"What does a free drink mean?" asks someone in the queue at the bar.
Sounds like a stupid question, but it had been one I'd been asking myself.
"I don't know," comes the reply. "They just said a free drink from the bar."
"So, wine? Or like... can I get a double?"
Silence. I could only presume the answer came in the form of a shrug.
I looked up at the menu. There was wine. And beer. Coke in all its variants. Water. And spirits. But no indication of which ones could be requested in exchange for the small drinks token we had been given.
I'm not a wine or a beer drinker. And I only really go for the carbonated stuff when there's nothing else on offer. As for water, I've got some in my bag. And spirits don't tend to be included in these offers. Should I wait to find out?
"Can everyone move to the other side?" calls the man behind the bar. The queue shuffles its way to the other end of the bar.
I go with them.
The queue is long. Really long. And I decide the thing I want, the thing I really want, is to get out of the queue and take some photos of this venue. That's the real reason I'm there after all.
I don't know about you, but I wasn't at the Cutty Sark to find a new drinking hole. I was there to get some ship-action going on. It's not every day you get to wander around beneath the hull of a nineteenth-century clipper.
I think the good folks at Royal Museums Greenwich are fully aware of this, so open the doors a full 45 minutes before the show starts.
I had missed out on this precious wandering time because of my inability to ever judge how long a journey on the DLR will take. I rocked up with only ten minutes to go, and I spent half of them standing outside, gazing in rapture and trying to work out how to possibly take a photo that would capture this ship in all its beauty. Did I want the corner of the pub in the shot to show off the surrealness of seeing a bloody great boat there? Or perhaps have the masts stark against the night sky?
Nothing seemed right, and I just had to accept that I am not a photographer and you'll just have to live with that, as I do.
When I came to realise this, there was nothing left to do but go inside, give my name, pick up the drinks token and...
"Can I get one of these?" I asked, indicating the stack of programmes on the desk.
Turns out I absolutely could, because they were absolutely free.
After that, I was pointed in the direction of a staircase that would take me down, deep into the bowels of the earth, the hull of the ship descending with me.
At first I didn't see it. The theatre. But as the smooth curves of the dark ship fell away from me, I spotted it. The seats first. Rows of them, linked close together in church hall fashion. And then the stage. Small. Nothing more than a backcloth and a platform stuck in front of it. Like one belonging to the travelling players of a forgotten era.
I was there for Pirates of Penzance, which as shows go for watching under the looming shadow of a sailing ship, is pretty unbeatable.
"If it's terrible, we can leave in the interval," says a man sitting behind me.
His companions don't sound so sure about this deal of his,
"Apparently, it's an operetta, not an opera," he soothes. "So hopefully it's not terrible."
The musicians stroll down the big staircase, dressed in full pirate get up. With embroidered waistcoats, tricorner hats and everything.
That gets an audible reaction from the row behind me, and coos of appreciation replace the grumbles of discontent.
A few minutes later, it's the turn of the cast, the ladies wrestling with large skirts as they make their way down the endless steps and cross the huge space towards the stage.
It's my second Pirates of the year. When I started out on this marathon, I never considered this Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, would be the one to steal the Most Viewed category. I figured that honour would go to some Shakespeare or other, but here we are, serving up those corny Cornish Pirates, and I've loving every minute of it. And where Wilton's was all boys in skirts, this version has meta staging and operatic trills. Because while Pirates may be an operetta, and not an opera, the company performing it, The Merry Opera, are, as the name implies, of the opera, and not the operetta, variety.
When the cast hurried back up to the stairs for the interval, in a manner which must be doing wonders for their cardiovascular fitness, the audience headed to the bar.
Which brings me back to the start of this post.
Abandoning the queue, I roamed the full length of the ship up towards the viewing platform, from where you get a real sense of the scale of the thing, with all the people below scurrying about like little insects.
But what really drew my attention, was what lay below. A chorus of figureheads, bursting out of their display like a battalion of avenging angels. Even the most cherubically cheeked among them rendered demonic by the shadows cast by their companions.
I took a few photos, but their sinister glares get the best of me and chased me back to my seat.
The free drinks must have done the trick because the audience was noticeably more excited than I had left them.
To be honest, I'd been a little concerned about the lack of humming among the older male contingent. When the good ship G&S doesn't bring about some humming among the audience, you know something's gone wrong. But I neededn't have worried. A few rival hummers started from opposing rows in what I can only describe as a hum-off. But before a winner could be declared, they were both blasted out of the competition by a woman letting out a shrill peal of opera-warbles.
"Wow," says her neighbour, sounding a little scared.
Taking this as encouragement, she does it again. And again. But the repetition does nothing to widen her repertoire. It's always the same couple of notes, repeated in impressively parrot-like fashion.
People are starting to look around. But this newly acquired audience only drives her on.
There’s a tannoy announcement. The show will begin in ten minutes. Ten minutes! That’s a very museum tannoy announcement with very museum timings. I’d almost forgotten what they sounded like. I’m instantly back to feeling like a kid on a school trip, wondering if their is time to hit up the gift shop before it was time to go back to the coach. If they want people to hurry back to their seats, they should wait until the three minute mark. And even that seems generous for this space.
The announcement hasn’t put our little opera star off. She’s still trilling away from the back rows.
Just as I wonder whether I should applaud, the band reappear.
We were ready to start the second act.
Dastardly deeds and even worse word-play follows. True love triumphs. The Major General out-raps the cast of Hamilton when he goes double-speed. Pirates are marked out as the very naughty children they are. Everyone gets a touch sentimentally patriotic. And I get my fix of boys in eyeliner.
Oh, and the man that offered his group the opportunity to leave in the interval? Yeah, they came back for act two. I guess operettas aren't terrible after all.