Time Out’s Executive Editor Michael Hodges has been dallying with danger so you don’t have to. This week’s thing not to do in London, No 2: meet ‘n’ greet at the theatre
‘I ‘ve got tickets for that play with Kristin Scott Thomas and Rufus Sewell where they don’t have sex,’ says your friend. ‘No tickets,’ you reply, ‘for the play where they do have sex?’ ‘No, the one where they don’t have sex.’ ‘There’s no bedroom action at all?’ ‘I think they rub against each other a bit towards the end. Fancy it?’ ‘Oh, go on then.’
And so you find yourself at the theatre, and because you don’t find yourself at the theatre too often, the whole thing is really quite odd. Apart from you and the friend who has provided the tickets, all the other men that are milling around the foyer are apparently going on to a fancy- dress party after the performance. The women are mostly in their fifties, very tall, beautiful and extremely chic. Not unlike Kristin Scott Thomas. The men are older, mostly in their sixties and seventies. And although one or two are tall, they are not beautiful or chic. They have cauliflower ears, bulbous noses, mad eyes and peculiar haircuts, and wear eccentric pieces of clothing: a French peasant’s smock here, a pair of velvet slippers plus a Nehru jacket and a pashmina there. Very much unlike Rufus Sewell.
But the most remarkable thing about the crowd isn’t their appearance, it’s the way they greet each other. As each new theatregoer comes through the double doors, a sort of madness breaks out, with everyone battling to be the loudest and most eccentrically welcoming. They kiss each other on the cheeks, embrace, clasp hands, express amazement at finding each other on the same premises, and pull faces of exaggerated pleasure and delight while shouting ‘darling’.
Everyone, it turns out is called Roger, Simon, Jocasta, Arabella or Siobhan. ‘Look Simon, it’s Siobhan!’ someone shouts as a new and even more elegant woman in her fifties arrives.
‘Arabella!’ Siobhan embraces Arabella and then cups her face in her hands. Someone else arrives. ‘Jocasta!’ ‘Arabella!’ Jocasta now kisses Arabella full on the cheek and a sort of blizzard of kissing and shouting breaks out, and at last you realise what is happening. These people aren’t lunatics; they are posh, and simply by going to the theatre you have bought tickets for a sort of posh-people zoo.
Then a little round man with a wide red face and turned-up nose approaches from the street. He has a towering wasps’ nest of grey hair on the very top of his head and is wearing a black cape. He looks like a wizard – which is appropriate, as he is about to work dark arts with his nose.
Just before he comes through the doors an unseen force takes hold of him: his shoulders are lifted up as if an invisible coathanger has been rammed into his jacket and is attempting to lift him from the ground. At the same time he screws his face up, gasps ‘Ah¼’ then emits a huge and devastating sneeze which unleashes a torrent of green liquid from his nostrils and into his palm. He observes this for a moment then flicks it casually to the floor where, in the manner of a Portuguese man o’war stranded on an out-of-season Algarve beach, it wobbles mournfully.
Simon shouts ‘Roger!’, flings his pashmina to one side and shakes the mucus-y hand enthusiastically. Then he picks up a wine glass from a table. ‘Simon,’ says Siobhan, ‘that’s my glass, darling.’ She takes the glass from Simon’s hand just as she spots a different Arabella who spots her at the same time. ‘Siobhan!’ They kiss and, having spread Roger’s phlegm even further round the room, they turn their eyes to my friend and me. At this point we flee.
And another thing…
COUGHING: Spring has sprung, and London still splutters. If afflicted, best avoid Pinter’s pregnant pauses and look for a musical you can cough along with, like ‘Chest Side Story’.
DRINKING: Most theatres allow drinking during the show. Typically it’s £14 for a G&T, which you put down carefully by your feet. You then lean forward to take your jacket off and kick it over.
KISSING: Kissing’s okay in the foyer, but not in the auditorium. Likewise, major sex acts are also discouraged. There’s never room, anyway. Unless you’re at the National.
HAZARDS: Young people often forget where they are, but rather than texting someone to find out, it’s less annoying for your fellow theatregoers if you write ‘I’m at a play’ on your hand before you go.
Read about more of Michael Hodges adventures.