You spin me right round, baby, right round

"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.

God yes.

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. 

Everyone's Talking About Everyone's Talking About Jamie

Is it morbid to treat a memorial as an experience? I think the fact that it is me asking this, the woman who wears all black, listens to The Cure, and grew up next door to a twelfth-century graveyard, is probably an answer in itself. If I am questioning whether something is morbid, it must be macabre af.

Last night the lights dimmed in the West End in memory of the theatre producer Duncan Weldon. I’d never seen that happen before, so I headed in early to try and catch it.

At seven o’clock, I positioned myself halfway down Shaftesbury Avenue and waited.

The lights glittered brightly.

A crowd had gathered on the pavement, phones poised and ready to capture the moment.

The Company sign hanging above the Gielgud was the first to go out. Shortly followed by the sequined Thriller Live at the Lyric.

We waited.

Lastly, after a painfully long moment, the Apollo switched off their lights.

The crowd clapped, but the sound was muffled by their gloves so they settled on a short cheer instead.

A moment later, the lights started coming back on, one by one, starting with the Apollo, and ending, an achingly long time later, with the Gielgud.

That done, is was time to head into my chosen theatre for the night.

The Apollo, or as I used to call it: The Worst Balcony in London.

I can't do that anymore.

Now it's: The-Theatre-That-Is-Lacking-In-The-Balcony-Department-Ever-Since-The-Ceiling-Caved-In-Mid-Performance-Following-A-Day-Of-Heavy-Rain-Fall-Way-Back-In-2013-Necessitating-The-Installation-Of-An-Admittedly-Beautiful-False-Ceiling-At-Balcony-Level-To-Cover-Up-The-Damage. Which is a less catchy name, for sure.


The highest rank of circle on offer is now the grand one. Which, let me tell you, ain't all that grand. If you thought that theatres making the balcony-dwellers enter via a separate entrance was dodgy, here the residents of the grand circle also get the second class treatment. Once you’ve picked up your ticket from the box office, you are sent back outside, into the cold and the rain, to go in via the servants’ entrance, lest you offend the masters sitting in the stalls with your grubby, public-transported, presence. They even have the walls of the stairwell tiled, the better to hose-down our sticky finger marks after we’ve left.


When I finally made it up, I made a cheering discovery. The Apollo may no longer hold the title of the Worst Balcony in London. But I am pleased to report, I think they may well be in good stead to claim The Worst Grand Circle in London prize.

Getting into row E required clambering up a massive step, which I’m sure fails on all sorts of access-friendliness scales. You’d think that once you’ve clawed your way into your seat, you would be rewarded by a fantastic view. Not so. Unless you have a particular fondness for inspecting the hairdos of strangers at close quarters.


The Apollo will take your money just as easy as from the poshos in the stalls, but they don't believe in the poor people actually seeing the show.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand them entirely on this matter. Just as a popular artwork may be taken off display in a gallery to preserve it from the damage that comes along with being shuffled past by an endless stream of tourists, so must a show be kept hidden from the glare of too many retinas.

And naturally, it is only right that those who can’t afford an expensive ticket should not get an unrestricted view. The less they can see of the stage, the better, quite frankly! It must be safeguarded, far away from inferior eyeballs. Their funds will support the work going on below, naturally. One must support the arts. But this duty must be performed as a subsidy for the proper audiences. The ones that sit in the real seats. And pay real prices.

And wear appropriate clothes.

With the promise of heavy snow that evening, I had pulled out an original fifties circle skirt from the back of my wardrobe. Quilted with a layer of fleece hidden underneath, it is basically a duvet with a waistband attached. It is also frickin’ massive I had to keep on tucking it under my knees to prevent it from encroaching into my neighbours' laps. Totally the wrong thing to wear in cramped West End theatre seating.

I soon realised that the two people now living under my skirt were on wildly different rides that evening.

The girl on my right, a performing arts student, was on Splash Mountain. She bopped and danced around in her seat, cheered at every you-tell-the-bastards line and whispered excitedly, "this is so good!" to her friend. During the closing numbers she sniffed extravagantly, her sweet young face washed by tears by the end. Every emotion being pumped off that stage landed had straight in her heart.

The lady on my left however was stuck on the rotating Teacups and she wanted to go home. Every time a song ended and the cast insisted on doing the talking bits, she took out her phone to check the time, jostling and elbowing me as she reached into her bag and lit up the screen to reveal that, yes... only five minutes had passed since the last time she has performed this same manoeuvre. Half-way through act two, after a particularly clumsily choreographed attack on her bag and my ribs, she brought out, not her phone, but a tube of hand cream. Squeezing out a dollop, she then proceeded to work it into her skin during the heartfelt family moment taking place down on the stage. I don't think I've ever seen anyone so committed to skin hydration since The End of the World (“Moisturise me!”).

As for me, I just kept on thinking about a band of young men I’d passed on my way there. About how they had rushed into the road together, right into the traffic. A taxi screeched at them and one of the young men screeched back: “Run me over! Do it! I want to die!”

And I thought about the dimmed lights.

And the people taking photos.

And the girl on my right who was feeling all the emotions.

And the woman on my left who was feeling none of them.

And the stage that I couldn’t see.

And the painted forest scene hanging above us.

And the broken roof that lurked above this enchanted image.

And the snow falling on it.

And I wondered, if this was my last night on earth, would I be happy that I spent it here.




And then I went home.