant pricing system; we really need to start bringing in younger audiences rather than seeing it as a medium for the privileged few. Although I have yet to come across a theatre that makes it quite as accessible as my experience in Vienna, it is possible to find theatre bargains if you know where to look.
Here's how to get the cheapest tickets in Manchester's theatres. Nothing quite beats the experience of live performance, so get out and start experimenting with genres you may never have considered before. Who knows what adventures you will have?
The Royal Exchange offers a range of cheap tickets
The Royal Exchange is a beautiful intimate in-the-round theatre, absolutely perfect for catching one of Shakespeare's plays, as well as their more contemporary offerings. The Royal Exchange seems to be doing a good job of encouraging young people through its doors. All of the productions in the main theatre have preview nights at the beginning of the run offering half-price seats. These are open to all and tend to book up early, so be quick.
It also offers Banquette seats which are available on the day for just £10. This is an area of low seating by the stage; they are not quite as comfortable as the normal seats, and you have to be prepared to be dragged into the action, but they offer a fantastic view. If you want to book them, they are released on the day, from 9.30am if you go into the box office in person, or from 10am on the telephone. (On Sundays it is 11am and 11.30am by phone). Popular shows sell out quickly though, so if you're set on going, make sure you turn up early and be prepared to queue.
Other people can also benefit from half price tickets, including the under 16s, registered unemployed and disabled patrons and their companions. Students and under 26s can enjoy Friday night performances for just £6. Advanced booking is advised as they sell our early. Find out more here. Students can also get half price standby tickets on the day of the performance.
HOME, First Street
One the newest theatres on the Manchester scene, HOME offers contemporary theatre and is certainly geared towards the younger audience with trendy bar areas and an independent cinema. It offers £10 preview tickets, a limited number of advanced tickets for £5 to students and job seekers and £10 side view seats which offer a restricted view.
Hope Mill Theatre, Ancoats
Hope Mill Theatre is situated in the Grade II listed building Hope Mill which is an old cotton mill and produces its own in-house shows as well as welcoming visiting productions. A baby on the theatre scene, Hope Mill Theatre only opened in 2015 and has already been awarded with Best Fringe Production in the Manchester Theatre awards as well as being nominated for several other awards.
It offers preview tickets for £15 (usual price £20) and is well worth a visit.
The Opera House and the Palace Theatre
Both of these are run by ATG and are the main theatres to welcome the bigger West End Productions to Manchester. Unfortunately, they don't seem to offer any discounted tickets at the moment, but see further down in this article on how to get free tickets through Showfilmfirst.
It is possible to get free tickets to the Opera House if you know where to look
With several auditoriums and enjoying the stunning surroundings of Salford Quays, the Lowry welcomes a variety of top class visiting productions throughout the year. They offer several schemes to make theatre more accessible.
If you live in Salford, you can join the Our Lowry scheme which offers local residents free and discounted tickets at the Lowry throughout the year. To find out more details on how to register for Our Lowry, see here.
Last but not least, those ages 16 – 26 can pay just £10 for tickets, and your ticket also gives you discounts at the bar on food and drink. See here for further details.
The Edge, Chorlton
The Edge is located in the popular suburb of Chorlton and is a fabulous choice for smaller shows. There are lots of productions geared at younger children, so it's a great way of introducing little ones to live performance. One thing that did look exciting was a comedy club for parents with babies under 18months – what a fabulous idea.
Prices are kept to a minimum. However if you really can't afford it, they do offer Concessions by Conscience, a scheme which allows you to pay what you can afford dependent on your circumstances. They just ask that you remember they are a charity and rely on ticket income and other limited funding to keep on going.
Another charity which has been set up to inspire and enable generations of young people in Manchester, Z-Arts runs participatory classes as well as welcoming a variety of productions to its stage. Again it offers a good range of children's theatre, but they have productions geared at adults too.
Tickets prices again are kept at an affordable rate, but if you become a Z-Arts Bright Sparks member (from as little as £15 per year), you can pay just £6 concession tickets to all Big Imaginations shows. Membership is free to families who can't afford to pay. Find our more here.
A favourite with the locals, the Coliseum produces the majority of its own shows, and offers a wide range of productions, as well as welcoming visiting productions and comedians.
Under 26s can enjoy tickets for just £6. You can book four tickets at a time but only a limited numbers of tickets are released, so book in advance.
Bolton Octagon, Bolton
Another wonderful local theatre with a strong following, Bolton Octagon puts on popular shows. Its flexible auditorium means that shows can be put on in a variety of ways, with seating adapted to suit the show.
Again, you can enjoy Standby tickets for young people ages 17-25 for just £6. These must be booked on the day, with a maximum of two tickets per booking. It also offers Bargain nights, where all stalls tickets are £15 and gallery tickets are £10.
Sign Up with the Show Film First website
Show Film First was initially set up to offer previews films and theatre to a target audience and to gain feedback from the audience. It seems to be offering a great variety of free tickets to shows in the Manchester area at the moment. In the last few months, I have been offered tickets to Opera North shows at the Lowry, Bat Out of Hell at the Opera House and to The Wedding Singer which is currently running at the Opera House. Tickets are free but incur a £2 admin fee, but they are usually offered with very little notice. It's a great way of catching shows that you might otherwise not go and see. To find out more and to register, visit the Show Film First website.