The Secrets of Seat D22

Facebook has kindly reminded me that today marks five years since the final performance of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ at The Adelphi Theatre. It’s a production I think of often during my nightly adventures in Kinky Boots, taking place as it did in the very same theatre.

‘Guvnors’ (because all show names must be shortened when trying to sound actor-y) was the show that brought me to London. Until that point, I had been beavering away up north, running open mic nights and travelling down for auditions. Not a bad little life. However, things change when your Young Persons Railcard expires - your world and your wallet will never be the same again. Suddenly I was desperate to move to London and ‘Guvs’ allowed me to do it. In some style too.

After a stint at the National Theatre, we briefly toured the UK before landing in The West End for a limited run at The Adelphi Theatre. The show was magnificent. I was a less than tiny cog in that monstrous machine, understudying one of the Guvnors and playing a myriad of tiny roles straight out of a fancy dress shop. My fully rounded and realised performances as 'Policeman’ and 'Vicar’ weren’t often mentioned in the five star reviews, but surely their presence alone lifted the production to those heady heights?

My other role within the show was strictly top secret. Only now do I finally feel able to lift the lid on the show’s mysterious tricks, mainly because it closed many years ago, but also because I suspect no one will read this blog.

Except you, I knew you’d come.

Each night, me or fellow-understudy Paul, would be handed a ticket for the show, wander in the front doors and plonk ourselves down in seat D22 to watch the first act of 'One Man, Two Guvnors’. We’d sit there and diligently giggle/guffaw at the show’s many gags despite the fact we were hearing them for the hundredth time and then when the big moment came, we’d reach into our backpacks and pull out a sandwich…

At a certain point in each show, deep into the first act, we would offer James Corden a nice sarnie before being lovingly torn apart by the man himself. He’d riff on the shock of being interrupted by an 'audience member’ before finally asking,

“What kind of sandwich is it?”
“Humous” I’d reply.

The crowd goes wild. James collapses in a heap. My neighbouring theatre-goers laugh/cower/flick suspiciously through the programme to see if I’m photographed in it (I am) and the show continues. I would watch the rest of the act, under scrutiny from the (now definitely suspicious) audience members around me and then disappear to my dressing room for the interval.

I did that several hundred times.

It really was a fantastic show, but as you can imagine, it became fairly predictable after the fiftieth viewing. Eventually the changes, the shifts, the anomalies became the moments of interest. Knowing the various, hard-to-spot mistakes, the backstage love-triangles and bubbling disputes made for interesting viewing, but it was the audience who offered the most fascinating curveballs.

On several occasions, people from as high up as the upper circle would hurl sandwiches onto the stage before I could even chip in, splattering cheese and ham across several metres of staging. But my absolute favourite was the man who unwittingly followed the entire script, word for word, as he offered James a sandwich and when asked what type it was, “Humous!” was his reply. In that moment, he effectively robbed me of my Act One responsibilities and gave me the evening off.

A glance from James said it all and I quietly wriggled past my neighbours, returning to my dressing room. What a glorious forty-minute interval that was. I often wondered as the run progressed if my unknowing understudy would return to give me another evening off.

He never did.

I miss him.

Act Two saw me appear ever-so-briefly as a policeman to get punched in the face by an OAP. It was that kind of show. Then I’d bow, standing behind the principal cast and wondering what it must be like to be James, standing front and centre receiving that rapturous applause from the sell out audiences.

Now I know.

Five years since our final bow with 'One Man, Two Guvnors and a Policeman’ (my preferred title), I am bowing night after night back at The Adelphi. I am in the extremely privileged position of standing front and centre alongside Matt Henry and my glorious cast mates as the audience shows their appreciation for this life-affirming and ever so Kinky show. And I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.

Those in the know (ie those who have just read this blog) will notice the person sat in D22 usually gets a smile from me as we strut off stage. I have warmed that seat many many times, wishing I was stood on the stage and whenever I feel down or tired, unwell or irritated, I think of seat D22 and that plucky little scamp (me, aged 26) sitting there, wishing for a few more lines. It’s been a wild ride since then, but one I have tried to cherish with every step.