On a trip to London, Diane Breitman went to see the hit musical Mamma Mia at Prince Edward’s Theatre in Soho. She had seat #1 in a row near the front: the seat was all the way against the left wall. The row in front of Diane was empty; the row in front of that was occupied.
During the overture, a lone man took the seat directly in front of Diane. He irritated her by humming along with the songs, so she noticed him. He also moved a lot, first slouching back, then leaning way forward, back and forth. After a while, he got up and left, bent over so as not to block others’ views.
Some time later, the woman in front of Diane, two rows ahead and also in the seat against the wall, looked back. Shockingly for a lady at the theater, she clambered over the back of her seat and got into the empty row between her seat and Diane’s. She turned to Diane.
“Did you see the man who was sitting in front of you?”
“Yes, sort of.”
“He stole my wallet!” she hissed. “My purse was on the floor at my feet, against the wall. When I looked for it, it was under and behind my seat. I only noticed because I needed a tissue.”
What sort of thief would buy an expensive ticket to the hottest play in London? Possibly one who expected to collect many rich and neglected wallets. Could he have snuck in without a ticket? Highly unlikely. Prince Edward’s Theatre is one of the few with a security staff. Guards and video surveillance, however, only monitor the lobby and chaotic sidewalk area in front of the theater. My theory is that the perpetrator bought a ticket for pittance after the show had started, from one of the resellers who loiter in front of the theater. He may have changed seats several times, and stolen several wallets. There are no cameras inside the theater. Security officers acknowledged this incident but said reports like this one are extremely rare.
They may not be rare at the Mariinskiy Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, where our friend Vladimir had arranged to take us to see Verdi’s Forces of Destiny. Well-meaning Vladimir, who wanted to treat us, had purchased “Russian” tickets, which cost a fraction of “foreigner” ticket prices. At his suggestion, we stopped speaking English as we entered the theater and tried to effect gloomy Russian expressions, but ticket-takers instantly recognized us as foreigners and rejected our tickets. Vladimir was mortified. We tried to pay full price then, but didn’t have enough rubles and the box office didn’t accept American Express, the only card we had on us. Eventually Vladimir found a sympathetic ear and we were allowed to sneak in. He’d obtained excellent seats in the historic theater.
At intermission we mingled among the audience on the mezzanine, in the lobby, and in the stairwells. We were off duty, but Bob’s trained eyes leapt to a pair of thieves in the stairwell bottleneck. It was an ideal situation for them, and what opera-goer would be on guard inside the gold-leafed glory of the Mariinskiy?
“We have many theaters and museums in St. Petersburg,” Officer Alina Kokina told us in the St. Petersburg police station. “Pickpockets love to work inside them. They like to work on foreigners. They judge from a person’s appearance how much money there might be.” She paused. “To be a pickpocket was a prestigious profession during the war. Now they just do it out of desperation.”
Excerpt from Travel Advisory: How to Avoid Thefts, Cons, and Street Scams
Chapter Five: Rip-Offs: Introducing…The Opportunist