Beginner’s guide: Where to sit at the theatre

What’s the difference between stalls, circles and boxes? We break down the different places you can park your bottom in a standard theatre auditorium.

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With so many choices about where to sit at the theatre, making the right decision for you can be a daunting prospect.

Fear not. We’ve broken down the different seating areas to give you a bite-sized guide that will help you when booking your ticket.

An additional word of advice about where to sit at the theatre: theatres come in all shapes and sizes. This guide will apply to many theatres but for the best advice contact the box office of the theatre you’re visiting. They will have all the information to give you the most complete advice possible.

Sitting in the stalls

The stalls are ‘ground level’ seating – the bottom tier of an auditorium. While you might find yourself looking up at the stage (sit further back in the stalls if you want to avoid this) they’re also considered some of the best seats in the theatre. This is because you’re closer to the action. Not touching distance, unless you pick the front row, but close nonetheless.

Sitting in the dress/royal circle

Leap up one level (or take the more conventional approach and walk up the stairs) and you’ll find yourself in what’s known at the dress circle or royal circle. The front rows of the dress circle are among the best seats in a theatre – especially for dance productions and musicals with a strong dance element. Being one level up gives you the chance to look down and fully appreciate the patterns created by the choreography and the performers’ footwork – aspects you might miss looking up from the stalls.

Sitting in the grand/upper circle

Above the dress/royal circle you’ll find the grand circle or upper circle. Obviously the higher you go, the further you’re moving from the action. But if you’re watching good performers, this should not matter too much; they know how to ensure their performance reaches you.

Sitting in the gallery/balcony

If you’re in a theatre large enough to have a fourth tier of seating, this will usually be the gallery or balcony. Like with the upper circle, you’re further away from the action, so while the performances will reach you, you might miss the odd nuance or flicker of expression in the actors’ eyes.

Sitting in boxes

Oh the glamour! A room of your own from which to watch the performance. Boxes are usually found on the same level as the circle, and are level with the side of the stage. Book a box and you get all the benefits of having your own space to relax, away from the rest of the audience. Do bear in mind, though, that by sitting at the side of the stage your angle of viewing may be a little skewed.

Restricted view

Some seats at the theatre will be labelled as ‘restricted view’. This means that your view of the stage may be partially blocked. Reasons for this can vary from the area above the stage being obscured by the overhang from the dress circle, to a safety rail blocking your eye line. It’s worth exploring how far your view is restricted – by talking to the box office or checking a website like Theatre Monkey – as these seats will often be cheaper though the restriction may be very minimal.

Premium seats

These are the seats that the theatre considers its very best. As such, they will be sold at the highest price. If you don’t fancy paying that premium, try finding out where the premium area ends and booking the seat next to, behind or in front of it. The view will not be that different, but the price might be. This money-saving tip works for almost every decision about where to sit at the theatre.

Find out more about theatre with our Beginners’ Guides to parts of a theatre, types of theatre and types of performance.