One thing I noticed was the admonition
Latecomers may not be admitted
reiterated on the ticket and elsewhere in the information about the show (Strindberg’s Dance of Death, now finished). That’s redundant information for me, I thought. Imagine being late for the theatre.
It was New Year’s Day and I took the chance to explore my neighbourhood, hoping to find a sneaky route to part of Epping Forest. The suburban houses on roads I didn’t know – that were plagued by learner drivers, to the extent that they were impeding each other – did not present any apparent point of entry, so I went back to the main road. Further on I saw a pond, with the various fowl oscillating between the family units proffering inappropriate bread. A district noticeboard offered films and courses on Egyptology. An enviable provision for those able to attend during “working hours”. Having passed the intangible elision between Snaresbrook and Wanstead, I took the Central line from the latter station, intending to see what happened on the Other Branch, with its mysterious Hainault. It was disappointing.
This wandering must have precipitated a mood of dilatoriness. I had established that a recent indulgent book purchase at Foyle’s included a duplicate of a book I hadn’t read yet, so I thought I could combine returning it with a walk from Tottenham Court Road to the Trafalgar Studios for the play.
As it turned out, even though I took a train earlier than Google Now’s recommended service, I didn’t have much time. My presumed familiarity with the Centrepoint nexus was found to be inadequate and I had to backtrack in order to head to Foyle’s. I returned the book successfully, quite pleased with myself, then walked on towards Trafalgar Square.
Of course, I was about two minutes late for the start of the play, and the stricture was activated. The box office person explained that I couldn’t go in and that I’d have to wait for the interval. Perhaps fearing a Scene, she passed me on to someone more senior who explained this again, with the added detail that as soon as I opened the door
I would be on the stage
which showed how foolish an enterprise that would be. He repeated their regrets and said that I could wait in the bar for an hour, which is when I would be able to enter.
I sat in the bar, disconsolate and cross. No one else seemed to have made the same mistake. Someone did turn up though, a civilian, and I overheard a staff member explaining that he could sit in row H for now and take up his allocated seat at the interval. She asked me
which studio I was
as she passed me, and carried on when I replied it was number two.
A few minutes passed, while I contemplated my defeat.
A man approached. One of the ushers and/or bar staff. He asked why I was there, so I explained, ashamed. He made an unexpected suggestion, namely that I could watch
through the window, as long as you don’t go in – otherwise I’ll get into trouble
which didn’t really make sense to me but seemed like an improvement on stewing alone in the bar. There was a door leading to a small lobby, at the end of which was the door to the studio. In the latter were two windows, through which I could see most of the stage.
He whispered that he could bring a chair, which offer I accepted with some embarrassment. He brought in the stool, taking the greatest care not to create any noise and I then watched the first part of the play, in this rather ludicrous manner, trying to be careful not to distract anyone in the audience. I wasn’t sure whether the people in the front row on the opposite side of the stage could see me as clearly as I could see them, and wondered, if so, what they made of this curious peering figure. An opportunist? An interloper? Could the actors see too? If they could, would they care?
The usher came in to remove the stool a few minutes before the interval, to prevent an obstruction. This meant I watched the remainder of the first part from an even odder position of stooping.
When the interval came, I left the lobby before any of the audience emerged. One woman asked with concern about the smoke on the stage (which had been present throughout). The senior usher reassured her that it was just water vapour. I asked him if he could show me to my seat, which he did, after the stream of interval emergers had finished.
People sitting near me were clearly surprised that someone should appear at that point, though no-one said anything. It was indeed a very small studio space, with only 4 or so rows of seats. Behind me was the stage manager, activating the smoke, in his box. For the second part I could hear every word, which wasn’t the case when I was in my fenestral position.
The play itself was wonderfully bleak and yet funny, benefitting from the extra claustrophobia of the studio space. Did I enjoy it more because I’d had to struggle more than those who’d arrived on time?
When I left, I made a point of thanking the helpful usher, who said
and I hoped he felt that his kind gesture had been worthwhile.