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‘What happened to Free Willy?’ Cock ticket prices drop after shock at £400 seats

By Chris Wiegand
Jade Anouka and Jonathan Bailey in Cock at the Ambassadors theatre.
Starry cast … Jade Anouka and Jonathan Bailey in Cock at the Ambassadors theatre. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

The West End play Cock has faced criticism for operating a “dynamic pricing” ticketing model that saw the cost of a seat rise to £400.

A spokesperson for the show, produced by Elliott & Harper Productions at the Ambassadors theatre in London, said on Tuesday that as Cock was reaching the end of its limited 13-week run, “the remaining premium ticket seats are based on supply and demand”. But after there was astonishment on social media at some of the ticket prices, the cost was considerably reduced on Wednesday.

Earlier this week, screengrabs were shared showing that the production’s official booking system (not a secondary ticketing website) had several seats in the stalls in a £400 price band, plus booking fee. With the show’s eyebrow-raising title, comedian Bethany Black was among those who found the opportunity for a quip hard to resist: “£400 for cock in the stalls? What ever happened to Free Willy?” Others defended the decision of a commercial theatre production to maximise its profit.

The spokesperson for Cock, which is set to close on 4 June, said that since it went on sale last year, “15% of all tickets sold have been at £20”. They added that there is a daily lottery for every performance, where tickets are also available for £20, but declined to comment further on the pricing of the show.

On Wednesday, it was observed by theatre and education consultant Carl Woodward that seats in the stalls for a performance on 3 June were now available at £175 when they had been on sale for £400 on Monday. Tickets in two other price bands had been £350 and £300 on Monday but were now available for £150 and £125.

Data collected by the Society of London Theatre for 2019 found that the average ticket price for its member venues, which include all of the commercial West End and London’s major subsidised theatres, was £52.17. Research by the Stage newspaper in 2017 revealed that the most expensive tickets for more than half of West End shows were priced above £100. Top-price “premium” tickets in the stalls for Hamilton, one of London’s most popular shows, cost £200.

The Ambassadors is one of the West End’s smallest theatres, with a capacity of 444, and Cock received strong reviews when it opened in March. Jade Anouka, Phil Daniels and Joel Harper-Jackson are appearing alongside Bridgerton’s Jonathan Bailey in the play by Mike Bartlett. Harper-Jackson was originally the understudy for Taron Egerton, who was making his West End stage debut in Cock but withdrew from the play last month citing personal reasons. Egerton fainted during the first performance and later tested positive for Covid-19.

Cock is directed by Marianne Elliott, who co-founded her production company with Chris Harper. Their first West End show was Simon Stephens’ Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle at the Wyndham’s theatre in 2017. Their revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company was a West End hit and its New York staging was nominated for nine Tony awards this week. In November, Elliott & Harper Productions announced it had received a grant from the government’s culture recovery fund, which it said it would use to reopen its shows – including Company on Broadway – and produce work for the future.

Bartlett’s play had a prominent cast when it was first staged in 2009: Ben Whishaw, Katherine Parkinson, Andrew Scott and Paul Jesson took the stage at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs, London.

• This article was amended on 12 May 2022. Taron Egerton made his West End debut in Cock, but not his stage debut as an earlier version said.


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Dive Deeper:
West End theatre prices max out at £460 a ticket for performances of Cock
The play features ‘Bridgerton’ star Jonathan Bailey
The Mix: Cool things to do in Chicago May 12-18
Stars on Ice, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and a Nick Cave retrospective are among the highlights in the week ahead.
The Lowry announces big Christmas show for 2022 - and it's direct from the West End
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Chelsea vs Liverpool FA Cup Final: How to buy tickets, price, availability, Wembley attendance
Wembley could welcome over 80,000 people to an FA Cup final for the first time since the pandemic started
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
What the 2022 Tony nominations say about the state of Broadway
The 75th Tony nominations were announced Monday, nearly a week behind schedule, in a Broadway year still in the throes…
Neil Gaiman's The Ocean At The End Of The Lane coming to Liverpool Empire
The National Theatre’s critically acclaimed adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s dark fantasy novel is coming to the city
Get all your news in one place