The Dress Circle. To some, those curlicued golden letters on their varnished wooden plaque, nestling above their womblike staircase, mean privilege and unparalleled views: peerage in all senses of the word. To me, they denote a realm of Dantean hell reserved for drowsy snobs clad in paisley and velvet. Finding myself amongst their full-priced selves this week, thanks to a friend's unwanted ticket, I spent the whole time wishing I was back in my favourite spot, in the neck-straining, eardrum-aching discomfort of the very front row. I find it difficult to understand why anyone would want to be anywhere else. There you can watch the spit shower, the shoes scuffle, and catch every nuance of expression and inflection: you are in the play, not the theatre.
"The best seat in the house" has long been a politically and socially laden concept, rarely determined by the clearest view of the stage. Traditionally, the best seat gave you a prospect of the audience rather than the play, from the blinkered private boxes in West End theatres to "Lords' Rooms" located above the stage of Elizabethan playhouses. Although the glorious view this eyrie afforded of the assembled crowd was balanced by the inglorious one it offered of the actors' bald spots, it was acoustically superb. The nobles could appreciate the poetry, whilst the groundlings focused on the less subtle spectacle of stage and swells alike, and threw things at the thesps. Everyone was happy. At least until it rained.