Lonely hearts put on an act

Unrequited luvvies: No standing ovation for the Royal Court's first singles night

It was the first high-profile singles night in London theatreland and it was going down a storm. Along the ranks of seats, couples could be seen chatting, holding hands, exchanging phone numbers - practically engagement rings - in their eagerness to get hitched.

Or not. In reality, the Royal Court Theatre's first-ever singles night was turning out to be a boringly decorous affair more reminiscent of Jane Austen than Gone with the Wind.

For a start, people had cheated - almost none of the 100 "singles" was truly alone.Women brought their best friends, men brought their chums, and there were a number of duos who looked suspiciously like couples.

The other problem was the seating. The Royal Court had planned to sell seats to alternate sexes, creating the ambience of a well-bred dinner party, but it had not allowed for the startling preponderance of men. As fate would have it, my neighbours on one side were a gaggle of (female) American students, but I had higher hopes for the clean-cut young man on my left, until he revealed himself as a reporter from the Daily Telegraph.

Nor was the play ideal courting material. Sebastian Barry's The Steward of Christendom is estimable in its way, but the ravings of an aged Irish lunatic are not conducive to an atmosphere of frolics and fun. True, the creakings from the stalls - the ghetto of singledom - increased as the play went on, but appeared to stem more from frustration than illicit activity.

Much rested on the interval but this, too, proved a disappointment. The best friends talked to each other, the couples queued to get each other drinks and the few bona fide singles stared fixedly into the middle distance or made a tactical retreat to the lavatory.

I spotted two girls from my university, but they were more intent on talking to each other than checking out the talent. My colleague from the Telegraph also sighted an old acquaintance, but he "pretended not to recognise her in case she got embarrassed". And so, as the interval faded, the non-smoking bar set aside for the singles took on the atmosphere of an unsuccessful cocktail party.

A great way to see a play on your own. Not a great way to get hitched.

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