Front of House: An Usher

With apologies to Edgar Allan ‘iddle-I’ Poe.

Last Monday I was at the Nuffield Theatre for their regular Experiment night where four incomplete theatrical fragments are given a run-out in front of a live audience in the hope of constructive feedback.  I find this does place quite a lot of pressure on me, as an audience member, trying to come up with something vaguely insightful to write.  As so often, there was a clear winner – this time St Jowan’s Tide by Felix Legge – which I really want to see made into a full play.

This Monday (or ‘tonight’ to its friends) will offer a somewhat different experience as I am off to the Soho Theatre in London to see Andy Zaltzman’s Satirist for Hire: the combination of the news I (eventually) awoke to this morning (frankly an open goal for Zaltor the Magnificent) and the fact that Southwest Trains is offering discount tickets to London again made it an irresistible prospect.  I think I should only be expected to laugh: a feat of which I am quite capable, even in the absence of yoga (though, experiments yesterday afternoon suggest that I still find myself doing yoga terribly funny).

After the theatre had finished and I had scribed such feedback as my limited critical faculties could muster, I found myself chatting to one of the Nuffield team.  It emerged that they were short of ushers for Saturday and in a fit of public-spirited engagement, I volunteered my very unskilled services (still, at least no stapling was required).  So, at 0930 on Saturday morning I found myself reporting to the theatre clad neck-to-ankle in black: as close as my wardrobe could approximate to the usher ‘uniform’.

Pleasingly, I was issued with my own little torch and a hi-viz waistcoat (or vest for any American readers) for use in emergencies.  I tried to contain my disappointment during the fire drill training when it became apparent that there was no role for Inspector Sands: the poor chap seems to be out of work, austerity-based cutbacks are clearly biting deep.  For any interested parties, I would note that it is still considered de trop to scream the word FIRE at full volume into the auditorium.  I was not entrusted with the ice cream tray – but that was mostly down to the lack of an interval rather than any concerns about my ability to keep my hands (and tongue) off the stock.

The play in question, which I ushered through two performances at 1030 and 1330, was What The Ladybird Heard by Julia Donaldson and was aimed at a younger audience and I’d guess that most of its non-parental members were aged 0-6 (years).  This was my first exposure to theatre aimed at such a youthful demographic (except the odd pantomime four decades back and an excerpt at Monday’s Experiment) and they seemed to enjoy it.  For the parents and ushers, I’d suggest it could have been a great deal worse – and I did find new ‘stuff’ to enjoy in my second viewing.  I would note that in addition to her important aphid-eating duties (unmentioned in the play), the ladybird proved unexpectedly capable at foiling a planned robbery.  Her method, in terms of its complexity, had more in common with the Hooded Claw or a Bond villain than you might anticipate.  Apparently, there is a sequel: I’m hoping that the ladybird continues with her crime-fighting exploits and once again thwarts the ne’erdowells by involving her farm friends in a suitably labyrinthine scheme.

Despite some strong lobbying by nearby parents during the 1330 performance, I was not required to play the part of Lanky Len: I like to assume this was a comment on my athletic build rather than their view on my innate criminality.  I left the audience participation to the paying audience, being unwilling to sacrifice what limited air of authority I possessed.  Still, all seem to go well and no-one died on my watch – which I believe is the gold-standard for ushering.  I may even volunteer my services again, one day…

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