Confessions of a Box Office Manager: time to call security
Our West End mole witnesses a particularly nasty bout of drunk and disorderly
Saturday night in London's glittering West End: you're with your nearest and dearest, wearing your finest designer togs, looking gooood, you've spent your hard earned cash on sought-after theatre tickets and you're in the mood for a really special evening.
But what happens when the wheels come off the fun bus somewhere between "I'm going to have a little tipple while I'm getting ready" and "I am now so hammered I can't get past security"? At least, that is what we've seen here tonight.
Security guards on the doors of West End theatres is now the norm. For regular theatregoers, it can be a little annoying – constantly having to explain to the po-faced door staff that you've got your damp gym gear with you so I really wouldn't poke around in this bag for too long, or that no that really is just a half full bottle of water, it's not gin – but security is for protecting all of us. From a box office point of view, it also means that we sometimes don't have to deal with the more extreme examples of the general public at their most unruly.
Tonight though was extra special. And I don't mean that in a good way.
It's twenty minutes to curtain up...we've had a constant flow of customers, most of them in good spirits, excited about their upcoming entertainment. I've just helped a delightful Swedish lady who booked herself online into the wrong date ("It's all my fault! I'm an idiot! What can I even say?!") but was over the moon about getting two of my premium house seats at a ridiculously reduced price (if it hadn't been a sold out house I might have comped her, that's how adorable she was. I don't know what's in the water in Malmö but we should all have some).
After she goes, I hear this cracking sound, immediately followed by a loud, drawn out "NOOOOOO!" from half a dozen voices simultaneously. It all goes eerily quiet for a split second. I see Mariusz, one of our most placid security guys, reel back clutching his jaw, as if in slow motion, and there is a look of palpable shock on the faces of the ushers and patrons standing nearby. A short, garishly attired woman is standing in front of him, massaging her balled-up fist. An older lady, who seems to be in her party, is shaking her head, apparently in disbelief. The rest of the group – another woman and two men – all have the same expression of glassy-eyed belligerence, and look as though they could kick off at any moment. And then it all goes a bit nuts.
All five of them start shouting at once (most of it unrepeatable here, some of it incomprehensible due to the slurring), there's a lot of frantic finger-pointing, and the woman who threw the punch keeps screeching "don't you tell me she's too drunk to come in!" gesticulating at her companion who is actually being held up by one of the men. This red-faced reveller attempts to spit at Mariusz and the house manager but she is so far gone the saliva goes straight down her own cleavage. It's not an edifying sight.
The security team congregate in formation...fast. Both duty managers join them, as do some of the more muscular front of house team. Only the older lady in the group is trying to make some placatory noises, but she is a lone voice of reason amongst her cohorts and is quickly shouted down by the others, so she rifles through her handbag trying to make herself look as insignificant as possible. I feel rather sorry for her. She has the tickets in her hand and I can see that they're from one of the agencies, so I make a mental note to call them and let them know that some of their customers were refused entry, in the event of any comeback.
The security team manage to corral the quintet outside the building – luckily without touching any of them, the last thing we need is an accusation of physical harassment by one of our staff – while other audience members stand around with eyes like saucers. The gentleman at my window tuts, and tells me that Mariusz has grounds for legal action.
The pantomime continues outside where, instead of admitting defeat and just going away, four of the five stand around shouting and shaking their fists through the window. The thick glass on the front doors renders them comically silent, although with my limited lip reading abilities I'm pretty sure I can decipher repeated use of a word that rhymes with ‘plucking'. One of the men even tries in vain to run in past security one last time, bless him. He probably managed to get one foot over the threshold.
Finally they cut their losses and leave. The duty manager comes into the box office just after the show starts and he isn't happy. He's sent Mariusz off to A&E as the lower part of his face was starting to swell alarmingly, and he asks to see the agency report to see if there is any information on who that toxic quintet was. Usually, a booking for five should be quite easy to spot, as people come to the show in pairs or fours. This evening though there are four parties of five all from this same ticket agent. Typical. He's now going to have to wait and see which of the parties-of-five didn't get their tickets scanned on their way in.
We're just talking about that when Dan, one of the ushers, rushes in with an enthusiastic-looking Golden Labrador in tow (we have a blind patron in tonight and their guide dogs are left outside the auditorium while the show is going on).
"Barnaby needed a pee" pants Dan. We stare at him blankly.
"Barnaby is the DOG...? And anyway, we were round the back by stage door when I noticed that those nasty drunks are in the Kings Arms. They're in there right now."
"Are they indeed?" says the house manager, "I feel a little call to the police coming on. Run back round there and double check it's definitely them and I'll get on the blower. Leave Barnabus here with us for now."
"Whatever. Get going."
Dan runs back out, Barnaby pads over to where I'm sitting, plonks his head in my lap and falls asleep almost immediately. I try and get on with my work without disturbing him...it's not easy but he's worth it. We are marvelling at the sheer stupidity of people that would assault a member of an establishment's staff then casually nip into the local pub for a drink or twelve straight after, when Dan returns and gives the thumbs up.
Within fifteen minutes, the duty manager made the call, gone upstairs to locate the relevant bit of cctv footage, and we've seen a police car go past in the direction of the pub. The car is still outside when I leave through stage door twenty minutes later; through frosted glass of the pub window I can clearly see the silhouette of fisticuffs woman waving her hands about and pointing excited while a policeman listens and shakes his head. If I didn't haven't a pizza to get home to, I'd hang about to see what happens.
Even if Mariusz doesn't press charges, at least that delightful bunch have been shown that you can't get away with lashing out at people just doing their jobs. Plus don't then go boozing virtually on the doorstep of the place where you just assaulted somebody. They must have needed a drink really badly. So do I, now. But, hey, nobody died.