There’s a moment in Home, I’m Darling when Katherine Parkinson’s floofy skirts take up the entirety of a sofa. In order for anyone to sit next to her, they have to manoeuvre her petticoats out of the way.
I don’t think I have ever felt so seen in all my years of theatre-going.
I too was having trouble with my skirt. A massive tartan number that could have comfortably cloaked the entirety of William Wallace’s army. I couldn’t seem to cross my legs without getting the toe of my boot caught in the hem, which was making the intricate act of uncrossing and standing up all the more tricky.
As was keeping tabs on all that fabric, which if neglected for a single moment would take off and work its way into the hinges of the flip-down theatre seat from where it had to be coaxed back out with all the patient tenderness of a fireman freeing a fat rat from a manhole cover.
And when it wasn’t on a death wish, it was making intimate acquaintance with my neighbour’s knees.
You might well be thinking that I probably didn’t need to wear a skirt that I already know to be problematic to the theatre. One might even go so far as to say that I shouldn’t wear it at all. But the lure of theme dressing was too great, and after seeing those gorgeous posters of Katherine Parkinson in her pinny, dotted all over London, there was no way I was missing out on the opportunity to play dress up.
Now, I do love me some fifties, but all that pastel perfection isn’t very… well, embracing of the night side, is it? So while big skirts are in, the palette was more Alexander McQueen than Her Maj, the Queen. And my biggest, stompiest boots were subbed in for the required heels.
Boots that insisted on getting stuck in my damn skirt every time I crossed my legs.
I really need to get that thing hemmed.
It’s that or pray to the theatre gods for my legs to have a late onset growth spurt.
Anyway, my boots freed from the tyranny of my skirt, I picked my way over to the front of the Royal Circle in order to get some of my patented dodgy dome photos. I do like taking pictures of the ceilings of these old West End houses. They are always so fantastically over the top.
"Just so you know, we don't allow pictures of the stage," said a voice from behind me. I wobbled dangerously on the step as I attempted to turn around. It was an usher, wearing one of those little ATG waistcoats that makes them look like old-timey train conductors. "But if you want to take pictures of the theatre..."
"I'm purely about the theatre," I assured her.
I neglected to mention that I had already got all the photos of the stage that I wanted while still trapped in my seat. As had everyone else in the audience.
But, out of deference to her efforts. I won't post them. I'm just going to hoard them for myself. Those photos are mine! All mine!
Anyway, the Duke of York's is a handsome old theatre. Lots of gold and twirly bits. But to be honest, I'm starting to get a bit bored of these late Victorian West End houses. They've all begun to merge into one another. It doesn't help that they're pretty much all owned by one of three companies: the aforementioned ATG, which owns the Duke of York's along with the Ambassadors, the Pinter, the Phoenix, Fortune, the Savoy, the Playhouse, the Lyceum, and technically the Donmar (the building at least, but we don't like to talk about that), Lloyd Webber's company (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, the Cambridge, Adelphi and the Palladium, Her Majesty's, and the Gillian Lynne) and of course, Delfont Mackintosh (the Novello, the Gielgud, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales, Queens, Victoria Palace, Noel Coward and the Wyndham's). Visiting these theatres, being greeted at the door by front of housers dressed in identical uniforms, being handed identically branded tickets, seeing the same red seats and gilt walls, going to the bar and getting deja vu at the sight of the chairs upholstered in mushroom coloured velvet and walls cluttered with ornate mirrors, it all gets a bit samey after a while.
In the interval, I went in search of some architectural interest.
The Royal Circle at the Duke of York's is on the ground floor, so the bar is in the foyer. It basically is the foyer.
I dismissed that and headed upstairs. The bar up there was filled with ornate mirrors and mushroom velvet chairs. I turned around to leave, and... hang in. What was that...? A terrace! I love a terrace. Except it was already filled with people. There wasn't an inch of room free along the railing. And the doors were blocked by a barricade of bodies. I moved on, into the upper circle.
Pretty much the same as the level below, except, higher. There was some bench seating at the back which I've always been a bit wary about booking but it didn't look so bad.
I made my way to the front to see what the view of the auditorium was like from up there. Squeezing amongst a group of girls who were standing on the steps, I took up position next to the front row and aimed my camera back towards the audience.
Now framed by my screen, I now noticed for the first time that the balcony, the level above the upper circle, was dark.
That was weird. I thought the show was selling well.
I checked the seating plan on the ATG website.
Stalls. Royal Circle. Upper Circle.
No mention of a balcony.
This needed further investigation. I went to the Duke of York's Wikipedia page.
"Capacity: 640 on 3 levels."
Again, it was like the balcony didn't exist.
But I could see it. It was right there.
Was I hallucinating?
I hoped not.
Mainly because conjuring up an imaginary balcony would demonstrate a real lack of imagination on my brain's part.
I turned back to Wikipedia.
There, just under the capacity was another set of numbers.
"900 on 4 levels in 1892."
Four levels. So there had been a balcony once.
But what fate befell the poor neglected level over the past 127 years was not something the great writers of theatre-Wikipedia thought fit to mention.
Was there a ceiling collapse like the one that closed off the balcony at the Apollo theatre? Did the annual theatre ghost convention take place up there, resulting in a flood of ectoplasm that the Duke's team are still fighting to clean up? Has it been overrun by a vicious gang of theatre mice?
Come on ATG, fess up. The people deserve to know!
Unless it was closed off in order to permanently reduce capacity and the balcony is now used as a store room or something equally mundane and reasonable. If that's the case, we're better of not knowing.
If I were ATG I'd switch their photo policy around. Allow all the photos of the set in the hopes that people neglect to photograph the theatre. And with it, forget the balcony.
Soon the only evidence that it had ever been there would be a short note on the theatre's Wikipedia.
And then the mice can spend the next 127 years nibbling through the support beams in piece.