It’s three am. My alarm has just gone.
At some point, I thought this was a good idea and I haven’t had the energy to argue with myself about it yet.
A small voice at the back of my head tells me it’s okay. I can just roll over and go back to sleep. No one will mind. No one will even know.
Apart from @_andy_tea on that there Twitter. Because I may have told him I was doing this.
But he won’t tell. I mean, probably. I hope not. One never knows with Twitter people. They're all weirdos.
Dammit. I'm going to have to get up.
So with an internal chant of DoItForTheBlogDoItForTheBlog I get up and start on the business of pulling myself into some form of existence that is acceptable for public viewing.
I would say the theatre gods are laughing at me, but even they are not up this early.
By 4am, I’m washed, dressed, eyelinered up, the cat is fed and I am out the door, scurrying down the down to catch the night bus into Central London.
I’m yawning so much I end up flagging the wrong one by accident. Sorry Mr Driver of the 266, you’re not going my way.
A few minutes later the N11 arrives and I clamber sleepily up to the top deck. It’s surprisingly full up here, considering it’s still dark out, on an August bank holiday, but there’s a seat free right at the front, so I get to ride in style the whole way into the West End.
Out at Trafalgar Square, I scurry, still yawning, towards Charing Cross Road.
It’s quiet. The only people about are a couple of giggling girls struggling to keep upright on their stilettos.
I pass the Garrick, where there is very much not a queue for Bitter Wheat tickets.
Past the Theatres Trust, who have recently claimed there are only 263 theatres in London (hilarious!), and then, up ahead, my destination. The Wyndham’s.
I check my phone. It’s 4.45am. And there’s a queue.
One two threefour people. And someone talking to them. A homeless man. Asking for money.
“Is this the day seat queue?” I ask.
“Yup,” number three in the queue confirms. “You’re in the right place.”
“Oh, good.” I join the end of it. Number five.
Seeing that we are all distracted, the homeless man walks away.
“Thanks,” says number three. “We’re really grateful.”
It was no problem at all. I’ve had a lifetime’s worth of practice of chasing people away.
We settle into silence. There’s not much going on. We stare at out phones, lighting ourselves up as beacons for anyone wandering around at this time of the morning.
“Sorry,” says a bloke coming up to me. “What’s the time?”
I tell him it’s five o’clock.
Five hours until the box office opens.
At least, I hope it’s only five hours. It could be more than that. Box offices have a habit of opening late on bank holidays.
Andy T (of Twitter) popped in to ask yesterday for me (I mean, he might have had other reasons for asking, but I'm choosing to believe it was for me), and they said it was a standard 10am start. But you can never trust the word of a box officer who’s not working that shift.
I shrug off my jacket, place it carefully on the ground, and sit down on top of it.
My vintage 49er doesn’t do much in the way of padding, but at least it's some sort of layer between me and the tarmac.
At seven minutes past, three more people arrive. “Are you trying to get tickets for Fleabag?” asks the girl, who is clearly in charge of this outing. “Is this where the queue ends?”
Only one of them is wearing a jacket, and the three of them try to squeeze themselves onto it.
I brought a book, but it’s too dark to read. So instead I get out my notebook and start writing up last night’s theatre trip. My handwriting is illegible at the best of times, so the darkness isn’t going to make much of a difference now.
At 5.21am two more people arrive.
“I’m just trying to work out which end is which,” says a young woman, standing back from the line to take us all in.
We point her in the right direction. “It’s this end,” someone tells her.
“Yeah,” says her friend. “You can’t just join the front of the queue again.”
The “again” is very pointed. They must do this a lot. Except, usually experienced day seaters know which end of the queue to join.
I think they might be a little drunk.
They too settle down.
That’s ten of us now.
The street-sweepers have started their rounds.
Across the way, a few tourists emerge from the Hippodrome Casino. The security guard on the door crosses his arms and watches them until they are safety deposited into their Uber.
People pause as they walk past to look at us with interest.
“What are you guys all waiting for?” asks a man riding by on a bike.
“Tickets for a play,” explains one of the drunk girls.
She laughs. “No! Fleabag!”
He loops round, doubling back on himself to approach the front of the queue. “Can you help a homeless guy out?”
We all shake our heads.
He rides off, with a shout of “are you all on ecstasy?!” over his shoulder.
The sun begins to rise.
I have about 700 words down in my notebook. I can’t write anymore. I turn to reading. The Long Earth. I’ve been trying to avoid this one, knowing the number of Terry Pratchett books in the world that I haven’t read yet are dwindling rapidly. But day seating seems to be as good a time as any to crack this one open. After a 3am start, I deserve it.
Just before seven, a couple arrive together on bikes. The woman points at us each in turn, counting us up before air-punching. They got here in time.
The street sweeper has made it to our side of the row. I tuck in my feet so he can get at those tricksy cigarette butts.
The man on his bike is back. “The show is cancelled everyone!” he calls as he rides past. Something tells me he’s a bit of a jokester.
The street sweepers and partygoers are all gone now. The roads have been taken over by delivery vans. People in the queue take it in turns to go to Pret, sharing intelligence about whether their porridge pots are out yet, and codes to the loo for those who just need a pee.
I put my book down. I can’t read anymore.
My legs are aching. I stretch them out in front of me and blankly watch this little corner of the world wake up.
A group of giggling young woman approach us, asking the number one queued what time she got there.
“Four,” she says.
The supreme ruler of the queue nods and confirms it. “Yes, four.”
“Okay then…” they walk away whispering and giggling.
At ten to ten, I stand up. I can’t sit on that pavement anymore. Everything hurts. My back. My legs. But most of all, my bottom.
The doors open.
A woman dressed all in black comes out.
I like her immediately.
“I have 33 standings!” she shouts so that we can all hear.
Everyone turns round to look at the queue. It’s grown, running all the way down the side of the Wyndham’s and beyond. Is that less or more than 33? I can’t tell. I try to count, but loose my place after twenty or so.
“We do have two single seats,” says the woman in black. “But they are very high in price.”
Number three in the queue asks how much they are.
“One is 125, and one is 150. I think. Don’t quote me on that,” she says as I attempt to quote her on that. “Let me colleague know if you want one.”
We all shuffle our feet. No one queues for five hours to buy a 150 quid ticket when there is a ten pound one on offer.
“I’ll be counting down the row,” she goes on. “So we all know where we are. If you’re standing, it has to be you attending. You’ll be asked for ID and the card you paid with when you pick up your tickets this evening.”
A little part of my brain wants to ask why we can’t get our tickets right away, but it is quickly hushed by the surrounding neurons. It’s still far too early for questions.
As a couple of front of housers work on getting the doors open, the woman in black chats to queuers one and two. “What time were you here?” she asks. “Very good!”
And we are let in. Two at a time. Like the ark.
“I can’t wait to go home and sleep,” I tell the woman in black as queuers three and four go inside.
She laughs. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me that. That they’re going straight back to bed.”
I remember her question to the first people in the queue. “What’s the earliest you’ve had someone arrive.”
“We had a couple fly over from Spain. They came at midnight. With a tent.” She looks over as number three in the queue comes back out. “You can go in now.”
Into the foyer, and over to the box office, set into the wall on the right.
Two people are on duty.
Queue member number four is getting her details into the system.
I go to the other box officer.
“Morning!” I say, as cheerily as I can manage.
My box officer starts tapping away on his computer, giving me the spiel as he works. Tickets are non-transferrable. You’ll need to bring ID.
I nod along.
“Can I have your postcode?”
I give it.
“What’s your surname?”
I give that too.
“I think I have an account,” I say, knowing full well that I do. This ain’t my first trip to a Delfont Mackintosh theatre.
“It looks like you might,” he says. “What’s your first name.”
“Yup,” he says, agreeing that I am indeed the Smiles he has on the system. “There you go. Now, is that cash or card.”
Now ten pounds further into my overdraft, he hands me a ticket. Or rather, the voucher.
“Sign this please,” he says, sliding over a pen.
And with a flourish of my name, I’m off. Back outside in the sunshine, and utterly unsure of what to do next. I’m exhausted and yet the day as only just begun.
Nine hours later, I’m back.
The Wyndham's has shed its sleepy exterior and it’s now buzzing with excitement.
“This door if you have your ticket, or this one if you’re picking up,” says the man on the door.
I’m picking up, so I go through the second door.
A bag checker is waiting inside. He peers inside my rucksack, feels the bottom, and then pauses, staring at my chest.
“Is that… Hanson?” he says, stepping back in horror from the sight of my t-shirt.
“Yeah…” I say, pulling it out for him to get a proper look at the family portrait of the Hanson brothers, with NIRVANA emblazoned beneath them. “It’s a joke t-shirt,” I explain.
“Oh… good. I was going to say…”
I smile. I fucking love this t-shirt.
Bag checker thoroughly confused, it’s time for me to go to the box office.
“Can I see your ID please?” asks the box officer after I had over my signed voucher.
I give him my driving license. Provisional because of course I never learnt how to drive.
He looks from one to the other, checking, and then with a smile hands over my ticket. “Just to remind you, if you leave before the end of the performance, you can’t go back in. Enjoy!”
The foyer of the Wyndham’s is very comfortable looking. In a side-room-in-an-art-gallery kind of way. There are sofas around the walls and large paintings that seem to belong outside of any recognisable artistic movement. There are pillars and stiped wallpapers. The ceiling is covered with cherubs.
Where next? The merch desk of course. I’m getting me a programme.
No queue, four pounds fifty, and I can pay by card. Doesn’t get much better than that.
Right. Downstairs. Benefit of being early in the queue. I get to stand in the stalls instead of the back of the balcony.
There’s a ticket checker down here. He tears off the stub while he reminds me that there’s no readmissions. As if I could forget.
Round the corner and down a bit more. I pause to admire the carpet. All fancy florals and woven Ws. Nice.
Inside it’s your classic West End auditorium. Cream-coloured walls and curved boxes, with gold twiddly bits iced on top.
I head to the back. Standers are cramped against the back wall. So many that they some of them are spilling down the side.
“Are standers allowed over on the other side?” I ask one of them, pointing to the completely empty wall on the other there.
She shrugs and says they were directed to stand on this side.
I decide to risk it and slip through the rows, pacing up and down this section of wall to find the best spot.
A few minutes later, number three from the queue turns up.
“Is that… who are they…?” he says, looking at my t-shirt.
I explain the whole Hanson/Nirvana joke thing. He doesn’t look convinced.
Clearly my t-shirt doesn’t play well to the Fleabag crowd.
An usher comes over. “Hello. You’re all standing,” she says. We nod. We are indeed all standing. “Just to let you know, you can’t take any empty seats. And you can’t sit down on the floor.” Right. No sitting for us. At the Wyndham’s you pay ten quid to see the show, and the other hundred to sit down. “It’s a health and safety issue,” she explains. Ah. “In case there’s a fire we need to ensure a free exit.” Okay. Fine. That makes sense. “If you leave, there’s no readmittance. You’ll be taken to the Stalls bar and you’ll have to watch the rest of the show on the screen.”
“Don’t worry, we’re not leaving!” says queued number nine.
I have a quick flick through of the programme. It’s a standard Delfont Mackintosh jobby. Lots of recycled articles that you’ll see again and again for all their shows. But there’s a nice little piece about how Fleabag came about, and the new writing programmes that helped it happen. Great intel for anyone who wants to be the next Phoebe Waller-Bridge.
I try to get comfortable. There’s a recess in the wall behind me which is making it tricky. But at least there's carpet under my feet. And it's probably for the best I'm not sitting down. Five hours sitting on cold tarmac have made themselves known in the bum region.
The lights go down and… nothing. I expected a gasp or a whoop or something. You get gasps and whoops when the lights go down at big shows. Can you imagine the lights going down at, I don’t know, Hamilton, or Cursed Child, and there not being a gasp or a whoop?
As Waller-Bridge rushes out from the wings, a stander near me raises her hands to clap, but quickly lowers them when she realises no one else is in a clapping mood.
I sink against the wall, feeling a little let down. The last thing I wanted was to be in a silent audience. I’d just have stayed at home and watched series one on the iPlayer.
But it doesn't take long to get us going. Snort laughs and tentative giggles turn into fully-grown guffaws and by the end we're wincing and howling at the fate of poor Hillary.
As Waller-Bridge takes her bows, the stalls stand to ovate, starting at the front row and working back, like a tidal wave of applause crashing into the back wall.
I'm almost thrown back by the force of it.
"Well, that was worth it," says queuer number three as the house lights go up.
"Yup," I agree. "Now it's worth it."