I’m not a regular letter writer, but a dreadful trip to the Apollo Theatre on Monday managed to draw out the grouchy, sarcastic complainer in me… Well, I had to achieve catharsis somehow! It should be arriving through their letterbox at some point tomorrow morning – but in case you fancied indulging my venting, please find it posted below:
To whom it may concern,
On the morning of Monday 24 October I found myself unexpectedly unoccupied, and so decided to sidle up Shaftesbury Avenue on the off chance that I might be able to procure some day tickets for Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre.
The air was crisp and autumnal, the sunlight peeking tantalisingly through the clouds, and it was a real pleasure to saunter through the heart of the city. Not even the already-established queue outside the theatre could dampen my spirits as I daydreamed of the fun I might have on my day off: perhaps a nice espresso in a quirky Soho coffee house, a walk over the Thames, an afternoon on the Southbank, all topped off by treating my wife to an evening of theatrical entertainment. But I digress…
The 50 minute wait was a blend of trepidation and excitement. Would I be one of the lucky few able to get a ticket? I waited and hoped, charged with a nervous excitement, and so imagine my joy when I reached the front of the queue and discovered that there were, indeed, tickets available! I was over the moon. Not literally, I must point out, knowing, as I now do, how fluidly you at the Apollo like to treat the English language.
The helpful young person in the box office pointed out the available seats on his lurid-coloured two-dimensional chart. Balcony, Row A, seats 11 and 12, in case you’re wondering. And then he admitted ‘the view is a little restricted.’ Now I’ve been to plenty of theatres in my time, and have sat in many a ‘restricted view seat.’ My experience has varied: on occasions the view has indeed lived up to its name, perhaps with an overhanging balcony, or the odd handrail in my peripheral vision. At other times, whatever obstruction may have been in the mind of the vendor was really utterly unnoticeable and I have had a whale of a time. But knowing that ‘restricted’ can be a flexible and multifarious term, I asked just how restricted the view was.
The answer was as follows: “I admit, you can’t quite see all of the stage. The line of sight is slightly obstructed by a lighting rig.”
Well, in the moment, overcome as I was with the excitement of having made it through to the front of the queue to watch a play I’d been longing to see, I thought “that doesn’t sound so bad.” Never did it cross my mind that this might be a masterful display of that linguistic tool known as ‘understatement’; and an unparalleled example at that! I snapped up the tickets and quipped: “Well, I’d rather see most of the play than none of the play.”
They chuckled. I chuckled. Deep down they knew.
Now, I am not the tallest man you’re ever likely to meet. My mother is a miniature 5 foot 2, but thankfully my father’s genes balanced me out, and placed me somewhere in the middle. At a relatively average 5 foot 11, therefore, I do not consider myself to be dwarfed or stunted in any way. But even a man of my average stature was unable to see over the rather excessively high wall that sat before me.
Of course, I am quite aware that none of today’s staff would have been involved in the building process, so I hardly expect to be able to write to the person responsible for seat installation in 1901. But I was baffled by the thought that for 110 years you have been selling seats with a view of nothing but wall. It wasn’t an unsightly wall, it has to be said; just not what I had expected to see. As I sunk into my seat, I resigned myself to the thought that turn of the century theatregoers must have been in the region of eleven feet tall, and that it was a cruel twist of human evolution than rendered these seats useless for the modern man.
What disappointed me most was this: I was specifically informed at the box office (promised, one might say) that my sightline would be obstructed by a lighting rig, and yet in reality I could see no such rig! Not, that is, unless I stood up and peered over the wall. What is the world coming to, when even the objects of obstruction are themselves eclipsed? I paid for my view to be obscured by lights, and quite frankly, I feel cheated…
In order to see anything that might vaguely be considered a theatrical experience (let alone a lighting rig) I had to perch on the back of my chair. Not, please note, the upturned, unfolded seat of the chair, but the very back. And there I sat, on a two-inch wide strip of wood, my head between the feet of those behind me, for the entire first act. I was not alone. Most of the others on the same row adopted similar postures, shuffling every few minutes as the strip of wood caused an unbearable pain in the proverbial. (I considered sneaking to the toilets and taking a photograph of my dented derriere to send you, but didn’t want to give you the satisfaction.)
At the interval, the audience members of Row A were conspicuous by their waddling. A, I have concluded, stands for ‘aviary’ since everyone who sat there was perched like a canary. A few of us, unable to bear the experience much longer sought other seats for the second act. We managed to find some spare chairs at the far side of Row C where we were able to at last have an unimpinged view of a lighting rig and roughly 60% of the stage. Even there we found many people around us grumbling at the views, and since nigh on everybody was having to lean forward in order to see anything of the stage, we still had to squat, stand, perch, lean or otherwise twist ourselves in some yogic fashion in order to see. One chap commented to me that this was the second time he had come to see the show, since the first time he’d bought a day seat and hadn’t been able to see anything. He’d paid double the amount this time, and found the view to be only marginally better.
I often like to purchase a programme; something to keep which can remind me of the experience. On this occasion I chose not to, though I doubt the experience shall slip my mind for at least a week or so, since I now have back pain now as a lasting memento. And for free! How exceedingly generous of you…
That said, the play itself was very stimulating; audiologically speaking. If there are not already plans for a radio adaptation of Jerusalem, I do hope you will consider it. I would like to vouch for it making an excellent radio play, having been, albeit unwittingly, privileged enough to have experienced a sightless version.
So please do accept my congratulations for your remarkable linguistic gymnastics. You have successfully reworked and relativized the English language to a degree I never thought possible. Who knew that a phrase such as ‘not quite all of’ could actually mean ‘absolutely not one square inch of the stage’ or that ‘restricted view’ really meant I could hardly see more wall if you sellotaped bricks to my eyeballs!
With ‘not quite all’ of my best wishes,