I went to Soho Theatre yesterday for the London launch of this year’s Brighton Fringe. The event was unticketed but there was a guest list.
Inside the auditorium, I got into conversation with a man who had wandered in off the street randomly.
“I was passing,” he told me, “and it looked like something was happening, so I just came in. I smiled at the girls on the door. It looked like a PR thing where there might be free food and drink. I go to see a lot of plays and musicals in the West End for free.”
“How do you do that?” I asked.
“I only go to see things that have been running a while,” he told me. “so there will always be some empty seats. I guess when the interval is going to be, get there a bit earlier and wander up to the bar. They don’t check for tickets on the door. I go up to the bar and wait for the audience to come out for the interval.
“When the interval ends and the audience goes back in, I wait in the bar until they’re all seated, then go in, look for an empty seat and go sit in it.”
“But,” I asked, “Don’t the people sitting next to what had been an empty seat look a bit surprised?”
“Not really,” the man told me. “Sometimes they do a bit, but I guess they just think I’m very late.”
“Have you ever been thrown out for not having a ticket?” I asked.
“Never,” he said.
“Don’t you have trouble following the plot if you’ve missed the first half?”
“Not often,” he told me. “And, with musicals, it doesn’t matter much. I know roughly what the story is about. I check in advance. Most people go for the songs. So do I.”
“How long have you been doing this?” I asked.
“A couple of years,” he told me.
“I’ve always thought,” I said, “that it would be a good scam to go round churches on a Saturday afternoon when there are a lot of weddings. If you go in, they just ask if you are with the bride or the groom. They will direct you to sit at one side of the church or the other and, after the wedding, you could probably get to the Reception and get free food and drink. But I could never be bothered trying it.”
“There would be no spare seat for you at the Reception,” the man told me. “And wasn’t there a film about that?”
“Could have been,” I said.
“I never saw it,” the man said.
“Nor me,” I said. “If there was one.”
There was a long pause.
“I once went with two friends to Luton Airport on a Saturday night,” I said. “People never go to airports unless they have to, so I thought it might be interesting to have a night out at Luton Airport like it was a social event. Or a holiday. A one-night holiday at Luton Airport.”
The man did not look interested.
“We had a meal there,” I persevered. “We bought Luton Airport cowboy hats – Why Luton Airport had cowboy hats I don’t know – and we went to the Arrivals area and waved at people coming back from their holidays.
“It wasn’t as interesting as I thought it might be,” I admitted. “I thought it would be interesting to go for no reason to somewhere you never normally go to unless you have a reason. I suggested we should go to a hospital the next time. People don’t go to hospitals unless they have to and you can wander anywhere you like. I thought we might just see where we could wander. My friends thought it was in slightly bad taste.”
“Oh,” said the stranger at Soho Theatre, clearly bored.
He started taking photographs of the stage show.