I have something to admit.
I took a day off. No theatre at all for me on Sunday.
I stayed at home. Did laundry. Watched that James Graham Brexit thing (it was good). Painted my nails (now my programme-selfies won’t look so… chipped). It was good. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. Oh, yeah. Marathon. Fine… moving on.
I was back in the West End yesterday. True West at the Vaudeville.
I hadn’t intended to see this one. Nothing against the play, Johnny Flynn or Kit Harrington (or even his hair), but I really wanted to see the Globe’s Emilia, which is next up at in the theatre. I mean, an all-female cast in a play about a seventeenth century poetess? Yes please! But damn GILT got in the way with its pesky ticket offers. You know how it goes. Not that I’m not grateful. Please don’t stop, GILT. I need you!
Monday night and I was off to the Strand. Took photos. Picked up my ticket. Bought a programme (£5. Articles. Rehearsal photography. Acceptable). Took more photos. Went to the bar. Then the other bar. All fine.
The route up to the grand circle is a little… bare. Made me think that perhaps a separate entrance had been integrated into the theatre, but no one had told the decorators. Still, not quite as prison-chic as the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, so let’s not linger too much on that. There were show posters hanging up on the walls. Fine.
In fact, everything was fine. So fine that I was beginning to panic.
What on earth was I going to write about?
I’ve been worrying about this a lot lately. 233 theatres. Even accounting for double-show days, that’s a lot of blog posts. Was there really enough to say? What if every theatre I visit is… fine. Things can’t happen on every single trip. I don’t want them to happen on every single trip. My anxiety, you know. It’s very stressful. But what’s even more stressful is the thought of having to sit down the morning after and pull a thousand words out of nowhere.
And that’s the most likely scenario, isn’t it? Nothing happening.
I’ve seen a lot of theatre over the years. A lot. And the amount of truly blog worthy incidents that have happened in my vicinity can be counted on one hand. I mean, there was that time when a notable character actor swatted a woman across the back of her head with his programme at The Old Vic because she wouldn’t switch her phone off. That was pretty intense. But unless I intend to put said character actor on retainer, I couldn’t rely on that happening again any time soon.
Such worries fluttered away however when I met the usher in the grand circle. As soon as she tore my ticket, I just knew there was going to be trouble. Perhaps all those years of theatre-going experience are finally kicking in, but I sensed we were not going to be in for an easy ride.
What’s the theatrical equivalent to spidey-senses? Well, whatever it is: that.
The Vaudeville looks like it’s been recently refurbished. Or at least, recently repainted. Either side of the grand circle, right on the edges, where slips seats might usually go, are a pair of wooden scaffolds, to hold spotlights. Now, I have nothing against spotlights, nor the sinister-looking constructions required to house them. But they are rather big. And if you are sitting right on the aisle, they manage to obscure the view of a good chunk of the stage. Which is ironic. Given the purpose of lighting and all.
So it was unsurprising that when the house lights dimmed, the woman sitting on the end of my row, slunk out of her seat and sneaked forward, into the empty front row, where presumably the view was considerably better.
She didn’t get to enjoy it for long.
A few second later, the usher hurried down the stairs to the front row and after some heated whispering, the interloper was removed. She meekly returned to her designated seat.
Except, the usher wasn’t done.
And the front row wasn’t empty.
There was someone else there.
I hadn’t noticed him before.
The usher leaned in. Some more fervent whispering followed.
He whispered back.
The usher wasn’t having it. She stood to the side of the row, waiting for him.
He didn’t move.
The tension strained taught between the two of them.
Who would break first?
Something was happening on stage but I wasn’t paying attention. This impasse was far more interesting than anything our playwright could possibly come up with.
I sat, watching, utterly gripped.
The usher dithered. I could see her thinking. She shifted her weight from foot to foot. Holy shit. It was her. She was going to give in.
The man in the front row stared resolutely forward, watching the play as if all the rules and orders of theatre weren’t tumbling down around him.
Then, she walked off. Leaving the man in the front row… in the front row.
I almost gasped.
In fact, I might of actually gasped.
Was this the end? Had this age of polite theatre finally come to an end? Where we going to return to a time of throwing tomatoes at the stage? Would actors need to start shouting over the din of the audience’s nattering? What about booing? I feel booing is due for a comeback. Why do opera and panto-goers get to have all the fun? I want to boo too!
After that, it was hard to concentrate on the play.
Kit Harrington displayed some excellent floor-work, kicking his legs and arms up like a baby grasping for his mobile. While Johnny Flynn tackled a loaf-full of toasted bread with such enthusiasm it made me quite hungry.
And the woman sat at the end of my row?
She’s a fighter.
As soon as the lights went back down in act two, she made a second attempt at the front row.
This time the usher didn’t stop her.
What was the point? Chaos had won. The thin velvet line had been breached. There’s nothing for it but to hide behind the bar and chug the gin and wait for the reinforcements to arrive.
Audiences of London! We will no longer we shackled by the conventions of theatre. The ushers have no hold over you. Talk! Eat! Lean forward if you so desire! Because a new age has dawned, and we will not be contained in our allocated seats!
As the curtain closed I leapt up, ready to launch myself into this new world and reclaim my power as an audience member. I could see it all: Audiences pouring out of the theatres and congregating in Trafalgar Square. There was going to be a march. And banners. And quite possibly a few bins kicked over. We were going to graffiti the theatre doors and disrupt the day-ticket queues. We would build a bonfire of theatre programmes! Okay, maybe not that last one. That’s taking things too far.
I headed out of the side door, towards the staircase leading down the outside of the building, and breathed in the night air. Ah! It smelt like a riot about to happen.
And something else.
Something slightly more acidic then the rising up of theatre-goers.
Unless the rising up of theatre-goers smells of piss.
As we left the alleyway, a lady with an American accent piped up behind me. “Did you notice that? That smell was urine, I think..."
Yeah, I think you’re right.
As we emerged onto the Strand, the smell, like the rebellion, dissipated.
I went home.
Okay… so my little tale is not quite well-respected-character-actor-hitting-woman-with-programme good. But we’ll work on that. Perhaps I’ll start leaving my phone on during shows. See what kind of reaction I can provoke. Leave it with me kid. You want drama. I’ll get you drama.
Vive la revolution!