Did you know that Cadogan Hall was right around the corner from The Royal Court? I didn't know that Cadogan Hall was right around the corner from The Royal Court.
But there it is. Right around the corner from The Royal Court. All gleaming and shiny. It's tall white walls glowing in the evening sun.
It looks quite impressive. Like a medieval French monastery or something. It even has a tower on one end.
Not sure your average medieval monastery has queues to get in though.
Looks like I've booked myself in for quite the event.
I'm here to see a concert performance of Doctor Zhivago. Which is apparently a musical now.
It has Ramin Karimloo in it, who I hear is quite the thing, and has a wee bit of a following.
Which may go some way to explaining all the women queueing to get in.
I side-step them, and head towards the door with a Box Office sign over it.
I'm technically not meant to be here. I got an email from the TodayTix people saying I could go straight in. All I had to do was show the confirmation email with my seat number and that will get me through the door.
But you know me. I never turn down the opportunity to get hold of a paper ticket.
"Collect?" asks the security guy on the door.
He opens the door for me.
As I go through I can here him talking to the next person: "Collect?"
Inside there's some steps leading down, and there, at the bottom, is the box office.
"Hi!" calls one of the box officers from behind the counter. "Are you collecting."
"The surname's Smiles," I say at the same time as he asks: "What's the surname?"
I spell it for him. "S. M. I. L. E. S."
He flicks through the ticket box put doesn't find anything.
I'm about to explain the whole TodayTix situation, but before I get the chance, he says: "Miles, was it?"
"No. Smiles. With an S."
He laughs. "Sorry. I thought you said Miles, and S was your initial."
He goes back to the ticket box, and this times goes for the Ses.
"Yes! Thank you!" I say, acting way too happy for someone picking up a ticket.
Oh well, he probably thinks I'm a Ramin fan-girl. Better than being found out as a paper-ticket fan-girl.
The queue for the box office is now stretching back up the stairs towards the door. A front of houser comes out. "Can just one member of each party collect tickets, please!" he shouts above the hubbub. The hubbub ignores him. The queue continues.
I fight my way back out to the street, finding sanctuary against those white walls.
"We need step-free access!" says a woman to the security guy.
She paces back and forth with her cane, jabbing at the ground and muttering venomous words. "Nope. It isn't happening," she says, clacking her way back to the security guy,
"He's coming!" he insists. "He's just opening the door for you."
And sure enough, the door opens. And the woman with the cane is all smiles and simpering.
Time for me to go in too.
I head over to the main entrance. There's a queue. Not a large one. But it's very slow. Each bag check taking an absolute age.
When it's my turn I show the bag checker my ticket and he waves me in. I thought I had escaped, but no. He spots the backpack slung over my shoulder and he stops me. Turns out though, it was the Cadogan audiences that are to blame. And not our bag checker. Because he processes me within a few seconds, and I'm inside.
The monstary-vibes continue into the foyer, with stained glass windows overlapping in Celtic motifs.
Opposite the door, there's a rather less decorative desk with a sign on it.
Fifteen British pounds.
A standard five pound programme. Then another ten on top.
I pause. Staring at the sign.
I've paid a lot for programmes on this marathon of mine. I've even spent fifteen pounds. But what I haven't done, is pay more for the programme than my actual ticket. This is a frontier I'm not all that sure I want to cross.
I dither, trying to convince myself that I need to buy the programme so that I can review whether it is actually worth fifteen (fif-fucking-teen!) pounds, while the voice at the back of my head is screaming not to be such a fucking idiot.
I decide to compromise, and have a flick through of a copy. If it's a good programme, I'll buy one.
But there are none on display.
There's only a pile of what looks like flyers.
The programmes, it seems, are being kept under the counter. Like the dirty dirty magazines they are.
I pass and decide it's probably time to go find out where I'm sitting.
I follow the signs to the gallery, and show my ticket to the lady on the door. "Gallery," she says, looking at it. "Right to the top, madam."
I let the madam thing slide. I'm too busy looking at the stairs. They don't look all that scary. Until you see the sign informing you about the number of steps to each floor, as if TFL have stormed the building and taken over.
62 steps up to the Gallery. Is that a lot? I feel like that's a lot.
I know it's 75 steps up to the Pentonville Road exit in King's Cross when the escalator is broken, and that sure gets the heart pumping.
Oh well. Here we go.
I start climbing.
It's not so bad.
There's a lot of people making the ascent, so it's slow going. And there are pretty stained glass windows that make me pause on each level to take a photo of.
A few minutes later, I'm at the summit, showing my ticket to the usher, and only slightly out of breath.
"You're in Block N," she says, as if that's supposed to mean something to me. I stare at her blankly. She blinks back. May the theatre gods preserve us from nonsensical seating systems. "Round towards the double doors," she says, pointing towards the far end of the horseshoe-shaped gallery.
Right then. There we go. No need for all that block-bullshit.
I make my way around the back of the gallery.
I'll give Cadogan Hall this, it looks well impressive from up here.
Those tall white walls are doing the mostest. With thick padded curtains covering unseen windows.
One thing that had always confused me about this place is that, while it's mainly concerts and music things happening here, they do, on occasion, also programme dance. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how dance would fit on a stage built for music, but there it is. Not particularly wide, but with enough depth to allow the odd jete.
Overhanging the stage is a small balcony, that you just know even the most concert-like of concert performances, is going to want to use to dramatic effect at some point.
In the corner, there's another usher, and I show her my ticket.
"You're round by the double doors," she says, getting straight to the point. She pauses and makes an umming sound, looking over at the doors as if calculating the best route.
"So, round the back?" I ask,
"Yes," she says slowly. "Yes. Round the back."
So round the back of all the benches I go. Right down to the final block, by the double doors. Block N as it turns out.
Each row as a sign stuck to it, with the block letter, row letter, and the range of seats. Making a pretty simple layout of rows vastly overcomplicated. This ain't the Royal Albert Hall here. We don't be needing blocks to find out which end of the horseshoe we're sitting in.
But anyway, the benches are like church pews. Long and wooden. Hardbacked. With a cushion that slips and slides as you try to sit down.
I'm a few rows back and it's a pretty restricted view from up here, but eh... the tickets were cheap and it's a concert. I'm not fussed about seeing anything.
The audience applauds as the orchestra come out and start tuning up. The percussionist takes a selfie of himself sitting at his drumkit and everyone looks super happy, grinning at each other.
The house lights dim. There's more applause as the cast come out.
There's an announcement. "Welcome to the UK concert premiere performance of Doctor Zhivago. Make sure to purchase your commemorative programme in the interval."
A commemorative programme? Wow. I've never had one of those before. I'm deffo going back to get me one of those in the interval. Price be damned.
I'm so weak.
They start. And it turns out that the programme hawker is actually the narrator for the evening, reading out the stage directions so the cast doesn't have to act them out.
I can't see Karimloo from where I'm seated, he's too close to the my side of the stage, but I can tell when he's about to sing because a woman in the front row grins every time he approaches his music stand, her entire face lighting up with joy until he finishes his song and returns to his seat.
My neighbour is sitting on the edge of her seat. Literally perching on the brink, so she can lean forward and get a good look at what's going on down there.
I don't bother. I figure whoever is sitting behind me has better reasons for being here that checking off a venue, so they deserve to see more than the back of my head.
No shame to my neighbour though.
A fan-girl's gotta do what a fan-girl's gotta do.
I can't tell you anything about the rest of the cast, but I am very much enjoying how much the guy playing Pasha looks like a certain famous Ukrainian (or is it Russian now?) ballet dancer.
As soon as the applause has died out and the house lights are up for the interval I am out of my seat, rushing around the back of the gallery, and diving down the stairs.
The queue for the loo slows things down, but I manage to squeeze my way through and back down into the bar.
There's a huge gathering around the programme table, everyone standing around, very much not buying programme s.
I creep my way in.
Someone picks up the final flyer and takes it away with them, leaving nothing but a plastic film behind.
"There are no programmes at all now," says the guy standing behind the desk.
"None?" someone asks, incredulous. "Are there any more...?" she points towards the plastic film.
"You'll have to find the information online," says the guy behind the desk. And that's it.
I want to tell him that most venues, when faced with a castshhet crisis, will go and photocopy some more, but something about his stance tells me the matter is closed and he has no interest in talking about it any further.
Which makes me wonder why on earth he is even bothering to stand behind the programme desk. Take the sign and go! Be free! Live your life, far away from the tyranny of paper-products!
He doesn't though. He stands stoic, amongst a flurry of disappointed programme buyers.
Well, there's nothing left for me down here.
Back up those 62 steps again fighting against the flow of people still coming the other way.
I make my way back to my seat and find my neighbour deep in conversation with the guy sitting next to her.
Turns out she flew in all the way from the states to see this. Or rather, to see Karimloo.
She saw him perform in New York, and he made quite the impression on her.
The guy asks if she's enjoying the performance, and she hesitates. "I wasn't expecting it to be quite so... experimental," she says.
Yeah, the reading of the stage directions doesn't really allow for losing yourself in the story.
But, you know, it's okay. I'm enjoying it. If one can actually enjoy Doctor Zhivago. I mean... it's fucking depressing. And everyone in it is dreadful. The only character I have any respect for is Pasha. At least he was loyal to his two great loves: Lara and communism.
As Karimloo appears on the balcony for the final tableau, there's a standing ovation. A full house standing ovation.
Well, almost full house.
I refuse to stand just because everyone else is. I try to limit my ovations to around five a year. And with four months to go... well, I don't want to be running through my stock too soon.
Karimloo gives a quick speech.
The audience gasps in amazement as he tells us the orchestra was only given the score yesterday.
The composer and lyricist and invited on stage and they speak too. There are hugs. Lots of them.
It's all very charming and appreciative.
It takes an absolute age to get out of here. The stairs so clogged it takes me a full three minutes just to leave the auditorium.
By the time I make it to Sloane Square tube, I'm exhausted. But the couple on the platform opposite are still living it. They play the cast recording on their phone, cuddling up on the cold bench.