By Matthew Abercrombie,
Sweets, ice-cream, merchandise, children, coaches, buggies, mums, dads, grandparents, actors, dust pans, mops, programmes, tickets and a lot of rotas.
My life for the next two and a half months will contain almost nothing but the above.
Front of House Manager Lucy & I will share this dream cocktail with a team of dedicated volunteer stewards who give up their time to welcome our patrons to Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds and guide them to their seats. They’ll also sell sweets, merchandise and point out the location of the loos, bars, buggy parks, car parks, the cathedral, Côte Brasserie, Wetherspoons, the Premier Inn, the Post Office and sometimes even the nearest dry cleaners.
They come in an hour before the show, they make sure that seats work, that the shop’s fully stocked and that the theatre’s ready for the show. The stewards look after the audience from the moment they come into the building to the moment the doors close at the end of the day. They’ll mop up after little accidents and they’ll politely ask you to put your drink into a plastic ‘glass’ before taking it into the auditorium. They’ll sweep up the broken glass caused by the handbag that smashed a light fitting on its way past as a result of being knocked off the Upper Circle handrail (“Perhaps madam would like to put Louis Vuitton on the floor?”). They’ll clear up between shows, they’ll sweep up the popcorn that got sprayed around the stalls, they’ll collect all the empty (and sometimes not-so-empty) ice cream tubs and they’ll dispose of the remains of the smuggled in picnics and drinks. Then they’ll re-stock the sweet shop before a gasp of a cuppa and the next show.
Perhaps most importantly, they’ll sit in the auditorium for each & every performance to make sure that the children are playing nicely and that the grown-ups are having a jolly good time too. By the time they’ve sat through a dozen or so performances, they may look a little ragged, but they’ll still be just as friendly!
Alongside the lovely stewards, there’s Chris and the bar staff, they’ll make tea & coffee until they’re drowning, they’ll pour beer by the bucket load, mix ginantonic (check your Hitch-Hiker’s Guide) by the gallon and syphon softs for school kids for all they’re worth. They too come in an hour before each show to prep the bar, load the float and make sure that we don’t run out of Fruit Shoots half way through the interval. Post show they’ll wash up, wipe down, re-stock and start all over again just in time for the next one. By the end of a three show day, they may look a little ragged too.
In the foyer sit Sue and her box office crew. They sold you your ticket and will hand it over when you arrive, re-print it when you’ve forgotten to bring it and happily sell you another one for next year’s show. They staff the phones (we don’t have a switch board), field visitors and act as our front line. They really, really know how to smile. They also handle the school parties and sort the spreadsheets & seating plans to make all our days run smooth. The bane of their lives are the automatic doors which are triggered by every passing schoolboy who’s worked out that running past and waving at the doors sends an icy blast through the foyer. By the time they’ve wrangled half-a-dozen coach loads in a day, they may look a little ragged.
Lastly, and by no means leastly, there is a team of unseen and largely unrecognised cleaners, led by Chris II, who all slide in unseen between shows to sweep & mop floors and recharge loo rolls & hand towel dispensers. They then come back at around five in the morning and do a full clean of the entire building. We would be in deep trouble without them and we treasure them. After a week of nights they probably look a little ragged, but it’s impossible to verify as we never see them.
So, bring on Dick Whittington. We really do just love it. We love the vibe when the building’s full of smiles & laughs. We love the kids, the mums and the dads and the grandparents making their annual pilgrimage. We love the daft Christmas sweaters and light up earrings and we love the noise of a pantomime in full swing.
When you’re here, say hello and tell us what you think. We’d love to hear from you!
Oh and, while you’re at it, spare a thought for the steward who’s looking a little ragged, they might just benefit from a word of support and a smile!