“You didn’t walk here, did you?” asks Allison, looking slightly scandalised as I rock up outside the Duchess Theatre.
I admit that I did, indeed, walk here. It’s not that far. I can do it in thirty-five minutes if I’m speedy. Not that I was speedy. I had a stop off to make along the way. A couple of stop-offs. And a full on detour.
Still, I’m here. And only a little bit damp around the edges.
“How are you not completely soaked?”
“I’m magic,” I tell her, truthfully. “Shall we go in?”
We join the queue to get our bags checked.
The bag checker isn’t paying attention.
He’s watching a woman getting run over with a security wand.
“Fuck’s sake!” she shouts, pushing her way back through the queue, shoving me out the way as she escapes.
“What was that?” asks Allison.
“She wanted to buy a ticket, but there aren’t any. I think. She went through security for nothing.”
Allison makes it through the bag check and moves on to get wanded.
I hold my breath as the bag checker prods at the contents of my bag, hoping he doesn’t find the bag I have sitting, hidden, at the bottom.
He moves aside my squashed up cardigan, but if the presence of a plastic carrier back from Chinatown Bakery is noted, he doesn’t say anything, waving me through.
At the next checkpoint I raise my arms out, just like I’d had to do over at the Palace. I can’t imagine The Play That Goes Wrong being as big a target as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but here we are, getting the same treatment.
“How are you?” asks the security officer as he runs the wand over my arms.
“I’m great!” I say, way too enthusiastically for a raining Tuesday evening.
“Very good! That’s what I like to hear.”
And with that, I’m waved inside.
Right. Better pick up those tickets.
I give my name at the box office and the box officer pulls them out from the ticket box. “Dress circle, bars, and toilets through there,” he says, pointing the way.
“Hang on,” I tell Allison. I just need to get a photo of the box office.
“For the blog!” she says, only slightly rolling her eyes.
But while I’m there, I spot a programme seller and soon I’m in a queue to buy one.
“I’ll have to give you a pile of fives,” says the programme seller, spotting the twenty-pound note in my hand.
“Fives are always welcome,” I tell him. And they are. There aren’t many cash machines around here that you can convince to give you one. Except… no. I’m not telling you that. I don’t want you all hogging my five-pound note supply.
“Here’s one,” he says, placing it in my palm. “And ten, and fifteen, and your programme.”
Time to find Allison.
“Tickets please!” asks the ticket checker. I hand them over and he neatly tears the two of them apart, stacks them up, folds the tab on the end one way, then the other, then rips it off, before letting us past.
We’re in the bar.
It’s a very small bar.
We find an unoccupied corner and I get my phone out. “Sorry,” I say, as I open up a draft email and start making notes.
“That’s really impressive,” says Allison, very sweetly.
“Yeah, well, I do try not to misquote people. I really do,” I say as I transcribe all the interactions I’ve had in the past five minutes.
Auto-correct does it’s absolute worst to help me along, but whatever. I’ll be able to figure it all out in the morning.
“Right,” I say, finishing up. “Shall we go in?”
“Look!” says Allison, distracted by something over my shoulder. “They have mini champagne bottles!”
They do have mini champagne bottles. Over there. On the side of the bar. They are very cute.
“Don’t worry. I have something for you. A treat.”
When I make detours, it is always in the pursuit of food.
We head up the stairs, and emerge in the dress circle.
I show our tickets to the usher and she directs us back. All the back to the back.
I may be the sort of theatre companion to sneak in food for a friend, but I ain’t paying good money for tickets. If you go to the theatre with me, you’ll sit in the back, and you’ll like it.
“We appear to have lost a dog for tonight’s show,” calls out a man in theatre blacks. “Can you check under your seats?”
Allison squeals. She loves dogs.
We find our seats.
The two blokes sitting on the end of the row have a lot of bags. At least four rucksacks between the two of them.
I try to step over them, but I'm a shortie. I don't have long legs. Every embarrassing moment from the past nine months flashes before my eyes as I stumble over them. I don't want to die. Not here. I can't be a theatre ghost at The Play That Goes Wrong. They'd have me exorcised. There's no room for that nonsense in a farce.
But just before I tumble into the orchestra pit, I recover my footing.
Thank the theatre gods. I'm alive.
I need to sit down. And like, have some sugar. My nerves are shot.
"Do you want a taiyaki?" I ask Allison.
"What is that?"
So I explain. It's a fish. Made of pancake. With stuff inside.
"Do you like red bean?"
It always pays to ask. Don't want someone getting a nasty surprise.
She does. Thank goodness.
"That's insane," says Allison as she pulls the pancake fish out of its paper bag.
But we're soon tearing off their tails and munching happily as the search for the missing dog rages around us.
"Can you check under your seats?" calls out the man in theatre blacks.
"Everyone?" someone calls back.
"Everyone?! There's only about fifteen people in here!" He leaps up the stairs towards the back of the circle. "If you see a bulldog, do not approach him," he warns. "If you see him, let me know. Say 'yes, Trevor'."
"Yes, Trevor," repeats the fifteen people in the audience, very dutifully.
The house begins to fill up. Fifteen people turn to twenty. Then thirty. Until there are only polka dota of empty spaces around us.
An usher tries to guide an old couple to their seats.
"Where?" says the lady.
The usher points.
They're in our row.
We get up to let them pass.
The man goes first, inching his way down the row.
I yelp. Loudly. He's trodden right on my foot.
He leaps off, muttering and complaining and self-soothing without ever turning around to apologise.
I sit back down, wriggling my toes to bring them back to life.
These seats are dangerous.
And it's not just the seats.
Something is going on down there, on the stage.
They seem to be having trouble with the set.
The door on set won't stay closed. Trevor goes over to sort it out, but it's no good. It keeps opening.
Not only that, but the mantlepiece is broken all to shit.
A stage manager tries to fix it, but it's no good.
She disappears into the audience, mantlepiece in hand, returning a few seconds later with a bloke from the audience holding up the other end.
She directs him to hold the mantlepiece level while she gets to work securing it back over the fireplace.
And then she disappears.
The bloke looks around.
He's on stage. All by himself.
The audience giggles.
Bit mean. He was only trying to help out. This crew is having a bad day. And like, isn't that the point of theatre - a group of people coming together to make art happen? Sometimes, making art happen means being dragged on stage to hold up a bit of set with the stage manager disappears to find a hammer.
Trevor is back. "What are you doing on stage?" he asks.
"Just helping out," says the bloke with an audible shrug.
Right then. Might as well make use of him. He's pointed towards a broom and asked to sweep up. The handle falls away in his hand.
Oh dear. They're really not having a good day up there.
No sweeping then.
Perhaps he can carry over the tool box.
He tries to lift it, but it's too heavy.
With a sigh, the stage manager goes over and picks it up easily. Honestly, stage managers are superheroes. They really are.
Still, that's a kick in the teeth for male pride right there.
"Just talk amongst yourselves," they urge us. The duct tape has come out. There's nothing that can't be fixed with the help of a roll of duct tape. This mantlepiece is getting fixed no matter what.
But it's no good. The director comes out to introduce things, and apologise. He has a lot to apologise for. But, here's the thing. The play has got to start. Even if they don't have a mantlepiece. Or a dog. Or a Duran Duran CD.
And bless them. They do their best. They really do. Although I suspect they could have done with a touch more rehearsal time.
They gamily press on though, working stoicly even though the audience keeps on laughing everytime things don't quite come off.
Although, someone should really tell Trevor that he's totally on display at his tech desk. And he really shouldn't be playing on his phone during the show.
We make it through to the interval.
I get out some more taiyaki. These ones filled with Nutella. I think we deserve it after all that.
Sugar levels now flying, I have a look through the programme. It's a nice programme. They have headshots for the backstage crew which is just lovely. Except... I flick back and forth over the biographies. There's someone missing.
Winston. The dog.
No wonder he ran off. I would to if the bloody stage manager, who, let us be real here, can't keep track of a functional hammer, gets one, and I, the owner of hearts and minds alike, get nothing. Not even a line credit. Absolutely not, I'd be out that door and running over to the Equity offices on St Martin's Lane as fast as my four paws could carry me.
"This theatre is weird," says Allison, staring at the ceiling. "It looks unfinished."
I look around. It is rather bare for a West End theatre. All plain walls and white paint. Not a single curly bit to be found.
"Look, there's a dome but no chandelier."
She's right. Above our heads is a very shallow looking dome. Painted gold as some vague concession to decoration, but with a strange texture that makes me think the plasterer wasn't very good at his job.
The second act starts and it looks like Winston isn't the only one to have had enough. The director, who is also the inspector, has had it with our nonsense. "You are a bad audience," he snaps, when some arse in the stalls decides they want to play panto and call things out. "And you know what makes a bad audience? Terrible people."
I am filled with shame. Here we are, watching a very tasteful murder mystery, and all we can do is giggle as the cast struggle gamely on through all the many... many... many mishaps.
An unusual amount of mishaps.
An almost unbelievable amount of mishaps.
I don't think I've spent so long set to wince-mode in my life.
It's almost like... nah. I'm just being silly. Things happen in plays. That's the nature of live performance. It's why we love it so much.
And like, I'm not sure how long this play has been running, but I presume it is still in previews. There's some details that need to be sorted out. A set that needs a little... extra work. Let's hope they have time to fix things up before the press get their claws in.
And print some programme slips to credit Winston the dog.
The director steps forward. I presume to give us an apology, but no, he's pitching the group's other plays.
"Is that a standing ovation or are you just getting up to leave?" he asks as someone in the stalls makes a break for it.
He recovers quickly though to tell us about the shows. The Comedy About a Bank Robbery over at the Criterion, which gets a cheer. And two new ones we probably haven't seen already. Expect, no, there's someone in the front row hasalready been. "Bet you haven't seen this next one because it isn't even on yet,’ says the director, before launching into his script about Magic Goes Wrong.
"Got the tickets!" comes the reply from the front row.
The director deflates. "I'll just go then."
I think we should all just go.
It's been an exhausting night.
And the cast and crew have a lot of work ahead of them.
On the way to the tube station, I keep an eye out for any dogs taking themselves for a walk. But no. The West End is surprisingly canine free on a Tuesday night.
I hope they find him soon.