"PAT!" he bellows at the top of his lungs, "PAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!"
I am standing next to him trying not look as though I wish I was somewhere else.
"PAT! PATRICIAAAAA! Here…hold this" – he slaps me in the belly with the copper coloured leather satchel he had been carrying, thereby freeing his arms up to be waved about like the wings of a flightless bird. I take the handle of the satchel and affect a supportive, if pained, smile.
I think if I were Pat I'd probably be lying low at this point too, if I'm being honest.
We are standing at the very front of the auditorium with our backs flattened against the stage, staring up at all levels of the house which, this being fifteen minutes before curtain up, is rapidly filling with expectant theatregoers.
A number of them clearly think this is some sort of 'pre-show': a large group of unruly teenagers are gleefully filming us on their phones, a couple of Home Counties matrons who MAY have been drinking are really getting into the spirit of it with their cries of "Pat! Where are you darling?" and "Let's be having you Pat!" while others are just gazing at us in bewilderment. There is a group of four in the very front row literally centimetres from us who are reading their programmes with almost unseemly interest, clearly doing everything possible to avoid eye contact. I feel like asking if any of them might be Pat but I decide against it.
The ushers on duty in the auditorium are finding all this so hilarious they can barely stop giggling long enough to sell programmes or direct patrons to their seats.
I am a hopeless romantic at heart. This is why I am standing in the stalls of my own theatre helping in an increasingly hopeless, not to mention embarrassing, search for Pat.
It started about fifteen minutes ago when this elderly gentleman, looking really fine in a beautiful navy blazer with a floral buttonhole, sauntered up to my box office window clutching his satchel.
"Good evening, I am here to meet Pat."
"Right. Er, I don't think we have a Pat working here actually."
He smiled indulgently. "No no no, we are seeing the show."
"Ah. So…does Pat have the tickets?"
"Yes. She said she would book them."
"Right. Shall I check if she has picked them up? What's Pat's surname?"
"I don't know."
"It's quite difficult to find bookings without knowing the surname but…" I dutifully rifled through the cobo box looking for something with the first name 'Pat' or 'Patricia' on it but there's nothing.
"I'm sorry sir, there's nothing to collect so I guess she already has the tickets. Maybe try ringing her. Do you have her number?"
He looked a bit uncomfortable. "I'm afraid not, no. It's, um, it's…well, it's a first date. We met online." He blushed crimson.
"Oh…how wonderful. Well, look, there's still a while before the show starts. I'm sure she'll turn up. Do you know what she looks like?" He showed me the photo on his mobile phone. She's a smiler.
He waited just across from the box office but after ten minutes he was looking so forlorn I had to see if I could help him further. After making sure that the clerks on duty would be ok without me I offered to take him into the theatre itself to see if he could spot the elusive Pat. She may have gone in early to powder her nose, and forgotten to leave this gentleman's ticket at the box office.
We checked all of the bars: no sign of her. Then the gentleman had a quick peep at the women waiting in the queue for the Ladies lavatory (this probably looked a bit suspect, but this is a desperate situation…): no Pat.
We then made our way into the auditorium to continue the search. I assumed we'd stand at the front and silently scan the house row by row, which goes to show you should never assume anything as now he is repeatedly bawling "Pat! Pat! Pat!" as though it's a mantra. A couple of the students have stopped filming and are now clapping along in time with him.
After what feels like half an hour but was probably only about two minutes I decide it's time to call a halt to this increasingly bizarre situation.
"I'm sorry, sir. She really isn't here. Why don't we head back up into the foyer and see if she's turned up there?"
He stops chanting, and stares at me with watery blue eyes. He lets out one final, pitiful yelp of "PAT!" but to no avail. I start leading him out. I feel so bad for him, and seriously consider aiming a surreptitious elbow at the ribs of the smirking usher stationed on the door we exit through.
When we get back up to the box office there are no ladies waiting hopefully for anybody so I think I'd better take my leave and head back to my post.
"I'm really sorry we didn't find her," I say, extending my hand to shake, "I hope that there is a good reason why she didn't turn up this evening. But not, like, death or anything." (Oh just shut UP, will you.)
He takes my hand: "you've been very kind. Thank you." He wanders out into the street, his shoulders hunched, and with a considerably less vital gait than the one he bounced in with. I feel rotten.
A couple of seconds later, and he's back, and looking a bit agitated.
"THIS isn't 42nd Street!" he yells "I've just been looking at the posters!"
"No, I know!"
"Well I'm supposed to be meeting Pat at 42nd Street. Where's that?"
"Theatre Royal Drury Lane! Get a cab! Get a cab!"
"Yes! Thank you, I will!" he rushes out, then comes back yet again.
"Can I just say thank you again. You've been wonderful. Wish me luck!" …and he's gone.
"GOOD LUCK!" I yell, waving two sets of crossed forefingers at him, feeling as though I'm a bit-part in a rom-com. I turn round to my colleagues all of whom are staring at me with a mixture of incredulity and amusement on their faces. "Oh come on guys, this is so sweet."
While it isn't the first time that a person has ignored all the front-of-house hoardings and wandered into the theatre wanting a completely different show, I think being an inadvertent part of somebody's first date is a first for me. I really hope he made it on time and that Pat waited for him over at the Lane. Maybe they'll come to this show on their NEXT date… or maybe she'll be in such high dudgeon at being left hanging around that she never wants to see him again. I'm really hoping for the former outcome but either way, it has certainly livened my job up this evening and…hey, nobody died.