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Theatre should not be funded by ice cream

Nobody knows for certain (although several journalists have made rigorous efforts to find out) how the tradition of buying and eating ice cream in theatre intervals began. It’s certainly deeply entrenched now and may be linked to the same tradition in cinemas which has been with us almost since the screen began to flicker.

It’s an odd thing to do, when you think about it. How many of us would – at home – suddenly reach for a pricey junk food sugar fix at nine o’clock in the evening? Well each to her (his) own but it’s the “pricey” bit which has been vexing me lately.

I almost never succumb to the ice cream thing despite usually being in a theatre or concert hall several times each week. In fact it was probably twenty years since I’d bought one. Then – last summer when I was feeling low and it was very hot – I was reviewing at the proms and suddenly fancied one. I am still reeling with indignation and astonishment that my little five minute indulgence cost me £4.50. I won’t bore you with Ancient Briton comments such as that when I was first married I could buy a week’s groceries for that – but I confess it all went through my mind.

Since then I’ve been watching ice cream costs elsewhere – I gave in again last month at Jermyn Street Theatre and paid a much more reasonable £2. My grown up granddaughters wanted to treat me at Cambridge Arts Theatre recently because I’d bought them a pre-show supper. I assured them that it shouldn’t be more than £2.50. They returned with an ice cream for everyone but were annoyed that they’d had to pay £4.00 each.

Such pricing is outrageous. The brand leader is Criterion Ices and they are sold wholesale for £18.53 for eighteen 130ml units That is, please note, JUST OVER ONE POUND PER TUB and I don’t suppose competing brands are very different.  But some theatre managements seem to think it’s OK to chalk up a 300 or 350% profit. The words “rip” and “off” come to mind. Well done Jermyn Street – yes, of course, theatres and venues need to find ways of maximising their income and I suppose ice creams can help with that. 100% profit is reasonable. Any more is extortionate.

On the other hand, I’d rather – as I’ve said before – that tickets were priced according to what the theatre needs to charge to balance the books. I really don’t like added extras (“transaction charges”, “heritage levy” etc) or merchandise sold at obscene prices.

And if we could get to that stage perhaps we could phase out ice cream sales in theatre altogether? They don’t sell them at Unicorn Theatre and that’s a dedicated children’s venue. Perhaps there’s a case for boycotting them elsewhere? I’m tempted to lose a lot of friends by starting a campaign. It really isn’t necessary especially given the so-called obesity crisis and the state of the nation’s teeth. Snacking is not good for any of us – except, perhaps, money grabbing theatre managements.

130ml-vanilla

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Susan Elkin
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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