Unless you’re loaded, booking theatre tickets is like Russian roulette. When to hit the website? Leave it until after the reviews and, if they’re good, you’ll struggle to get a seat. But jump too soon and you may come to regret it, your spirits falling faster than a safety curtain as the demolition jobs roll in.
Last week, the National Theatre’s production of Moira Buffini’s new play Manor received some truly atrocious notices, the critic at the Times deigning to award it no stars at all, which spelled bad news for me. I booked my tickets ages ago, a decision based on the fact that Buffini has written good things in the past, that one of its stars, Nancy Carroll, is amazing, and that the other is Shaun Evans, on whom I seem to have developed a crush following his appearance in the BBC’s preposterous submarine drama, Vigil. Oh, woe. My seats for this turkey cost more than an easyJet flight to Rome.
Should I go anyway, in the hope it’ll be so bad it’s good? Or should I beg the theatre (more gambling) for a voucher for some as yet unknown future production? Right now, the second strategy seems to me to be as risky as the first. Where have all the good plays gone? Last week, we were trapped at one so cringe-inducing – for minutes at a time an actor was required to impersonate Maggie Smith – my companion bolted in the interval, making at speed for the nearest martini or three (this may have helped when we met up later and I performed the second act in its entirety at our restaurant table).
When I interviewed Eileen Atkins in September, she told me she’d reached the point in her life – she is 87 – when she never wants to see another production of The Deep Blue Sea. I’ve now reached the point in mine where all I want to see is The Deep Blue Sea. I miss you, Terence Rattigan.
New lease of life
In middle age, it’s important to remember that lives can have second, even third, acts. Away in the Lake District, I stayed at the Hare & Hounds in Bowland Bridge, a formerly closed pub that (I can hardly believe I’m writing this) was recently leased to my old friends, Andrew and Simon. Not so long ago, these two were in London, doing their whizzy media jobs. Now they’re in Windermere, where Simon grew up, pulling pints.
At supper, I looked up from my corn on the cob and for a few moments watched them smoothly criss-crossing the packed room in their long, brown aprons. What a sight. I mean, it was inspirational. I’m not sure I knew it was possible to look both so knackered and so happy and yet still to be upright.
All over the map
On Black Friday (ugh), I did not purchase a flatscreen television, a sofa or a Fitbit; I did not even treat myself, as I see the Rev Richard Coles did, to a new potato masher. No, I bought a kimono with a 1903 ordnance survey map of Sheffield on it, an item for which I’ve longed since the day I first clapped eyes on it online, and wasted an hour trying to work out if the street where I grew up would cover my chest or my backside.
The only question now is whether I’ll be able to resist wearing this lovely thing outside the house as well as in it. Someone perhaps needs to warn the neighbours. I can already hear my friend the fashion director urging me to “style it up with jeans and sneakers”.
• Rachel Cooke is an Observer columnist