It occurred to me, while sitting up in the balcony of Her Majesty’s Theatre, that Phantom of the Opera was the first West End show I ever saw. My brother had taken us all out for our mum’s birthday. I remember cringing down in my seat, overwhelmed by embarrassment as the cast started to… sing. Ergh! Were they really going to do that all the way through?
I was about eight years old. And Phantom was too, as we both premiered in the same year.
And look at the pair of us now! How far we’ve both come.
Growing together. Learning together.
I’ve dropped in to check in on my theatrical-sibling a couple of times over the years. See how he was doing. As the (slightly…) elder of the two I thought it was my responsibility, as a big sister, you know.
Okay. I went once. When I was at university. Which, if your maths has been keeping up, you will know was a very, very long time ago.
I’m a terrible sister.
And as I don’t want to let our relationship deteriorate ant further, I came to the conclusion last night, while sitting up there in the cheap seats (a tenner on GILT donchaknow), that if I really was going to die during the marathon, then it was going to be on that night. At Her Majesty’s.
It just seemed right.
Not only because of my great kinship with the show. But also because, if I did manage to come back to haunt the theatre, I would then become The Phantom of The Phantom of the Opera. And if that isn’t a title worth dying for, I don’t know what is.
This was destiny knocking, and I was waiting by the door ready to go.
The usher posted on the balcony that night seemed to agree.
“I'll be looking after you in the balcony tonight,” he said, positioning himself at the front of the tier for his introductory speech. “Right now, take as many photos as you like. But once the show starts, no photography is allowed. If I see you, and your screen will betray you, I will embarrass you.”
Yeah, okay mate. But one can’t die of embarrassment. Believe me, I’ve tried.
“During the interval,” he continued, his voice ricocheting off the ceiling. “For health and safety please don't congregate on the stairs as you may fall.”
Ah. That’s the stuff. That’s how it was going to happen. That’s how my marathon was going to end.
“The rake here is very steep, so don't lean forward,” he went on. I expected some dire warning about tripping and plunging head first into the stalls, but he merely followed up with an explanation that leaning forward blocks the view of the people sitting behind. Which is also good. I suppose.
“I'll shut up now,” he finished before taking up post at the wooden podium behind us, from which he could watch us all. Master of all he surveyed. A god up in the gods.
He was as good as his word.
“No photos in the auditorium,” he boomed during the interval. “I can see what your screens are doing.”
Obviously I instantly took my phone out and attempted to snap a shot.
Pointed down. Aimed at my knee.
I’m a rebel, not a tosser.
But obviously my phone crapped out and the image didn’t save, so you’ll just accept my confession without proof.
Devoid of a functional phone, I had to find other ways to secure my demise.
The door to the balcony was promising. Looking for all the world like it had been bought at the prison-closure sale, it held distinct possibilities.
Seemingly made of metal, this door could do some serious damage if I could find someone to smash it into me, accidently or otherwise.
But there was no one about.
I moved on in search of other methods of extinction.
A little way down the stairs there was the strange case of cubby-hole 98. I don’t know what secrets the preceding 97 doors held, but I was sure that number 98 contained something fantastically dark and hopefully dangerous.
I gave the handle a tentative tug.
Whatever was in there, wasn’t getting out.
What else? What else? What else?
Choke on an ice-cream spoon?
Crash into the scale-replica of the theatre built of Lego that I found in the Grand Circle bar?
Hand over my debit card to the lady on the merchandise counter and tell her to keep on going until the inevitable heart attack?
Somehow these ideas managed to lack both the dignity and theatricality that I was after.
I didn’t want the other theatre ghosts to laugh at me, after all.
How could I hold my floating head high in front of William Terriss, who was stabbed to death by a fellow actor at the Adelphi stage door and now haunts the theatre? Or Charles Macklin, famed ghost of Theatre Royal Drury Lane, who was the one who did the stabbing, puncturing the eye of his co-star with a cane while they argued over a wig (no one says what happened to the spirit of the stabbed man. Presumably he wasn’t that fussed about the wig after all, and has moved onto a realm where wigs are no longer a concern)?
If I met my end by way swallowing an ice-cream spoon, I would be the laughing stock of the annual theatre ghost convention, an event which, if it isn’t already a thing, I will institute as soon as I am within the theatre ghost ranks.
No, if I was going to go, it had to be impressive. A story worth telling at parties.
I ran through a few options as I watched the second act. I could have made a flying leap for the chandelier, but that had already had its crashing moment before the interval. Or I could have strung myself up with the Punjab lasso. That one fulfilled all the criteria - it would fit in with the show. I could organise some grand, on stage reveal - tears of shock and screams of horror would be bound to follow my discovery. There was one problem. The lasso is an invention of Gaston Leroux and is not a thing that actually exists. And while the show does have one that appears on stage, I’m not entirely sure how functional it is.
I was running out of ideas. Just as I was considering breaking into the cleaning cupboard and seeing what options lay within, the final notes were echoing up from the pit.
It was all over.
After stumbling my way down all the steps, drunk on tunes and eighties perms, I made it outside - safe and somewhat-sound.
And I realised that it was probably for the best that I didn’t die at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Phantom is going to outlive me whatever I do. And while I love my masked brother dearly, and would like to visit him more often. I’m not sure moving in is the best thing for our relationship right now.