Picture the scene. You’re trying to buy tickets to the hottest West End show and you’re greeted by a seating plan that’s a maze of colours and prices. In a blind panic, you find two seats within your budget that look okay at first glance – the ‘slightly restricted view’ can’t be that bad, right? It’s only when you make your way to your seats that you realise you can barely see the stage as it’s obstructed by pillars, or railings, or walls, or lighting fixtures, or other patron’s heads… sound familiar?
Here at SeatPlan our mission is to help theatregoers book the best seats, whatever their budget. So we’ve trawled through over 80,000 photos of the view from seats right across the West End to determine the 10 worst theatre seats that you should avoid. These seats feature pillars right in the centre of your view, extreme viewing angles, cripplingly tight legroom, vertigo-inducing height problems, or such severe neck strain you’ll need to see a chiropractor.
To help you to avoid booking these seats when deciding where to sit at the theatre, we’ve also recommended some alternatives in the same or similar price bands that offer a better overall viewing experience.
10. Harold Pinter Theatre
Seat to avoid: Stalls, P16 – £47.50
Warning when booking: Obstructed view
There are many pillars throughout the Harold Pinter auditorium, but P16 has the pillar right in the centre of your view, which is going to obstruct your view no matter what production you’re seeing. The venue alert the buyer that this seat is restricted but give no further information to the nature of the obstruction.
Seats to book: For the same price, you can book P7, which has a similar pillar in view but it’s more to the side and slightly less of an issue. To avoid pillars entirely, seats in the Royal Circle are also available for the same price – these are also restricted view, however, this is only due to a thin rail in the bottom of your eyeline.
9. Wyndham’s Theatre
Seat to avoid: Stalls, BB1 – £40
Warning when booking: Restricted side view
This seat in the stalls is perfect for admiring the Wyndham’s Theatre’s ornate design, but less perfect for enjoying what’s happening on stage.
A buttress juts out obstructing a huge portion of the stage and any action towards the rear or left will be entirely lost – this seat was rated just 1 star for view by our users. The booking warning from the venue ultimately undersells the extent of the obstruction.
A large pillar to the left blocks a large amount of the stage, resulting in a lot of contortion to see what was going on.@patrickb5 – saw Life of Pi at Wyndham’s Theatre in February 2022
Seats to book: All is not lost in the slip seats in this theatre though, AA3 and BB3 will offer a better view of the stage for a similar price.
8. Novello Theatre
Seat to avoid: Balcony, A11 – £27.50
Warning when booking: No warning
Watching a show from this seat at the Novello Theatre is rather like watching a show in a prison cell! Multiple rails and bars obstruct the view of the stage and the balcony offers a birds-eye view of the proceedings below. Legroom has also been heavily criticised in many of the seats in the Balcony at this venue, making leaning forward particularly uncomfortable.
We were amazed to see that this seat came with no booking warning from the venue to alert the buyer of the obstructions.
Seats to book: Seats further back in the Balcony will offer a clearer view for a similar price but will feel very distant from the action.
7. Lyric Theatre
Seat to avoid: Balcony, E3 – £25
Warning when booking: This seat has a restricted view of the stage
A combination of the natural curve of the auditorium seating and a whole host of safety rails makes this seat one of the worst in the Balcony at the Lyric Theatre. We’d estimate you lose around two-thirds of the stage from this seat, and you’ll need to spend the whole show leaning and twisting to try to improve your view.
Seats to book: For a similar price, you can find seats in the Grand Circle, look out for some great seats in row E like E4 and E23.
6. Phoenix Theatre
Seat to avoid: Stalls, AA1 – £20
Warning when booking: Limited view, you will be looking up
The front row can be a unique and special way to witness a West End show, however, the front row at the Phoenix Theatre is not for the faint-hearted. With one of the highest stages in the West End, you’re well below stage height when sat down causing a severely restricted view.
This seat has a poor view due to being on the end of the row and so close to the stage. Unless performers were right at the front of the stage they couldn’t be seen.@sanch001 – saw Come From Away at Phoenix Theatre in May 2019
Seats to book: Opt for seats in the Grand Circle for a similar price, which give a better overview of the staging and offer a clear view.
5. Garrick Theatre
Seat to avoid: Stalls, S18 – £20
Warning when booking: The view from this seat is restricted by a pillar in the auditorium
This seat at the Garrick Theatre is severely obstructed by a pillar as well as the overhang from the Royal Circle, leaving the poor, unsuspecting theatregoer able to glimpse only a tiny corner of the action on stage.
Seats to book: All pillar seats in the stalls at this theatre are sold at the lowest rate, S18 is probably the worst offender. Try to book H23 for the least severe restriction.
4. Theatre Royal Haymarket
Seat to avoid: Upper Circle, B30 – £17.50
Warning when booking: View of stage extremely restricted-you miss at least 90% of the stage
The intricate architecture of the Theatre Royal Haymarket is on full display from this seat, unlike the stage. The venue suggests you’ll miss 90% of the stage from this seat and even leaning for the entire duration of the show will only afford you a view of around 50% of the show.
Seats to book: All seats in this price band suffer from a similar view, but the seats closer to the centre offer the best overall view – try to book A29 or A11.
3. Noel Coward Theatre
Seat to avoid: Grand Circle, AA26 – £15
Warning when booking: Very Restricted View – due to a side view and safety rail. Will need to lean forward
This uncomfortable slip seat in the Noel Coward Theatre offers a poor view of the stage. The extreme side angle means you’ll be able to see (and be distracted by) things happening in the wings, and the safety rail further impedes the view.
Really uncomfortable. If you sit back in your seat you see nothing and your knees are pressed into the wall. I ended up just listening to the show for most of the second half due to sore necks. Really disappointing and not worth the cheap price.@jayne11 – saw Dear Evan Hansen at Noel Coward Theatre in December 2019
Seats to book: For the same price, all seats have a similar severely restricted view. Slip seats closer to the centre cost more but have a better overall view.
2. London County Hall
Seat to avoid: North Gallery, D42 – £13.50
Warning when booking: Restricted view, marble pillar in centre of sight line
Despite being home to the hit play Witness for the Prosecution, you won’t be witnessing much of the play in this seat up in the galleries of London County Hall. The venue is explicit in their warning when booking this seat, which highlights the severe viewing restriction.
These chunky pillars affect the view from quite a few seats in the galleries of this venue, so it’s worth double-checking how intrusive the restrictions are when booking.
Seats to book: If you can find a clear view seat in the side galleries, like C10 or C41, it can be great value and a unique perspective to watch the play.
1. Sondheim Theatre
Seat to avoid: Grand Circle, AA4 – £10
Warning when booking: Extremely restricted view – due to a side view, safety rail and lighting equipment. Will need to lean forward; view will not be clear
This high-up, side-view seat at the Sondheim Theatre suffers from a multitude of viewing issues. Even when leaning forward in the seat, the view is obstructed by a lighting rig. Despite its cheap price, many of our users still wouldn’t recommend sitting in this seat – rating it just 1 star for view.
This is honestly the worst seat I’ve ever sat in at a theatre. This seat is sold as “restricted view” but it’s actually NO VIEW at all. Even leaning forward you can’t see anything as lightning equipment blocks the entire stage. I know these are cheap seats but considering you actually don’t get to see anything it’s a rip off.@pixieclau – saw Les Miserablés at Sondheim Theatre in November 2021
Seats to book: All seats in this price bracket have a very restricted view, the best are those closest to the stage like AA1 and AA29.
Steps to booking a great seat
There are over 42,000 seats across the West End’s 38 theatres and the vast majority of them offer great views at a reasonable cost. However it’s always worth double checking if the view is worth the price – especially if you’re on a tight budget.
It won’t matter how good the entertainment is on stage if you spend the whole show uncomfortable, unable to see or frustrated by the experience.
Here are our top tips on what to look out for when booking theatre seats:
- Look out for ‘restricted view’, ‘high stage’ or ‘!’ pop-ups in the booking path – the theatre will often flag if a seat has an obstruction when you click on the seat.
- Always question the cheapest seats – if a seat is significantly cheaper than those around it, the chance that it has some viewing problems are very high.
- Check your seat on SeatPlan – our users have uploaded thousands of reviews and photos for every West End theatre to help theatregoers book the best seats and avoid the worst!
Have you experienced a bad seat?
Have you sat in a bad seat in the West End due to a terrible view, poor value for money, or an unhelpful warning when booking – let us know @seatplan on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram #WorstSeats