Confessions of a Box Office Manager: Trouble and strife
There's a kerfuffle at the theatre this week as our West End mole has to deal with some husband and wife issues
So, the performance begins in approximately seventy five minutes and I'm stuck in the back office ploughing through advance markbacks from ticket agents. The stars of the current show have done quite a bit of TV promotion recently and the result has been a very pleasing upswing in sales; the producers are understandably keen to see that reflected in the advance figures. I am just reckoning I have fifteen minutes of 'paying in' time before I have to go out and face my public(!) when the connecting door from the foyer box office flies open, and in charges Maureen, costume jewellery all akimbo.
I've got a bit of a soft spot for Maureen: she's more mature than the rest of the team and only joined us - on a part time basis - when her husband retired. She had discovered that having him around the house 24/7 was considerably less joyous and fulfilling than she had been anticipating. She is a gem: camp as Christmas, wildly eccentric, brilliant with customers, utterly reliable and trustworthy. Her only weak spot is difficult patrons. I only saw her go over to the Dark Side once and that was when somebody at her window made a homophobic comment about one of her colleagues. She was, frankly, magnificent. So we all adore her. Anyway, she's standing in front of me now and she's looking flustered.
"Bubba!" she bellows (as you can see she also has enormous respect for me as her boss). "I need you! We've got a complete Mexican hat dance happening in the foyer! It's all kicking off!" I don't think this is the time to point out to her that the phrase she has just misappropriated is 'Mexican standoff' as she is looking far too hot and bothered for that. At least I am assuming that is what she means. Only one way to find out.
"I'm on my way!" I holler, not-very-reluctantly pushing aside the piles of markback reports and following Maureen into the foyer, where the volume level is indeed several decibels higher than usual.
The source of all this noise is two women, both glamorous in the sort of big-haired, obvious, zhuzhed-up way that somebody like Donald Trump might go for, and they're standing nose to nose screaming at each other, with talon-like manicured forefingers stabbing at the air and, occasionally, each other's chests. It's an alarming vision, and the resigned-looking gentleman standing forlornly adjacent with palms raised heavenwards in a gesture of helplessness, apparently thinks so too.
He is trying to interject, to no avail: "Calm down, love, come on, come on." he offers, pointlessly.
I try to get their attention by raising my own vocal pitch to theirs (or going down to their level, if you prefer): "OKAY LADIES! CAN I HELP YOU AT ALL?! WHAT IS GOING ON HERE??!!" I shriek, causing Maureen to stagger back in alarm and collide painfully with a filing cabinet.
But this pair of designer clad furies aren't taking the blindest bit of notice of either myself or their gentleman friend. So I check to see about Maureen's possible injuries.
"God, Mo, I'm so sorry" I say (in a normal voice) "are you OK?"
"Fine, I'm fine" she says, feeling her own elbows.
"So what on earth is the story here?"
"Well, " begins Maureen in a tone that would have been confidential had she not been raising her voice to compete with the kerfuffle on the other side of the box office window. "The one in blue, the one who keeps calling the other one a whore, well, she's married to the little guy and he is obviously having an affair with that other one."
I am impressed by Maureen's ability to absorb information but I'm still not sure why they're playing out their infidelity drama in MY foyer?
"Ah well, you see, he's booked tickets for the show tonight to bring her..."
"Not the wife?"
"No! The fancy piece!" continues Maureen. "He's bringing the fancy piece to the show tonight but he's booked tickets on the joint credit card."
"Yes! So the wife's seen the card statement and turned up to surprise them both."
"Right" I say, and sure enough there are the tickets on the counter, seemingly forgotten as marital armageddon rages on just centimetres away. "But, hang on a minute. How did she know which date to come and confront them?"
Maureen suddenly looks a bit sheepish. "That's my fault I'm afraid. The wife rang up a couple of weeks ago and said that she'd found the transaction on the statement but forgot to make a note of the date she'd booked. So I looked it up on the system and I, er, sort-of told her. But I thought it was all kosher. I'm so sorry, bubba."
Being angry with Maureen is pretty much impossible and, to be fair, since the card used for making the booking was technically the WIFE's as well as the husband's, she didn't do anything wrong. Meanwhile outside, a queue of ticket collectors and buyers is building up, all gazing with eyes like saucers at the warring trio. This could be louder and more dramatic than anything they'll be seeing on our stage tonight.
"Don't worry, you weren't to know" I say before turning my attention back to the foyer.
"Well, you can HAVE HIM!" screeches one of the women (by this point I'm so confused that I'm not sure if it's the wife or the mistress) and with that she shoves the husband against the other woman - causing them to collapse on top of each other - and flounces out into the street, no mean feat given the height of her heels. A couple of people in the queue cheer, which I hardly think is necessary, and a compassionate young man helps the floored (literally) couple up.
The husband approaches the window, clearly mortified.
"Are you OK, sir?"
"Yes yes yes. Sorry about all this" he mumbles. "I'll just take my card and be on my way."
With a completely unreadable facial expression, Maureen hands over the credit card.
"What about your tickets?" I ask, trying to give him my most reassuring 'oh we've had much worse things than this happen here' face. I don't feel it was successful, if I'm honest.
"Oh. You can keep them, er, thanks. Not really in the mood for a bally play. Goodbye."
He trudges wanly out to the street, hotly pursued by his wife-or-mistress who pauses at the threshold only to smack him around the back of the head with her bejeweled handbag. Cue more cheering in the foyer.
So now it's up to Maureen and I to get through this queue as efficiently and quickly as possible. It has been a disconcertingly dramatic start to the evening, and I suspect that the unhappily marrieds we've just said farewell to will have a grim night ahead of them. Plus I'm sure he'll be getting his own credit card. Without telling her about it. But, hey, nobody died.