Several agencies offer free tickets to London’s struggling theatre shows in an effort to fill seats, though the growth of so-called ‘papering’ doesn’t seem to be harming sales.

‘Paperers,’ so-called because they paper over gaps in an audience, are required to pay only the booking fees imposed on free tickets to shows that have been dismissed by critics or haven’t achieved their attention.

Membership rules are serious and will see privileges revoked if a person fails to turn up or tells anyone about the free pass. Some clubs even require members to attend a minimum number of plays each year.

A new papering agency called Central Tickets claims it can shift 98 per cent of its quotas or West End shows in an hour and a half.

Lee McIntosh, director of Central Tickets, said, according to the Guardian: “We are dispelling the notion that seat-filling agencies are bottom feeders that aren’t able to contribute to the entertainment sector in a meaningful way.”

Central Tickets gathers audience data for promoters and it uses dynamic pricing to calculate the optimum ticket price to also sell tickets – reducing the need for paperers in the future.

The agency also requests that its members share reviews after the show, which are then given to producers to check against their data to use it to promote future shows.

However, the growth in papering clearly isn’t harming ticket sales. More than 15 million tickets were sold in 2017, the highest since records began, according to the Society of London Theatre.

Fiona English, executive director of the King’s Head theatre in Islington, said, according to the Guardian: “Even the best performers can suffer as a result of having too few people in a room. Papering can be a way to help increase how full a theatre is in order to hit the critical mass needed to get the response that performers deserve.”

Image: Wikimania2009