Three hours I’ve waited in line. This better be worth it. Best attraction in London, they said. Get there early to beat the queues, they said. I was here at 9am on the dot and I still had to join the line three streets away from the theatre. It must be good if it’s this popular, but these days it’s hard to know what’s genuinely good and what’s just hype. Group of kids hanging around earlier were talking about waiting in the line just to see what the fuss was all about. Had no idea what they were even queuing for. Idiots.
I’m just as idiotic, though, I guess. I’m not entirely sure what awaits me. You don’t need to be interested in theatre, they said. Which is lucky, because I’m not. All I know is that it’s something called Stage Fright and everyone is talking about it but nobody who’s actually experienced it is allowed to say what it’s all about. I’m kind of expecting some weird interpretive dance, and if there’s anything I’m less interested in than theatre, it’s dancing.
But it’s definitely not a show of any kind, because when I get inside the theatre foyer I’m being directed towards the Staff Only door and heading down a dim, tired-looking corridor. Don’t ask questions, they said. Just wait and see.
Grainy old black and white photographs hang from the walls. Snapshots of actors in days gone by, I suppose. Something for the new actors to strive for, maybe. To look up to. I don’t recognise any of the faces in the framed pictures, but what do I know about theatre?
The atmosphere is different, in here. Almost everyone in the queue has gone quiet. Those who do talk use hushed whispers. I have nobody to talk to, but I’m starting to wish I’d brought some company. The eyes of the old actors in the photographs seem to be staring straight into my head, as though their souls are locked inside the pictures themselves and they’re judging me for something.
We’re getting close now. I can hear the swoosh and slam of the stage door as they welcome in each new visitor. But there’s nothing else. No sound coming from the stage itself.
It’s getting colder. Colder than it was outside. If I believed in ghosts I’d think we were surrounded by them. I’d think that their fingers were clawing at my arms and my neck.
I should have brought someone for company.
There it is. I see the stage door now. It’s drab. Its faded red gloss paint is chipped all over, and there are three long, deep scratches right the way down it, as though someone was scratching to get in. Or was clinging on when being dragged away.
Nobody comes back out the way they go in. And they’re shipping people through that door pretty efficiently. 30 seconds, tops, between each visitor. The guy who is opening and closing the door is dead behind the eyes. I wonder if its boredom, or if the ghosts and the cold have simply numbed him, somehow.
Me next. Why do I feel sick? Why is my mouth suddenly dry? I should have brought water. I think I’ve breathed the ghosts in. I can feel them whirling around in my lungs and zipping into my blood. They’re making me to cold to my core.
This is dumb. This is so dumb. It’s all hype, and they’re probably going to have a single bloke in there telling me I’m a sucker for throwing £10 at a long wait in line and a false atmosphere.
But there’s something boring into my brain; I can feel it. It’s making me dizzy.
The door opens. Dead Behind The Eyes nods at me to enter. So I do.
I climb four steep steps onto the wing. There is nothing but silence. I can barely see the stage; there are no lights. Just blackness. But I step out, because I can’t turn around now. Not after that queue. I may as well see.
Three long steps and I’m in the middle of the stage. I turn to the audience, and I see it.
It’s not a girlish scream. Not a cliche scream. Not a Wilhelm scream. It’s a wail. A wail like I’m exorcising ghosts from my very being. I feel terror grip hold of my bones and rattle them. My chest aches. My joints lock up. And I wail because there’s nothing else to do.
And then it’s over. And, as though I’ve done it a million times before, I walk over to opposite side of the stage from which I entered. I retreat down the steps and out of another stage door.
There’s a blur of tatty corridor and then I’m outside. The back of the theatre, near the wheelie bins. Daylight is too bright. I hear traffic.
What was it in that audience that scared the living hell out of me? I couldn’t say. You’ll have to visit Stage Fright yourself. Best attraction in London. You better get there early to beat the queues. Don’t ask questions – just wait and see.