Throughout the many crises that befell The Company, the senior management team tended to take to the pavement outside of the Theatre at curtain up and drink and smoke themselves into a staggering stupor. New strategies were devised, celebrated and forgotten. New inappropriate relationships were forged. A sense of camaraderie in the absence of a meaningful plan sustained us all. The new Chief Executive was renown, after six months, for leading the charge to the garbage- and piss-strewn sidewalk at 7.31pm. But this night was different. The Broadway Star had cancelled.
I had a couple of drinks on the way there.
There was a three-line whip to assist the Box Office as Coach Party Leader after Coach Party Leader leant heavy-bosomed on the counter top to berate members of staff who really couldn’t give a shit. This tangible show of support for our much-maligned front line colleagues was all part of the ‘One Team’ philosophy that was supposed to be a cornerstone of our organisational recovery.
But it was the weekend and there was no way that I was going to get through this indignity without a skinfull to soften the verbal, dialect-heavy, blows that were doubtless to come.
The pub by the tube station had sufficed for said skinfull although it was sardined to the beermat-stapled rafters with Saturday shoppers, tourists and idiots who got a train into town for a change of scene and then ended up in a boozer of exactly the same complexion that they could have patrionised in Woking or somesuchplace.
The Broadway Star was an ‘above the title’ draw for this particular crossover piece who we had deliberately not placed above the line in the expectation of an event of this sort. She was far north of seventy and the likelihood of her getting through over 50 shows without mishap were low.
We had a bank balance to protect and this particular charm offensive might well have been subtitled “Silence. Smiling. Sorry. No Refunds.”
The Chief Executive was to be found, at around 6pm, on a small bench outside the coffee shop next door to Theatre, smoking a Marlboro Light, puffy-faced and baggy-tongued. She was becoming notorious for minesweeping the stalls bar after incoming was complete. There had been a matinee that day.
“The matinee crowd were brutal”, she said. “I reckon there were around 50 of them. Rude. So rude”. I felt a twinge of admiration. She was not known for her social skills. Her preference for engagement with our audience was an ignored email. This weekend’s activity would have been a stretch for her.
“What’s the strategy?” I said.
“Party Line. We’re very sorry but the show is proceeding as advertised. It’s a [name of company] production of [name of show]. That is what is still going ahead. We are very proud of every member of the company who will be bringing the show to the stage this evening.”
“OK”, I said, “But I just need to walk the course first to see if any of the donors are in”. And I headed to the bar.
There were, of course, no donors ‘in’. They wouldn’t be seen dead at this sort of populist, crossover crassness. I spent twenty minutes drinking a large, treacly glass of white wine that had clearly gone off, whilst trying out my ‘come to bed’ eyes on the new barman. And probably coming over as ridiculously creepy in the process.
I took up my position, with the Technical Director and the Chief Executive, on the opposite side of the foyer to the Box Office, awaiting the first slew of complainants keen to conclude their journey from Hartlepool with an unconvincing suggestion to one of us that they were going to go straight back there with the sole intent of visiting the small claims court.
My first customer was a rather diminutive lady dressed in the sort of twinset that you truly thought had gone out of fashion, for any generation, in 1979.
‘What exactly do you find so funny about this situation young man?” she said.
“Eh?” I managed, genuinely confused at what I’d done, within milliseconds, to illicit this response.
“You seem to find this situation amusing. I don’t know what you could possibly find so amusing about my spending hundreds of pounds on something that you now, with amusement, don’t seem willing to provide for me”. She liked permutations upon the word ‘amuse’.
“I’m very sorry.” Party Line followed.
The woman stood there, looking a perfect 45 degrees upwards to eyeball me in silence for what seemed to be a full 60 seconds. I didn’t know whether, at this point, I was supposed to repeat The Party Line or not. In honesty, I was starting to feel a bit droopy as I was standing right underneath a fan heater and I was experiencing that triple-whammy that comes with two pints, a glass of warm white wine and a wet but dehydrating day.
The Technical Director intervened with an uncharacteristic degree of panache and sent the Sparrow on her way.
‘What was I doing wrong?’ I asked.
“You’re quite a natural smiler”, he generously whispered. “It doesn’t come over well in a situation like this”. He was later to inform me, during an argument about a massive patch of mould that had appeared on my office wall overnight, that he actually thought my ‘natural smile’ was something of a ‘condescending smirk’. I decided to spend the rest of the evening trying out a more earnest face in my phone’s camera.
I concluded that I wasn’t suited to this particular form of audience engagement and that I should slip away. I knew, in my heart of hearts, that The Chief Executive was unlikely to remember my traitorous bailing come the morning after her second helping of dregs that was to come in around 13 minutes time. If this particularly rambunctious crowd allowed the understudy to take to the stage without a full mutiny that is.
I gave The Chief Executive what I thought was a sympathetic nod as I elbowed my way to the front door. It was probably received, however, as a ‘see ya later sucker’ shrug.
She was standing, stoney-faced, but almost nose-to-nose with a woman in a tweed skirt and an anorak that made no attempt at ensemble.
“This is unbelievable”, shrilled the woman. “I’ve given you – YOU – my money and YOU aren’t giving me what I paid for. It’s like rape I tell you. RAPE.”
It’s really not, I thought, whilst sensing a hint of an eyeroll from the Chief Executive. Although it probably wasn’t. Probably just a deeper descent into the prodigious fug.