Working at The Regional Theatre for my first job was not only a source of great pride but also great boozing. And neither were less of the case than when it came to Press Nights and Christmas Parties.
Press Nights were an opportunity to get shouted at by the Press Officer for, she thought, carelessly and deliberately leaving prominent seats empty that had been held for sponsors and thus prompting criticism from hacks for either demoting them to less prominent positions, mounting unpopular shows that no-one wanted to come to or prostituting yourself to corporate philistinical dollars. They were also the opportunity to get instantly sloshed on the cheap warm wine that was served pre-performance and in the interval and, importantly, post-show in the poorly-decorated-for-the-occasion rehearsal room (see fairy lights that hadn’t been taken down since last Christmas) and then in the famous Actors’ Haunt afterwards.
On this occasion, Press Night and the Christmas Party were coinciding. As were my dual crushes on Box Office Boy and Company Manager. I had a couple of drinks on the way there. On this occasion at the Haunt, before the pre-performance drinks, which preceded an already-planned night of heavy drinking. Whatever could go wrong?
Box Office Boy had been giving me the benefit of his beaming smiles every time I walked into the room for many weeks now. It was probably more to do with being starved of company his own approximate age, seeing as he was surrounded by polyester-wearing ladies of a certain era who had been working in the Box Office since 1902, than my sexual allure. I was absolutely having to go to sort out my ticketing dilemmas in person these days rather than rectifying them over the telephone like normal people. He was going to be at the Party tonight. Strike One.
Company Manager had been introduced to me by a mutual colleague who had delighted in the fact that we had both asked her who the other one was after having momentarily brushed forearms over the recycling sack in the photocopier room. “I’m not sure he likes your ear ring”, she said. “Don’t be ridiculous”, I replied. I had spent the next few weeks finding reasons to work late and leave via Stage Door just as the show that he was looking after went up. He was going to be at the Press Night. Strike Two.
The pre-performance drinks pre-drink was a hastily-necked Bacardi and Coke – as a throw back to late-teens house parties where my having been invited was a cause of great anxiety that could only be be-stilled by that eighties staple. Its resurrection for this occasion was a great comfort.
I was supposed to be chatting to sponsors at the pre-show reception, extolling the virtues of another re-do of Taming of the Shrew that saw, on this occasion, the Christopher Sly scenes played out by a drunken football hooligan and where the closing sequence was going to be accompanied by ‘Smack your Bitch Up’ by The Prodigy. I had prepared some carefully crafted lines about the show being visceral and contemporary. But instead I spent the 45 minute reception huddled in a corner with the Irish Research Assistant, excitedly plotting the evening that was, in my mind, going to be a decisive game of not-so-Blind Date and where the final choice of who was going to accompany me to my flatshare on the edge of town (rather than a beach resort in Marbella) was going to be made.
We decided to skip the first act so that I could continue my monologue to the far-too understanding audience of one. We hurtled back to the pub, fearful, as ever, of being cut off at the pass by the Press Officer who had just been arguing with the critic from the Daily Mail about his aisle seats. We would tell her, later, that we had, in fact, moved seats in favour of Drinks Magnates. Who had mysteriously disappeared.
We winged our way through the interval reception with ever-louder protestations of “visceral” and “contemporary” not knowing whether the show had, in fact, been abandoned half way through and replaced with an amateur dramatics version of Annie. It was our guests’ turn, on this occasion, to do the ‘smiling and nodding’ and, no doubt, ignoring of our pint-aromaed breath.
The second half was spent in the back row, looking at the back of the head of Box Office Boy who had, as was his privilege, placed himself most favourably in the centre of the stalls. My right leg had developed a drunken jiggle as my mind raced as to who I was going to lunge at, and in what order, later that evening.
The Press Night party was the usual thrill of rubbing shoulders at the bar with minor household names and watching more significant household names make terrible speeches. Company Manager sidled up to me and said “Hi”, in his usual educatedly-confident way. Before I could either lunge or bluster something about how we should have a more meaningful conversation some day about my future in the theatre, he was excusing himself in favour of a more significant household name who had come charging over to complain about the hotel room that had been allocated to him that the even more obnoxious wife than he was was having an apoplexy about.
And he was gone into the crowd. Shit.
I stumbled at alarming and ill-advised speed down the stairs from the poorly-decorated-for-the-occasion rehearsal room to the Haunt where the lights were already dimmed and the music was at a level that would, no doubt, render my weird hearing (that conked out in such circumstances) incapable of the sort of pseudo-intellectual smalltalk that I had prepared for this point in proceedings.
Box Office Boy was in the corner, surrounded by girls from the front of house bar. I trolleyed over in a manner that might just as well have been accompanied by bellows of, “Make Way!”. Thankfully, BOB wasn’t perturbed and gave me his best winning smile. I squeezed in next to him. Irish Research Assistant was diagonally opposite, giving me a less-winning look than I was being offered by BOB
In amongst all of the inevitable “what”s and “pardon”s, I unmistakably heard two things from BOB over the course of the next 25 minutes. The first was an impassioned statement that he felt about me the way in which characters in Russian novels felt about each other. Score. He also went on to tell me that he was here this evening with the mother of his child. Excuse me?
Now, these were long before the days of either mine or wider society’s understanding and acceptance of anything that approximated ‘fluidity’. This was, on reflection, what I was probably seeing some sort of manifestation of here. But these were the days when, indeed, my own coming out as a Vaniila Gay was stumblingly and awkwardly accompanied by responses such as “Oh, don’t worry, I’m awfully tolerant of things like that” from even the most enlightened of theatrical professionals.
I looked, slack-jawed, at Box Office Boy, not knowing or being able to say something next. The best I could manage were, “So, who are you going home with tonight?”. To which he said, “Sorry? I didn’t catch that”.
I looked across the table, despairingly, at the Irish Research Assistant, for some semblance of assistance as the final vestige of my plot unravelled. She just shrugged, before lolling towards her sixth pint of Castlemaine XXXX that evening.