Update: The Royal Court River rumbles on

Yesterday I blogged about The Royal Court’s decision not to offer members of their ‘Friends’ scheme priority booking for Jez Butterworth’s The River.

Rev Stan also shared her thoughts on the subject and both of us contacted The Royal Court voicing our concerns.

Today Kevin West, Sales Manager for The Royal Court, has provided a long and detailed reply to my concerns, including the previous lack of notice for new shows going on sale, The River ticketing policy and the withdrawal of advance booking for £10 tickets for their Upstairs space.

As someone who lives and works outside of London I also expressed concern that the move to day seating sales disadvantaged those of us who couldn’t drop everything at a moments notice.

Mr West’s full response is posted at the end of this blog but it’s interesting to note that The Royal Court doesn’t see any problem for those out of London.

“We appreciate that booking this way will make it difficult to plan ahead, or for those outside London to book and plan journeys. Yet performances for The River are on Mon-Sat, with matinees, so there are weekend perfs to allow for those working out of London, and the release of tickets online as well as by counter should make it possible for people to book whether they are in London or not.”

It was always going to be a tough decision for The Royal Court to make and as suggested by Honour Bayes on her WhatsOnStage Blog, there was always the possibility that tickets would go solely to corporate sponsors but whatever the motives it still seems like The Royal Court haven’t really handled the PR fallout of their policy well.

The full response from The Royal Court can be found below:

Dear Glen,

Thanks for your email yesterday, and apologies for taking a while to get back to you. It’s been a busy 24 hours and I wanted to give you a full reply to each of the points you raised.

It is true that we announce and go onsale later than some other venues – the National and the RSC are the obvious examples of companies who give long advance notice to their members. Yet our policy is always to give Friends as much notice as possible within the confines of our onsale process (which is generally to announce and go onsale simultaneously). For the West End season that you mention (Posh/Jumpy) we gave 2 days of priority booking and sent out the Friends notification at the same time as the press release; and indeed no performance sold out before general sale opened, so there should have been no impact on the availability of tickets. We have tried to listen to Friends feedback on previous season onsales, which is why an extra 24 hours has been added between announcement and booking this time – plus an email on Friday giving advance notice of the arrival of the email.

We are still offering £10 Mondays in the JTD but due to capacity levels it’s just not possible to serve the demand of Friends for JTU £10 Monday tickets. The availability of JTU £10 Monday tickets has come and gone from Friends benefits depending on demand, the length of runs and the other range of benefits offered: it was not available for much of the period between 2000-2007 and has only recently been withdrawn again, starting with Goodbye to All That, Vera Vera Vera and Ten Billion earlier this year, for which there was such limited availability that we considered it fairer to offer all tickets on the day. Tickets in the JTU are still £20 and £15 concessions – a very reasonable rate compared to other subsidised and WE venues – and priority booking is offered to Friends for all these dates.

I can tell you with absolute confidence that if we put The River on sale in advance to Friends it is very unlikely that you would have been able to get a ticket today. Demand would have been so high that tickets would have sold out to a lucky few in minutes and it would have been complete luck on whose server got them to the front of the queue – not a fair system. There aren’t even enough tickets to have allocated each Friend and Supporter one ticket each. We disappointed many of our Friends when the £10 Monday tickets for JTU shows went onsale last summer, and again disappointed many people when we extended the capacity of Constellations and all tickets sold out within seconds. Advance booking under such demand is incredibly frustrating for people, as it’s not possible to see where tickets have gone and how many have been sold. Our change of tack to offer queueable day seats for Constellations, and Pay What You Like nights for GTAT and VVV, were warmly received and made the process of acquiring tickets to sold out performances much easier for the audience, so we have chosen to adopt a similar policy for this show – strictly on a one-off basis, given the nature of Jez Butterworth’s profile after Jerusalem. Ideally we would have liked to have sold some tickets in advance as well as some on the door, but the small number of tickets available would have made it barely worthwhile, and provoked more frustration.

We appreciate that booking this way will make it difficult to plan ahead, or for those outside London to book and plan journeys. Yet performances for The River are on Mon-Sat, with matinees, so there are weekend perfs to allow for those working out of London, and the release of tickets online as well as by counter should make it possible for people to book whether they are in London or not. We looked in-depth into many, many options – lottery systems, limited tickets, online queues, etc – and it was a joint departmental decision, and from Artistic Director, Dominic Cooke, that this was the fairest way to give access to see the show.

We do really value our Friends and supporters. As you know we are a subsidised venue working under very tight resources, and we’ve worked really hard to make the Friends scheme into a success. We know that most of our Friends are loyal and enjoy supporting our work, and enjoy benefitting from the more efficient priority booking and multi-buy discounts that we have tailored over the last 2 years specifically for this group. The Friends scheme is not just benefits led – it is also about supporting the work we do and the development of the writers of the future – so we’re sad that you are considering leaving the scheme as you are a very valued member of the audience.

With such a limited capacity for The River it was impossible to please all audience members, but I am truly sorry that we have upset you with our decision.

Best wishes,

Kevin West
Sales Manager

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