Invisible Stranger

Invisible Stranger

Collecting Crises on Old Compton Street and Beyond

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Tuesday, July 08, 2003
This Month's Theatre Rant
Regular readers may have gathered I'm into theatre in a medium- to big-time way. I go to the cinema only three or four times a year, but have often caught more than that number of plays in just one month. And while I can ooh and aah with the rest of them at the latest X-Men or Hulk premiere, for me nothing beats the immediacy and unpredictability of a live event.

Since I'm lucky and deluded enough to live just inside Zone Two and work in central London, I usually buy in person from the box-office. That way, there's no middle-man commission, I can check exactly where I'm sitting in the auditorium, and (best of all) I get the chance to flirt with the theatre staff.

Last month, however, I'd no alternative but to go through an agency. Let's call them Floggit, Grabbit & Run, although I reckon you all know who I'm talking about. No problem, Sir, we here at FGR have exactly the tickets you want in precisely that part of the theatre I'm sure Sir will enjoy, and we are also equally sure that Sir will not mind in the slightest the whopping 28% service charge which FGR will slap on the face-value of Sir's ticket.

Well, Sir actually did mind, and quite a bit, but Sir didn't have a choice in the matter. And no, Sir's seat wasn't in his favoured part of the theatre, because that part of the theatre isn't within the agency's allocation.

When I asked what I got for the (dis)service charge, I was fed the usual spiel: it covers a handling charge, the cost of first-class postal delivery (which, last time I looked, was 28p), and ensures a booking service that is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Sorry, my loves, it doesn't wash. You see, one summer, along with other resting actors, artists manqués and the beautifully useless, I manned the phones at FGR too, and - guess what? - yes, I came out with exactly the same old crap, not a word of which any of us believed. But when you live outside London, unable to get to the box-office, your average punter has no other choice.

I realise it's an old rant of mine, but it’s agency fees like this that are ruining the West End theatre, and not the druggies and litter and knackered transport system which the Cameron Macintoshs and Lloyd-Webbers on Shaftesbury Avenue are always so fond of blaming. With the price of a vanishing-up-its-own-backside programme, a glass of bilge-water red wine, and maybe a cheapo pizza on top of the agency fee, you're looking at a night knocking you back fifty-quid-plus – and that's just for one person.

What's making me even grumpier than usual is that I'm due to see the show I booked for tomorrow – and, after three weeks, my ticket still hasn't arrived by first-class mail. I rang FGR last night to discover they'd posted it to the wrong address. In fact, to an address that doesn't even exist.

Now that's service for you.