There are queues around the block for a chance to nab the Citizens Theatre's 50p tickets – an offer that’s available for every production. It’s not just a way of diversifying audiences, it also brings to life the theatre’s history, and civic mission, says Dominic Hill.
© Shiona Walker
Over the last 75 years, the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow has built a reputation for producing innovative shows on stage, alongside its learning programme of participatory and education work. The theatre is known for presenting bold interpretations of classic texts that are accessible and relevant – where any member of the audience can attend a performance for as little as 50p.
“I’ve made friends for life in the 50p queue and we have a WhatsApp group to remind each other when the next one is”
In 1976 a new 50p ticket price for all seats was introduced (or 25p for students, plus a free preview on the Thursday before the Friday opening). To put 50p in context, at that time the average weekly wage for a man was £70 and £45.30 for a woman. A loaf of bread was 19p and a pint of beer 32p.
Prices for everybody
In January 2012, I reintroduced the famous policy as part of our commitment to ensuring everyone can access great drama at the theatre. It was our desire to ensure nobody would be able to say they couldn't afford to come to the Citz, and that we were able to offer prices for everybody.
A hundred 50p tickets are available for each production. Tickets are available the Saturday before opening night and must be purchased in person at the box office in cash. Tickets usually sell out within half an hour with many keen bargain hunters queuing from early in the morning.
One audience member commented: “I get here early because they sell out and I love a bargain. It means I get to see things I might not have thought about going to before. I take more risks and it always pays off.”
50p tickets are available to everyone. Many customers are from the immediate area, but some travel from as far as Aberdeen to snap up a cut-price ticket. There are a number of regulars for whom spending their Saturday morning with other theatregoers is a real social occasion. There are lots of students as well as people on their way into town for some shopping who decide to stop off for a ticket on their way. It is a diverse crowd and newbies are always welcome.
One audience member says: “I’ve made friends for life in the 50p queue and we have a WhatsApp group to remind each other when the next one is. It’s great fun and I’ve loved every show I’ve seen.”
Almost four thousand 50p tickets have been sold since 2012. The offer honours the theatre’s historic reputation for offering world-class theatre at affordable prices. This commitment goes right back to the founding of the company in 1943 by the playwright James Bridie. He took the name from a manifesto written in 1909 for the Glasgow Repertory Theatre: "The Repertory Theatre is Glasgow's own theatre. It is a citizens' theatre in the fullest sense of the term. Established to make Glasgow independent from London for its dramatic supplies, it produces plays which the Glasgow playgoers would otherwise not have the opportunity of seeing."
We continue to offer affordable tickets for a wide range of groups. Initiatives include £2 tickets with a Citizens Theatre Gorbals Card (available to anyone with a G5 postcode), £2 tickets for the unemployed and £10 tickets for those aged 16 to 24. All seats on Tuesdays are available to everyone for £15 and previews are just £12.50.
There's nothing more fantastic than a full theatre. If we could increase the number of people coming to the Citz, and also people's awareness of it, then those are two really good things to do.
Dominic Hill is Artistic Director of Citizens Theatre.