by Trevor Hopkins

The goons held open the doors for Balloch and, since the alternative would be slamming it in my face, held them open for me too. Polite of them.

I screwed my hat back on my head and followed Balloch along a series of narrow corridors lined with dressing rooms on one side and doors with less obvious purpose on the other. Over his shoulder, he kept up a constant stream of what was patiently sales patter, pointing out the number, size and salubrious nature of the dressing rooms as if it really mattered. Sure, the green-painted doors had stars on them in faded gold leaf, but the walls themselves were just painted brick, giving the place a rather institutional look and feel, like a better class of prison or a rather dour psychiatric ward.

Our progress was impeded in the busy corridor by the stream of Goblins, some in working clothes carrying ladders and paintbrushes - I had to duck abruptly to prevent my hat from being knocked off - and others in garish costumes or the skin-tight Lycra of the rehearsing performer. They all had work to do, places to go; none acknowledged Balloch or even appeared to recognise the Big Boss.

We emerged into the main auditorium at the foot of the stalls. The house lights were up and the whole vast space was brightly lit by Goblin standards. The room was a homage to red and gold flock wall coverings, liberally sprinkled with friezes and carvings in an ornate classical style. Banks of red plush seats ranged over two levels swept back from the stage, the lip of the circle edged with more gold-leaf cherubs and satyrs, while the boxes set to stage left and right were supported with towering faux marble columns.

Evidently it had once been a very opulent establishment, although it seemed to have fallen on hard times of late. The seats were threadbare and stained, the friezes cracked and dusty, and the wallcoverings worn with the touch of many hands. Still, it was busy enough, bustling with the kind of energy you get where many people are focussed on a single production. Presumably the kind of patron they got here was more likely to be interested in the lithe young bodies on the stage than the old carved ones in the friezes.

The stage itself was undecorated, with just a few tired-looking blackout curtains framing the proscenium arch. A rehearsal was in progress on the stage itself: a full line-up of dancers were going through their paces clad in the inevitable leotards and leg warmers. Once upon a time, the recorded music might have been magically provided but these days the fashion is to use tapes and loudspeakers like they do on the surface; much cheaper, and more reliable too.

As we emerged, the troupe was working their way through a raunchy little number, clearly designed to set the pulses of any red-blooded Goblin racing, regardless of their sex or sexuality. Directing the action was a fussy little Goblin dressed all in black offset only by a paisley-patterned scarf in shades of lime green and pink. Forgandenny the artistic director, I assumed.

"A new show?" I asked Balloch, who had stopped to watch the performance on-stage.

"Oh yes," he said offhandedly, "With a new cast, too. We like to put new faces in front of our audiences from time to time."

I imagined that, for some of the audience, it wasn't the faces they were interested in. But it seemed that Tillyfor would not be in the new show. I wondered if she already knew this.

Part 20 Part 22