When a friend booked tickets to see Love Never Dies, I was thrilled. I am not a passionate fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber – although I am not a detractor, either. I have never seen The Phantom of the Opera. But the prospect of an evening out at a big show in London is always enticing.
Contrary to popular opinion, journalists from daily newspapers are not bombarded with free tickets. I am quite aware of the price of a decent seat. It did not come as a shock to find that a seat in the second-back row of the stalls at the Adelphi Theatre would cost more than £60.
Sadly, the friend who had bought the tickets was unable to go. A victim of the volcanic ash cloud, he was stranded in Crete. As I write this, he has embarked on an odyssey, by road and ferry and via Piraeus and Ancona, to northern Italy and thus a train to Calais or Paris.
In his stead, I took my 16-year-old daughter. My daughter and I are not particularly tall. We were not surprised to find that thanks to a woman with a very bouffant hairstyle, we would have to watch the performance like a pair of turtle doves, our heads inclined towards each other. However, we were more perturbed to see that thanks to the size of the Adelphi's dress circle, which extends over half the stalls, we could see only a cinema-screen-sized strip of the stage.
The show was wonderful. In its staging, its set and lighting design and especially its robotics, it was jaw-dropping. The singing was faultless. My daughter, whose friends had been a bit sniffy about going to an Andrew Lloyd Webber production, turned and mouthed: "Wow!" However, there were bits we simply could not see. I do not want to spoil things for those who have not seen Love Never Dies but on three occasions something happened high on stage and we were left to guess what it was.
The first time was just after the show began. A wonderful projection sequence whisks the audience into the Phantom's funpark, all carousels and roller coasters and fairground lights. We found ourselves peering upwards, worrying.
The second time, during the Coney Island beach scene, a balloon lands. Or was it a balloon? We could only see the basket and the ropes. Maybe there wasn't a balloon at all. We will never know.
The third time, during a scene in the Phantom's workshop, something green unfolded at ceiling level. If whatever it was as fascinating and effective as the rest of the special effects, we missed something fantastic.
During the interval, I double-checked the price of the tickets, thinking that my friend might have got them at a discount. No. (Talking of the interval, why is it that British theatres still behave as if rationing was in force? There were only two flavours of ice-cream available – not including chocolate – because the Adelphi had "run out". How good at arithmetic do you need to be to order enough ice cream for sell-out houses?
We did miss something a fourth time, but that was because the audience rose at the end of the show for a standing ovation. We stood to applaud too, enthusiastically, but we could not see the curtain calls. It would be churlish to complain about that, though.
At first I thought it was just us – just a question of height. But the second time we lost our view, I noticed that the rest of the audience in the back of the stalls were bending sideways and craning their necks to see what was going on. Surely someone – a designer, a director, a member of the front of house staff – had noticed this problem? Surely someone had sat in every section of the theatre to make sure everything was visible and audible? Or is that just me being naïve?