‘Food, glorious food!’ goes the song lyric. Let me tell you, at this time of year in Box Office Land, we can hardly move for edible Christmas goodies, bestowed upon us by grateful ticket agents, producers, regular group bookers, seat filling services and the like. And when I say that we can hardly move, that’s sometimes because the boxes and hampers have been piled up too close to our workstations, but mainly because we are all stuffed to the gills from mid-December until well after Twelfth Night.
It’s terribly difficult when doing a sedentary, often repetitive job while surrounded by chocolate, pies (chocolate pies: mmmm… wait, sorry, where was I?), crisps, nuts etc. not to keep helping yourself to whatever high-calorie treat is on hand. On a really successful day during this period, the box office looks less like a place to sell tickets and more like an outpost of Fortnum & Mason’s food hall. And if you think I’m complaining about that, then you clearly haven’t met me.
Of course we have done especially well with the Yuletide spoils this year as our show is a solid hit – no, it’s not Hamilton, we actually have some tickets to sell – and we have assisted agencies with extra allocations, alternative seats when they’ve double booked, that sort of thing, so this is a nice little, OK a big fat, recompense for our help. It isn’t always so: I have worked on flops over Christmas and our haul of festive food gifts sometimes looked like the Cratchit household before Scrooge showed his largesse.
Lord knows, I don’t part with food easily – that may be a throwback to my acting days – but we have had so much of it delivered that we have taken to leaving boxes of mince pies out for the front-of-house staff when the box office closes for the night. Or offering chocolates to customers who are especially charming and/or attractive (top tip here: if a box office clerk waves Bendicks at you, get your coat, you’ve probably pulled).
While it is genuinely lovely to receive all this fabulous nourishment, there are times when it can get a little overwhelming, if not downright inappropriate. There was an instance of this a couple of years ago, literally three hours before our final pre-Christmas show, and therefore on the cusp of the entire building closing for two full days, when, Lo, a courier did deliver unto us a box the size of a small house. It was from our producers at the time, came from an upmarket West End bakery and was full of a gorgeous array of cakes, muffins, tartlets, a veritable gluttons wet dream. It was also all entirely perishable and unlikely to last through the Christmas break (plus the mice which I’ve talked about elsewhere on these pages would have had a field day chewing through that box).
Since the four of us on duty that night were going straight out to different parties we couldn’t even take armfuls of baked goods with us. What would we carry them in?! Therefore we did what any sensible, well-adjusted quartet of professionals would do under the circumstances: we decided to speed eat as much of it as possible. I suspended my “no eating on the window” rule for once, and every time a customer turned away after purchasing or collecting, the clerk they’d been talking to crammed another fistful of buttery, sugary goodness into their mouths. It was funny at first but it quickly became quite revolting. We made a sizeable dent in the box’s contents but there was still plenty to hand out to the ushers, who jumped on it with glee, clearly undeterred by the looks of barely contained nausea on our faces. I had such awful trapped wind at the cocktail party I attended that evening that I had to bail out early and get an Uber home. Sorry, a bit too much information, but this is the season for sharing.
This year there are a couple of items from hampers that nobody has touched, either because they are difficult or messy to divide up – such as anchovy paste, assorted chutneys and booze-infused marmalades, a giant panettone and a whole Stilton – or they just aren’t very appealing (a jar of pickled walnuts, gluten-free gingerbread, and at least two containers of sugared almonds – nobody EVER wants the sugared almonds). These will doubtless be sitting in the back of one of the cupboards until mid-January when somebody (probably me) will snap the tenuous thread binding them to their New Year’s diet.
I’m just thinking about this when a helmeted courier pushes in through the foyer doors, just about managing to support a large box from which emanates the satisfying clanking sound of glass against glass – ah yes, Christmas wine. We haven’t had nearly enough of that this year. It’ll make a nice change from all the saturated fat and processed sugar. I rush out to help him.
“Oh mate, thanks a lot, this is bloody heavy” he pants.
“Not a problem at all” I rejoinder, grabbing hold of half of the box and already looking forward to us all having a glass of post-curtain-up fizz. Then I catch sight of the address label: this box of alcoholic joy isn’t for us, it’s for the company manager. I momentarily debate whether or not to take delivery of it anyway and then deny all knowledge if enquiries ensue. I decide against this as I can see that the courier has one of those electronic things that you have to sign on. Damn and blast.
“Hang on a minute” I say, trying to keep the abject disappointment out of my voice, “this is for stage door, not us. You need to go back out, take a right and then first left. Press the buzzer.”
“Well, yes, quite.” As a concession to the holiday spirit, I hold the door open for him as he staggers back through it. I head back to my desk and eat three Ferrero Rochers in quick succession. I feel a sense of loss: that wine would have gone down a treat. Ah well, still tonnes of food to plough through before we knock off on Christmas Eve. And anyway, I should go to the gym on my break, these trousers are way snugger than they were a fortnight ago. Wine though… but, hey, nobody died.