"I'm so excited for tonight," messaged my colleague to me before she'd even got into the office that morning.
Martha and I were going to see Les Mis together that evening, and Martha was pumped.
Martha loves Les Mis. She’d seen it twice.
I like Les Mis too. But it’s hard to feel excited about going to see a show when you literally go and see one every damn night. I've been to the theatre 47 times this year. Forty-seven. That's one per day with two extra for luck.
So, it's hard to get enthused about yet another musical. Especially one that you’ve seen before. Even if the before was… fuck… seventeen years ago.
For me, going to Les Mis felt like just another check mark against my masterlist of London theatres.
And a long-winded one at that. Have you heard what the running time on this show is? It’s three hours.
That’s a full half-hour longer than the majority of West End shows. And over an hour longer than Come From Away, the 9/11 musical currently playing at the Phoenix.
As check marks go, this one was going to take a long time to draw. And considering how low on ink I am generally at the moment (have I told you how ill I am recently? Because I’m really sick, you know) it was unsurprising that I was less than excited about the whole thing.
“Shall we go out for dinner?” said Martha, bouncing over to my desk that afternoon.
Food was going to be an absolute necessity.
There’s a Leon directly opposite the Queen’s Theatre. There’s even a crossing right there. Getting from one to the other can be achieved with little more than a stumble if you time it with the traffic lights.
Perfect. “Perfect,” I said.
And it was perfect. After a leisurely stroll into the West End, we ordered far too much food and scoffed the lot. It’s amazing how much your mood can improve after eating a burger and a portion of chicken nuggets in a single sitting - some people get endorphins from exercise. Personally, my neurotransmitters start firing after a hefty dose of Korean mayo.
“At least we don’t have to go far,” I said as we struggled up the stairs.
On reflection, basement seating had been a bad idea.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the only mountain we had to climb.
“Is that the queue?” I exclaimed in horror as we crossed the road.
The packed foyer of the Queen’s Theatre was spilling out across the pavement, blocking the doors, the signs, and any indication of where we were supposed to go.
Picking a door at random, we joined the queue. Only to be turned away by our lack of tickets.
“Aww,” said the ticket-checker on the door with a tilt of her head. “And you’ve queued all that time,” she sympathetically cooed.
So back outside we went, took two steps to the right, and joined the next queue. Attempted to, anyway. As it was impossible to tell where the queue was, or even how many there were. Did each ticket desk have its own, or were they sharing?
This is when it pays to be going with a plus one.
“Let’s split up,” I suggested. But Martha was way ahead of me. Literally. Her chosen queue was miles ahead. “Give them my surname!” I called after her.
She rightly gave me a look to indicate that she knew how to pick up a damn ticket, and didn’t need instruction from the likes of me.
A few seconds later, she was back to rescue me from my unmoving queue.
“Got them?” I asked redundantly.
“Yeah!” she said, waving them. “I enjoyed being Maxine Smiles.”
“Did you? Did she comment on it?”
“Yeah. I got a ‘Smiles!’” she said, lifting her voice in mock-surprise at the name.
I gave her a smile of my own. And not just because of the delight my surname brings, but also because I now had a witness to said delight.
We headed back to the original door, and this time managed to gain entry, and for the first time in my marathon, had a yellow security tag threaded through the handles of my bag.
“I have to buy a programme,” I apologised. This was quickly followed up by apologies for stopping to take photos of the corridor, the ceiling, the auditorium, and the aforementioned programme.
I’ve really become a pain-in-the-arse to go to the theatre with since starting this marathon.
“I need to go take photos,” has now became my general interval refrain.
“Well, I need to go to the loo,” was Martha’s retort.
After wandering around and eventually having to ask an usher as to whereabouts of the lady’s conveniences, we eventually located them down at stalls level.
“You should really write about how bad the loos are for women,” said Martha when she eventually emerged.
She’s not the first one to suggest it. I’ve even been asked to write about specific loos (“The ones at the Royal Opera House are so fancy,” commented a different co-worker, prior to my trip there. “You should review them”), but unfortunately for toilet-kind, I’m not a great theatre-micturater. But I promise you now, if and whenever I use them - I’ll give you my two cents on spending a penny.
For now however, I’ll be talking about the light features.
“Hey, look - it changes colour!” I cried out, immediately getting out my camera to video the shades shifting above our heads.
As I stood there, in the middle of the foyer, filming to pretty coloured lights, an usher ducked down low to avoid getting in the way and ruining my shot.
A selfless act from someone keen to do their bit to enhance the experience that is: Les Misérables.
Between you and me (and I swear to the theatre gods, if you repeat any of this I’ll cut you) it is quite the experience. Even for a jaded old hag like me.
From the huge wall of sound that is One Day More (“such an interval song,” was what I said to Martha as the lights rose. Literally nothing but an ice-cream break could have followed that), to the hottie to the waistcoat with a ponytail (character name forgotten, but you know who I mean), to the shocked giggle that sweeps the audience as Cosette changes race half way through act one, to the watery-eye inducing Bring Him Home (it’s my cold… I told you this already), to the mental exhaustion that is three hours of epic, fast moving, emotionally exerting, theatre that sent me right off to sleep as soon as head connected with pillow that night.
And the revolve.
Oh, man, the revolve.
This may well be the Korean mayo talking here, but can anything match the heartbreak of watching the barricades turn slowly round and revealing the events of the other side?
I’m not sure I have the energy to join the campaign to keep the ill-fated revolve right now, but you kids of the revolvution - I salute you. You are doing the theatre gods work. Down with the municipal guard! Down with confused queuing systems! Down with projections!
Martha may have stepped out humming One Day More, but I came out ready to start a revolution.