Friday, 29 June 2012

Wings and Wheels

I have to write about my shift last night as although it was my first 'normal' ushering post since we came back, it was somewhat unusual.

As I think I've explained, the show has audience seats on stage, six rows of them, behind the actors. Where there are audience, there must be ushers, and so that's where I was working last night. It was odd working at the Gielgud and not being entirely sure what I was doing when!

It was different from the very beginning, as the ushers on stage are given a black t-shirt to wear instead of the white shirt, so as to not be so visible. Kitted out in my new M&S top then, I waited for the auditorium to open and then made my way to the wings at stage right.

Box A, our 'royal' box and most luxurious space (this was where Robbie Coltrane was that time) has been converted into a dressing area/wardrobe space, as it leads directly onto the stage in the right wing. Some audience members have to pass through this area to get to their seats, which must be a pretty extraordinary experience for them! Several wondered out loud if they were going the right way. I stood in the wing itself, collecting people as they arrived from the Box and showing them where they were sitting. There are two rows on stage level, right at the front, another two rows raised slightly behind and a final two rows above, accessed by a set of stairs which go up behind the set. I had to tell each patron the rules about eating, drinking, and toilet breaks (naturally, we must be more strict with those sitting under the lights in full glare of the rest of the audience).

During the interval, I was posted again by Box A, ensuring those returning from the bar didn't take their drinks back on stage with them. Then, I was 'sitting in' for Act 2. This normally involves sitting at the back of the level you are working on, keeping an eye on the audience and watching the show whilst you're at it. I was looking forward, when I saw the rota, to finally getting to see some of the play. This was not meant to be, however.

On stage, the only place that we can sit is in the wings, behind the set, halfway up the steps which lead up to the upper audience seats. Thus, I couldn't see any of the stage (or in fact the audience, making me ponder slightly what the point is). Although this may get boring after a few goes at it, it did however create a whole new source of entertainment. Literally sitting in the wings near the makeshift wardrobe department meant I had a view of the mayhem of backstage during the show. Actors coming in and out, dashing through into the Box and back again; dressers running back and forth carrying bits of costume; stage hands running around with bits of props. I was glad I'd met most of them on stage door on Tuesday, as it meant most of them, if they had a moment, smiled or nodded a hello at me. It was a pretty unique experience! Not least when, at one point, Simon Williams (in his academic robe costume) took a moment before his last scene to sit on the steps next to me, lean over and whisper 'Good day in the football - Italy beat Germany!' and to also update me on Nadal's progress at Wimbledon. He then galloped off onto stage and moments later I could hear his voice booming out to the audience, whilst I sat just feet away on the other side of the set. I always thought that seeing what goes on backstage during the show must be fascinating, so that was the closest I've got to it. The line between audience and stage is definitely blurred in this production, and I guess that means our roles have slightly changed too.

There is only one more thing I want to comment on, and that is that I heard today that the tyrannical head teacher I worked for last year has finally been 'let go', after months of suspension. I cannot quite find the words to express how happy I feel about this. He destroyed careers, lives and sprits. He created a miserable atmosphere and made so many false promises. His ideas for the school were ludicrous and he made so many inane decisions. Karma is a beautiful thing, when it works out.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012


Truly, in the sense that I, lo and behold, write this update from the stage door ‘box’ at the Gielgud! Thought it seemed natural! However, it is somewhat different as it is already nearly eight o clock and I’ve only just had time to turn my computer on! All very busy here, with such a huge cast and company coming and going all afternoon. More on that later.

So we started back last week, with training on Wednesday through to Friday. It’s strange: the same but different. It seemed like there were loads of us going back, and in fairness there are about 10 or 12, but with a bigger staff now we are still outnumbered by ‘newbies’. They all seem lovely though – friendly and proficient.  Of course, with many things so similar, the differences do seem more marked. The theatre looks like a different place inside. The set is bizarrely different: they have tried to make it ‘in the round’ by jutting the circular stage out slightly and installing six rows of audience seats behind it, on the stage itself. There is a running track that slopes down from the stage out into the stalls. They try to refer to it as a ‘stadium’ to really give the feel of an Olympic setting. The round stage revolves so the actors can run fast but not travel at too great a speed.

The cast of course have also drastically changed. As mentioned, there are more like 25 of them: a huge leap up from the handful I got used to! It is a mostly young cast, naturally given the show. Our biggest ‘names’ are Nickolas Grace and – again – Simon Williams (he just can’t stay away!) It’s quite good to see him again actually; he’s a nice friendly man.

On Friday we were asked to go in for a few hours in order to sort out uniforms and to watch the dress rehearsal. Uniforms were sorted (back in short sleeves and long maroon apron!), lockers allocated (made a strategic move from 6 to 11) and paperwork filled in. We went sent off for a while before the rehearsal was due to begin, told we would be able to sit at the front of the dress circle. When we came back however, we found out that the rehearsal wasn’t going to happen and instead they were still doing a tech run. It was suggested we should still sit in, at the back, and watch some, in order to give us an idea.

When we got up to the foyer, we found ourselves behind Vangelis, the composer of that famous music, being escorted into the auditorium by an entourage, one of whom was filming his every move in excitement. It was quite a big deal, having someone so iconically associated with the show in the building. He sat in the front of the dress, and we all got to witness a gloriously lovvie moment when the whole cast from stage applauded him as the music played and the director made an impassioned speech.

Watching the tech was interesting to a point: I had never seen quite such an involved rehearsal before, with the director jumping in to make changes, and scenes being re-marked. After a while however, the novelty wore off as progress was very slow. Luckily, after a while, they stopped for a tea break and a number of cast members, led by Simon, came up to the dress with trays of chocolates, biscuits and other goodies. After plying Vangelis and crew with treats, Simon then came up to us offering them around, and I assisted him in rearranging the chocolates on the tray (champagne truffles from Patisserie Valerie, lovely!) We then sneaked off and I was home nice and early for a rare evening off.

So within a few days of being back at Gielgud my life has upped its glamour level again. On Saturday I was on bar, but the producer came into our front of house meeting to give us a little pep talk and thank us in advance for our work. My celebrity spotting has begun again, as last night I served Nigel Havers (who was of course in the original film). If I knew more about sport I’m sure the number of celeb spots would be higher, as they seem to be inviting past Olympians in to see it. I imagine press night next Tuesday will be attended mainly by sports stars.

And I’m straight back on stage door tonight! As I say, it’s been considerably busier than I grew used to! I was a little anxious about it before coming as there are so many new people to get to know, plus new forms and paperwork for contractors etc. I didn’t stop in my first hour here and there’s been a steady flow of visitors, phone calls and tannoy announcements ever since. Now the show is up however, I’m finally getting a moment. When Ladykillers was here I got quite confident doing this. The cast was small and of course I knew them all, so it was a relatively easy job. It’s very much more hectic now and I’m being kept on my toes, but it’s going pretty well so far. Tried to spend the afternoon getting myself to stop half-expecting Marcia to turn up with a fragrant smile, Peter to come flying in and out with coffee, Ben to wander out scouting for food, James to scurry in in his motorbike helmet, to have a chat and a laugh with Stephen and a smile from Clive.

Old cast have certainly not exited my life completely though. Still tweeting back and forth with James and sometimes Ben. He claims he ‘shall’ drop into visit if he gets the chance when he visits the UK next month.  Haha! Perhaps even more bizarrely, I saw one of them last week! I was walking through Soho on my way to work when Peter suddenly appeared in front of me! I seem to have a knack for bumping into him. I said hello and we had a little catch up (luckily he remembered who I was!). He told me about what he’d been up to since we last met, what was coming up next for him and asked about the theatre. It was really lovely to see a Ladykiller!

Thursday was a good day all round actually, so we have labelled last week ‘Super Week Part 2’. After training that evening a group of the front of house crew went out for cocktails (we simply had to take advantage of actually being free during ‘happy hour’!) Quite a few of the new guys came along too which was nice. Sophie joined us, and then we too went off to Kings Cross to see the recording of the Radio 4 show ‘Chain Reaction’. Jeremy Front interviewed Rebecca Front, who then interviewed Chris Addison. It was really interesting and completed a Thick of It centric day!

My flatmate is away this week so enjoying having the place to myself. Lots of celebrations are goin on as it’s Myles’ birthday: spent Saturday night at his house at a ‘Grease’ themed party – wearing a pink dress and blaring out the karaoke until the small hours. ‘Such fun’!

As my supervisor summarised, this show ‘isn’t as glamorous as Ladykillers’ (glamour IS an old lady, a covered parrot cage and an unruly scarf), but it looks as if it should be good, and fun to work on. Trying to get a few more responsibilities by applying for cover supervisor and cover ‘fireperson’ roles. Should definitely be looking to move up here, seeing as I’m no closer to finding another job. Waiting to hear back from the interview I had at the casting agents’ last week.

Well, I have been left in charge of some keys, a CV, a tub of massage oil and some chocolate cake (guess which one I’m eating?) and interval is coming up. Shall sign off in appropriately dramatic and emotional slow motion.

..NB... very slow - posted a day after writing as typically, the wifi was on the blink in the theatre again...

Monday, 18 June 2012

Super Week

What a difference a week makes! One Monday on and a series of rather wonderful events have occurred which definitely warrant writing about.

On Tuesday we went to the interview. It was so odd. Everything was the same as when I’d interviewed there before, and yet so much was different. The set up was the same: into the foyer which, as before, was half roped off and being used as a storage areas for bits of carpentry and lighting equipment. People were milling around quietly. As before, I handed in my CV to the kiosk and completed the application form. Only this time, I was there with a group of people and greeted the person to whom I handed the CV to with a happy friendly smile. We were chatting and laughing and trying to control ourselves as the others in the room were looking a little confused and nervous and irritated. It was hard not to rush up to the new supervisor, our friend Greg, when we arrived to give him a hug as we normally would, as he was helping with the interviews! Jaime, the manager, was deliberately treating us the same as the others but it was so odd.

Down to the stalls bar, the room in which we had the group photo taken on 14th April and where we’d had the drinks bought for us by the managers. The exercises were quite similar to before (no Parisian mime artist this time though, sadly!) but I felt so confident, helping to steer the group of strangers I’d been placed with towards the right answers. We were the last to leave and said farewell to the managers with a formal ‘goodbye’ before all heading off together to the pub for lunch! We couldn’t see why they wouldn’t hire us back, but were told, like everyone else, to listen out for a phone call within a few days if successful.

 Later that same day (or, rather, the early hours of the next morning!) Viv found out she was getting to move to London! After months of planning, applications and problems, this was so amazing! Can’t wait til she gets here in a few months to show her everything and for her to start her own London adventure!

Wednesday was pretty dull on the whole. I had to attend another manual handling course in the morning, which although involved a brief wander round backstage at ‘Matilda’ was not worth the early trip into town for the sake of an hour. With time to kill before the evening show, I went home again and had a few hours there before needing to return to the West End. My journey home was considerably brightened however by actually having a brief conversation with Ben on twitter! He asked me how Gielgud was and I optimistically told him I’d be going back next week.

Luckily, the following morning, this was confirmed. Just before heading off for the Thursday matinee, my phone rang and a familiar voice greeted me when I answered. “I guess you know why I’m calling you?” Jaime asked. “I hope so!” I replied. Even though I was expecting to get that phone call, the happiness I felt was indescribable! It’s so easy to think back to April, when we were so distraught at it all ending. June seemed a million miles off and the thought of not being together at the Gielgud for all that time was unbearable. And yet now here we are. We have to go in for training on Wednesday and Thursday this week and then Chariots of Fire opens on Saturday! So the wait is over! My last shift at Phantom is this Wednesday night and I’m looking forward to having a couple of evenings off on Thursday and Friday. In some ways it feels like I’ve only just started at Phantom, but I’m definitely ready to leave. I’m going home!

When I got home that night, I discovered an email from a casting agent’s I’d applied to for an internship a week or so ago. They have invited me into interview. I’d heard nothing from anywhere else I’d applied to in that field, so again was really excited! The interview is tomorrow. I told James who wished me luck. It will be really interesting to find out more tomorrow, and who knows what could happen?!

Finally, I had a lovely weekend with Ollie who came to visit. The weather cheered up enough to allow us to sit outside and walk around a lot. We’re trying to plan holidays to look forward to over the next few months.

So here we are. This week, I return to Gielgud. Of course, it won’t be quite the same without the Ladykillers crew there, and not all my friends are coming back. But really, it feels like a homecoming, and I can’t wait.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Full Circle

It’s been ages since I last wrote, which is wrong as I know people do actually follow this and enjoy reading my entries. Sorry. The truth is, things have seemed a little stagnant, and without the old job my enthusiasm has dwindled. Not that the last month or so hasn’t been completely uneventful or lacking any highlights. I’ll summarise a few now, and then go back to the present, and the reason for the title of this blog.

Tired April turned into May and we had our long weekend in Lithuania. This was genuinely lovely; it was great spending time with Ollie and Vilnius was a pleasant surprise. It did us the wonder of good to get some sunshine, cheap food and drink and some escape. It was a lazy, indulgent few days, cafe hopping, sampling local cuisine and browsing bric-a-brac in the town’s markets.

I began to get used to working at Her Majesty’s. The rota became second nature, I trained on bar which was a nice refreshing change and I began to work out some friendships with other members of staff there. The team is much more fractured and cliquey than the Gielgud team was. People are nice enough but nowhere near as instantly happy and welcoming as the old gang.

It has been a wet and cold early summer. As I write the bottom of my jeans are sodden and the sky outside is grey and heavy. We had a patch of brilliant warmth and sunshine at the end of May for about a week which was wonderful but nothing since. Gloomy predictions are ahead as well. During the heat wave I spent a lot of time lazing in parks, wandering about the dusty streets in skirts or dresses and walking near the river. It’s starting to seem like a distant dream now.

To manage our separation, the Gielgud lot have been meeting at least once a week. We’ve adjusted to this, although at first even that seemed like nothing, so used as we’d been to seeing each other every night. When we meet now, we greet each other with happy exclamations and huge bear hugs, as if we’d been apart for years. Mostly we’ve been meeting at the pub after work; luckily we all still work in the West End, albeit scattered around, so our social hours are the same as ever. On one sunny Sunday , however, a group of us went to Chessington which was just brilliant. I hadn’t been in about a decade but it was much the same. The day was completely idyllic – perfect weather, perfect company and more laughing that I’d done in some time.

So, I haven’t lost my FOH friends at all. There aren’t many of the whole team I haven’t seen since we closed. Of course, however, that hasn’t stopped me missing life as it was. The ache for it has been every bit as bad as I was expecting. It’s strange, just not doing it any more. Cast-wise, it’s been interesting. James has kept in touch, which is wonderful. He is so generous to people. I haven’t held many extensive conversations with him, but he’s always there. If I tweet him, he will reply. It seems that once he lets you through his defences, he will allow you to stay there.

Ben has been a different but equally interesting story. After our flurry of final communication that last weekend, he retreated into complete silence. I sent him a few things, but he seemed to be off the internet altogether, his feed devoid of new updates. I was surprised at just how much I missed him. Our chats has always been so enjoyable. Yes of course it made me feel special to have a bond with a celebrity, but above that I also just genuinely liked him as a person. Without twitter, there was no way at all to speak to him anymore and so I had lost that.

This was, until one surreal evening exactly one month after closing night. I was sitting in my room and talking to Viv online, when, from his silence emerged the man himself, with a general message greeting his 72000 followers from Guadeloupe. Apparently he had just arrived to begin filming the Caribbean show he’d told me about. I had barely had time to register my pleasure at seeing him online again, before to my complete shock, he used his next message to reply to me! A few days previously I had mentioned him and James in a joking complaint that there was no reason to report my celebrity spots to them any more (Eric Bana had been in the theatre). James had replied and now here was Ben, saying ‘well come on, who was it...?’ Here is the conversation which ensued. Bear in mind this was the first thing he’d said in a month and in his general tweet he’s mentioned he was on the beach having a barbecue. I was just imagining the delight his fans must have felt upon seeing him active again, followed perhaps by their indignation he spent the rest of the evening talking to just one person!

Me: ‘BEEEN! You’re alive and tweeting! And in Guadeloupe! Wow! It was Eric Bana, ie him off of The Hulk (I work at Phantom now)x

Ben: a very fine comic actor in his day... have you seen The Castle? Just brilliant...

Me: No although I shall have to now. Admittedly was slightly distracted by his prettiness. Are you twitting me from a beach?!

Ben: I am I am. Sun going down. Waves lapping. Mosquitoes feasting.
(this was where I got truly gobsmacked!)

Me: Honoured. Sounds heavenly. Could even put up with the mossies. I’m in Highbury, lovely. Did you see the pics I sent you?
(I had sent him the picture of the two of us just after we closed and later a picture of the newly empty Gielgud stage).

Ben: sent where? On here? Sorry I’ve been in suspended animation on a star cruiser holodeck.
(I resent both pictures)

Ben: looks a bit like you’re my carer! Sweet photo tho. Twitter won’t let me see the others for some reason. Probably a good thing...
Ben (contd.) ... can’t bear the thought of the Gielgud being unfaithful...
(I’d told him what the picture was of. I got the sense throughout our chat that he was missing it all as much as I was, which was probably his inspiration for starting the conversation in the first place).

Me: Please share my pain! (resent photo) Undecided whether 2 go back for Chariots. It won’t be the same – new signs are up!

Ben: like a shard in my heart.

So that was that. Quite insane. Unfortunately he retreated into silence again and I haven’t had a reply from him again since. Perhaps that really will be it now. I hope not. I appreciate all the ties I can maintain from that time in my life, especially such special ones. Promotion has begun for the Ladykillers tour, and with it pictures of the new cast. It’s bizarre to see the poster looking just the same and yet with different faces. Happily though, Will our friend the understudy has been selected to play Stephen’s role for the tour, which is greatly exciting!

At the end of May, after the sun had died again, I enjoyed a night off work to attend another TV recording. This time, excitingly, it was QI. As great as the show itself and seeing the brilliant Stephen Fry in action though was spending the night with three of my favourite people from three different camps in my life: best friend Sophie; boyfriend Ollie and brother James. Recording was really fun and who’d have thought it, but David Mitchell was a guest so I got to see him again! There was apparently no need for all the ninja moves I had to pull to see him when he came to the theatre that time!

The wet weather continued in predictable but fairly spectacular fashion for the long Bank Holiday weekend at the start of June to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Of course, the holiday did not affect me work wise – I got no extra time off, but London was buzzing in the time I was there. Plus, I escaped to Kent for 24 hours for an indoor garden party with all the family. We ate lot of food, played party games and watched the crowds lining the Thames getting soaked as they watched the flotilla. On the Monday, Ollie and his parents attended the concert, whilst I was stuck in work just down the road. On Tuesday, the two of us decided to try to see the royal carriage procession, but central London was packed by the time we got there. Somehow we managed to squeeze onto Whitehall, but the crowds were so dense already we couldn’t get close enough to see anything except the top of the coach and a flash of Kate and Harry’s heads! Everywhere had such a lovely atmosphere though: despite the poor weather and packed streets, everyone was in a good mood and there was a genuine and rarely-expressed sense of national pride being exhibited.

So, full circle. Tomorrow, I am going into the Gielgud to interview for my old job. Yes, I absolutely decided in the end it was the best thing to do. I have handed in my notice at Her Majesty’s and Chariots of Fire opens next week. It was a relief making the decision and I can’t wait to be back. I don’t expect to regain what is lost but I have never lost my love for that place and will be so much happier being back there. If this really were a musical or play, the sun would start shining again and the overture would start up! Watch this space.