Freddie sat at his desk in the cramped office. The admin area of the theatre was just a small corner of the behind the scenes space, a few rooms with a kitchen so they could make copious cups of tea to keep them all going. The walls were plastered with posters from old shows, mainly to cover the cracks and peeling paint.
Spread in front of him were the books from the last few weeks. Ticket sales had been dire and even the forthcoming panto, normally a big pull for the theatre, was struggling to get bums on seats. Next to this was a letter from the local council giving him notice of a need to attend the next council meeting to explain his plans for the theatre, ahead of the vote on the planning application.
He put his head in his hands.
“You alright there, Fred.” Doris, the front of house manager put her head around the door.
Lifting his head up and put he put on a smile, “Yes, I’m fine.”
“You aren’t really. I’ve seen the receipts. We are going to have to start buying our loo roll from Poundland soon to keep some money in the coffers.” Doris winked at him.
Doris was the lifeblood of the theatre She’d been working there for centuries it seemed and knew everyone and everything. Freddie smiled knowing that she’d stick it out until the bitter end, no matter what corners he had to cut to keep the place open.
His wife didn’t know why he cared so much and told him so on a regular basis. Running a theatre had never been part of his career plan, which had involved accountancy as a cog in a big firm. When the wheels came off this with redundancy five years ago he decided, rather than go back to the corporate life, to do something he loved.
The job advert had sounded enticing. The interview was easier than expected and the follow-up phone call from HR arrived before he’d had a chance to change out of his suit at home afterwards. The nice lady sounded so pleased when he accepted. At the time, the palpable sound of relief in her voice had passed Freddie by.
What he hadn’t realised that was running the theatre came with more stress and longer hours than his older job. When staff didn’t turn up for a shift, he needed to be there. When the fire alarm went off, he needed to be there. And when the Council decided that they wanted to shut the place and sell it off for apartments, it was his job to fight tooth and claw to keep it the way it was.
He cared because the theatre was important to a lot of people. People like Doris who could have retired years ago but came to work because it gave her a reason to keep going after her husband had died and her children had moved away. All the old people who sat through the matinee shows where they played old films, recreating their youth with a bag of popcorn while watching Fred Astaire. The Mums who came for a break while their little ones watched children’s TV presenters make fools of themselves. It was more than just a building, it was a refuge.
“Your visitors are downstairs, by the way.” Doris mimed making a tea.
Freddie gulped, he’d forgotten that Gareth and crew were descending today. Quickly tidying his desk he nodded to Doris to put on the kettle and tried to get ready. He had to remind himself these guys were here to help, but he still didn’t feel confident that they could.
Making their way backstage the KOD team were surprised at what they found. Doors hung off hinges, lights flickered or just didn’t work. A crew of half-naked dancers ran past them in the corridor, giggling, and shouting “move, we all need the loo and only one works!”
Tracey went to step into one of the dressing rooms and smartly turned back, “Urgh, there was a rat in the corner!”
Up a tight staircase the worrying signs of disrepair continued, large cracks spidered across the walls and chunks of plaster lay on the stairs. Tracey jumped as a piece fell from the ceiling and nearly hit her.
“If I’d known I needed a hard hat I would have packed one!” she gripped at Gareth.
Kelvin put his laptop over his head to protect himself from any further falls.
Gareth gulped and then brushed down his suit, hoping it would be better when they got to Freddie’s office.
Reaching the top floor they found Freddie and Doris waiting, tea in hand.
“Hi there Gareth, glad you’ve managed to find us. This is Doris, my front of house manager, she pretty much runs the place single-handed.” Gareth shook the proffered hand.
“I’d like to introduce you to my colleagues, Tracey Dunn-Jones and Kelvin Armstrong. Tracey looks after the business side and Kelvin is our IT and technical man.”
Freddie and Doris were drowned by a vision in pink as Tracey leant in to hug them both. Kelvin just nodded.
“Please have a seat.” Freddie tried to clear some space and find more seats for his guests, he hadn’t been expecting a full contingent of KOD staff.
“What did you think of the show?” Behind Freddie’s back, Doris screwed up her face. She knew how bad things were down there.
“Um, well, yes, it was entertaining…” Gareth spluttered through his response.
“It was rubbish. The crowd were half dead and so was the show.” Tracey went straight for the jugular. She’d been taking tips from Kate’s approach to things.
Gareth jumped in, trying to cover up her bluntness. “Well, yes, it was a little quiet down there and the audience was, erm, mature. Maybe the evening show is busier?”
Freddie’s look said it wasn’t. He stood up and waved his hands. “It’s fine, it’s fine. We know exactly how bad it is. Ticket sales are at rock bottom, the audience need zimmer frames and we sell more tea from the bar than wine. We’ve really lost our way, that’s why we need your help.”
“Why don’t you just sell it off and make a big profit.” Tracey could already picture the shopping sprees she’d go on with the money.
“It’s not as simple as that, young lady.” Doris was not warming to this bossy girl, especially as talking to her mainly meant talking to her cleavage. She’d seen tarts like this before and she’d got their measure.
“I’m sure it is, Doris.” Tracey looked down her nose at the old dear trying to give her a piece of her mind. “This is prime real estate, right in the middle of town. Perfect for you and your friends to retire to and be able to pop down the shops after a game of bingo.”
Doris turned a light shade of pink and stood up. “I beg your pardon! This is more than a piece of land, it’s the place where people come for escapism, for some people it’s the only time they get out of the house. We provide a very important service for the local community.” And with that, she stormed out mumbling something about helping out behind the bar.
Gareth looked at Freddie across the desk.
“Fred mate, this is a big job. You’ve got structural problems, poor audience numbers and a council baying for blood. I’m not sure we can help you.” Gareth looked forlorn.
“I know, I know. It’s a big task and I can’t pay you. But at least give it a go until the panto is over. It’s our big earner and if we can get the ticket sales up I can plough some of that money back into the theatre. I’ve already got quotes for some of the work and it can be done, as long as we sell out the whole run. Why don’t you all come back tomorrow and see our big name for Christmas, Sparks. I think he’ll be far more to your taste.”
Tracey looked shocked. Working in the evening wasn’t in her plans. Looking at Kelvin, she could see he was also pulling a face. It was too late, Gareth was already nodding, “Of course Freddie. I’m sure we would be delighted to see the big star.”
“Are you sure there is space?” asked Tracey hopefully.
Freddie laughed. “Don’t worry about that. We’ll squeeze you in somewhere!”
Tracey looked glum. Seeing her face, even Gareth realised what she was thinking. “Don’t worry Tracey, we’ll make it up to you. I’m sure we can do something with expenses.” At the sound of this, she perked up a little. Perhaps there would be benefits to this job after all. Her only appointment was with Netflix after all.
“Look Freddie”, Gareth continued, “It’s a big ask, but we at KOD never say no to a challenge. I’ll give it my best shot. “ Standing to shake hands, he turned to leave. What Freddie didn’t see was the look of concern. Gareth knew he really needed Kate and Dave on this, but wasn’t sure how he was going to get them on side. Without their help, he was flogging a dead horse.