Seats at the Mayflower Theatre

As of March 2018, I have been to the Mayflower Theatre in Southampton 20 times. Being the local theatre to my old uni, I made the most of my student loan by seeing many touring productions there! I therefore think I’m in a pretty good position to comment on the pros and cons of different seating areas at this theatre, so here are some of my thoughts on the views I’ve had of various shows.

Stalls

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My view of The Addams Family from seat T32 in the stalls

When I first started visiting the Mayflower, I almost exclusively sat in the stalls. The stalls area of this theatre is enormous – much bigger than at most other theatres I’ve been to. The stalls are great for seeing shows close up – it’s the best place in the theatre for witnessing discreet facial expressions, and for appreciating every little detail. However, I found that sitting in any of the front 5 rows means that you have to crane your neck upwards to see the action onstage, because you are so close to the stage, so I would recommend sitting anywhere from row F backwards. But then again, if you sit too far back then the overhang of the circle can block some of the scenery up high. Another downside is that although the seats are slightly banked upwards, with the seats at the back being higher than the ones at the front, you may still suffer if a tall person sits in front of you! (Disclaimer: I am 5 foot 2, so I don’t have much of a height advantage anyway). There is plenty of leg room in the stalls, and the vast amount of seats in this area means that there are lots of different pricing options.

Circle

I have only sat in this area twice, and don’t have a photo (sorry!). The circle is the middle section of the theatre, and it is split into two sections: the dress circle and the rear circle. It is very much the middle option for seats at the Mayflower, and it feels more cramped than the stalls, with less leg room; and the floor of the balcony above the audience’s heads makes it feel a little claustrophobic. However, the view is pretty good, especially from the front section (the dress circle), and I imagine that the view from the front couple of rows would have all the advantages of the stalls, plus a bit of extra height and no tall people in the way!

Balcony

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My view of Funny Girl from seat H21 in the balcony

You can always find the cheapest seats in the balcony, so this is a really good option if you’re short of cash, or if you’re not totally sure if you’re going to enjoy a show enough to justify spending upwards of £50 on it! The balcony is very steeply banked, so you shouldn’t have too many heads in your way. However, the seats are very far away from the stage, so it can be difficult to see specific details on stage that you can see from the stalls. You also have to climb up over 80 steps to get to the balcony, so that can be a ‘fun’ pre show workout (ew). I would definitely recommend trying to get central seats in the balcony however, as you’ll get a much better view from these than from the sides, despite being miles away from the stage.

Boxes

I’ve never sat in one of the boxes, but it does look pretty fun to have your own little private seating area! The view however probably isn’t the best as you would be side on to the stage, meaning you’d have to look around to watch the show. I would love to sit in one for the experience though!

Band pit

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My view of Billy Elliot from… the band pit!

Unfortunately you can’t buy seats in the band pit, but having had the pleasure of sitting in the pit for a show, here’s the view!!

There are definitely pros and cons for all of the seating areas at the Mayflower Theatre. I would say that the best seats are mid way back in the centre area of the stalls, because you’re far away enough from the stage to take in all the action, but you can also see the close up facial expressions of the performers. However, the balcony seats are often brilliantly cheap, and due to the steep incline of this layer, the view isn’t that bad at all. My advice would be to choose what’s best for you and your price range, and be sure to return at least 20 times like I have to try out all of the seating areas (except maybe the band pit…!).

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Stalls vs. circle vs. upper circle

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My view when I watched Shrek from the upper circle

Oh yes, it’s that age old debate: are the high ticket prices of the central stalls and front of the circle really worth all that extra money when you can view exactly the same show from the balcony, or even from standing at the side of the stalls for a fraction of the price? Theatre ticket prices have risen dramatically recently (and this was picked up by the press when they noticed the extortionate cost of a family of four going to see Elf at the Dominion over the Christmas period), making theatre going a very expensive hobby. But is it worth the extra money to have a slightly better view?

I’ve been going to the theatre fairly regularly since the age of 6, and my family and I would almost always sit in the stalls. I assume this was because it seemed like the best option – you’re closest to the stage, and surely buying top price tickets would guarantee the best seats. So as I got older and started going to see musicals alone, I would still usually book a seat in the stalls, because I knew that I liked the view from there and that I would be getting the best possible experience of each show.

However, I have, on occasion, sat in the circle or upper circle, and have been pleasantly surprised by the view from there. Last summer I booked a last minute ticket to see Shrek the Musical, and there were only upper circle tickets left. And although the view obviously wasn’t as good as from the stalls (what I’ve become used to!) and I could see the tops of the performers’ heads most of the time, it wasn’t actually that bad. I could see right into the band pit too, which is an obvious bonus for me! I also sat in the upper circle on my second visit to see Jersey Boys, but whereas I’d been pretty central for Shrek, for this one I was to the side. This meant that my view of the stage wasn’t amazing – but for a second viewing I didn’t mind that much, because I’d already seen the fantastic show from a top price seat in the stalls a couple of weeks earlier.

When I went to see the dress rehearsal of Billy Elliot, the seating was unallocated. We couldn’t sit in the stalls because of all the tech desks, creative team members and a photographer, so we were all ushered into the dress circle and upper circle. I ended up sitting in the front row of the dress circle in the centre, which was actually great! I did however have to sit up straight though so that the safety rail didn’t obscure my view due to my lack of height! I also sat in the dress circle on a visit to see Memphis the Musical, and was, again, quite pleased with the view. I find that you get a better overall view of the show from a bit further back, and don’t have your line of sight obscured by people’s heads as you do in the stalls. However, you can miss a lot of intricate acting, whereas in the stalls you can read every facial expression perfectly, and even identify understudies and child performers in the absence of a cast board.

Despite the fact that, in the past year, my eyes have been opened to the positive aspects of sitting in the circles, I still invariably select seats in the stalls. I find that having a close up view of the show makes it so much more personal and really emphasises the live aspect of theatre – whereas those sitting at the back of the upper circle may as well be watching a TV screen. For now, I think I’ll primarily stick with the stalls, but I’ve definitely realised that, especially for second viewings of shows, sitting in the circles isn’t that bad – and the view of the band pit from up there makes it a bit more appealing too!