If ever there was a time for Leicester Square to just... not, you'd think it would be a Monday night at the arse end of summer. It's damp. It's dark. And yet, here we all are. Wandering around looking bleakly at the street performers and trying to convince ourselves that being robbed by primary coloured monsters in the M&M store counts as a good night out. Well, not me. Obviously. And not you, either. I'm talking about them. The tourists. But, you know, as our era of globalisation comes to a close, I'm feeling very inclusive. Because, after all, aren't we all travellers in this journey we call life? I mean, whatever. I'm outside the Prince of Wales theatre, and it looks like the TKTS desk has been doing a roaring Book of Mormon trade this morning because the HOUSE FULL sign is out front and the queue is stretching all the way down Oxendon Street. There's even a couple of people lining up for returns, which is sweet. Thankfully I don't have to join them. I've got my ticket all sorted.
I follow the queue down the pavement until I reach the end, where there is a black-coated front of houser on duty.
“Collecting?” she asks.
I confirm that I am indeed collecting.
“Lovely,” she says. “On the left.”
I join the line she’s pointing at, and begin the long shuffle forward. The queue over on the right peels away into a side door for people who already have their tickets on hand.
Me, I drudge my way around the corner and towards the front door.
Ushers monitor us from beneath the shadow of their huge black umbrellas.
“If you already have your tickets, head on inside!” they call. “If you’re collecting, join the end of this queue.”
“I need to collect my tickets…?” someone asks.
“Yup, join this queue on the left please.”
There’s a musician in front of me. At least, I’m guessing that’s the reason he’s holding a trumpet case.
The security guard on the door looks at it.
“What’s in there?” she asks as he holds it up.
He tells her.
Nope. Nothing else.
She waves him past.
She’s clearly never been a fan of old mobster movies.
My turn. I open my bag for her and she pokes around, stirring up my scarf with her finger. I too get waved in.
“How many?” the man on the door asks me.
“One,” I tell him.
Yup. All on my lonesome on a Monday night.
“This way,” he says, moving the barrier to let me through.
Well now… I could get used to this. Preferential treatment for the loners. I like it.
Now in the foyer, I go over to the counter and find a free box officer. “Smiles?” I tell him. “S. M. I-“
“What was that?”
It is rather loud in here with three box officers all trying to get tickets out at the same time.
“Smiles?” I try again. “S. M. I. L. E. S.”
He nods. He’s got it this time.
A short riffle through the ticket box later and he’s got it.
I don’t even have time to tear off the receipt bit before I need to hand it over to the ticket checker. I’ll give the Prince of Wales this, they see a full house and they throw the entire staff rota at it. I haven’t managed a single step yet without being within bleeting distance of a front of houser.
“You’re going through door D for Delta,” says the ticket checker, unfolding the ream and looking it over. “All the way upstairs.”
That’s good. I need the exercise.
I follow his directions, aiming myself for the staircase.
The walls are covered with shiny silver paper. The carpet is burnt umber.
One floor up and I’m in a bar. Is it a bar? No. There’s no one selling drinks.
Just tables and chairs and banquettes. Sitting for the sake of sitting. With no one trying to get money out of you.
Now this is luxury.
I consider taking one of the seats next to the window. It looks like there’s a pretty impressive view down Coventry Street. But my investigation must continue.
I keep climbing.
And find a programme seller.
That’s good. I was worried I'd walk out of here with cash still in my wallet.
“Do you have change for a tenner?” I ask her.
“I do!” She sounds genuinely excited about this. “Let’s do a swap,” she says as I offer her my note.
I take the fiver and fifty pee from her hands. They wobble dangerously on my palm as I grapple with the ten-pound note.
“Ooo!” she says as I nearly lose the coin to the umber carpet.
“Don’t worry. I got it,” I tell her, recovering, and we manage to finish the exchange without loss of change.
I follow the signs for door D, up past more metallic wallpaper, through another seating area, past old show posters from the thirties, and here I am. Right at the top.
I emerge into the auditorium at the back of the circle.
It’s a dramatic space, with a huge stage and the seating drawn out in long lines. No horseshoe shaping or slip action going on here. Apart from a few boxes we are all going to be sitting front on.
“Row K?” says the usher on the door as he looks at my ticket. “Just over here,” he says, leading me to my row and waving me into it.
The seats are nice. Comfy. No armrests though, as I soon realise when the young man sitting next to me sticks his elbow right into my ribs.
I fear I may have similar troubles on the other side as the girl sat there wrestles her way out of a glossy leather jacket. But once her escape has been secured, and the jacket carefully arranged over her lap, her elbows are tucked in closely, only moving when a box of Maltesers is passed over from a friend. Which I’m sure we can forgive. I would never deny someone a Malteser.
The lights dim, and the tiny statuette topping the extravagantly decorated proscenium arch twists and turns, playing a trumpet.
The rest of the audience clearly thinks so too. Even after all these years, Book of Mormon still manages to elicit a “Wooo!” of excitement as it kicks off.
Across the way, down by the boxes, I spot someone dressed in a smart white shirt and black tie. He may even have been wearing a name badge.
Is that an elder?
As the curtain rises, and the Latter Day Saints get their hellos on, I keep an eye on him.
If the Price of Wales theatre is getting their ushers dressed to theme then I am so here for it.
But when the latecomers are led in, I can see full well that the ushers are not wearing white shirts and black ties. They are wearing striped shirts and no ties. More prison chain-gang then clean-cut missionaries.
When I look back, the white shirt is gone.
Perhaps he was my first sighting of a theatre ghost.
A Mormon theatre ghost.
I sure hope so. You never hear about Mormon ghosts. It sure feels like the Catholics have a monopoly on the supernatural, and frankly, it’s 2019 and we all need to move on and update the ectoplasm.
I don’t get much of a chance to think about this, because Book of Mormon is packed full of absolute bangers and I can’t concentrate on anything as measly as potential theatre ghosts. It’d take a confirmed sighting to get me out of this seat.
No surprises there though. The Latter Day Saints know how to party. Let me tell you, you haven't lived until you've been to a totally sober ceilidh in the back room of a temple with a bunch of eighteen-year-old Mormons. Seriously. It's quite the experience.
And before you get all weirded out, I was also eighteen at the time. And I was totally in love with the sweetest Mormon boy ever. He was... so tall. And had all these stories about his mission in Africa. None of them involved frogs though. I just want to clarify that.
Funnily enough, it didn't go anywhere. He's married now. Lives in Utah.
Anyway, where was I?
Shit. Yes. The Prince of Wales theatre.
It's the interval now.
We mostly stay in our seats. Presumably, all dreaming about the Mormon boys we used to know.
The elbowy dude next to me goes to get an icecream and makes full use of his angles when he returns to eat it.
Feeling a bit bruised, both emotionally and in the more literal sense, we make it to act two.
This show opened eight years ago. Which makes me feel hella old because I got myself into the final dress rehearsal for this production. Anyway, it's interesting to see how long-running shows keep themselves relevant. There's usually a dance move lifted straight from a TikTok video so everyone can pretend they're down with the kids, and yup - there it is. Dabbing. Literally the only place you see that move anymore is in West End theatres. Kinda adorable.
The No Deal Brexit joke gets a roar of laughter, but whether it's from approval or sheer terror, I can't tell.
A fullsome round of applause later, it's time to leave.
"No Deal Brexit!" says someone to his friend as we make our way back down the silver stairs. "He called her No Deal Brexit? Did you catch that?"
"He called her lots of silly things.”
"Yeah, but No Deal Brexit!"
"That was funny."
"It was funny."
It was funny.
And now I get to go home and sup on some sweet sweet caffeine, sure in the knowledge that no Scary Mormon Hell dreams await me tonight.