Tuesday, December 20, 2011

In a feat of spectacular disorganisation, I've cleverly come to down to London for a packed theatrical spectacular week with - hmm - no tickets. Well, except for one which is probably readily available anyway.

A supposed pleasant evening's browsing at the weekend's end was thus rather impeded by the skimpy availability of tickets for anything I actually wanted to see. I could see the Woman in Black or The 39 Steps or Crazy for You or a whole host of equally banal pleasures (miaow) every night twice over if I wished. But anything interesting is sold out sold out sold out.

This is the only way to explain how I ended up in the queue for x10 on the day £10 tickets for a show that is bottom of my list of things I ever want to see. Pure vexation that I couldn't see it. And so - typical me - it must be the thing I strive for. Along with a rather lame justification that I haven't been to the Donmar before and of course I should. So this drove me out of bed and into the tail end of the rush hour tube this morning.

It was a suspenseful experience.

I arrived to find a small clutch of people lurking in the theatre doorway. A quick count reveals that - in total - we are ten. Hoorah! But wait. "You're the twelfth" they seethe as a pack. "Do you want a standing seat?" "Tchah!" quoth I, "not for Shakespeare." "I know what you mean" murmurs one of the gentler looking seethers, smug in the knowledge that he is One Of The Ten.

Listening into their Blitz-style camaraderie reveals that queue-ers are entitled to queue for two tickets. And then another slim young fellow climbs over some strewn feet to take his place by a hard-faced girl defiantly clutching a flask. Ten.

But because I'm a stubborn girl and because I'm thinking that I'm damned if I'm getting up this early for nothing, I wait out the hour with patience. One half of it cluttered on the pavement listening to one woman with a triumphant face recount the tale of how she ended up "for personal reasons" teaching at a middle school full of identical looking children (her words - my place is not to judge) in the capital city of China after thirty years tending to a small Welsh flock in this land. And one half hour queueing inside which was more irritating as we had to queue alongside cast photos which reduced leaning opportunities dramatically. This to the accompaniment of a woman from Minnesota ("well, not originally") who taught in a college and has been coming to London at Christmas every year for 26 years to queue up for last minute tickets for shows. (Why not book ahead, love?) She's going to the Orange Tree tomorrow. (I silently thank the lord above that this is not tomorrow's hit list for me.)

So we wait. I eavesdrop and pretend to read my book.

And at half past ten, a great humming murmur goes up: "half past ten! It's time!" Followed by a gentler hubbub and then a cry of indignation: "they're three minutes late!"

In the nick of time, the middle classes, brutalised by the experience of having to queue like Russians, surge forward.

Despite the fact that I've told myself that I will walk away - just walk away - if there are standing room tickets only, my heart starts to race. Suddenly this play that I didn't even want to see 48 hours before becomes the possible pinnacle of my theatrical experience. I stare vengefully at the backs of those (ten plus who knows how many absent accompaniers) ahead of me. The queue shuffles forward.

Two people in front of me, (perfectly able) Teacher of the Identical Chinese Children is dithering about how easily she'll be able to get out of her seat. "Everyone will be leaving at the same time" says the long-suffering box office man with more patience than she deserves. But wait, miracle! She opts for two standing seats, presumably to give her full freedom to manoeuvre. Fool!

The Man In Front Of Me steps up to the window. He remained silent in the queue so I know nothing of him. I cannot assess how much he deserves (or does not) a ticket.

"We have one seat and eighteen standing room places" says Mr Long-Suffering. "Only one seat?" says The Man In Front of Me. The other box office man waves me forward but makes a gesture to invite my silence while we see What The Man IFOM will do.

"Can I just wait to decide?" says TMIFOM hopelessly. "Well, yes, but we can't hold tickets." TMIFOM turns hopelessly to the rest of the queue. "Can we stand for three hours?" The queue seethes back. A kinder man steps toward him: "it's only two hours and forty". I laugh derisively, forgetting my vulnerable position. "Two hours and forty too long."

TMIFOM takes out his phone. "We can only get two standing??" These compassionate fools who have co-theatre-goers to worry about. "Think about yourself!" I cry in my head to him. "Be selfish!" But The Man is obviously a kinder soul than I and opts to stand.

Impatient, my box office man starts to say "So we have one seated t.." "The seat, please" I crow, triumphant. "It's only one seat on it's own?" he says. (Obviously I don't look like a girl who travels alone.) "Yes! Yes, that's great, brilliant" thrusting my (such a small amount of) money at him. And he places the ticket in my hand.


(Richard II, by the way. Shakespeare!)


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