Murder Most Fowl


After leaving the office last night I walked the route I’d done a hundred times before, crossing roads and taking shortcuts without any form of conscious thought, as if I was being called home by the mothership.

The time had come.

One month and five days into my marathon, I was heading to the Royal Opera House. For an Ashton. With Pigeons. And Vadim. It doesn’t get much better.

But while the ROH may have served as my spinster-pad for a good may years, it’s now a slightly different Opera House to the one I was used to.

I’ve seen the refurbishment before - I went to a shit tonne of Bayadère’s last year - but not enough to fully get used to it, or the weird door numbers. Golden arrows, pointed in every direction, with a crossword of letter-number combinations listed beneath: 4B 4E 5B 5C 5D 5E 5F 6F - you sunk my battleship!

A post-refurbishment walk-through of the Royal Opera House left me blinking and dazed.

I still can't get over how, well... literal they were with the whole Open Up thing.

Gone are the low ceilings, dim corridors and trunk-like pillars.

Everything was so shiny and bright, all draped in beige upholstery and lined with acres of stripy wood. I almost had to shield my eyes against the glare radiating off of the glass costume display cases.

I looked around for hidden ring lights and realised the entire ceiling is a honeycomb of illumination.

This is not just an opera house. This is a champagne tinted, Instagram filtered, pan-seared opera house.

I felt like I walking through heaven. In that I had a nagging sense that wasn't supposed to be there.

I had arrived far too early. The house was still closed. I looked around for somewhere to sit.

The bars were packed with long family-style tables. Up on the terrace, the old groupings of comfortable seating had been replaced by long rows of bar stools.

It seems Open Up wasn’t just for the building. It applied to the audience members too.

Sharing tables. Talking. Communicating.

No thanks.

I fled. It was too much. Too open. Too exposed. Too vulnerable-making.

I needed somewhere quiet, away from the crash of cutlery and cacophony of chatter echoing off the cold floor.

I needed old-fashioned opera house vibes. Preferably with the insulating properties of squashy velvet and wood-paneling.

In other words, I needed the type of place where you can plot a murder in peace.

Not a particular murder, you understand. Just murder in general.

I find it a very soothing occupation.

A tiny bit of control in a chaotic world.

I consider it part of my self-care practices.

Don’t look at me like that. Don’t for a second pretend that you’ve never weighed up the various benefits of cyanide over arsenic (cyanide would go great in a Bakewell tart, I’ve always thought), or dreamt up an elaborate scheme involving a transatlantic crossing, a box of chocolates, and a purple helium balloon.

 Yeah, alright. You keep telling yourself that.

Thankfully, not all of the opera house got the community-friendly treatment. There are still some areas of the building that have retained their romance. Dark places. Secret places. Places where one can properly plan the ultimate, undetectable murder.

So here it is. My list.

The top five places in the Royal Opera House to plan a murder

The Secret Sofa


Tucked away down the wrong corridor on the upper slips level (go in the opposite direction to those suggested by any gold arrows you encounter) is this glorious little sofa, surrounded by vintage ballet dancers hung at just the right level to whisper sweet-tortures in your ear.

A little brightly lit for my taste (it’s round the corner from a fire refuge point) but you might need that if you go in for the more complex style of plotting that requires blueprints and chemical formulae.

The Slightly Less Secret Sofa


Found on-route to the lower slips (or the lower amphitheatre if you are that sort of person), this is another red velvet wonder. What it lacks in privacy, it gains from the shadowy lighting and dark walled surroundings.

This is where I do my best country-house conspiracies. Proper Poirot-esque plots, with cups of tea tainted by strychnine-laced sugar cubes, forged wills, family secrets, and an herbaceous border sprouting poisonous plants.

The Extra Secret Sofa


This one is a bit tricky. You might have to get ‘lost’ while taking a backstage door in order to get here. But the rewards are great. This sofa lives in the King’s smoking room. Located behind the orchestra pit,  you’ll get this place all to yourself if you get the timing right. But the extra effort is worth it as the rarefied surroundings will give your plots the regal edge that will take them to the next level. Did you know that decaying strawberry leaves release hydrogen cyanide? Think about that when you’re counting the leaves on your next victim’s coronet.

Behind the boxes


Now ideally you’d want to be inside a box for peak murder-plotting, but if your budget doesn’t stretch that far, the narrow corridors that lead to them can serve you just as well. Lit by small lamps, the confided space and narrow doors will enhance your lateral thinking. Just make sure that the boxes are unoccupied if you are the type to go in for muttering the details of your plan out loud.

Above the dome


Again, tricky. To get here you might need a little assistance from someone working at the ROH, as it’s not exactly accessible to the public. But I think it would be worth it. Not only would the location, soaring above the auditorium, help engender a sense of god-like power while gazing down at the audience below, but I hear that it’s also the place to go if you are after an accomplice with a very specialised skill set.

I have it on good authority that the space above the dome is where you will find the Nudger. So called because he spends his time during performances nudging the elbows of the spotlight crew as they try and keep their lights steadily focused on a performer.

If you’re planning is moving in the accidental-death-by-falling direction, then I think the Nudger could be of great assistance.

The fact that the Nudger also happens to be a ghost can only be a bonus.

Happy plotting!


Oh My Gardée

"Wanna risk it?"

Not my usual sales-pitch when inviting a friend to come and see a show with me, but I was putting a lot of faith in the theatre gods to deliver on this one. At first glance, it was an enticing prospect: a crowd-pleasing ballet (Fille mal gardée), an easy to get to theatre (New Wimbledon), and the prospect of cake with a local (Ellen), but once the local quickly made it known that she would in no way consider attending, it soon became clear that we were into Tom Cruise levels of risky business here. 

The ballet may have been Fille, but it was the Gorsky not the Ashton version, and it was being performed by one of those Russian-touring companies that have such a grandiose name you figure they must be fairly fancy, until you realise that fancy-companies don't tend to spend quite so much time on the regional-theatre circuit. And then there was the matter of the theatre. Or rather, its seat map. 

Less than a week before the performance and the New Wimbledon's seating plan had more brightly-coloured dots than a Cath Kidson outlet sale. With each dot corresponding to an unsold seat, there was a good chance that this was a house that was going to need some serious box office-manoeuvres to make it look presentable come curtain-up. And I was willing to place a bet on it.

I told Helen my plan. We'd buy the cheapest possible seats, up in the upper circle. With so few seats sold up there, chances are they wouldn't want to have to staff it on the night, the upper circle would be closed, and we'd be upgraded.

"Yeah let's gamble!" came the immediate reply.

Right then.

The game was on.

I scoured the seating plan and picked our seats - right on the end of the row, restricted view. Terrible, awful seats. 

This better not go wrong, was all I could think as I keyed in my card details. Or Helen was going to kill me. 

Over matcha crepes at Cafe Mori, Ellen wished us luck for our "Grim Fille."


"Message me in the interval," she ordered, with an evil glint in her eye, a little too pleased to not be going with us.

She must have already seen the posters.

"What even is that?" I asked Helen as we neared the theatre.

It was a ballerina. En pointe. Wearing a familiar looking white tutu.


"Swan Lake," we both said at the same time.

"Are they even performing Swan Lake?"

I scanned the poster. No. They weren't.

What they were doing apparently, was sticking a pink background on a random ballet image and hoping that no one would notice. 

This was not a good sign. It wasn't even a good poster.

Oh well, there was no backing out now.

We forged on to the box office.


"The upper circle is closed," said the woman behind the counter as she inspected them. "Let me get your new seat numbers."

I gave Helen my best smug face.

"Right," said the box office lady as she scrawled our new seats on the tickets. "You're in the dress circle."

We were in the fucking dress circle!

Pink Swan Lake posters or no, things were looking up.

Now, let's just freeze-frame for a moment on that smug face of mine. There's something I need to explain so that you'll understand the significance of everything that follows, something very important. And that is: I love Fille. 

I really love Fille.

I cannot emphasis that enough.

If you take anything away from this post it should be this: I love Fille.

I love the music. The costumes. The dancing. The characters. The pony.

And I love the love.

Not just the young love of Colas and Lise, but the love between Lise and her mum, the Widow Simone. And the love between Farmer Thomas and his son Alain (oh, when Thomas strokes Alain's hair, soothing the poor lad after he fails to get the girl... my heart), the burgeoning, and slightly knowing relationship between Simone and Thomas. And of course, the love of Alain for his umbrella.

No one leaves the stage without a happy ending. That is Ashton's gift to the audience. He ties a shiny pink bow on everyone's story and sends them out holding hands and singing into the night.


When the opening notes of Gorsky's Fille sounded up from the pit, both Helen and I jolted in our seats. We turned to each other with panicked looks. These were not the gentle tones of the Ashton, conjuring up a slow sunrise over rolling hills, yawning milkmaids picking hay out of their hair while the stableboy tries to find his britches. 

"That sounds sinister," I hissed at Helen under my breath.

She nodded back.

The world this music was conjuring was one where the forces of Big Dairy meant that the milkmaids were all out of a job, while the stableboys had been requisitioned to help the army tend the fires after the latest Foot and Mouth outbreak.

If the music of the overture was wrong, the oeufs were even wronger. Lise fetching eggs from the hen house? No! She should be working the butterchurn. How else was the choreographer going to fit in a knob joke into the first act?

It was then that I finally began to understand why Ashton's Fille is considered so quintessentially English. The Russians weren't going to have any knob jokes in their version. Not a single one.

Worse still, the role of Widow Simone is danced by an actual woman and not a man in a padded dress.

I spent the entire ballet giggling and gasping in fascinated horror. Like an incomplete jigsaw puzzle of a famous painting, I could spot the recognisable bits, but it was jumbled up - all in the wrong order, to the wrong music, and being done by the wrong characters.


"Alain catching the butterfly," we gasped as we jogged through the snow on our way to the station. "That was Lise pretending to catch the fly!"

"And Lise stubbing her toe when she kicks the door-"

"That's her mum hurting her foot on the butter churn!"

"And the hobby horse being thrown around was the flute!"

"Which makes so much more sense!"

"Yeah, where did the hobby horse even come from?"

"At least a flute at a harvest festival has a reason to be there."


"And the circles in the rain, became the maypole!"

"Oh my god, yes!"

"Ashton was like - if they want circles, I'll show them circles!"

"And he gave us a real pony!"

"For which we are eternally grateful."

"Ashton was a genius.

"Ashton was a genius."

"What vision - to turn that mess into..."

"Our Fille."


"He was a genius."

"He was a genius."

"He was a dramaturge."


"He made an actual story. With characters. I've never realised how deep they all were until..."



"That whole thing with Colas getting the Village Notary drunk and stealing his clothes..."

"So wrong."

"Because it means that we know he's seeing Lise's fantasy about having kids with him."

"Yes! Ashton hides him from her and from us."

"So when he reveals himself-"

"-we feel her embarrassment too!"

"It's a double-hitter - the joke, then the blushes. Here it's all joke."

"And oh my god, the When We Are Married mime!"

"The mime!"

"It was all there-"

"-but all wrong!"

"The timing..."

"The storytelling..."

"All wrong."

"All wrong."

"Ashton was such a genius."

"Such a fucking genius."

At some point during all this we had managed to board a train.

"I wish I could have met him," I said, as I plonked myself down in a seat. 

Helen looked shocked. I never want to meet anyone.

"I just want to hear him talk about... his process. How he took that and turned it into..." I touched my lashes. "I feel a bit emotional about him."

"Oh my god, you really do," said Helen, laughing at my tearing eyes.

I really was. I sniffed and tried to hold it together.

"This changes everything. I will never be able to watch Ashton in the same way again."

"People bang on about MacMillan being the great storyteller, but Ashton..."

"Fuck. Yes. Fucking. Ashton!"

"When MacMillan did Romeo and Juliet... the story was there!"

"Yeah, Ashton had to strip it all back and start again!"

"He took tiny moments and created a complete world!"

"He totally changed the relationship between Lise and her mother. Like... making them spin wool together, it's funny, but also, that's how you know they love each other. Her mum tapping the beat on the tambourine-"

"-the one from the first act."

"Yes, exactly. Thank you. He took the pointless act one tambourine-"

"-that added nothing to the storyline."

"Less than nothing. He took it, and transformed it, and built it up. This is something they've done a thousand times before. Mum making music for her daughter to dance around to."

"So she's not just marrying off her daughter for money. She wants her to be happy. She wants a secure marriage. Not to the lad who has probably been chasing her chickens round the yard since he was a toddler."

"Exactly. So when she finally comes round and approves the match-"

"It actually means something."

"Ashton was such a fucking genius."

"He was fucking ballsy. He was like - those Italian fouettes? My Lise doesn't need them."

"Their dancing is all about the characters."

"It's not about the virtuosity."

"It's about the story."


"Wait, is this you?" I said, looking up to see what station we were in.

"Shit yes."

Helen jumped off the train. A second later, she stuck her head back through the door. "Aren't you supposed to be changing here too?"

The doors closed. The train moved on.

I was supposed to have been changing there.


Still... fucking Ashton. 

I can't get over it.