Thursday, 27 December 2012


The applause dies to a single clap, there's always one who applauds longer, and the velvet curtains slowly close as the first act is over. The orchestra puts their instruments down and the audience's whispers raise to an excited murmur. The stampede of feet begins to the loos, the bars, or to form an orderly queue for miniature pots of ice cream. Others remain glued in their seats worried that if they move they might miss something. These are the ones drawn to a flickering screen like moths to a flame. Advertisements are part of the entertainment. With nothing to focus on, they leaf through the programme guide or rifle through the contents of their handbags. They busy themselves with guilty looks and purposely avoid the gaze of mingling spectators. Fifteen minutes is a long time to appear to be thus occupied, even with occasional stoppages and furtive glances.
Meanwhile, at the front of house, people are huddled in couples or small groups. Glasses of wine delicately held, pints of beer gripped, and ice clinking in soft drinks with spirits. The hum of voices reaches fever pitch as each tinkling laugh or rich baritone tries to compete with each other. One level down, ladies stand in line for the toilets, crossing and uncrossing their legs as they shuffle forward. There's the constant click of cubicle doors as they're locked and unlocked. One woman out, the next one in, the sound of gushing water. Hands washed and dried, face powder and lipstick applied, flyaway hairs patted and smoothed. A final look in the mirror before walking out to rejoin the social fray.
Behind these scenes, in the dressing rooms, the actors remove their wigs and re-acquaint themselves with their next lines. They warble their vocal chords and stretch their supple limbs. Just before they're called, Wardrobe touches their make-up up and readjusts their costumes. Production places props in their correct spots and sets the scenery. Backstage and front of house is a flurry of activity.
The bell rings its five minute warning. Backstage, this message is passed on like a game of Chinese whispers, until it reaches the Director's ears, “Five minutes everybody!” He reiterates loudly. Front of house, the bell is accompanied by an announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, the second act will begin in five minutes.” The last mouthful of drink is swallowed, ice cream is scraped from its miniature pots, toilets are flushed and tights hastily pulled up as the audience scramble back to their seats. In the stalls, people sit and stand, sit and stand, stand and sit as they squeeze past one another. The musicians who have returned to their open pit play a whining tune to match the audience's disharmony. Out of sight, the actors are advised, “Places please!” The lights dim, the curtains rise and the orchestra strikes up tunefully.
On stage, the scene has moved to New Year's Eve. The first act: Merry Christmas, followed by the interlude, had mounted anticipation for the second: Happy New Year.