Monday 7 May 2018

We have been invited to review the website Founded in 2011, SeatPlan claims to provide detailed, interactive seating plans to give users a guide to views from seats in major theatres around the UK. In its own words, ‘SeatPlan was born to collate audience members' seat reviews in a clear, easy-to-use format’. I have used SeatPlan a few times, along with, but I thought I’d take another look at it for a couple of theatres I’ve visited recently, namely the Piccadilly and the National Theatre’s Lyttelton.

So, what’s good about it and what do we feel needs work?

The Good:

SeatPlan is quite aesthetically pleasing: it has a clear layout, is uncluttered and is kept updated, listing a theatre’s current, past and upcoming shows. It also allows you to search by show which is handy if you aren’t that familiar with specific theatres. I haven’t tried booking a show through the website so I don’t know what sort of deals they offer and if these are truly best for value, but they seem to have a detailed amount of information on each show, including synopsis, running times and booking dates.

The seat review system itself works on a five point colour coding system. For the Piccadilly, when recently reviewing Strictly Ballroom, reviews for where we were sat in the stalls were accurate and fair. Although only one of our seats was reviewed, there was a good range of seat reviews from throughout the theatre’s three tiers. There is the option to add photos of the view from your seat and there is also the option to quickly flick through photos of seat views rather than having to blindly pick a seat from the seating plan.

Synonyms for seat, anyone?

For users who post their opinions there is the option to list your height, allowing people to judge differences in leg room opinion. This gives the impression that the website wants its patrons to give as accurate review of their comfort and view of the stage as possible. Looking at the plan for the Piccadilly, the colour coding goes from a sea of dark greens to red as you go from the front stalls to the back of the upper circle, suggesting that these reviews do reflect what you’d expect for their value. The ability to read multiple reviews for the same seat is also useful. Generally, there’s good access information including listing the number of steps from foyer to seat, and listing any wheelchair spaces. Overall, I found SeatPlan to be very user friendly.

Needs work:

More information about the theatre and total experience would be good, in particular about regular theatregoers’ bugbears: How many toilets are there? What’s the cost of a glass of wine? What are the interval queues like? Is the theatre facilitated with ‘Ordertorium’ and how good is that service? There is some information on good value seats but there could be more, especially if a venue (or show) offers day seats and what the policy is on these.

One difference between SeatPlan and TheatreMonkey is the tone. The latter has more of a personal tone. It mixes public reviews with a confident voice of experience and recommendation which I quite like. Sometimes reading many different reviews of the same seat on SeatPlan can be tiring. But then again, this is where the colour coding system comes in handy. Something to think over perhaps?

An option to sign up via Twitter could be good. If there is one already, I couldn’t see it.

What could become an issue on SeatPlan is the discrepancy between seat view photos. For the Piccadilly, one audience photo shows a massive amount of overhang from the above circle, whereas a seat nearby doesn’t show any. Elsewhere, in the Lyttelton’s front stalls, there is a red review between two green reviews, which seems odd and potentially undermines the reliability of SeatPlan. Then again, users of the website are probably savvy enough to realise that one bad review of one seat in an otherwise well-reviewed part of the auditorium shouldn’t be given much credibility. Or should it? I suppose it’s down to the user to weigh up the value of the seat. Having sat in that part of the Lyttelton many times, especially for Angels in America, I’m surprised there are so few comments about the poor leg room and lack of arm rests.

On another note, how does SeatPlan cope with theatres like the Almeida where the layout often changes?

Where SeatPlan really lacks is its content on regional theatres. For example, I randomly chose the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre and saw that it has zero seat reviews. But at least that’s listed! Neither the Royal nor the Derngate in Northampton are listed. Leicester’s Curve isn’t listed. Surprisingly, one of the biggest theatres outside of London, the Birmingham Hippodrome, isn’t listed. In fact, looking at the page on Birmingham, The Rep isn’t listed either. The New Alexandra is listed, but it only has 23 reviews from throughout the theatre. It seems a bit depressing, and confirms London-centric biases, that theatres outside the capital look like ghost towns on I suggest that they concentrate on trying to boost its regional output. However, I was impressed that some of the reviews of the New Alexandra were of the current tour of Sting’s The Last Ship. This confirms that it is kept up to date, which inspires me to keep on using SeatPlan in the future.

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