Thank the theatre gods for BIG The Musical.
I was beginning to get a bit worried here.
The Dominion Theatre has been dark for a very long time. Since the first week of January. I’d meant to get myself to Bat out of Hell before it closed, but as the final performances loomed the prices shot up and there was no way I was paying 80 quid to see… whatever that musical was.
The months rolled on.
I’d walk past the shuttered venue, peering into the glooming looking foyer every time I walked down Tottenham Court Road, until I began to regret my cheapness.
Eighty pounds wasn’t that bad. Not when the fate of an entire marathon rested on it.
Prince of Egypt announced it wood be moving in. But not until 2020.
I don’t mind admitting that I was getting a bit panicky.
But then, blessed relief. BIG The Musical was coming to London for a limited season. I held out. Not buying a ticket. Cheapness gnawing at my heart once again.
I needn’t have worried. TodayTix had my back. A 24-hour ticket offer. Fifteen quid to sit in the stalls. Not bad at all.
So, yes, thank the theatre gods for BIG The Musical. But all hail TodayTix and their ticket offers.
This is my first visit to the Dominion. Not only did I miss Batty, I also missed every other previous show. And by missed, I mean: actively avoided.
So, it’ll be nice to get a good look at the place.
As I approach the entrance, a bag checker mimes opening a bag and I take the hint. He doesn’t find anything of interest inside, so I’m allowed through.
The foyer of the Dominion is huge. Double height. With a staircase either side leading over to a balcony overlooking the massive space below. It’s all red and cream and brass and really looks like that hotel in American Horror Story. I look up, fully expecting to see Lady Gaga selecting her victims from the cattle below.
No such luck.
In the centre of the lobby there are two podiums staffed by programme sellers. Or perhaps the more accurate description would be lecterns, so tall there’s a built in box at the back of the for the programme sellers to stand on.
I still need to get my tickets, so I pass them and follow the sign to the box office.
“Collecting?” asks a man in a suit who seems to be in charge of the queue.
I tell him I am.
“There’s a window free just past those people there,” he says, pointing the way, past the main box office, and into a tiny dark corridor with box office windows all down one wall. I’m not sure on the capacity of this place, but it’s built for scale, that’s for sure.
I find the next free window, and give the box officer behind it my surname.
“Do you have a confirmation email?” he asks.
I mean, I do. But it’s from TodayTix, so there ain’t no reference numbers or anything. I bring it up all the same and hold it up to the glass for him to see.
He squints at it.
I wonder if I’m showing him the right bit. I have a look and scroll down to see if there’s more pertinent information going at the bottom of the email.
“No, that’s fine,” he says. “I’ve got it.”
And off he disappears to recover my ticket.
Ticket in hand, it’s time to get me a programme.
I go back to the lecterns.
Because I have just spotted the price.
Ten actual British pounds.
I know I shouldn’t be surprised by now. I’ve been lobbed with higher bills before. But still. Ten pounds. That’s a lot of money for a programme.
“Do you take cards?” I ask one of the programme sellers, because of course your girl has not got a tenner on her.
“Yes, but over at the other desk,” she says, pointing over to the other lectern.
I go over to the other side and get myself a programme, paying ten (ten!) pounds for it.
There isn’t much else of interest going on out here, so I head back, down the steps, towards the stalls.
There’s a merch shop down here. An actual, proper, shop. Not a desk tucked away in some corner. It’s full of BIG-branded stuff. T-shirts and sweatshirts and teddy bears and lanyards and mugs that might rival Sports Direct in their proportions. But I don’t pay attention to any of that, because I’ve just spotted something far more interesting. Over there. On the far side. It’s a Zoltar machine. And by the looks of it, it’s not just there for decoration.
I go over. The sign stuck on the front says it’s two pounds for a go. Well, I just spent a tenner on a programme, I’m not about to wimp out on two quid on this.
I get out my purse, find the coins, and then stare at the machine. Not sure how I’m meant to do this. I put them on the little slot and try to shove it in, but the slot ain’t having it.
“Oh my god, someone’s having a go!” a young man standing nearby exclaims.
“Trying to!” I exclaim right back.
A woman comes over to have a look. “Here, I think they go in those slots,” she says.
She’s right. They do go in those slots.
A second later, Zoltar starts waving his hand and chattering on about it being better not to reveal too much and other mystic sayings. The pair of us stand there, watching him, until a full minute or so later, a fortune pops out.
I have a look.
Apparently, my lucky month is August, which is just great now that it’s September. Got a long way to go before my luck comes in. Hopefully I can hold out until then.
Shoving the fortune into my pocket, I make for the entrance to the auditorium.
“XX?” says the ticket checker. “Down this aisle and you’re on the left.”
Turns out, row XX is really far back. The Dominion is one hell of a big theatre. I almost consider using those binoculars stuck to the bottom of the seat in order to see the stage.
The rake isn’t great, with nothing but the most gentle slope happening between the rows, but the seats are at least offset, and I find myself with a great little view in between the heads of the people in front.
My neighbour isn’t quite so content.
Leaving her partner behind, she chivvies me out of the way to go and sit in one of the empty seats further into the row.
A plan soon thwarted by the row in front starting to fill up.
She moves further in.
But the people sitting in front have the same idea, and a game of musical chairs starts up between them, as they all try and get an unobstructed view.
The house lights buzz and flicker dramatically, and then go out.
The show begins.
These people clearly spent a lot of money here. The set is huge, with screens and multi-storey buildings and set changes between every song.
A big set for a big theatre. Pity there isn’t the audience to match.
Even with the £15 offer, it’s looking a bit thin back here. And judging from the very localised applause patterns, I’d say a good chunk sitting over on the far side work for the show.
This is my cue to say something like: no matter, I’m having a good time. But the truth is: I’m not. I do like the film. It’s a great story. What it doesn’t need though, is songs. And they aren’t even very good songs. Not a banger in the mix. And seemingly written with the premise that everyone on stage needs to have a go.
When that scene comes around, the one with the piano, the one that has made it into the show artwork, it is done via projection. And the notes that emerge have no relation to the movements of the performers. The big whoop from the contingent on the far side is taken up by the rest of the audience, but the enthusiasm isn’t there. It’s hard to get excited about a faked-up set piece. Half the joy of live theatre is the potential to go wrong. Knowing that the keys would light up, and the notes play, even if both key-hoppers sat down and shared a sandwich half-way through, doesn’t do much to get the old heart racing.
I get out my programme to see what ten pounds has bought me.
Not a lot.
I mean, sure, it’s massive. But content wise, there’s nothing there. Biogs. Production shots. That's it. Not even an article to read.
For that price, I’d at least expect some fan service, like what Only Fools and Horses managed to do in there’s. But the closest this one has is asking the cast what their Zoltar wish would be. Not particularly inciteful, and honestly, best suited to a blog post.
As people return from the interval, there’s a lot of seat hopping as everyone tries to upgrade themselves.
I spot the separated couple six or seven rows ahead of me, now reunited.
And I find myself in the happy position of having no one sitting in front of me.
Sadly, it doesn’t do much for the show.
But plod on we do, and the end eventually rolls around.
During the curtain call, I lone woman stands. She waves at the cast. I think she must know one of them.
But as we are launched into a truly unnecessary finale, more people stagger to their feet. Some to leave, others to ovate.
I hold out until the cast members wave us goodbye, disappearing behind the rotating set. But as the band strikes up once more, I cannot stick it any longer. And make my escape.