Having had a few days to recover, it is high time I got round to doing a write up about the end of last week, particularly Saturday. I knew before it occurred that it would certainly be emotional: just didn’t know whether this would be in a good or bad way.
Firstly, I finally got around to organising it so a small group of friends could gain access to the set on Friday to take photos. We’d been wanting to do this for so long, and although I’d been on set before, hadn’t had the freedom to play on it as much as I’d have liked – plus most of the others hadn’t been on stage at all and I know they wanted to. So, with them, after the performance on Friday, I went onto the stage and we basically behaved like children in a playground: running around, playing with everything and posing for photographs. The set has always been undoubtedly one of the most exciting things about the show (it was nominated for an Olivier Award and from day one we were fascinated by it) so it was wonderful being there with my friends.
After this, we went to the pub for a drink and were discussing the strangeness of the day ahead. We were already feeling very sad, not believing that we only had two shows left until the end. I had heard that there was to be an after party after all, only we were still unsure as to whether or not we would get an invite. On Thursday, Phil had seemed fairly confident we would; on Friday not so much. We were also desperate to get photos taken with the actors and were annoyed with ourselves that we’d left it to the last minute. We were trying to work out when might be a good idea to try and arrange this, so I tweeted Ben and James to ask when they thought would work. Ben suggested after the party or the matinee. I told him we may not be going to the party, and then proceeded to have a surreal conversation with him about Griff Rhys-Jones and his nuts (he’d been in that night, I’d asked him to take his peanuts off the ledge in the dress circle – it all makes sense really!)
James sent me a message the following morning saying that there was to be some kind of cake and photo session on stage between shows which we may be able to gatecrash, but if not then they’d be around all day. He described the feeling as being akin to the last day of school, which was accurate. I travelled into Soho with a weird sense of finality.
Had another of those weird moments which made me reflect on the absurdity of my life when standing in a stationery shop in Soho at lunchtime choosing a thank you card to give to James. If you’d told me I’d be doing THAT a year ago...
Had some lunch then headed off for the last time to stage door. Stood outside in the cool sunshine for a while, feeling oddly elated with excitement, whilst also tinged with slight desperation and despair. When Will turned up I spontaneously hugged him and there was rather an exciting, magical feel in the air when others arrived too. I saw James briefly, to whom I gave the card and he said he’d see me around later. As we headed up the stairs, it felt like we were going to our final curtain call.
The matinee shift was fine – uneventful, very busy. I was amusingly distracted whilst sitting in in the Grand Circle by our manager giving us updates about the Grand National as there had been a sweepstake in the theatre. James messaged me again to explain the aforementioned cake session was for cast and producers only as it was Peter’s birthday. I said I’d catch him later then and he said at the end of the evening he’d be around, after shaving his moustache off! (I became worried that we wouldn’t see them– if their party post-matinee was too long, we’d miss them; if things were too busy or we took too long getting out at the end of the night, we’d miss them) Sure enough, when we were finishing clearing up after the afternoon audience left, there was quite a crowd on stage. A cake with candles was brought out, Happy Birthday was sung and a speech was made by Peter. We slunk away upstairs, got changed and with resignation realised we had to go out for food as the break was slipping away.
By the time we’d got back with pizzas the stage was empty and actors nowhere to be seen. At this point I was feeling quite crushed – not only were we now facing the reality of having only one more shift together, but it was seemingly increasingly unlikely that we would catch the cast and I so wanted to say goodbye if nothing else. It was also now clear that we were not invited to the party, and whilst we knew we would make our own fun it was a shame to think we couldn’t all celebrate the end of the show together.
We readied ourselves for the final show and assembled as usual in the stalls bar for the meeting. Everything was feeling so odd now: every little thing we did, we knew we were doing for the last time. We even said our fire evacuation positions with particular relish! Our manager announced she was buying us a drink for the end of the night, so took orders and promised they’d be set up in the bar after the show. We had a photo taken, all of us together, and then went to set up for the final show.
Earlier in the week I negotiated working in my favourite position for the last shift, so headed up to the Dress Circle. Everyone felt slightly manic: we were taking photos of everything and swooping between hysterical joy at the feeling of being there and being together, and almost crying from the knowledge it would only be for a matter of hours longer.
In the dress circle that evening was the assistant director, a producer and Clive Rowe, whom I chatted to and was, for the most part, seeing the show for the first time! I sat in for most of the first act and it was really a great show – the actors seemed to be feeling similar to us and were doing a great job. After the interval I did my usual half hour stint on stage door, where I was amazed to find myself in charge of a beautiful hard-backed book, full of production photos, many of which haven’t been publically published. Apparently each of the cast had been given one. Had a good look through; it really was gorgeous and would have loved to steal one!
I was back front of house with about 15 minutes left of the show. I sneaked into the back of the dress circle and watched the final few scenes clinging onto Myles’ hand as we felt so emotional. At Mrs Wilberforce’s final line: ‘Everything’s going to be alright!’ I dug my nails in, hoping she was right. The lights went down and everyone roared. As many of us ushers as could get away with it stood inside the auditorium and we clapped and cheered louder than we ever had before. Many audience members were on their feet and I felt tears in my eyes. Even the old lady extras and understudies came out for the curtain call and as the curtain descended, the main cast waved from the stage, happy and relieved smiles on their faces.
It was hard recovering from that in order to wave my programmes with a professional smile on my face, but I managed nonetheless and we set about our end of night routine. I was anxious to get done as quickly as possible, but also relished those final moments working with my friends, and laughed when Myles emerged from the stalls with General Gordon’s feathers sticking out of every pocket. For once, the debrief contained no discussion of problems, complaints and mouse-spots, only thanks for our work, a reminder that our drinks were downstairs and a hope to see us all in the future.
Still hopeful of catching the cast, I, along with some others, took my drink upstairs after toasting the Gielgud. I got ready quickly, handed in my uniform and checked my locker was empty. Putting the key on the supervisor desk was sadly reminiscent of that closing scene in Friends.
Downstairs, I discovered the bar staff, one or two ex-colleagues from other theatres and a busy stage door with a number of people waiting outside for autographs. After all that fuss, I also learnt that James had gone, as had Stephen and Harry. I was disappointed, but pleased at least I’d made it out in time to still catch Peter, Ben and Marcia. I talked for a while at stage door to Phil, a couple of other front of housers and Marcus, the company manager, from whose horse’s mouth I learnt the party was by guest list only. I had passed caring about that by then though, focused instead on saying goodbye to the remaining actors there, and having a good night out with my friends.
The waiting crowd were excitable and a little pushy. Whilst I was there, one of the old ladies came out and I heard several of them wondering whether or not it was Marcia. One asked me who she was and I explained. He insisted I found her in the programme, so I pointed out to him where her name was credited. When she stepped outside he asked her for an autograph, partly to humour her and partly because he was, I think, a little ‘merry’. This particular lady is known for her rather grand ways, and when I winked at her and smiled about the fact she was being asked for a signature, she rather stiffly responded ‘I was in an episode of Doctor Who, you know!’ Whoops.
A while later, Marcia emerged, and the crowd surrounded her. I watched from a distance, and, telling how uncomfortable it made her, kept that distance and let her go without further harassment. There was a brief hiatus, when suddenly the crowd surged again. From stage door emerged a pair of women, one young and carrying a box of cupcakes. This was Peter’s daughter (the nicknamed ‘Flossie’!), who was in good spirits and handing out the uneaten cakes to people standing there. She gave me one, which I nibbled at a little before passing it to someone else. Behind her, carrying bags full of possessions, came Peter. He made his way around the excitable audience, autographing and posing for pictures patiently. He asked his wife to wait a little way off until he’d finished. As he was about to take his leave, I asked him for a photograph myself and he kindly obliged. I asked him how he was and he said ‘tired’ then asked if we were coming to the party. Slightly awkward moment when I had to explain we weren’t invited! He kissed me on the cheeks and said goodbye, leaving with his family to the members’ club.
Meanwhile, Kieron had hatched a plan to pretend that when Myles emerged, he would act as if he was famous. When this came together it was hilarious: he shoved through the crowds to take photos and insisted on having a picture taken with him at stage door. I watched, laughing so hard as the waiting crowds frantically checked their programmes to check who he was! One woman even asked him for an autograph!
Eventually, all my friends were outside and deciding where to go. I said I still wanted to wait to see Ben, and several of them agreed, so we stood around, waiting, chatting and laughing. Suddenly, I was aware of great excitement to my right, and heard several of the waiting crowds calling ‘Ben, Ben!’ It was strange: the most people outside had ever acted like proper ‘fans’, thrilled to see the celebrity they were waiting for. Sure enough, Ben appeared and spent some time working his way around everyone there. As each person finally got his autograph to complete their collection, they left, which gradually left just him and us there. I stood by and when the final person had his signature and departed, caught his eye. “Rachel!” he called. “Ben!” I returned. He gave me a lovely huge hug in greeting. Again, a similar awkward conversation occurred, in which he asked me if we were coming to the party and I had to explain the circumstances. He asked what we were doing instead and expressed interest in the bar I mentioned. I jokingly said he should join us later and he said he might if the cast party fell apart! We had photos with him (not just me that time!) and parted ways.
I felt sad at saying goodbye to him and the others, as I really have got to know them and knew I would miss not seeing them around every day. However, overriding that was happiness that I’d seen and got the pictures with those two at least, and now I was about to go and party with a huge group of wonderful, wonderful people. Yes, the knowledge we’d never all be together again, and that The Ladykillers had closed was heart-wrenching, but at that moment I felt such joy at being with them, grateful for the amazing run we’d had and happy that the day had turned out to be such a brilliant way to end things.
We headed off, as we have so many times before, to the Phoenix, where we discovered a buzzing atmosphere. The music was great, people were dancing and the DJ was taking requests: so I got straight in there with a bit of Lulu! He dedicated it to the Gielgud on their closing night, and we’d barely sat down before we were up again on our feet, dancing and singing.
At 1am I checked my phone and saw I had a message from Ben. It said simply ‘You were sorely missed x’! I replied, expressing my sadness and suggesting he could still come and join us! He responded to say he was already home but hoped we would have a great night. Feeling emotional but jubilant (and tipsy), I returned to my friends and we proceeded to have the best night out ever. After the bar closed we went onto a nightclub, which we eventually left at gone 5, went to McDonalds, came out in daylight and I got home at nearly 7. A man in a business suit got on the bus at the same time I was getting off!
After sleeping for a few hours, I woke to find a message from James saying he’d waited for me but must have missed me and suggesting we didn’t miss out on much at the party! Got the same impression from Phil, so am glad things turned out the way they did. Spent the rest of the day feeling quite deflated and low, on the descent back to Earth. Had a bit of a Bridget Jones moment sitting in bed eating instant noodles and watching Marcia and Ben on the red carpet at the Oliver Awards. The Ladykillers had been nominated for five awards, and although it didn’t win any in the end, clearly got the loudest cheer when its name was read out as a nominee!
I have spent the first part of this week floundering slightly. It felt like on Saturday night someone had pushed me off of a cliff and I was hanging suspended in midair, unsure where I was going to land. Finally today I had the presence of mind to get out there and distribute my CV around theatres, and as a result I have an interview next week at Her Majesty’s. Fingers crossed the next chapter is coming very soon...