Sunday, January 02, 2005

Talking To Violet

Duke of YorksI usually avoid the ghost programmes that Living TV has made its speciality but one this week on Drury Lane Theatre was both hilarious and nostalgic.
I had haunted its dingy subterranean corridors myself in my youth. I once inadvertently gave a fellow worker a terrible fright by appearing out of the gloom wearing a lurid red bow tie round my neck. He thought he'd seen one of the theatre's many ghosts, holding a severed head to its body.
The hilarity of the programme was supplied by a psychic who at one point became possessed by one of the spirits and who I now expect to see shortlisted for the next Olivier Awards. He also saw some of the ghosts but unfortunately they were invisible to the TV cameras and to the people with him.
Apparently he had not been told in advance which building in London he was being taken to and this was supposed to lend credence to what he said. However, since Drury Lane is one of the most haunted buildings in the capital it was always going to be a likely venue and it would have been a simple matter to read up on the well-documented hauntings beforehand. Significantly, he didn't tell us any information about any of the spirits that isn't already available in books or on the internet.
The TV crew saw a man in chains and also a pair of legs on a staircase. Neither were captured on camera. My scepticism stemmed from the knowledge that theatre staff (who would have known these people were spending the night in the building) are fond of pranks. Indeed, it's a tradition to play practical jokes on the last night of a show. On one last night I was told that any such behaviour would result in instant dismissal - a rather hollow threat because my contract ended with the show.

Few places are as spooky as an empty theatre at night. My own experience of this comes from the Duke of Yorks theatre in St Martin's Lane which is reputedly haunted by a lady called Violet Melnotte. She was a late 19th century actress and the first proprietor of the theatre in 1892.
A friend of mine lived in the theatre for a while. It was then privately-owned and I suppose letting him doss there saved them paying for a separate night watchman. Some of us would go back there with him late at night for a post-pub drink. On entering, he would always start a conversation with Violet: "It's all right Violet, my love, these are just some friends of mine." That always terrified me even before we'd got inside. But the worst ordeal was having to walk through dimly-lit corridors on my own to go to the Gents. Frankly, I couldn't have done it if I'd been sober. It's only as I write this that I've remembered, with some embarrassment, that I used to emulate my friend and talk to Violet and explain what I was doing in her theatre at two o'clock in the morning. At the time, I had no idea who Violet was (or had been) and that a lady from the 19th century might not have been familiar with the phrase "I'm bursting for a piss." Happily, it always worked and I never felt a warm breath on my ear as I stood at the urinal.
Not from Violet, anyway.


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