Well, this is strange. It's not often that I feel underdressed at the theatre. Speaking as someone who once wore a dinosaur print sweatshirt to a black tie gala at the Royal Opera House, I'm usually quite content, bar the odd attempt at theme dressing, to rock up in whatever I'm wearing that day.
But here I am, with 116 theatre trips under my patent-leather belt this year alone, and I am feeling distinctly awkward about my appearance.
I'm standing in the long box office queue underneath the weighty canopy of the Savoy hotel, and it's there. That skittish, itchy feeling that comes when you realise just how out of place you are.
And I am severely underdressed. I see that now. Everywhere around me, ladies are in full glam: false lashes, their cheekbones contoured into diamond-cut angles, and displaying a safari park's worth of leopard print. My go-to look of the moment: grungy t-shirt and vintage men's 49er jacket, just isn't cutting it amongst this flock of exotic-looking creatures.
We shuffle our way forwards, as massive cars slide their way off the Strand, slipping their way under the canopy to deposit their passengers at the front door of the hotel. Men in top hats and tails run forward to open doors for them.
A lady in ATG livery shouts at us. The queue is just for ticket pick up. If we have a ticket, we're to go straight in. There's a catch in her throat, as if she's minutes away from losing her voice.
Eventually, I make it inside the great golden doors of the theatre. The box office has little ornate hatches set into the wall, like an old fashioned movie theatre. Not surprising at this place is a palace of art deco. Sham art-deco, as the place was (re)built in the nineties, but still. There's some serious thirties-glam going on all the same. The foyer is painted silver. The box office counters are gold. And the queuing is lifted straight from the great depression.
These tiny box office windows always make me think of the Bocca della Verità in Italy. The Mouth of Truth. A huge stone mask with a gaping hole for a mouth. As Gregory Peck explains to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday, "the legend is, if you are given to lying, and put your hand in there, it will be bitten off."
Thankfully, I don't have to give a false name today, and my hand returns unscathed and holding a ticket.
I turn around to head inside, but their's a rope blocking my path. I have to go back outside in order to get inside the theatre.
If anything, the queue as got even larger. All the doors are blocked by people pressing forward. Everyone managing to block everyone else. A perfect storm of leopard print.
One of the Savoy top hats comes over to talk to the ATG lady.
"You need to move them," he says. "The cars can't get through."
ATG lady raises her voice, ordering us to move off the road. But there's nowhere for us to go to. The queue is three doors wide and ten people deep, and growing all the time.
"Let's just go in here," says a group of four women in leopard print as they come out the box office. They aim for the tiny sliver of space in front of me and elbow their way in.
"The car can't move," persists the top hot.
ATG lady doesn't look at him. She knows about the damn car. But she also knows that fifty people are considerably harder to move than a single car.
Gradually, I'm jostled towards the door, and I stumble through, coming to a halt just in front of the bag-checker.
He looks inside, and then takes hold of the bottom, giving it a good feel.
A really good feel. He's not letting go. I can see his hands curling around something through the fabric.
Something long and cylindrical.
"It's my umbrella," I explain.
He let's go and I'm waved in towards the next person in this entrance procedure.
"Three floors down," says the ticket checker, glancing at my ticket.
I'm in the stalls tonight. A fancy seat for a fancy theatre.
The stairs are painted yellow. With big green circles clustered in corners as if the walls have developed some sort of fungal growth.
Okay. Not that fancy then.
It takes me the full three-floor descent to realise the green circles are meant to be grapes.
It's a relief to step into the auditorium and be back into the world of towering silver walls and upholstered art deco. The seat numbers are stitched into diamonds shapes on the seats and even the fire exit sign has its own extravengent frame to sit within. But this is all background detail to what is going on up on the stage.
A fuck-off massive 9 to 5 sign, complete with LED screen, light up lettering, and enough glitter to take a Liberace tribute act on world tour.
Two young women come and sit next to me. They're not wearing leopard print, but they make up for it by each having two drinks. A glass of wine. And a cocktail. They have to take it in turns to get into their chairs as the drinks mean they don't have any hands free to go about the business of taking off their jackets and flipping down the seats.
"Are we allowed to take photos?" one asks.
"No!" cries the other, scandalised.
"Oh, I just wanted a selfie with the 9 to 5..."
"Oh, that's fine. I thought you meant during the show."
"Nah. Just a selfie with the 9 to 5."
"Not during the show?"
"They don't let you take photos during the show."
"But it's fine now?"
"Yeah, it's fine now."
That settled, they take selfies together. They're having a great time.
I should have brought a cocktail. And a friend. This is totally the wrong show to be going to solo. And sober.
The face of the alarm clock in the 9 to 5 transforms into Dolly Parton's face, and we are treated to an intro from the country queen.
The audience cheers. And drinks.
As the show progresses, the drinkers become drunker, and the non-drinkers grow ever restless.
A woman in the row in front turns around to glare at my neighbours. They've been chattering a good deal.
They don't notice the glare. And continue their conversation.
By the second act, most of the audience is properly drunk.
The glaring lady has resorted to adding a new manoeuvre to her repertoire of admonishments - a finger raised to pursed lips.
The young women giggle in reply.
"Shh!" one hushes sarcastically in reply.
I now know why the front of house areas are painted with grapes.
"Someone's in our seats," says one of the leopard-print ladies, holding a fish-bowl full of some pink-coloured concoction. She pouts. Actually pouts. Her lower lip jutting out to show her distress as she waves towards the filled-seats.
"Mum, you're in the wrong row..."
The glarers have multiplied, and are on full tutting duty for the second act.
But even an army of glarers isn't enough to interrupt that good time being had by a leopard-lady in the front row.
She sways in her seat, almost in time with the music, claps along to the beat in her heart, and cheers every time one of the trio of 9-to-5ers on stage gets one over the MAN.
But when she turns around in her seat to talk excitedly to the person behind her, it gets too much for the glarers.
Across the stalls I spot an usher rushing down the opposite aisle. She pauses by the doorway and stands on tip-toe to get a good look at our leopard-lady.
Someone must have tattled.
A few minutes later, a different usher comes rushing down the nearest aisle, wearing the expression of someone who has just drawn the short straw.
She crouches down next to leopard-lady and whispers something.
Leopard-lady nods. She gets it. She'll be quiet.
The usher smiles gratefully and retreats.
Leopard-lady gets up from her seat, swinging her handbag over her shoulder, she heads for the exit.
The whispering usher chases after her.
There's nothing through that door but the way out.
A minute later and leopard-lady is back, in her seat, and clapping away.
No one tries to stop her fun this time.
As the cast finish their curtain calls, she waves each of the trio off stage. And they wave back.
Someone really needs to set her up with the mayor of Hornchurch. Something tells me they'd get on just fabulously.
In the meantime, perhaps she can teach me how to contour...Read More