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West End weirdo

I went to see a musical in the West End one evening this week – Dear Evan Hansen at the Noel Coward Theatre – at the request of my daughter as her birthday present. Unusually I had forked out a bit more for very good seats – and we were not disappointed.

In fact, when I had booked online, there had been a small hiccup whilst I tried to buy two of a block of three and ended up having to call the box office to sort things out for me, which they efficiently did in a friendly way.

I was a little surprised that the resulting ‘orphan’ seat next to me remained empty as the performance began, as I thought it was a sell-out and people are always asking for those last-minute empty seats, but happy days.

However, a few numbers into the first Act, there was a commotion and a guy with a plastic beaker of whisky and ice pushed his way along the row (we were in the middle) and plonked himself down next to me. Oh well, never mind.

Weirdly, within minutes of his arrival, a scene which had just commenced onstage suddenly halted and the cast members disappeared. There was an announcement about a technical hitch and the house lights came up for a while. This newly arrived guy asked us if we thought this was part of the show – we thought not. He then launched into a rambling diatribe about how everyone would now be on their phones tweeting ‘OMG, I’m in the theatre and guess what…’ – although I don’t think they were. He started speaking more loudly so that people turned around to look.

The show resumed (a bed had been stuck onstage and we think they had to reboot the stage-management programme to get all the scene changes to work) but he was still restless and muttering a bit. I couldn’t concentrate properly on the stage – it definitely stopped me from feeling as emotional in reaction to the performance as I would probably have otherwise been.

The interval arrived and none of us left our seats for the bar bunfight. My daughter and I had holiday plans to discuss, so chatted away to each other, my back to the weirdo. But he interrupted us to congratulate us on talking rather than looking at our phones which, he said EVERY other audience member was doing (exaggeration although not without some truth, when we looked around).

We politely chatted to him for a while – even shook his hand at his instigation and gave our names, as he gave his – David. He said he was a critic (really???). He also said he had been thrown out of another theatre sometime for making loud comments. He repeatedly asked how much we had paid for our seats – I wouldn’t say. He clearly had several chips on his shoulder and several more grammes of something else in his bloodstream. He wanted to know what we did and when I replied that I was a writer (I love doing that – haha) he wanted to know what I wrote and when I spluttered ‘mostly corporate stuff’ (don’t know why – perhaps I didn’t want to admit to this blog!) he insisted derisively that that meant I just wrote press-releases. Not sure what would be wrong with that, but it clearly made me an inferior being of some sort.

Kate tried to shut him up by saying something about it being her birthday treat but he seemed to mishear and asked ME how old I was, to which my answer was almost unprintable so he rewound and suggested 45, which – ridiculously – amused (and pleased) me so much that some of the angst disappeared for a short while. But it didn’t last. He had a go at the ladies in front of us about checking their phones instead of talking to each other. One of them was really upset as she was checking in with someone ill at home. Honestly, people do use their phones these days. I even do it myself! It’s up to them – as long as they switch them off again after the interval is over.

He also tried to launch into the Brexit topic – but was so rambling we didn’t really know what point he was trying to make. He kept saying this was his first visit to the West End for a while, having been in Birmingham for a while. I’m sure I was not alone in wholeheartedly wishing he would make a rapid return there.

I am hopeless in these situations. How to ignore him without being rude? Is it ok to be rude when he is clearly not following conventions of politeness himself? Would he become violent or more disruptive if I didn’t play along? Why was I stuck with this idiot when I should be able to enjoy my time with my daughter? Grr. Angry and scared at the same time.

As the lights went down for the second Act, the guy leant across and told me that the person the other side of him had just told him to ‘f****** keep quiet’ or something like that. My heart sank – would he kick off now and if so, what would I do?

Fortunately, he became more subdued and seemed to sink into quietude.  Maybe the whisky was sending him to sleep a bit.

At the end of the performance, predictably the audience rose to their feet, cheering and clapping wildly. I think my neighbour was one of very few who did not bother to stand, nor did he applaud at any point in the evening. As the applause died away, I steadfastly chatted to my daughter facing away from him until she confirmed he had left. I really did not want to end up emerging from the theatre at the same time as him.

As it happens, and despite the fact that this lengthy story may indicate otherwise, we really enjoyed the show and I think I will remember the performances more than the awkward audience bits.

It did cross my mind afterwards – I shouldn’t have left that single seat free for a weirdo to buy, but shelled out for it myself and brought my own David to sit there.  

On the other hand, it is nice when real theatre enthusiasts can pick up these lone tickets last minute. This is the first time I’ve come across anyone so strange in the theatre. More usually it would be on the bus!

Let’s just write this down as ‘blog material’ and move on.

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