Monday, 11 August 2014

A few questions for the Barbican surrounding Hamlet ticketing policy

The much-hyped production of Hamlet directed by Lyndsey Turner and featuring Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role went on general sale this morning. Sadly the process appears to be mismanaged at best, with hints of a cartel at worst.

That there are many more hopeful people than tickets is inevitable, and venues, festivals and promoters have struggled for years with the issue of how to disappoint people in the fairest way possible. The Barbican appear to have failed spectacularly.

This morning, before going on general sale, the website claimed that stalls seats were sold out for the entire run, with circle seats "nearly" sold out. This would seem to imply that large numbers had been sold to patrons, members, friends, and all the other various levels of membership for which punters pay a premium in order to enjoy benefits like early booking. This is entirely fair and absolutely standard across the industry. Presumably some tickets have also gone to sponsors and other partners. That isn't pleasant to think about, but a certain amount of back-scratching and palm-greasing (back-greasing?) needs to be done with sponsors in order to keep venues and productions viable. As long as the proportion of tickets going to sponsors isn't huge, this is also acceptable.

So far, so good, and when people logged on to find themselves in queue with upwards of 20,000 people ahead of them, they will have been disappointed but not necessarily surprised. The online booking system assigned places randomly in the queue to all those who were logged on before the booking window opened, which is completely fair. The queueing system was then torturously slow; I moved up 1300 place - a third of the way up the queue - in an hour and a half. Messy and frustrating, but nothing worse.

Then - perhaps inevitably - rumours started swirling around Twitter of alternative locations to purchase tickets. ATG (the Ambassador Theatre Group, of which the Barbican is not a member) was often cited. Sure enough, with a few seconds wait, I was offered 4 tickets for a total of £269 including a "booking fee" of £4 per ticket and a single "transaction fee" of £3 (quite what the difference between a booking and a transaction is escapes me, but I'll let it pass).

Fact time: booking via the Barbican website, tickets for Hamlet cost "£30-£62.50 plus £3 online booking fee". They also mention that "a limited number of Premium Seats are available" (their capitalisation).

Something else to mention: the Barbican advised punters on the best place to buy tickets:


The ATG tickets available were all "Band A" - and stated explicitly that this was the top price £62.50 + £4 "booking fee" per ticket. They all appeared to be stalls tickets; let's not forget that the Barbican claimed that stalls were "sold out" before tickets even went on general sale. There was no way of choosing individual seats via ATG but anecdotally people on Twitter seemed to be getting hold of some very good tickets.

But the Barbican isn't a member of the Ambassadors Theatre Group. It's owned by the City of London Corporation. So presumably the Barbican have simply sold a load of tickets for a show for which they knew there would be extremely high demand, so that ATG could sell them on at a premium.

Worse is to come.

At around 1030 the reputable theatre website WhatsOnStage.com - always a good source for listings, reviews and debate - tweeted that they had some tickets for sale. I followed the link and sure enough, they had tickets for sale for all nights. Once again there was no facility for punters to choose seats. The price: "from £78" on weekdays, and "from £119" at weekends (no mention was made at this stage of booking or transaction fees).

£119 is a 90% increase on the Barbican's top ticket price.

Fact time again: the Barbican have introduced special anti-touting measures for this production - the lead ticket booker needs to show photo ID.

To reiterate: £119 is a 90% increase on the Barbican's top advertised ticket price.

I tweeted WOS about this and got the following reply:

So presumably WOS are selling these "Premium Seats" with a 25% markup on...well, the Barbican don't mention prices so let's assume £95.50 (incidentally, ATG were selling "Premium Seats" for £99.50 which would make sense if their markup is £4 again).

An aside: "STAR" mentioned by WOS are the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers. They do indeed mention 25% as the maximum generally acceptable markup

To be clear, I don't have (much of) a problem with WOS or ATG; it would appear that they're playing within the rules of the system, even if a 25% markup on top of "Premium Seats" is pretty outrageous. They're businesses trying to make money. However, I do have a very big problem with the way the Barbican are dealing with this and the way they are allocating tickets for one of the most in-demand productions in recent years. To that end I have some questions for the Barbican:
  • Did all Barbican members who attempted to buy stalls tickets get them successfully? [**update - see comments below - if I was a member I would be livid]
  • Does the Barbican think it is hypocritical to introduce anti-touting measures whilst at the same time allowing tickets to be sold for 90% above the advertised top ticket price?
  • Can the Barbican, and indeed other venues such as the Old Vic who operate a system of "Premium Seats" (their capitalisation) admit that this is nothing but a ruse to inflate prices, as there is nothing "premium" or special about them - they are simply standard top price tickets to which a substantial additional sum has been added, presumably to encourage punters that those "standard" top price tickets are better value than they would otherwise appear? (This is classic behavioural economics).
  • What is the reciprocal arrangement between the Barbican and ATG [edit - see comments below]? Was the Barbican contractually obliged to sell what appears to be a substantial proportion of stalls seats to ATG, even though they could easily sell them out - probably several times over - themselves?
  • Why did the Barbican advise that the "best" place to obtain tickets was from their own website, while it actually appears that ATG was a far quicker and more reliable method? When all stalls and most circle seats have been given to agents, does that mean the Barbican site is "best"?
  • What does the Barbican stand to gain from selling off tickets to third party agents versus selling them via their own website? What is the point of going to the effort of a "fair" online ticketing system when agents can sell them however they want?
  • Does the Barbican feel that the process has been well managed overall?
** A couple of updates: it seems that ATG and theatrepeople.com are "official ticketing partners". Presumably they bought their tickets from the Barbican more cheaply than at the full retail price. Meanwhile, WOS have an article which summarises the popularity of the show whilst tactfully not plugging their own £119 tickets.

***Update 2: after a 3-and-a-half hour wait in the queue I did get tickets, and for a Saturday to boot. The stalls and circle are indeed sold out being sold via agents only, but there is still decent availability at time of writing (1330 on Monday 11th) - it's a big venue with a long run! The queueing system provided by queue-it.net works fine, even if the wait is extremely long.

***Update 3: some very interesting comments below.

54 comments:

  1. No, this orange member got zero front row stalls on 4th August and plenty today on ATG. Quite shameful, methinks!

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  2. ATG is the show producer and they were given an allotment that was NEVER available to Red/Orange members. How do I know? Red member here and via Twitter & Tumblr found out during presale that the front row was unavailable no matter what date you were trying to book on. I also noticed the same blocks of seats coming up on several diff days during the official Barbican presales thinking that they'd set aside seats just for Barbican and rest were going to resellers. So I guess Barbican was being truthful when they said THEY had no more stall seats; it just didn't mean that no one else did.

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  3. I'm a red member and bought an opening night stalls seat (5 rows back) on 1st August after being put in the 300s in the red queue at 10 am - no front row available but that was opening night, I think there were for other nights I checked (mid September Saturday IIRC). I also got the ATG advance seat sale email as I'd bought Richard III tickets through them (amongst other recent productions) they had front row centre for closing night although Barbican said that night was full. Temptation got the better of me so I have only used 2 of my 6 allocated tickets (bookending the run, as I would like to compare the first draft with the final version) each with a different supplier. I was too anxious about this to want to wait for today so went ahead and bought membership. I had the finances to do this so know I am lucky and have queue jumped. Do I think it's a fair system? No. Do I regret buying membership so I could get hold of them on a day off rather than today where I am at work (on lunch break) no, absolutley not. My advice to those without tickets now? Go to ATG, the choice is better. And enjoy the money you didn't spend on membership.

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  4. @Anon1 - Ah thanks, I was unaware. Yes, it turns out the show is produced by Sonia Friedman Productions, an affiliate of ATG. That does help explain the link, although it doesn't really make it much more palatable, especially for people like yourself who presumably paid for membership specifically to enjoy benefits like getting first dibs at the best tickets.

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  5. Really regret getting Orange membership seeing as people got much better seats than me today through ATG. What a joke and a complete waste of my money.

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  6. Kind of pisses me off that I spent money on a Barbican membership and got up at 4AM my time only to have their queuing system boot me off and back to the end once I waited 4500 people in line. Managed to get Dress Circle tickets after seven hours. This morning I got up four hours after general sale started and find out that not only are other ticketing agents selling tickets, but had I not paid for the orange membership, I could have paid for these tickets -with their mark-up- for better seats.

    Absolutely ridiculous.
    What an unfair system - particularly from such a large performing arts theatre.

    What makes me the saddest is that people who bought a membership specifically for this sale and who were ripped off may not patronage theatres by purchasing memberships in the future due to this experience.

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    1. That's two (three if you include my best friend) of us. I am disappointed also because I love the Barbican, I always go there to see films and exhibitions, and now I feel like I have been ripped off in a major way. No discount for members, no priority for stall seats, queueing for hours (instead of the 15 seconds with ATG): WHAT A SHAMBLES!!

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    2. It's never to late to learn not to spend money unnecessary. I'm one of the lucky ones getting four tickets for front row without any membership.

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  7. Feel sorry for the thousands still waiting on the Barbican's own website who will either only get Gallery seats or will miss out completely. An omnishambles from Barbican.

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  8. I think that people who are upset to have missed out on front row tickets should be extremely happy - they are terrible seats for this sort of production - the first few rows are impossible - I get that many fans just want to be as close to the man himself but in these first rows, you basically see what is front of you - he's not going to be staying in front of you the entire time. Be thankful - you will see how unfortunate those seats are when you get there.

    The Barbican seems to have severely miscalculated interest and the fact that so many people would buy their maximum of 6 tickets - which still boggles my mind. I have seen comments from people who are going six times and are complaining they can't get close enough - hard to comprehend

    I live in NYC, had hoped to see one performance; decided to pass when I saw prices on ATG and the fact that I have zero idea of knowing what/where I'll be in 14 months - I think the Barb will be hounded on this for awhile - whether they provided meaningful answers, time will tell. Meanwhile, I hope those who want to go manage to score a ticket -

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    1. This is untrue. I saw Richard II early this year and it was perfect in front row. I could even see the nail varnish on Tennant's hands. Besides, you never know what they are going to do with the stage, the might change the layout (like they did at the Old Vic).

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    2. Well, sure, when he's in front of you - not when he's on the other side or further back on the stage. I'm sorry but it's really incredibly obvious why so many people are nearly catatonic over not getting front row seats and it is nothing to do with the actual play - I've seen enough hysterical comments to know that. A few fans saying they hope to catch BC's eye and then get to meet him - That is what this front row thing is all about for SOME, not all, obviously.

      But, the griping from people who are sat back 5 to 10 rows in the stalls is just utter nonsense and has nothing to do with the play because if it did, they would realize they have some of the best seats possible.

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    3. Well I was happy to be in the front row, did not miss anything at all wherever he was on the stage :) Well, I know you are right, but I for one always seat front row even in cinemas, I hate having people in front of me. Think if you have someone with an Afro! When I saw Tennant at the Novello I had and Indian with a turban (not joking) on my right hand side. If he'd been in front of me I wouldn't have seen a thing. :)

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    4. What's nice about the Barb though is how raked it is - someone would have to be crazy tall, etc to be in your way - I love the sight from about 6 row back to about 10 or 12.

      There's just so much rage swirling about this - I don't quite get it but, hey, everyone is entitled to feel whatever they are feeling.

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    5. Sit not seat :)

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  9. I think everyone needs to relax. It is absolutely normal for there to be many different ways of getting tickets ie through different websites. I checked the barbican site a few minutes before presale ended this morning and the stalls was not completely sold out, there was still a few available. Now we still do not know where the 100 10pound seats are some of these could also be stalls. It has said a long time in advance that there would be tickets sold through atg - People could sign up for an email and get a presale link! Why is everyone surprised that there are good tickets at other websites than the barbican when it's always a good idea to check different websites and Google- it is that simple! And of course they aren't tweeting about the other sites because then they would sell less - it is a business... the barbican is a brilliant venue and even the bad cheap seats have great views - trust me! I saw Richard II in the most restricted view seat for 10pound and i could see everything except some trompeters. Just be glad it didn't sell out during the presale which was a risk!

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    1. Also the stalls tickets at the barbican did not just cost 62 the most expensive ones were 85 which as far as i could see was the ones selling at around the same level on atg! :) the stalls tickets did cost almost the same on barbican as atg!

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    2. I think it's the terminology. "Sold out" doesn't mean sold out, it means no tickets available via the venue. Just like "booking fee" doesn't mean booking fee, it means reseller's markup - if it was called that I'd respect it a lot more tbh. I agree that there's no incentive for the venue to push people to buy their tickets elsewhere, but to use language like "sold out" is simply incorrect and borderline dishonest.

      Given the link between ATG and the promoter I can understand that they would get tickets, that's fine, but the obvious place to go is the venue website (it's where all the mainstream media were directing people, for example) and the venue didn't seem to be telling the whole story.

      Agree with you on venue. Being a modern venue even the "worst" seats are very good - I last sat in the gallery (also with restricted view tickets if I recall) for The Testament of Mary a few weeks back and it was excellent.

      Not sure how the Barbican do it but often venues sell their "least desirable" top price tickets for the day seat bargains so it wouldn't surprise me if the £10 tix were in the stalls.

      There may have been £85 tickets via Barbican, that's now how they were advertised although they did mention Premium Seats at unspecified prices so that's probably them. There's an interesting debate about ticket prices here http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/10878608/How-much-would-you-pay-to-see-Benedict-Cumberbatch-in-Hamlet.html - I'm pretty ambivalent tbh, personally I'm very price conscious and would rather see three shows at £15 rather than one at £45 but I've never been that bothered by venues who charge high prices, opera tickets are north of £200 at Covent Garden and Glyndebourne but if I was differently minded I might save up and go to the opera once a year rather than seeing several cheaper options. That's an argument for another day though!

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    3. Excuse me? I signed up as a member only to realise that no front row tickets were available and I should relax? I think not! If I had been told that ATG would have the lion's share of stalls tickets I would have bought their membership instead.

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    4. I have in my time buying tickets for london shows never seen a venue when sold out saying that you can still buy the same types of seat at other distributers - i am not saying that is ok im saying it is common practise!
      @anonymous I understand that but it is common knowledge that there are more than one provider of tickets and besides noone has promised all tickets to be available to you when you bought a membership! I don't even think that is commom practise they even usually hold back tickets!
      And about pricing just praise yourself lucky to have a chance at getting cheap tickets in Denmark (where im from) plays usually cost at least 50 pounds and that being fairly cheap and 80 being normal we never get tickets at 10 pounds!

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    5. Denmark is more expensive than the UK, all northern European countries are :)
      I go to the theatre very often (last month I went to about 3 plays per week) and it never ever happened to me (may I say it again, NOT EVER) that the venue has allotted a third party all the best seats in the house before the priority bookings for its members have been made. I am not saying it cannot be done, it's just very sneaky and borderline dishonest.

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  10. Honestly, I think that however the Barbican dealt with this scenario there were going to be unhappy punters. I can understand the comments from long standing (and even new) red and orange members about the tickets available through 3rd parties but really, it could have been a LOT worse. At lesser the Barbican have made some attempt to curb ticket touts (and with that demand they could have made a hell of a lot more that 25% on top). I paid £40 for an orange membership. I bought 2 circle seats on a Saturday. I'm happy I have tickets. A lot of people won't.

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    1. There were always going to be unhappy punters indeed - nobody seems to have cracked the best system for letting people down gently which is why there seem to be so many different systems!

      I agree with you on touts. The Telegraph published a puff piece promoted by Viagogo's PR team http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/theatre/theatre-news/11025625/Cumberbatchs-Hamlet-most-in-demand-show-of-all-time.html - interestingly, Viagogo are offering gallery seats (face value: £30 or less) for £349 per ticket.

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  11. A large part of the problem was the non disclosure of a LOT of information on the Barbican's part.

    When the tickets went on sale at the start of the Red membership there were already a LOT of seats not available. If they weren't being sold to Red members, then where were they? We know now that they were put aside for ATG and other re-sellers. While it may be normal practice for this to happen at a theatre production (producer setting aside certain number of tickets) given the much hyped talk about wanting to make it accessible to all, etc, etc makes it somewhat jarring when you consider that the opposite seems to have happened.

    Why not say up front, 'hey, we are selling this many tickets in these waves and this is the breakdown' people can then decide if they cough up the cash to get red or orange membership and first dibs on premium/good stall seats (which was not the case let me tell you) or wait and chance it with the general sale with the Barbican or the resellers.

    But no, instead we got mass hysteria due to lack of communication on the part of the theatre. (And you can bet that there are going to be some majorly pissed off people when they inevitably announce a release closer to the start of the run). It also seemed like the Barbican used this opportunity to get as much money from memberships as possible. Knowing that there would be many overseas ppl interested, it would have been nice if they had offered an overseas membership option as most ppl wouldn't be going to London until the actual show and therefore would be unable to use ANY of the member benefits as you needed to buy the membership prior to the pre-sale which of course means the membership is not valid for the actual run.

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    1. Mass hysteria? No one forced anyone to buy a membership, they never promised the "best" seats when buying with a membership - it was "priority" buying, which is very different.

      The terms of the membership (one year) is clearly stated - people bought it and are now complaining that they won't enjoy the benefits of it. How is that Barbican's fault? Again, no one forced anyone to buy a membership.

      The hysteria seemed to be self-generating. At first there was relief they were selling a year in advance, which would give ticket buyers a full year to plan for their trip if they don't live in London; then, it was full on complaining because the membership wouldn't be useful after one year and many were saying the Barbican should not have sold tickets so early.

      I have yet to read of anyone who had a membership - of any color - not being able to buy tickets.

      I do think this is a first time theater experience from quite a few people as they seem to have no idea how the business (and, it is a business) operates.

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    2. Let me elucidate one point: last week the Barbican were still urging people to buy memberships as best way to get tickets, when they knew fully well that it was untrue. So I wouldn't say forced, but certainly encouraged under false pretences.Yes, you could buy a ticket, but it was hardly the best available one.As for how a business operates: 1) they were quite coy with the fact that no discount would be available for members 2) most plays don't sell one year in advance (I should know, I go to the theatre very often), they did in this case because someone is being very greedy. I am not saying it's the Barbican. :)

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    3. I read the Barb's tweets on this last week; what I read was reality. If someone wanted seats in advance of today, having a membership would likely help but they could not guarantee that. The thing is nearly sold out and it is not even end of day yet - so, I don't think they were wrong - at all.

      If someone went into debt buying a membership, then that is on them, no one else. Also - they do not offer discounts with membership - it is not just for this one show. The whole thing circulating that all this was done to mess about the fans of Cumberbatch is pretty silly and ludicrous but, people will believe what they want.

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    4. We'll have to agree to disagree :)

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  12. Pt 2
    It's been a right mess with the Barbican. Sure, they're saying that they are going to check that that the transactions were legit and that no one went over their 6txt allotment but unless they commission someone/a company to create an algorithm for them to use through their database (because I doubt they would have thought to do this before tickets went on sale and actually make it part of the back of house features) it's unlikely that they are going to be very effective in cracking down on illegitimate purchases. Not to mention that there is no issue if someone gets their tickets through a re-seller.

    They also would have been better served to have waited until October to open ticket sales up to give themselves the time to set it all up properly and communicate the details AND that way people who purchased a membership could also use it for when they went. But noooooooooooooo, let's not think things through. I wonder if they thought 'hmmm this is going to be big. Maybe we should get an outside company that specialises in this sort of thing (ticketing, people flow control in an online environment, security of data and access to the system, etc, etc, etc). Or, you know, we could do it ourselves like we have with other projects. Yeah, we'll do it ourselves!!!!"

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  13. Pt 3
    The problem is that it's going to leave a sour taste in A LOT of people's mouth. Esp casual theatre goers or people from overseas. All they are going to see is a money grab.

    First " I have to pay for a membership to get dates I want, but at least I'll get good seats!"
    Then "Oh. I've managed to get on albeit after 6.5hrs. Let's see what seats are available...hmm... There are random single fringe seats in the middle or seats way in the back... Not REALLY good seats AT ALL.....hmmmmm.....I suppose I'd better get something now and I'll come back later to see if they release some more. Maybe they are having technical issues or something."

    After which comes " those ccksuxing boasters! (I was auto corrected from bastards to boasters, and let's face it, it fits just as well!) why did I just pay £100 for a Red/Premium membership to only have second tier tickets available?

    And now we find out that they've sold of an undisclosed amount of tickets to ATG who have sold them for less than I paid with my membership and were better situated?!

    Also, what's this I hear about non member fee paying member people getting tickets at a time that was meant to be EXCLUSIVELY for specific member tiers???? FCK THIS NOISE!

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    1. The tickets that were mistakenly sold to non-members during member only period are being rescinded and monies reimbursed and tickets taken back - That has already happened actually.

      Gee - you seem like you are about to combust - I've read this exact rant elsewhere

      - You might want to consider returning your tickets if you are so unhappy about them, contacting the Barb and saying you want to drop your membership pronto - maybe they will do all this so you can relax and maybe, just maybe, even look forward to the actual play.

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    2. People are unhappy, it's only natural. It happens when you are ripped off by a company that you used to respect. Many people won't renew their memberships. I had intended to, but not anymore.

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    3. Well, I think the Barbican is fully cognizant that the people who bought membership solely for this production will not be renewing - so, I doubt that is going to be a shock to them. People who have long been members will likely continue to renew. I think the Barbican will survive.

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    4. A culture centre like they are thrives on acquiring new members (especially these days with all the spending cuts). I don't think it will please them to know many people will take their money elsewhere. Anyway, their choice.

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    5. I doubt it; it is most often about the actual productions vs the ticket selling practices. If I want to see the performances and want priority booking plus member perks, I'll pay for the membership.

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    6. But there was no actual priority booking!, that's what I'm saying. The ATG faithful got better seats than Barbican's Red members! I read of people last week boasting about front row seats, when red members only got third or worse.

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  14. Nothing about how the ticket sales were made surprises me. This happens in the States too. I became an orange member in May. Bought my ticket last Monday. 2 1/2 hours in the queue on-line, during which time I read all my tweets and emails...no biggie. Got 7th row stall ticket. Even with the membership and handling fee, it was cheaper than a number of tickets I've bought for a Broadway show. So, no complaints here. (Now, to save $$ for my first-ever visit to London!)

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    1. Totally agree. There is a such an incredible sense of entitlement in this day and age. This has been no different from Wimbledon, the FA Cup Final, Kate Bush or any other high profile rock and pop concert since time began. In the olden days you would just cuss and go off to Premier, Stargreen or any of the other brokers who you knew would have tickets once the ads said it was sold out. It's a commercial project, it's going to be the biggest theatre event of 2015 and they could have sold the front row for £500 to uberfans. But they didn't and they are offering 100 seats a performance at £10. Somehow don't remember Kate Bush doing that and I should be entitled to it because I have bought all her records.

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  15. This does piss me off a bit. I bought a orange membership, because I thougth that was the best way to get the best tickets. Before the red pre-sale ended, I had already looked at the dates for avalibility. In the stalls were only seats left at the very sides and in the rows in the back.
    I'm happy with my tickets. Row C at the side, I hope the view is good. Im very happy I'm able to see Hamlet.
    But reading that people got such good seats from ATG does seem a bit unfair to people with a membership. I specially bought a membership so I could buy good tickets to Hamlet. I'm not rich, but I really wanted to see this show and I knew tickets for this would be in great demand.
    So happy that I have tickets, but I won't ever renew my membership.


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    1. The Barbican knows you won't be renewing your membership - you bought it only for this one play. Absolutely nothing in their terms and conditions does it say members will get a shot at the "best" tickets. It does not say that. That was assumed by people.

      I do think a lot of people who are complaining about the process may not be people who have ever bought theater tickets before, at least it seems that way or so many people wouldn't be so shocked.

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    2. I go to the theatre very often; it's the largest chunk of my "entertainment" budget. And it's never happened to me before that the venue has fewer top tickets than the agents. Usually most theatres in London sell through Delfont and ATG anyway. When they sell directly, they usually keep most of their top tickets for their members, which is the way to do things if you are honest.

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  16. Loads and loads of really interesting thoughts above - thanks to all of you - plenty of food for thought and opinions across the spectrum but it does seem to have aroused more vitriol than I expected, and I don't seem to be alone in my concerns.

    A few extra thoughts in no particular order.

    It amuses me that Viagogo's efficient PR team have got them coverage in the Telegraoh, Guardian and Huffington Post. Viagogo are offering gallery tickets (face value: £30) for £349.99 plus £52.50 booking fee. Hopefully the anti-touting measures put in place will help stamp that out, although I would also hope that there is common sense and people who have legitimately forgotten their photo ID don't have their tickets taken from them. Fair play to the Barbican for introducing the system though and good luck to them.

    The membership thing is a tricky issue. Now the Barbican site does explicitly say that orange/red membership doesn't guarantee that priority booking will be available for all shows. They've even added a line about Hamlet specifically: "We have experienced unprecedented demand for Hamlet tickets and therefore must emphasise that becoming a Barbican Member cannot guarantee access to tickets during the priority booking period." - I'm not sure when this was added. (http://www.barbican.org.uk/membership/faqs)

    But even so, if I paid for membership I would be able to accept that I might not be able to get tickets if people higher up the food chain than me snapped them up first (patrons/platinum members/sponsors/etc). But to find that these tickets had been passed on to another seller to give away to the general public (with no queueing system) is a bit off, frankly. If I was a member and had failed to get top seats I would be spitting feathers.

    Going back to the original post, not knowing about the relationship between Barbican and ATG (the producer is ATG "affiliate" Sonia Friedman) meant I wasn't writing from an informed perspective, so "cartel" is especially harsh and I have no problem with the producer being able to sell an allocation of tickets. Indeed there HAS been a tiny bit of cross-promotion - see https://twitter.com/BarbicanCentre/status/497844275460472832 - although I'd argue that "limited allocation" doesn't imply "a significant chunk of the stalls tickets" - though I don't know the proportions admittedly. I do stand by my thoughts on the nebulous concept of "Premium Seats", the lack of communication and transparency, the utter pointlessness of having a complex "fair" online-queueing system, and the Barbican's recommending that their own website was the "best" place to buy tickets when - especially for anyone looking for better/more expensive tickets - this was demonstrably untrue.

    There is also a Twitter account - @HamletBrbcnFns - which has been heavily promoting partner sites in the last few days. While it presents itself as a fan account (lots of references to the Barbican in the third person "they") I think that's just a bit of astroturfing/good social media marketing practice (delete according to your temperament). However @BarbicanCentre has made only fleeting references, and only once their own allocation (of poorer, if cheaper, seats) had sold out. The Barbican website does now make mention of http://hamlet-barbican.com/ - this site is owned by the Barbican although it's unclear who's responsible for its running.

    It does seem that most if not all people who logged on to the venue website at 10am this morning should have been able to get tickets - 1100 tickets for a run of 3 months at 7 performances a week - that's upwards of 80k tickets.

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    1. The Sonia Friedman/ATG link does explain the situation, and in my eyes mitigate the circumstances somewhat though not entirely. However, the tickets sold via other sources (Telegraph, Time Out, WOS to name but three as well as various other shadier sources) remain on sale - at a hefty premium - at the expense of anyone booking via the Barbican website who fails to get a ticket for the date they want.
      ATG, meanwhile, sound like two tonnes of fun to deal with: http://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2014/08/producer-hits-atg-charges-free-ticket-request/

      Am I looking forward to the production? Hell yes - I was lucky enough to see both of the big West End productions directed by Michael Grandage (with Jude Law) and Gregory Doran (with David Tennant). I've never seen anything of Lyndsey Turner's and it'll be interesting to compare with the others (I much preferred the Grandage production, although for the Doran I was standing in a snowstorm at 6am queueing for day tickets so might have been a bit cranky by curtain-up!)

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  17. Hello,

    I joined pre-queue at ~08:10 this morning. Working from home today and on GMT, so far so good. Randomly placed into queue in the high 7K region at 10:00. I really wanted Oct 31st, my partner's birthday, we were planning to make a weekend out of it. Factoring in flights & accommodation, I couldn't justify red membership at £100. I know somebody who did pay for it, but they live in London so may have use of it again.

    Similiar to yourself, ~10:30 I start seeing rumours about other ticket sellers. We don't live in the UK, all the information I had seen was fairly adament that you should only purchase tickets from the Barbican. I checked Telegraph tickets and yes, I could have purchased two tickets for Oct 31st at £120GBP (+ booking fee). The seats were in the stalls but at the back and off to the side. How on earth can you justify ~£135 GBP per ticket for a play in a bad seat? Forgive me but no production is worth that sort of money.

    A fan group was then kind enough to point out that ATG were also selling tickets. I had credit in my ATG account for tickets I recently needed to return. I didn't know ATG were selling these tickets. Sure enough, no queue, straight in. I couldn't get Oct 31st but I did get a Friday in Sept, row G, bang in the middle. (I rejected Row A & B - much too close) I couldn't believe it! There was so much choice. I ended up with much better seats than my friend who purchased the red membership and top priced tickets (Row Q 7&8). She is fuming, she didn't select opening or closing night. She picked a weeknight and after 4 hrs queueing last Monday, those were the best seats she could get. On paper, my tickets were slightly more expensive but cheaper than membership, cheaper again when ATG credit was applied. Also, as an added bonus during ATG checkout I received a 25% discount code for Radisson hotels.

    I stayed in the Barbican queue because I was curious to see what time I could get through/what seats would be available. It was 16:30 before my green man stopped walking. Gallery tickets only £30 + £3booking fee. Oh and we wouldn't have the pleasure of sitting together. Only random single seats left. Much happier with the tickets I have.

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    1. Your friend is right to be fuming. It's a disgrace, but there are still people who say this is not so bad. Typically, there are always those who like to be fleeced. Unfortunately, they are the majority so things never change.

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    2. I had the same experience as your friend. Tried to book 4 tickets for a family outing during a two week august period as a Red member. Queued up 30 min before start of priority booking for the Red and got decent booking number, around 400. What did I find? No stall tickets better than row J and off-center, with a few singles from G and back. I clicked on every show date for those 2 weeks. I was stunned but at the time, figured there might be a good reason. Bought tickets in row J on a weekday. L95 a pop. Now I'm learning that my Barbican membership was a waste, when I could have gone to ATG, gotten better tickets, for ultimately a lower price, factoring in the cost of membership. Yes. I think it's a valid reason to feel angry.

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  18. I don't feel there was anything dishonest in the Barbican saying stalls tickets were sold out when ATG still had them on sale - that's like going into WHSmiths to buy a copy of the Christmas Radio Times and then complaining that when they told you it was sold out they didn't tell you that Sainsbury's might still have a copy on the shelf. I do understand people's frustration at the front row seats having all apparently been allocated via ATG, although personally I think they're poor seats so no great loss.

    Personally, I'm not unhappy to have bought (Orange) membership to secure tickets. I didn't spend today at the back of a 30,000-long queue, for one thing; for another, I'm in a position to be able to use it occasionally for the free art gallery access (already have, in fact) which should effectively wipe out the cost over a year.

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  19. I managed to get tickets by being a member but I find it outrageous that the Barbican made such a fuss and made it clear that they didnt want tickets to go to touts and they don't play fairly themselves. Do people who have bought tickets through other agents have to show ID and abide by same rules ss the Barbican states?!

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    1. Yes, they've been very clear that the ID requirements are the same across the board. Whether they'll check it in real life (for anyone, not just those bookers) remains to be seen, but the stated expectations are the same.

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    2. Actually, they haven't. They might have posted it on the Barbican website, but if you bought from ATG there was nothing on the booking pages or in the T&Cs about lead bookers, photo IDs or 6 ticket limits across all sellers. How are people supposed to know unless they book through the Barbican and/or read their twitter of these arbitrary rules? It's a mess. If you have such strict requirements, you can't only tell some of the audience and expect them to have read every tweet and post!

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  20. Thank you for this blog post. Yes, I got stall seats as a Red Member but not closer than row J and not in the center, and I checked multiple august dates and queued before ticket sales started. I'm happy to get tickets and happy to see they are offering 100 super cheap tix per show, but I feel shafted as a Barbican member with all the news about ATG's availability.

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  21. I don't care if the membership "scheme" is standard operating procedure. It stinks of elitism. The fact that memberships were available during the presale period allowed the Barbican to cash-in on the frenzy and was certainly a disincentive for them to be forthcoming about information.
    Although on the whole, I found the Barbican's handling of the Hamlet ticket sales abysmal - horrible lack of transparency about ticketing partners & existence of additional ticketing entities, their dubious to enforce & somewhat confusing anti-touting efforts, the pathetic reduction in member allotments (9 down to 6) which did little to make the production accessible to the maximum number of individuals, etc. It is still strangely satisfying to read complaints by irritated members because they didn't have access to ALL of the good seats despite having bought their way to the front of the cue.
    Am I bitter? Nah, I couldn't go anyway due to the darned Atlantic, but I have a headache from reading all the planning tweets, all of the "I've got mine" posts followed by saccharine posts wishing "good luck getting tickets" to everyone they climbed over and those who were ultimately denied any seats at all because of greedy members planning multiple trips to the show.)
    The Barbican was most assuredly in the wrong in a number of ways, but the panic stirred up by those Cumberbatch fangirls/new Barbican members who evidently have more money than principle are as much to blame.
    Fairness should matter.

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  22. I completely failed to get any tickets as I was out of the country :( Any idea if anybody still has them? I don't mind paying for a package if I have to.

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  23. I purchased a orange membership, the night before the tickets went on sale to the general public. I didn't want to wake up at 4 am where I am to buy tickets. I was a bit pissed at myself I didn't buy them sooner. After reading this entry I went to double check my seats, just realized I have second row seats! To busy buying tickets to even notice where the seats were!

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