Wish: Granted

Thank the theatre gods for BIG The Musical. 

I was beginning to get a bit worried here. 

The Dominion Theatre has been dark for a very long time. Since the first week of January. I’d meant to get myself to Bat out of Hell before it closed, but as the final performances loomed the prices shot up and there was no way I was paying 80 quid to see… whatever that musical was.  

The months rolled on. 

I’d walk past the shuttered venue, peering into the glooming looking foyer every time I walked down Tottenham Court Road, until I began to regret my cheapness. 

Eighty pounds wasn’t that bad. Not when the fate of an entire marathon rested on it. 

Prince of Egypt announced it wood be moving in. But not until 2020. 

I don’t mind admitting that I was getting a bit panicky. 

But then, blessed relief. BIG The Musical was coming to London for a limited season. I held out. Not buying a ticket. Cheapness gnawing at my heart once again. 

I needn’t have worried. TodayTix had my back. A 24-hour ticket offer. Fifteen quid to sit in the stalls. Not bad at all. 

So, yes, thank the theatre gods for BIG The Musical. But all hail TodayTix and their ticket offers. 

This is my first visit to the Dominion. Not only did I miss Batty, I also missed every other previous show. And by missed, I mean: actively avoided.  

So, it’ll be nice to get a good look at the place. 

As I approach the entrance, a bag checker mimes opening a bag and I take the hint. He doesn’t find anything of interest inside, so I’m allowed through. 

The foyer of the Dominion is huge. Double height. With a staircase either side leading over to a balcony overlooking the massive space below. It’s all red and cream and brass and really looks like that hotel in American Horror Story. I look up, fully expecting to see Lady Gaga selecting her victims from the cattle below. 

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No such luck. 

In the centre of the lobby there are two podiums staffed by programme sellers. Or perhaps the more accurate description would be lecterns, so tall there’s a built in box at the back of the for the programme sellers to stand on. 

I still need to get my tickets, so I pass them and follow the sign to the box office. 

“Collecting?” asks a man in a suit who seems to be in charge of the queue. 

I tell him I am. 

“There’s a window free just past those people there,” he says, pointing the way, past the main box office, and into a tiny dark corridor with box office windows all down one wall. I’m not sure on the capacity of this place, but it’s built for scale, that’s for sure. 

I find the next free window, and give the box officer behind it my surname. 

“Do you have a confirmation email?” he asks. 

I mean, I do. But it’s from TodayTix, so there ain’t no reference numbers or anything. I bring it up all the same and hold it up to the glass for him to see. 

He squints at it. 

I wonder if I’m showing him the right bit. I have a look and scroll down to see if there’s more pertinent information going at the bottom of the email. 

“No, that’s fine,” he says. “I’ve got it.” 

And off he disappears to recover my ticket. 

Ticket in hand, it’s time to get me a programme. 

I go back to the lecterns. 

And stop. 

Because I have just spotted the price. 

Ten pounds. 

Ten actual British pounds. 

I know I shouldn’t be surprised by now. I’ve been lobbed with higher bills before. But still. Ten pounds. That’s a lot of money for a programme. 

“Do you take cards?” I ask one of the programme sellers, because of course your girl has not got a tenner on her. 

“Yes, but over at the other desk,” she says, pointing over to the other lectern. 

Okay then. 

I go over to the other side and get myself a programme, paying ten (ten!) pounds for it. 

There isn’t much else of interest going on out here, so I head back, down the steps, towards the stalls. 

There’s a merch shop down here. An actual, proper, shop. Not a desk tucked away in some corner. It’s full of BIG-branded stuff. T-shirts and sweatshirts and teddy bears and lanyards and mugs that might rival Sports Direct in their proportions. But I don’t pay attention to any of that, because I’ve just spotted something far more interesting. Over there. On the far side. It’s a Zoltar machine. And by the looks of it, it’s not just there for decoration.  

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I go over. The sign stuck on the front says it’s two pounds for a go. Well, I just spent a tenner on a programme, I’m not about to wimp out on two quid on this. 

I get out my purse, find the coins, and then stare at the machine. Not sure how I’m meant to do this. I put them on the little slot and try to shove it in, but the slot ain’t having it. 

“Oh my god, someone’s having a go!” a young man standing nearby exclaims. 

“Trying to!” I exclaim right back. 

A woman comes over to have a look. “Here, I think they go in those slots,” she says. 

She’s right. They do go in those slots. 

A second later, Zoltar starts waving his hand and chattering on about it being better not to reveal too much and other mystic sayings. The pair of us stand there, watching him, until a full minute or so later, a fortune pops out. 

I have a look. 

Apparently, my lucky month is August, which is just great now that it’s September. Got a long way to go before my luck comes in. Hopefully I can hold out until then. 

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Shoving the fortune into my pocket, I make for the entrance to the auditorium. 

“XX?” says the ticket checker. “Down this aisle and you’re on the left.” 

Turns out, row XX is really far back. The Dominion is one hell of a big theatre. I almost consider using those binoculars stuck to the bottom of the seat in order to see the stage. 

The rake isn’t great, with nothing but the most gentle slope happening between the rows, but the seats are at least offset, and I find myself with a great little view in between the heads of the people in front. 

My neighbour isn’t quite so content. 

Leaving her partner behind, she chivvies me out of the way to go and sit in one of the empty seats further into the row. 

A plan soon thwarted by the row in front starting to fill up. 

She moves further in. 

But the people sitting in front have the same idea, and a game of musical chairs starts up between them, as they all try and get an unobstructed view. 

The house lights buzz and flicker dramatically, and then go out. 

The show begins. 

These people clearly spent a lot of money here. The set is huge, with screens and multi-storey buildings and set changes between every song. 

A big set for a big theatre. Pity there isn’t the audience to match. 

Even with the £15 offer, it’s looking a bit thin back here. And judging from the very localised applause patterns, I’d say a good chunk sitting over on the far side work for the show. 

This is my cue to say something like: no matter, I’m having a good time. But the truth is: I’m not. I do like the film. It’s a great story. What it doesn’t need though, is songs. And they aren’t even very good songs. Not a banger in the mix. And seemingly written with the premise that everyone on stage needs to have a go. 

When that scene comes around, the one with the piano, the one that has made it into the show artwork, it is done via projection. And the notes that emerge have no relation to the movements of the performers. The big whoop from the contingent on the far side is taken up by the rest of the audience, but the enthusiasm isn’t there. It’s hard to get excited about a faked-up set piece. Half the joy of live theatre is the potential to go wrong. Knowing that the keys would light up, and the notes play, even if both key-hoppers sat down and shared a sandwich half-way through, doesn’t do much to get the old heart racing. 

Interval time. 

I get out my programme to see what ten pounds has bought me. 

Not a lot. 

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I mean, sure, it’s massive. But content wise, there’s nothing there. Biogs. Production shots. That's it. Not even an article to read. 

For that price, I’d at least expect some fan service, like what Only Fools and Horses managed to do in there’s. But the closest this one has is asking the cast what their Zoltar wish would be. Not particularly inciteful, and honestly, best suited to a blog post. 

As people return from the interval, there’s a lot of seat hopping as everyone tries to upgrade themselves. 

I spot the separated couple six or seven rows ahead of me, now reunited. 

And I find myself in the happy position of having no one sitting in front of me.  

Sadly, it doesn’t do much for the show. 

But plod on we do, and the end eventually rolls around. 

During the curtain call, I lone woman stands. She waves at the cast. I think she must know one of them. 

But as we are launched into a truly unnecessary finale, more people stagger to their feet. Some to leave, others to ovate. 

I hold out until the cast members wave us goodbye, disappearing behind the rotating set. But as the band strikes up once more, I cannot stick it any longer. And make my escape. 

S.O.S.

I seem to be spending a lot of time in the West End at the moment. Mostly because all the super-fringey theatres haven’t got anything happening over the summer months, but also because there just aren’t enough tourists around to fill up all those long-running shows and there are offers going all over the place. 

As I make my way down the Strand, I spot a large queue outside Waitress, aiming itself at a tiny podium with the TodayTix logo on it. Now, I love me a bargain on TodayTix, I really do. This blog is testament to that. But when a theatre needs a whole queue just to accommodate buyers coming through a single, solitary, app, you do have to wonder if they overshot on the pricing. 

Oh well. No time to worry about that. 

I’m back in the Aldwych tonight, which I’ve come to think of the road that houses all the shows that I would never, ever, visit outside of the marathon.  

We’ve already had the Tina: The Tina Turner Musical chat. 

Now it’s the turn of its neighbour, the Novello. 

Yup, I’m off to Mamma Mia. 

May the theatre gods preserve us all. 

“Yeah, sorry, there’s loads of people taking photos of some theatre,” says a young woman, striding past on her mobile. 

I lower my phone. 

Yeah, she got me. 

But I’m not the only one. 

I seem to have found myself within a small gathering of amateur photographers, all aiming our phone cameras upwards at the Novello façade. 

It’s a nice façade. Paned glass and lots of swaged foliage carved into the stonework. The window-frames are lit up with a pale-blue glow that would be more fit for Frozen when that opens next year. It all looks very glamorous, somewhat at odds with the show that lives inside. 

“Here, stand here,” orders a woman to her two daughters. “Let me get a picture of you to post on Facebook.” The pair of them make matching expressions of disgust. “Don’t worry,” she assures them, “I’ll edit it first.” 

This appeases them enough to stand and pose in the small island in the middle of Catherine Street, as lines of black cabs rattle by on either side. 

I dart in between them, past the sisters who are still in model-mode, and over to the opposite pavement. 

There’s a large queue stretching out of the curved doors and working it’s way back down the pavement, sealed off by a Mamma Mia branded barrier. 

I join the end of the line. 

It moves fast enough. There’s two bag checkers and they are peering at our stuff as if we were all on the conveyor belt of The Price is Right, and coming up behind us is the cuddly toy. 

Inside the foyer is a mass of movement as people try to figure out where they’re going. 

There’s the merch desk on one side. A concessions stand on the other. And something else a bit further back, which I can’t quite make out but has one hell of a queue. 

“Box office?” I ask the young woman on the door as I gaze in horror at this heaving crowd. 

“Are you buying or collecting?” 

“Collecting.” 

“Just here,” she says, pointing to the big queue at the back. I inch myself through. There seems to be two counters, set behind windows in the wall. My favourite kind of West End box office, but all these people are setting off my anxiety, and I can’t tell where the queue even ends. It try to follow it back but somewhere along the way it appears to have looped back on itself. 

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“Who’s waiting?” comes a voice from the middle of the crowd. It’s a front of houser, and she’s doing her best to impose some form of crowd control, but there’s nowhere for them to go. 

No one answers her. They’re all too busy shoving in opposite directions. 

I squeeze myself towards her. 

“Just here,” she says, pointing to one of the windows. And just like that, I’m giving my name to the box officer, and skipping the entire line. 

“Maxine?” says the box officer, checking the ticket. “That’s one in the balcony.” 

It’s a nice ticket. Got the show artwork on it and everything, which is something I appreciate. Love a bespoke ticket. 

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That done, I double back for the merch desk and ask for a programme. 

“Would you like a small one for 4.50?” she asks, indicating the display on the counter. “Or both for ten pounds.” 

Did I hear that right? A small one and a big one for ten pounds? I’ve always disapproved of this trend of selling souvenir brochures on top of the programmes. Yes, you can justify them as appealing to different audiences – those that want to read about the cast, and those that want big shiny production photos. But let’s be real here. Theatres want to empty your wallet, and will use any trick they’ve got to pour your coins into their till. But both for a tenner sounds like a fucking good deal. Those brochures can go for fifteen quid on their own. 

Not that I want a brochure. I’m an old school programme gurl. I like my cast list, and my creative biographies. I like articles. And words. And yes, the odd pretty picture. But not enough to spend an extra fiver and change. 

I settle for a small one. 

That done, it’s time to go upstairs. 

A not unfancy staircase, which makes a change from the usual route to the cheap seats. There’s carpet. And portraits. And even a bar. 

A nice bar! 

It’s large. With seating, and windows overlooking both the Aldwych and Catherine Street. The very windows I had admired from down on the pavement. 

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I’m a bit early so I plonk myself down at a window seat, a not unpleasant place to sit after the crush downstairs. 

Two bar staffers serve the few audience members who have made it up here, taking care to explain everything with gentleness and patience to the touristy clientele. 

“The programme is this one,” says one, pulling a copy of the shelf to show woman at the bar. “We don’t have the brochure here, but if you’d like it I can give you a receipt and they have the brochures inside. So they can give you one. The small one has the cast. The brochure is the bigger one, and has the pictures in it.” 

“Yes, pictures…” 

“You’ll want the brochure then.” 

“Okay...” 

“Separately the big one is eight, but you can get them together for ten pounds.” 

“And I have to go inside?” 

“You can buy them both here. I’ll give you a receipt and you can just show it to them, and they’ll give you a brochure.” 

I use the opportunity to look at my own programme. 

There’s a cast change slip already placed inside. Looks like we’ve got a few people out tonight, not that it makes much difference to me. I couldn’t tell you who anyone was in this show. 

Apart from the biogs, and an interview with Judy Craymer (who apparently is the creator, but isn’t credited anywhere else in this thing), it’s pretty much the same programme I’ve bought at every Delfont Mackintosh theatre this year. I put it away in my bag and look around. 

There’s a rather handsome wallpaper lining the walls, with golden Ws resting amongst equally golden laurel leaves. 

That’s strange. I wonder if they had a couple of rolls left over from the Wyndham’s refurb… 

I should probably go to my seat. 

Up some more stairs, and there’s a ticket checker up here. 

“Lovely,” he says, far too enthusiastically when he notices that I’ve already torn away the receipt and address portions of the ream. Honestly, theatre-goers really need to start doing this. Save your ticket checker some papercuts. He folds over the stub and tears that off. “Straight up the stairs here,” he says, nodding towards the closed door behind his shoulder.  

And up I go. 

There’s another ticket checker on the door to the auditorium. This one looks rather flustered. She’s talking to an equally flustered-looking audience member. 

“You’ll need to go to the box office and speak to them,” says the ticket checker.  

“Downstairs?” 

“Yup, you’ll need to go all the way downstairs, and make your way up again before the start of the show…” 

“But should I go down...?” she asks, sounding a wee bit stressed. 

“Well, you’ll need to speak to them…” 

“Right.” And off the audience member goes. 

I offer the ticket checker my torn ticket and a sympathetic smile. 

“Front row,” she says, waving me in. 

As I make my way down the steep steps, I spot the stressed audience member. “Let’s go,” she says, touching her partner’s shoulder. 

“Are you sure?” he asks. 

“You need to be able to sit!” she insists. 

That’s true. You do need to be able to sit. 

Limited legroom has taken another victim tonight. 

That’s not so much of a problem for me. Yes, my knees are bashing against the boards in the front row, but they’ve suffered through worse over the past eight months. I’ll survive. 

I distract myself by looking around. 

It’s a shame I’ve never been in here before. It’s a nice auditorium. Very Edwardian in its excess. All marble and cherubs and even gargoyle faces, leering at us from their nests.

There’s even a chandelier that looks like a dropped trifle. It’s magnificently ugly.

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And Ws. Again. Large ones. Set in golden wreaths. 

That’s strange. 

I get out my phone and search for the Novello’s Wikipedia page. 

Turns out this place used to be the Waldorf Theatre, which explains it, I guess. Thing is, it hasn’t been the Waldorf for over a century, and only had that name for four years anyway. You’d think they’d have updated the wallpaper already. 

The Novello name is because old Ivo had a flat here back in the day. A legacy that Cameron Mackintosh seems keen to continue as he’s having a penthouse set up somewhere in here. I do like the idea of living in a theatre. Not sure I’d pick this one though. While I appreciate a good ABBA singalong as much as the next person (as long as I’m not actually expected to singalong), I’m not sure I could cope with Supertrooper blasting out every night while I’m trying to eat my dinner.  

Over the tannoy, there’s a proper old Big Bong. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Please take your seats. This evening’s performance will begin in five minutes. 

“... three minutes. 

“... two minutes.” 

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The house lights dim. There’s an announcement. Turn off your phones and whatnot. Plus a warning for those with a “nervous disposition,” that this show contains “platforms and white lyrca.” 

With that terrifying thought, we begin. 

Not that most of the audience seems to have noticed. 

Chats continue. 

Phones stay out. 

I don’t think I’ve ever been in an audience which gives less of a shit as to what is going on onstage. 

My neighbour jerks in her seat, getting out her phone, the need to check her messages too great to sit still. 

She leans over to her friend and whispers something. 

The friend grabs her bag and retrieves something. A tiny squeeze bottle. She hands it to my neighbour. 

My neighbour pours the contents into her hand. Finds her phone again. Switches it to selfie mode and then... proceeds to reinsert her contact, picking and proding at her eye, the phone on her lap.

I have never seen the like in a theatre, and in truth, I’m a little impressed. 

Exhausted by these antics, she spends the interval slumped down in her seat, curled up under her coat. 

Again, I’m impressed. 

These seats are narrow and highbacked, extending well above our heads. 

I now have a new appreciation for the Queen. Turns out thrones aren’t all that comfy. 

I stay where I am. I’m not all that convinced that on leaving this row, I’ll ever be able to get back in. 

The five-minute warning goes. Then three. Then two. Then one. 

We’re back. 

My neighbour hauls herself out of her slumber, but within a couple of songs her head is sinking gently down, nodding out of time with the music. By the wedding, we’re in real danger of her falling asleep on my shoulder. 

I will the cast to sing in double time and rap this story up. 

We make it. My shoulder free of sleep-induced slobber. Thank the theatre gods. 

The keyboard players in the pit wave at the cast, and the cast, in turn, reach down to shake the keyboard players' hands.

As we traipse down the stairs, I can hear Mamma Mia blaring, and I wonder if I’m missing an encore, but no. It’s coming from outside. A rickshaw, parked on the pavement, and with his soundsystem full blast.  

That’s one way to do marketing, I suppose. 

I really hope Mr Mackintosh likes listening to ABBA in bed... 

 

Friendly Fire

On my last visit to the Park Theatre I promised myself I’d be back before the end of the summer in order to soak up that sweet, sweet air conditioning. 

It’s now September, and while we haven’t quite completed the descent into fall, it’s definitely on the way, so I better get a shift on. 

I make my way over to Finsbury Park, stopping just long enough on Clifton Terrace to take a photo of the outside of the theatre and almost get run over by a double decker. 

Inside it’s bright and buzzing and the woman on the box office gives me a great big smile as I go over and give me name. 

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“Huh, that’s strange,” she says, rummaging around in the ticket box and clearly not finding anything. 

I begin to panic, worrying that I booked the matinee or something equally stupid. 

Seitching to the evening won’t be easy. It’s all sold out.

“Shall I get my confirmation email up?” I ask, pulling out my phone. The email is already loaded behind my lock screen, because you know, I like to be prepared. It’s the anxious person in me. 

“These items can be picked up from Box Office. Warheads on Saturday 07 September 2019 at 19.45 in Park90.” 

It is Saturday 7 September. I didn’t make a mistake. For once. 

The box officer looks at her computer screen and frowns. “It says it’s already printed,” she says, sounding a mite confused. I can’t blame her. I’m a mite confused too. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do a print-at-home thingy, for one because I hate that shit, but also because I don’t have a printer. 

“Ah ha!” says the box officer. “Here you go. It’s with a programme!” 

Oh yeah! I’d forgotten I’d preordered one of those. She hands me the programme with the ticket slotted over the top. 

“The one time I try and be efficient,” I sigh. 

“That’s all on me,” the box officer says. 

“I just knew I wouldn’t have change!” I try and explain. “Never again. I promise you.” 

“I really appreciate you preordering a programme,” she assures me, and I realise that my attempts to good-naturedly take the blame on this issue are making me sound like an arse. 

I better get out of here. 

I scuttle off up the stairs and follow the signs to Park90, the smaller of the two Park spaces. 

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Up onto the landing, through a door, and down a long, red, corridor. 

A front of houser rushes the other way. 

“There you go,” he calls at me as we pass. “That way. Ushers will sort you out.” 

Well, alright then. 

At the end of the corridor, a ticket checker stands guard on the door. I show my ticket. She stares at it. The seconds tick past. I wonder if I’m supposed to do something at this point. Provide some sort of supplementary information. Perhaps I should get out the programme to show her. But whatever she was looking for, she seems to find it, and waves me through. 

The Park90 is a black box space, set up in traverse for tonight’s performance. I look around, trying to work out where I want to sit. Now usually in unreserved seating, I like to go for the end of the third row, but here there are two third rows and I need to decide what view of the stage I want. Throw in the fact that the third row is actually the back row (on both sides) and I’ve got all kinds of thinking to do before I sit down. As I try and process all this, I spot something large and fluffy down by my feet. 

It’s a dog. 

A very beautiful dog. 

An Alsatian. 

Or at least, I think it’s an Alsatian. It’s hard to tell. It’s really dark in here. 

Whatever breed, it’s definitely a dog, and they are lying down quite contentedly next to the end of the front row, beside their master. 

Well, that throws all my cogs back into a whirr because now I have to add in the extra dog-based element into my thought-processes. Do I want to sit near the dog? I do, of course, want that. But I also want to be able to see the dog, which would mean selecting a seat on the opposite side. 

I look back down at the dog. 

They are wearing a service dog harness. 

That settles it. 

I pick my way over to the other side of the stage. 

I don’t want to be near the dog, because being near the dog will mean I’ll be tempted to pet the dog, and I’m fairly certain you’re not meant to pet service dogs while they’re on duty. So I’m going to find a place where I can stare at them adoringly every time the play gets dull. 

Third row. At the end. 

No, wait. That’s too far away. 

Third row. In the middle. 

Perfect. 

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I get out my programme, but it’s far too dark to read in here. 

So dark that people have to lift their hands to wave as friends come through the door, lest these newcomers end up sitting next to a stranger. 

The front of houser I’d met in the corridor directs people around, helping them locate their plus ones, and filling in the gaps. It mat be a sold out show, but by the looks if it, some audience members must have got stuck in the bar, as there’s a big chunk of empty seats still going spare when the doors are closed. 

The blokes next to me sure spent a good deal of time there. 

They came in carrying beers, but I don’t think it’s their first round of the night. 

They are very actively not watching the play. 

One gets out his phone, flicking between apps while this tale of men broken by combat plays out mere feet away from us. 

He shifts seats, moving away from me to whisper something very loudly to his mates before sliding back again. I wonder if he too is trying to get a good view of the dog. 

I look over. The dog is sitting up. They don’t look overly keen about the whole combat thing either. As our soldiers shout and throw themselves across the tiny stage, the dog sits up, backing away towards the door. 

The usher leans down to stroke the top of the dog’s head. 

The owner looks back, but doesn’t say anything. 

Unlike my drunk friends in the back row who are only pausing in their conversation long enough to loudly exclaim at every plot point. Well, two of the friends. The third one buries his head in his hands, clearly hoping one of the explosives will blow a sink-hole into the earth for him to crawl into. Occasionally he lifts his head long enough to attempt to shush them, but these two lads are way too far gone to notice. 

And way too gone for anyone else not to notice. 

Even the actors. 

Taz Skylar rounds on them as Craig Fairbrass’ Captain flashes his torch in their direction. 

“If you fuckers don’t stop talking,” shouts Skylar, fully in character as a soldier in the depths of a PTSD-caused breakdown. 

They try to say something but Skylar isn’t having it. “You fat fuck, shut up!” 

There’s a cheer from the other side. 

The lads lapse into silence. 

For a few seconds. 

My neighbour leans over to his mate to say something. 

Joseph Connolly, playing the flatmate, and looking for all the world like he’s just found dishes in the sink for the third day running, gets up, leaning right into our row and narrowing his eyes at the talkers. “You’d better leave,” he says. 

The third friend sinks low, hands covering the top of his head as if the actors’ words were live ammunition. 

I look over at the usher. She’s over on the other side, grinning at the dog and rubbing his ears. They both look very happy. 

But we all make it through to the end of the play. 

A front of houser hands us leaflets on our way out. They have stats about the links between military service and homelessness on them. It’s shocking and depressing and I don’t know what to do with it other than shove it in my pocket to think about later. 

“I have never been so embarrassed in all my life,” says someone as we file out down the red corridor. 

“I’m going to have words with them,” a young woman says darkly. Because that’s the thing. They all knew each other. The cast. And half the audience. It was the last performance in the run. And all those threats of this-is-your-last-chance-to-see-me had paid off. 

At least they turned up. 

If those empty seats were any indication, at least one contingent never made it out of the bar. 

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Back to Hogwarts

I don't want to get your hopes up, but I think there's a strong possibility that Autumn is here. The terrible reign of that blazing ball in the sky is over. No longer will I have to suffer the indignity of the t-shirt. I can wear real clothes now. Nice clothes. I don't mind telling you that I just spent the best part of an hour trying things on. Because tonight, Matthew, I am going to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I need to be the Gothiest Goth that ever Gothed, or die in the attempt.

And I think I've found the one.

It has a high lace collar. It has long sheer sleeves. It has cinched cuffs. It's perfect.

My eyeliner is sharp.

My boots stompy.

I am peak Goth.

I mean, personal peak. I'm not ready for an undercut or a lip piercing quite yet.

I put my 49er on top of the whole thing, and, not gonna lie, I look frickin' adorable.

As I walk to the tube station, a little girl hangs out of her window. "Hello. Hello. Hello," she shouts. "Hello, fashion lady!"

Which has to be, by far, the nicest thing shouted at me from a window.

No time to dawdle though. The Palace Theatre peeps are strict as hell.

I got, not one, but two emails, that stated, in no uncertain terms, that I should pick up my ticket, at the latest, one hour before the show starts. Now, I'm sure you'll agree with me, that this is completely ridiculous. There is no theatre in the city, not even the London Palladium, that is so chaotic that it requires a 6.30pm pick up for a 7.30pm curtain.

So, I decide to ignore the advice.

And turn up at 6pm.

The box office at the Palace is round the side of the building, on Shaftesbury Avenue. It has it's own separate entrance, which leads into a good-sized room, with a row of counters on the far side, tucked behind glass. It's almost like stepping into a bank.

There is exactly no queue.

The lady at the nearest counter looks up and gives me a great big smile, so I go over to her.

"Hi! The surname's Smiles?" I tell her.

"Lovely," she says, getting up from her seat. "I'll need a reference number and ID too."

"Okay," I say, grabbing my purse in readiness.

She's on her way back, tickets in hand. She looks at them. "Actually, it's just ID, because you won the lottery."

Yeah, I did! For the first time ever, I managed to win of those TodayTix ticket lotteries. No luck with The Lehman Trilogy. Didn't anywhere with Present Laughter. Had to get up at 3am to see Fleabag after failing again and again with that one. I was beginning to think that TodayTix didn't like me. Which, considering how much money I've been throwing at them this year, is a wee bit rude.

But they came through for this one. All hail Harry Potter and the Friday Forty.

"Oo, I like your purse," says the box office lady as I show her my ID. "Lovely," she says checking it. "Doors open at 6.30. Enjoy!"

And with that, I'm back out on Shaftesbury Avenue.

It's about ten past six.

I should probably go and do something.

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I walk around, having a look at all the second-hand bookshops on Charing Cross Road. More than a few of them have a dedicated Harry Potter section crammed at the front of their window displays. This whole area seems to be running on a Harry Potter based economy. There's the newly opened House of Spells shop, with doormen in jacquard coats that scared me so much I didn't want to go in, and the House of MinaLima on Greek Street, which I'm sure was supposed to be a popup shop, but has grown some serious roots. In the Foyles playtext section, there are enough copies of Cursed Child on display to stage your own mini-production.

I circle back through Soho to the theatre.

There's a big sign out front. Someone is proposing to their girlfriend at the show. That's nice. I mean... it's utterly abhorrent. I don't understand public proposals, at all. But if they're into that, good for them. I wish them a long and happy life together.

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But more importantly, there's now a queue, snaking it's way down Romilly Street and around Greek Street. I should probably join it.

The queue moves quickly.

Signs tell us to have our bags open and to definitely not, no don't even think about, bringing in food.

Next to it, a homeless man sits. He has his own sign. He's trying to sell an illustrated copy of the first Potter book. "Any real offer is cool."

The Harry Potter economy is hitting hard.

We round the corner. The front of the theatre is cordoned off with crowd control barriers. One by one we are waved in, directed to tables of bag checkers.

"Any food or drinks?" asks mine as I dump my bag on the table and open it for her.

That gives me pause. I mean... I think we all know that these checks aren't for security anymore. They're protecting their bar sales, not our bodies. But I never thought I'd get an actual admission on the line. This marathon is full of surprises.

"No," I say, knowing full well I have a slightly squished protein bar in the side pocket.

"Any sharps?" she asks, digging her hand right in.

"No." I'm not sure my cutting wit quite counts.

"And food or sharps?"

"No."

"No?"

"No."

"Okay," she says, and waves me on.

Next up there's a line of black-suited security guards. They have body scanners.

Blimey. That's a first.

"Arms up," says one, putting out his arms in a cross to demonstrate.

I follow his lead, lifting up my arms, my bag still dangling heavily from one hand.

He runs the scanner over me. It must have beeped or flashed, because, without warning, his hand is in my jacket pocket.

"Oh," he says, after finding nothing in there except the reminiscence of an old tissue.

He let's me pass.

Feeling ever so slightly violated, I finish the security part of the entrance examination.

It's time to get me through the doors.

The first one has a Hufflepuff checking tickets. I can tell she's a Hufflepuff because she's got the house colours on her lanyard. All the front of house staff do at the Palace. Have house coloured lanyards I mean. On my first trip here, way back when the show was still in previews (and yes, I am showing off, thanks for asking) I got chatting to the ushers and was informed that they are very serious about the whole house business here. The staff all need to get sorted on the Pottermore website, and there's no switching just because yellow doesn't suit your complexion.

I head to the next door. There's not much of a queue here, but the ticket checker is a Gryffindor and I ain't dealing with that bullshit today.

At the third door there's no queue. But there is a Slytherin ticket checker.

Or perhaps that should be: at the third door, there's no queue, because there is a Slytherin ticket checker.

I immediately rush over and show her my ticket.

"On the far side, down the stairs," she instructs as she tears my ticket. "There are bars and toilets on every level."

"Thanks!" I say, way too excited. I hold back the urge to shout "Go Slytherin!" as I bounce through the door and into the foyer.

The merch desk is right oppsite the doors, selling all the house colour stuff. I already have a fair bit of Slytherin gear and those scarves are expensive, so I decide not to test my overdraft any further. Besides, they save all the best merch for Part 2.

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Instead, I go straight to the programme desk.

There's a sign over the top stating that programmes are "Just £5." Which, you know, isn't bad. Cheaper than a Slytherin house scarf anywway.

One of the programme sellers spots me. "Are you waiting?" he asks.

He's wearing a Slytherin lanyard. I don't know why it is that the 'puffs have the reputation for being loyal. In my experience, it's the Slytherin's who are always looking out for one another.

"Can I get a programme?" I ask him.

"Of course!" See? He's got my back.

I hand him a ten.

"Perfect!" he says, and I keep a close eye on him as he gets my change. Let's be real... I would trust a Slytherin with my life, but not my fivers.

Still, I wonder if I can go the entire evening only interacting with Slytherins. That might be a fun challenge. I mean, yes, it does sound a bit, well, Voldemorty, but this is the third time I've seen this show. I need to inject a little bit of danger into this trip.

Down the stairs, there are more programme sellers down here. And a concessions desk. You'd think they'd be selling stuff straight off the Hogwart's Express trolley, but no, it's the same boring old trash you'd find at any theatre. I move on.

Down some more steps, and into the bar. An Aladin's cave of gold paint, pillars, and mirrors, all held together my a menagerie of naked-lady mouldings.

It's still really early, so I find an empty corner and start people watching.

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There aren't too many people dressed up down here. The queue was full of young‘uns wearing house t-shirts, but they don't seem to have made it down to the stalls.

I spot two ladies wearing all access passes round their necks. Not sure what those are or what they have access to, but I sure as hell wouldn't be wasting them on the stalls bar if I had them. I'd be off backstage somewhere, stealing me a sorting hat.

The bar begins to fill, and my quiet corner is under threat of attack from all sides.

I look at my ticket. I'm to use door 2 to get into the auditorium, and look, just on the other side of my little enclave is a sign pointing the way to door 2.

I follow it.

After the gilded glory of the bar, I'm whisked into a very plain corridor. The only decoration a pair of shelves, with numbered plaques, which I can only assume will be holding interval drinks in few hours' time.

I keep on going. Up some stairs, and down to the end of the hallway.

There's a curtain, and through it, the theatre.

It's nice. It's well named. Very... palacial.

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I make my way down the side of the stalls towards the front row. Oh yeah, ya gurl has got herself a seat in row AA tonight.

I'm very excited about it.

I mean, the stage is high so I'm going to miss a hell of a lot of stuff happening at the back, but it's okay. I've seen this twice before. Once from mid-stalls, and the second time from somewhere in the balcony. I know what's going on. I'm just going to appreciate being able to see all the stage-trickery up close, and yup, from my spot at the end of the row, it looks like I'll be able to get a little glimpse into the wings.

This is going to be mega.

I take off my jacket and settle in.

Train station sound effects are being piped in, and it's amazing how soothing they can be without the added ambience of thousands of commuters all collectively hating each other.

Trunks and suitcases litter the stage, so you just know there's magic happening, becuase they wouldn't last five minutes unattended in the muggle world without someone calling the bomb squad.

A voice comes over the sound system.

The performance is about to begin.

There's a whoop.

Turns out, I'm not the only one super-pumped to be here tonight.

"You're all seated in the quiet zone," continues the voice. "So turn off your phones now. I mean now."

The order not to each any crunchy crinkly snacks also gets a cheer. This audience is hardcore about their theatre-going. They don't want to miss a moment. Maybe that's why there aren't any Pumpkin Pasties on offer (although, there should totally be Pumpin Pasties on offer. Come on now, it's September. I need my recommended daily dose of pastry).

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Anyway, the play starts and it's just great. I fucking love Harry Potter. Like, I taught myself HTML when I was 12 years old so that I could code my own Harry Potter fansite. That's how long I've been in the fandom. Literally most of my life.

And I don't care what the haters say about Cursed Child. So what if it is retconning the books? I don't give a shit.

I adore Scorpius and I would die for him.

He is literally the cutest thing I've ever seen in my life.

Although I'm not quite sure whether I want to kiss him, mother him, or quite possibly, be him.

Hopefully not the first one. He is a child, after all. The character I mean. Not the actor. I checked.

Still, it's all rather confusing.

Whatever it is, Jonathan Case is doing a splendid job up there. And I'm so happy I could burst...

There's a crash. For a second I think it must be my heart exploding. But no, it's way too big a sound for that.

People are turning around in their seats. Whatever it was came from behind us.

"Lights! We need lights!" comes a call from one of the circles.

A few seconds later, the house lights are going up.

The cast press on. We try to concentrate but the drama happening in the higher levels cannot compete with what's happening on stage. I mean, Jack Thorne's great and all. But this is real life.

Eventually, the house lights dim once more, and we fall back into the goings-on at Hogwarts. And soon I get lost in the waft of cloaks as the performers swish about right in front of me.

I have to say, the movement is marvellous. If this lot ever give cloak-swishing classes I'm going to be first in line because they are giving the Bolshoi-boys a run for their money.

Applause fills the auditorium.

Interval time.

Within seconds a queue forms down the central aisle for ice cream.

An usher comes out to make an announcement. "It's cash only," she says. "Ice creams are three pounds fifty each. If you need to pay by card you need to go down to the bar."

No one is paying attention. Everyone is busy talking about the show.

"I like when the witches come on and do the thing. With the cloaks," says the girl sitting behind me,

"Me too," says her friend.

Me three.

"I loved the trolley witch," says the friend. "Did you see the two people in the dark? They just went like this then whoomph."

I nod along to their conversation. I also enjoyed the whoomph.

"They got rid of my story," says the girl, presumably while scrolling through the Cursed Child Instagram. "There was a proposal. Did you see it? And my story got bumped."

She doesn't sound super impressed.

"Did they say yes?"

"I don't know..."

I have a look at the programme.

You have to admire their commitment to the whole "keep the secrets" schtick they got going on. Not only is there a spoiler warning on the cast list, but they also put one on the preceding page, just in case your eyes land on a character name by accident. And it's not like we don't know they couldn't have sold two programmes if they didn't have a mind to. So, double kudos to them. I kind of wish they had taken the Hampstead Theatre approach to suppliers though. Back when Brandon Jacob Jenkins’ Gloria was playing, you had to go find an usher in the interval to cut open the seal on the spoiler-giving programme pages, which was super cool. Not that I did it. My Gloria programme remains in mint condition. Because I am exactly that type of programme nerd.

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Another announcement is piped in. This one from Professor McGonagall herself. Well, Blythe Duff but, you know.

"For the sake of the wizarding world, please turn off any muggle devices," she begs us.

We get through the rest of Part 1 unscathed.

Well, almost. The final scene sends cries of horror throughout the auditorium (and some wet feet in the front row).

As the "to be continued..." banner lights up the empty stage, the level of excited chatter is so loud I fear this lot won't make it through to tomorrow night's performance.

"Please use all the doors," calls an impatient usher as we try to shuffle our way out. "We're closing the doors in two minutes! We'll see you tomorrow."

Yes, you will. I'm not leaving my boy Scorpius stranded in that situation.

Too hyped to even contemplate being cooped up on the tube quite yet, I skip through Piccadilly Circus and make my way to Green Park.

There's a lot of great shit going on in theatre right now, but for me, Cursed Child is where it's at. The stagecraft! The story! The... Scorpius! Okay, it's all Scorpius. I really love that blond boy.

Which reminds me: that proposal... It was a publicity stunt to advertise a dating app. Little fuckers.

Love is cancelled.

And I think I might need to bleach my hair.

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Close Every Door to Me

Oh good lord. What the fuck is going on here? What the actual fuck...?

There are people on the pavement. People in the road. People standing in the way of cars, and people who are going to get run over if they are not careful.

I've never seen any thing like this.

No, wait. That's not true. I have seen something like this.

Not outside of protests though.

It's like a friggin' anti-Trump rally out here.

What the hell is going on?

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"This is the Royal Circle and boxes queue only," hollers a man walking down the line on the opposite pavement. "Stalls are one queue along, and Grand Circle is two along."

Oh. Okay. So apparently getting into the London Palladium now involves queueing down the street. Which is strange. Because I've been to the Palladium before, and I've never encountered scenes that look as if they've been lifted straight out of a textbook on hyperinflation.

I join the queue for the stalls. I have an e-ticket for some reason, and I'm not happy about it, but I'm not about to go trotting off to the box office when there's this going on. Ten minutes arguing for a paper ticket might see the queues stretching all the way down the street, across the road, and into the Liberty habadashery department.

I tell myself it's good practice for post-Brexit Britain.

We shuffle forward inch by inch, the woman behind me muttering with every step.

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It hasn't escaped my notice, that my queue, the one for the stalls, is on the opposite side of the road to the theatre. It hasn't escaped the notice of the people standing in the queue, while also, at the same time, standing in the middle of the road. Nor the notice of the taxis, trying very hard to drive through said road.

"Stupid people thinking they can get through here," she says the woman behind me. I don't know whether she's referring to the taxi drivers or the queuers here. Or possibly: both.

As it's our turn to cross no-man's land, a pretty girl in a multicoloured shaggy jacket runs out to pose in front of the theatre signage. You got to respect a gal who not only dresses to theme, but also puts her life on the line for a photo. Instagram models are the heros we have, but don't necessarily want.

I make it across the road without getting run over, thank the theatre gods. The woman behind me also makes it across unscathed. I'm unclear about the gods' motivation on that one, but I suppose they have their reasons.

"Have your bags ready. There's checks both in and out the door," booms the queue-controller as I reach the doors.

"Can I just...?" asks the bag checker. She pokes around inside a little, prodding at the top layer with a single finger. "My colleague will check your ticket."

I get waved through the door and I pull my phone out. E-ticket it is then. I pinch my fingers and zoom in, instantly losing the barcode. Technology is not my friend. "Where is it...!?" I mutter as I search around the pdf for the damn thing. The ticket checker laughs, then beeps my in as the barcode sneaks into view.

I wind myself down the cream-coloured corridors, past the surprisingly subdued merch desk and into the bar. It's a very fancy bar. There's a twisting staircase, lots of old posters on the walls, and a display case with a model of the Palladium inside, topped by showgirls.

And a queue. Another massive queue. Stretching from the doors to the auditorium, round the corner and all the way back.

A front of houser comes round, via a shortcut. "Entrance to the stalls this way," she says, beckoning us forward. I'm immediately rammed in the back as the person behind me rushes up the steps.

I let him go ahead. He must be gagging to sit down.

Eventually, I get to the doors. There are two sets, with a tiny lobby in the middle. Like those porch areas people tack onto the front of their semis. Somewhere to keep the pram and the bikes and wellies and whatnot. Except here they're keeping a bottleneck of audience members, trying to squeeze through too many ushers.

I show the nearest one my phone. "Standing?" I ask.

"Head to the left," she says, pointing left. "And stand behind the gold bar."

Well, alrighty then.

I head left, walking down the back of the stalls, past the tech desk, past an endlessly long row of seats until, yes, there it is, a short gold bar right at the end.

There are a few people standing already. I dump my bag down next to them, as close to the middle as I can get.

It's very high. Too high for my five foot three inches to lean on. I could just about rest my chin on it if I had a mind to.

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And then I realise something. I haven't seen anyone selling programmes.

I look around at the people sitting in the stalls. Prime programme-buying audience members. But none of them have one.

I scan the room for an usher, but there aren't any in here. They're all in the bottleneck.

Oh well. That's what intervals are for, I guess. Gives me an excuse to check out the merch desk.

Looks like the girl sitting in front of me has already hit it up. She's wearing a Joseph t-shirt with technicoloured text all over it.

I never know how I feel about wearing show merch to the actual show.

It demonstrates dedication though, and I respect that.

Unlike the man sitting in the row ahead of her. He's wearing a Thriller Live t-shirt. I turn away. I can't even look at him.

There's an usher standing behind me. He's not holding any programmes. "Are you with the five?" he asks, indicating the group next to me.

I shake my head. So does my neighbour. We don't know these people.

"Would you mind moving over to the other side? There's supposed to be ten on each side be we have eleven over here."

My neighbour picks up his bag and goes off to the other side.

Turns out, his sacrifice is not enough, because the usher is back. "Are you on your own too?" he asks me.

I almost laugh at the thought of me managing to convince someone to come stand with me at a weekday matinee performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat. I'm sure this musical has a hella lot of fans. I'm just not friends with any of them.

"Do you want me to go over?" I ask, maintaining my composure like the theatre-going pro I am.

"If you don't mind," says the usher, very apologetically. "You'll have more space."

Turns out, that was a lie. The standing area down at the other end is full. I walk all the way to the end, where the golden bar turns into a solid wood panel and ask the woman on the end to squidge up a bit.

She stares at me blankly.

"Sorry," I apologise. "I just got moved here from the other side. Can we all move down a bit?"

Her stare continues. I wonder if there is something wrong with her eyes. She's not blinking.

The usher comes over.

"Can we make room for the lady?" he says in the polite tones of a front of houser who ain't taking no shit today.

One bloke shifts over and a squeeze into the gap.

"Did you not pay the money?" says the guy on the other side, his hand buried in a pot of Pringles.

"Sorry?"

"I thought you didn't pay the fee."

"Sadly, I did buy my ticket," I tell him. "They just had too many people standing over the other side."

Satisfied, he goes back to eating his crisps.

As the lights dim, there's a big cheer from the audience. They're so excited the air is almost crackling. Oh, no. Wait. That's my neighbour finishing off his Pringles.

Nevermind.

Still, Sheridan Smith gets a round of applause all to herself when she comes out. I join in. I do like Sheridan Smith. She was everything in that Hedda Gabler at The Old Vic. And yes, I did need to pick out her one significant non-musical theatre role to mention here. Because I am a pretentious twat. We long ago established that.

And I have to respect that she's the one cast member all in black, standing proud amongst a cast dressed in colours so bright it's making my retinas bleed just to look at them.

I'll admit, Joseph isn't my favourite Lloyd Webber. It's too... just too. Too bright. Too twee. Too school-playish with all those kids wearing fake-beards. It doesn't work for me.

Plus all that thing about dreams... I only have sympathy for the brothers. I'd sell my little pipsqueak sibling too if he insisted on telling me his boring-arse dreams every morning.

I do like the song where he's in prison though. I can fully support Joseph having an abandonment crisis in a dark cell while wearing only a loincloth. That's my jam. Right there.

As soon as the interval hits, I race back through the bar, down the cream-coloured corridor, and towards the merch desk.

There isn't a queue, and the woman behind the counter gives me a big grin as I approach.

"Hello, love!" she say.

I ask if I can get a programme.

"Of course, you can, my love. Would you like a standard programme or a brochure?” She points at the two options on the counter. The brochure is very large. Twice the size of the standard programme, and no doubt, twice the price.

"Ooo," I say, pretending to be making a decision. “Standard please."

"That's five pounds."

I fish around in my bag for my purse, which no matter how I pack it, always manages to sink to the bottom. "Sorry," I say, as I realise I'm taking far too long. "So much stuff!"

"Here, shall I move this so you can out your bag down?" she says, shifting over the programmes so that there's a free space on the counter.

It helps. I find my purse, and pay the monies.

She laughs, suddenly noticing what i’m wearing now my bag isn't in the way. "I love your t-shirt!" she says.

It is a good t-shirt. And worthy of a giggle.

At first glance, you may think it's one of those ubiquitous Joy Division t-shirts. But, oh, you would be wrong. The unknown pleasures of the pulse waves are interrupted by... cats. Lots of cats. And it says "Meow Division" across the top, because of course it does.

I take my music very seriously.

I go back to the bar.

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"Yes, she's a big star over here," says a woman, trying to explain who Smith is to her friend. "She's a big TV celebrity."

Sheridan Smith? A big TV celebrity? I mean... yeah, but like... didn't you see here at The Old Vic?

I get out my programme, just to check the facts. And huh... Smith's biog doesn't mention Hedda Gabler. I begin to wonder if I imagined her Ibsen-phase.

"Ladies and gentlemen will you please take your seats. The show will resume in five minutes."

I quell the desire to reply: "Thank you, five."

I go back to my standing place.

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The unblinking woman hasn't returned. But crisp-man has. With a packet of popcorn.

An usher makes his way down the aisle carrying a big white plastic bag. He dips down so people can chuck their rubbish in, giving an half cursey at every row.

The band start up, playing a medley of the act one songs.

A huge chunk of the audience clap along.

The conductor turns around to grin at us. He's having fun.

Everyone is having fun.

Spontaneous applause breaks out at seemingly inconsequential parts of the plot. Laughter rolls over the stalls with every campy move of the cast. As Smith encourages us to clap along in one number, and everyone enthusiastically joins in, it occurs to me that this might now be a standard weekday matinee. The fan-presence is high, and the end of the run is nigh. I might have found myself at a muck-up matinee.

At the final notes, everyone gets to their feet to applaud.

I'm already on my feet, so I let them get on with it.

It's time for the megamix, and people sit down to enjoy this blast through all the bangers of the show.

The stander who came with me from the other side sticks his fingers in his mouth and let's out a blasting whistle. "Well done, kids!" he shouts as the smaller members of the cast come forward.

"Do you want some more?" shouts Smith over the roar of whoops and hollers.

The roar grows even louder. Turns out they do.

"Come on! Do. You. Want. Some. More?!" repeats Smith, pumping her arm to indicate that we should be louder.

Yes, Sheridan. I think these people want more.

"Your turn now," she says. "Come on. Do whatever you want."

A woman in the front row gets to her feet and starts dancing. "Yes!" shouts Smith, pointing at her. "Go girl!"

A few more people join in and Smith gives them approving comments too. Soon everyone is back up and dancing. Or at least clapping.

Lights flicker around the audience.

Streamers descend on the stalls.

Dancing. Clapping. Singing. Music.

And then it's over. The cast wave as they disappear off stage. The three leads, Smith and Jac Yarrow and Jason Donovan, hand back to fling there arms around each other. And then they're gone too.

I decide to take their lead and slip out when the band are still blasting our their finale.

My mad existence

I'm on my way to the next venue and I just saw a duck! Two of them! Waddling around next to the water, being all duck-like.

I didn't have any bread to give them, but they let me take a photo of them all the same and didn't seem to mind that I used went all baby-talk on them.

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So, I'm happy now. For some reason, knowing intellectually that my theatre for the evening was in the middle of Regent's Park, didn't connect with the part of my brain that knows that ducks live in parks, and the whole duck thing totally surprised me.

In a good way.

I'm very happy.

I also just spotted a sign, stuck in a hedge, pointing the way to the Open Air Theatre, so on top of being duck-happy, I'm also not lost.

This trip literally cannot get any better.

I follow the signs, leading down paths and past flowerbeds and across roads, until I spot it. The theatre. Or at least, the entrance to the theatre. Kinda getting fairground vibes looking at it, if I'm being honest.

The box office is in a sort of wooden cabin-like structure on one side, with the entrance on the other, with the name lined up along the roof.

The grass is full of smug-looking people having smug-looking picnics and drinking smug-looking glasses of wine. Near me a woman throws her head back to laugh. Smugly.

Just need to take my photo of the outside then it's off to try and blag a paper ticket off the box office. There wasn't an option to get one from the website. I think I left it too late or something. I have a crumby e-ticket sitting in my inbox and I am not happy about it.

"Lot of people here?" says a bloke standing near me.

I glance up.

"Yeah? I guess. It's very popular."

I go back to my phone, bringing up the camera app.

"Are you Mediterranean?" he asks.

I'm so confused by this question, I look up again. "... no?"

"You look a bit Italian. Are you Italian?"

Now, I'm sure you will agree with me that I do not look Italian. I very much do not look Italian. Literally no one in the world has ever, up until this point, thought that I looked anything approaching Italian.

I've gone through my whole life being British-passing, and I'm not about to take this nonsense. "Not even slightly," I say, in my coldest, bitchiest, tones, that I only bring out on very special occasions.

Turns out, however, that this bloke is immune to my lack of charm. "No?"

"No. I'm Scottish."

I mean... I'm not Scottish. Okay, I'm slightly Scottish. My surname is Scottish. But there's a good hundred years between the last Scottish Smiles in my ancestry coming down to live in Liverpool or somewhere, and me being born. Usually, when people ask I'll say German, or Austrian, or something, but those answers are all way too Holocausty for a summer evening. And I don't like pulling out the Israeli-angle with weirdo-strangers who are way too intent on making conversation.

"The Scottish are very friendly people. Very friendly," he continues.

"Errr..."

Now, Scotland is fucking great. And Scottish people are even greaterer. I would totes vote for Nicola Sturgeon to be prime minister if that was ever an option. All hail the Scots. But like, I lived there for three years, and "friendly" would not be my go-to descriptor. Like... there were pubs I was actively told not to go to because my English-accent would be considered a "provocation."

"Very friendly."

"... sometimes?"

"Very friendly people."

Okay. Enough of this. Apologies to the Scottish people but I need to disabuse this man of your friendliness before he starts telling me his whole backsto-

"I'm from Iran."

Shit. Too late.

"Sorry," I say, putting away my phone. "I have to go in now."

And without another word, I scuttle over to the entrance and join the queue.

"Can I check your bag?" asks the bag checker.

Of course she can. I grab it and open it for her. Or at least, I try to open it for her. The damn zip is stick.

Shit. "Shit." Double shit. "Sorry."

She laughs. "Don't worry. As long as we can look inside."

I've made a tiny gap. I can see the soft black material of my scarf pocking through, caught in the metal. "It's my stupid scarf," I tell her, still trying to unjam the zip.

"Don't worry," she says again. "It happens all the time."

She peers through the inch-wide gap I've created and then feels her way down the outside, giving my bag a good massage.

With a wave of her hand, I'm sent over to the ticket checker.

With all the excitement, I'd forgotten to go to box office.

I look over my shoulder. I can't go back now. Not after making the bag checker go through all that. She'll think I'm a right old idiot.

I get my phone out, and allow my e-ticket to be beeped.

Dammit.

Still feeling mad at myself, I pass through the entrance, and stop.

Well. This sure is something, A bar sits beneath by an ivy covered canopy on one side. Lawns are littered with picnicing couples on the other.

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And in the middle, a merch stand.

I join the queue.

It isn't much of a queue. There's only one lady in front of me. But she is making the most of it, asking questions about every single aspect of the theatre and the performance. Start times and entrances and intervals and... Ooof. I can't listen anymore.

I turn my attention to the stand.

I love theatre merch. But so much of it is crap.

I'll throw down a tenner on a programme if I have to, but see-through t-shirts and mugs emblazoned with some tedious quote from the show ain't getting my coin any time soon.

This stuff, well... someone at this theatre sat down and thought: What does a person watching a play out in the open air need? And then set about selling it to us.

Alongside the programmes, there are branded baseball caps and water bottles, and plastic ponchos. Standard. But then there's also recycled wool blankets for cold knees, and straw panamas to cover bald heads and cuddly hedgehogs to...

Wait, what?

"The Regent's Park Hedgehog," reads a sign, posted on the side of the cart as if to answer my exact question. Turns out the park has hedgehogs in it. Real ones. 40 of them. Which doesn't sound a lot.

I love hedgehogs. Everyone loves hedgehogs.

I really want a cuddly one.

Can I justify it?

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"Can I get a programme please?" I ask the merch desker as the old lady finishes her ream of questions and moves on.

My eyes slide over to the hedgehogs.

They are so frickin' cute.

"Of course!" says the merch desker. "Five pounds please."

I pull my bag forward and suddenly remember the zip. Shit. "Sorry," I apologise as I struggle with it.

"Don't worry," she says.

I give the zip a good tug. It slides a half-inch. Ha. We're getting somewhere.

"Stupid scarf," I mutter as I fight the zip.

"No rush," she says sweetly. "It happens all the time. Especially after the bag checks. Is that cash or card?"

"Err, cash?" I say.

"Okay."

"Or card? If that's easier?"

"No, don't worry. I just thought I could set up the card machine."

With one more violent yank, I hear the sound of my scarf ripping, and the zip gives way.

I pull out my purse and hand her a fiver. "There," I say, triumphantly. "Exact change. My punishment for being annoying."

She laughs politely. "Thanks. I can always do with more fivers."

With one final glance towards the hedgehogs, I scuttle off with my programme to see how bad a hit my scarf took tonight.

There's a huge banked flowerbed running along the path, with a low bench around it.

I find an empty spot and examine the damage.

The scarf is still caught in the zipper. I try to wriggle it out, but it's no good. It's stuck right in there.

Gritting my teeth, I wrap the fabric around my hand and yank it free, wincing as it tears away.

Gawd dammit. This is why I cannot have nice things. It was a present too. Fuck's sake.

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I stuff it down to the bottom of my bag, where it can't get into any mischief, and look around in the hopes of distracting myself from what I've done.

This place looks like a faerie bower after an all night rave.

Long streamers hang limply off tree branches, looking more than a little like this place was bog-roll-bombed by trick-or-treaters.

Dirty confetti is trodden into the ground.

I don't envy the cleanup crew at the end of the summer.

The group sitting next to me on the bench suddenly leap to their feet and rush over to the now-open doors.

I watch them go, wondering vaguely if I should be rushing too.

I decide to take a more leisurely approach, double-checking my e-ticket to make sure I'm using the right entrance.

“Enter by: Gangway 1,” it says. There's a huge number 1 stuck on the wall next to the doors right on the end. That must be it.

I go in.

Down on one side is a small patch of grass, and the runners are all crowding together trying to find the best spots. As close to the stage as possible.

I turn the other way, heading for the huge bank of seating. I start climbing, and climbing, and climbing. Right to the top. Because I'm cheap.

Not that it's a bad view from up here. The stage is massive. With a fuck-off huge letters at the back spelling out: EVITA. Behind them, I can just about make out the band.

Two ladies sitting in the row in front are taking a selfie. Or at least, they're trying to take a selfie.

"I can't get the sign in," says one.

As if driven to prove that I am, on occasion, a nice person, I offer to help.

They hand me the phone and I try to line up the shot, with the sign behind them, politely neglecting to mention that I am a terrible photographer.

"How shall we do this?" asks one.

"Shall we go down this way?" I say, moving down the row to a more central location. "If you could stand here..." I point to where I want them, and yes. That works. Two landscape. Two portrait. Boom. Done.

"Ooo, a professional..." says one as she takes the phone back.

She's clearly never seen my blog.

That done, she gets on with the really important matter at hand. Coating herself with bug spray.

Not something the merch desk has thought to sell. They should really consider it.

"Apologies," she says, turning around to explain herself to our row. "I just sprayed bug repellent."

Her friend laughs at her and she gets flustered.

"In case I smell!" she says, making her friend laugh even more. "I swell! I have to be hospitalised."

"Don't worry," I assure her. "We're all on your side."

A bell rings outside. Well, I say outside. It's all outside here.

Let's try that again.

Beyond the walls, a bell tolls, calling in the followers of musical theatre.

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They pour in, heavy from their picnics, heaving themselves up the steps to their seats.

High above us, black coated figures snuggle down in covered crow's nests with their spotlights.

I shudder as a drop of rain lands on my cheek. I look up. The sky looks dangerously cloudy. I send up a quick prayer to the theatre gods that we won't have a downpour. They seem to listen. The rain stops.

The show starts, and you know, it's Evita. So it's all big and dramatic and...

There are smoke guns going off and I have to hold my breathe as the white curls pour over me, and then there's confetti blasting all over the place. And holy shit this is epic. You know a show's going to be good when they start it with the confetti shower. That's a hell of a promise to live up to and: Bang! Fuck yeah. There are streamers. I repeat: there are streamers. Flying through the air like gentle doves bringing messages of destruction.

And miracle of miracles, one is floating towards me, sailing on a breeze, sent by the theatre gods.

It drifts down, drapping itself over my shoulder and then my lap, like I've just been awarded the sash for Miss Open Air Theatre 2019.

Then it moves.

Sliding across my body.

I look up.

A woman in the row in front has the end in her hand and she's winding it around her arm, pulling it off me.

I consider grabbing the other end and tugging it away from her (it's my streamer, dammit!), but I'm too shocked to move. I watch as she crunches the paper streamer into a ball, and hands it to the man she's with, who crushes it in his big, fat, hands.

And then it's the interval.

He turns around in his seat, reaching over to grab his bag, he stuffs the crumbled streamer inside.

I hope it gets stuck in the zip.

Bastards.

The audience stumbles off to finish their bottles of wine, but my row doesn't seem up for moving. So we stay in our seats.

Down at the bottom I spot an usher picking up streamers off the path, and I look at them longingly.

I don't know why I love this crap as much as I do. It just makes my little hoarder heart so happy.

Or it would have done, anyway.

As the bell rings once more, people come back clutching rolled up blankets and hot drinks.

It's chilly now. I roll down the sleeves of my jacket and retrieve my scarf from the bottom of my bag.

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My neighbour is trying to explain the history of Evita to his friend.

"Didn't she get murdered?" asks the friend.

"No..." He tells her what really happened.

"Oh," she says, sounding disappointed. "That's anticlimactic."

But as the second act canters on, I hear a sniff coming from my right. It's the friend. She is full out crying. Big, choking sobs.

The wind picks up, and spent confetti swirls around above our heads.

The crying girl makes a grab for a piece, but it is whisked away from her hand.

The cast get a standing ovation at the end. I don't join in. They were excellent, but you know how mean I am with my ovations. Five a year. That's the limit.

It takes a long time to get out. I cross my arms and shiver in my jacket as the lower rows file out, painfully slow.

The park is black when we do manage to escape. Signs are set out giving instructions on how to get out of here. I just follow everyone else. A long march on the way to Baker Street.

Ahead of me, I spot the streamer-stealer.

She laughs at something her partner says.

I have never hated anyone so much in my entire life.

I can only hope that she at least gives the streamer a good home.

I trudge on, feeling a weight of sadness pressing down on my shoulders.

I knew I should have bought a hedgehog.

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In Cadogan Hall, programmes buy you

Did you know that Cadogan Hall was right around the corner from The Royal Court? I didn't know that Cadogan Hall was right around the corner from The Royal Court.

But there it is. Right around the corner from The Royal Court. All gleaming and shiny. It's tall white walls glowing in the evening sun.

It looks quite impressive. Like a medieval French monastery or something. It even has a tower on one end.

Not sure your average medieval monastery has queues to get in though.

Looks like I've booked myself in for quite the event.

I'm here to see a concert performance of Doctor Zhivago. Which is apparently a musical now.

It has Ramin Karimloo in it, who I hear is quite the thing, and has a wee bit of a following.

Which may go some way to explaining all the women queueing to get in.

I side-step them, and head towards the door with a Box Office sign over it.

I'm technically not meant to be here. I got an email from the TodayTix people saying I could go straight in. All I had to do was show the confirmation email with my seat number and that will get me through the door.

But you know me. I never turn down the opportunity to get hold of a paper ticket.

"Collect?" asks the security guy on the door.

"Err, yes...?"

He opens the door for me.

As I go through I can here him talking to the next person: "Collect?"

Inside there's some steps leading down, and there, at the bottom, is the box office.

"Hi!" calls one of the box officers from behind the counter. "Are you collecting."

I am.

"The surname's Smiles," I say at the same time as he asks: "What's the surname?"

I spell it for him. "S. M. I. L. E. S."

He flicks through the ticket box put doesn't find anything.

I'm about to explain the whole TodayTix situation, but before I get the chance, he says: "Miles, was it?"

"No. Smiles. With an S."

He laughs. "Sorry. I thought you said Miles, and S was your initial."

Gawd forbid.

He goes back to the ticket box, and this times goes for the Ses.

"Maxine?"

"Yes! Thank you!" I say, acting way too happy for someone picking up a ticket.

Oh well, he probably thinks I'm a Ramin fan-girl. Better than being found out as a paper-ticket fan-girl.

The queue for the box office is now stretching back up the stairs towards the door. A front of houser comes out. "Can just one member of each party collect tickets, please!" he shouts above the hubbub. The hubbub ignores him. The queue continues.

I fight my way back out to the street, finding sanctuary against those white walls.

"We need step-free access!" says a woman to the security guy.

She paces back and forth with her cane, jabbing at the ground and muttering venomous words. "Nope. It isn't happening," she says, clacking her way back to the security guy,

"He's coming!" he insists. "He's just opening the door for you."

And sure enough, the door opens. And the woman with the cane is all smiles and simpering.

Time for me to go in too.

I head over to the main entrance. There's a queue. Not a large one. But it's very slow. Each bag check taking an absolute age.

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When it's my turn I show the bag checker my ticket and he waves me in. I thought I had escaped, but no. He spots the backpack slung over my shoulder and he stops me. Turns out though, it was the Cadogan audiences that are to blame. And not our bag checker. Because he processes me within a few seconds, and I'm inside.

The monstary-vibes continue into the foyer, with stained glass windows overlapping in Celtic motifs.

Opposite the door, there's a rather less decorative desk with a sign on it.

"Programmes £15."

Fifteen British pounds.

Fifteen.

A standard five pound programme. Then another ten on top.

I pause. Staring at the sign.

I've paid a lot for programmes on this marathon of mine. I've even spent fifteen pounds. But what I haven't done, is pay more for the programme than my actual ticket. This is a frontier I'm not all that sure I want to cross.

I dither, trying to convince myself that I need to buy the programme so that I can review whether it is actually worth fifteen (fif-fucking-teen!) pounds, while the voice at the back of my head is screaming not to be such a fucking idiot.

I decide to compromise, and have a flick through of a copy. If it's a good programme, I'll buy one.

But there are none on display.

There's only a pile of what looks like flyers.

The programmes, it seems, are being kept under the counter. Like the dirty dirty magazines they are.

I pass and decide it's probably time to go find out where I'm sitting.

I follow the signs to the gallery, and show my ticket to the lady on the door. "Gallery," she says, looking at it. "Right to the top, madam."

I let the madam thing slide. I'm too busy looking at the stairs. They don't look all that scary. Until you see the sign informing you about the number of steps to each floor, as if TFL have stormed the building and taken over.

62 steps up to the Gallery. Is that a lot? I feel like that's a lot.

I know it's 75 steps up to the Pentonville Road exit in King's Cross when the escalator is broken, and that sure gets the heart pumping.

Oh well. Here we go.

I start climbing.

It's not so bad.

There's a lot of people making the ascent, so it's slow going. And there are pretty stained glass windows that make me pause on each level to take a photo of.

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A few minutes later, I'm at the summit, showing my ticket to the usher, and only slightly out of breath.

"You're in Block N," she says, as if that's supposed to mean something to me. I stare at her blankly. She blinks back. May the theatre gods preserve us from nonsensical seating systems. "Round towards the double doors," she says, pointing towards the far end of the horseshoe-shaped gallery.

Right then. There we go. No need for all that block-bullshit.

I make my way around the back of the gallery.

I'll give Cadogan Hall this, it looks well impressive from up here.

Those tall white walls are doing the mostest. With thick padded curtains covering unseen windows.

One thing that had always confused me about this place is that, while it's mainly concerts and music things happening here, they do, on occasion, also programme dance. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how dance would fit on a stage built for music, but there it is. Not particularly wide, but with enough depth to allow the odd jete.

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Overhanging the stage is a small balcony, that you just know even the most concert-like of concert performances, is going to want to use to dramatic effect at some point.

In the corner, there's another usher, and I show her my ticket.

"You're round by the double doors," she says, getting straight to the point. She pauses and makes an umming sound, looking over at the doors as if calculating the best route.

"So, round the back?" I ask,

"Yes," she says slowly. "Yes. Round the back."

"Lovely."

So round the back of all the benches I go. Right down to the final block, by the double doors. Block N as it turns out.

Each row as a sign stuck to it, with the block letter, row letter, and the range of seats. Making a pretty simple layout of rows vastly overcomplicated. This ain't the Royal Albert Hall here. We don't be needing blocks to find out which end of the horseshoe we're sitting in.

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But anyway, the benches are like church pews. Long and wooden. Hardbacked. With a cushion that slips and slides as you try to sit down.

I'm a few rows back and it's a pretty restricted view from up here, but eh... the tickets were cheap and it's a concert. I'm not fussed about seeing anything.

The audience applauds as the orchestra come out and start tuning up. The percussionist takes a selfie of himself sitting at his drumkit and everyone looks super happy, grinning at each other.

The house lights dim. There's more applause as the cast come out.

There's an announcement. "Welcome to the UK concert premiere performance of Doctor Zhivago. Make sure to purchase your commemorative programme in the interval."

A commemorative programme? Wow. I've never had one of those before. I'm deffo going back to get me one of those in the interval. Price be damned.

I'm so weak.

They start. And it turns out that the programme hawker is actually the narrator for the evening, reading out the stage directions so the cast doesn't have to act them out.

I can't see Karimloo from where I'm seated, he's too close to the my side of the stage, but I can tell when he's about to sing because a woman in the front row grins every time he approaches his music stand, her entire face lighting up with joy until he finishes his song and returns to his seat.

It's beautiful.

My neighbour is sitting on the edge of her seat. Literally perching on the brink, so she can lean forward and get a good look at what's going on down there.

I don't bother. I figure whoever is sitting behind me has better reasons for being here that checking off a venue, so they deserve to see more than the back of my head.

No shame to my neighbour though.

A fan-girl's gotta do what a fan-girl's gotta do.

I can't tell you anything about the rest of the cast, but I am very much enjoying how much the guy playing Pasha looks like a certain famous Ukrainian (or is it Russian now?) ballet dancer.

As soon as the applause has died out and the house lights are up for the interval I am out of my seat, rushing around the back of the gallery, and diving down the stairs.

The queue for the loo slows things down, but I manage to squeeze my way through and back down into the bar.

There's a huge gathering around the programme table, everyone standing around, very much not buying programme s.

I creep my way in.

Someone picks up the final flyer and takes it away with them, leaving nothing but a plastic film behind.

"There are no programmes at all now," says the guy standing behind the desk.

"None?" someone asks, incredulous. "Are there any more...?" she points towards the plastic film.

"You'll have to find the information online," says the guy behind the desk. And that's it.

I want to tell him that most venues, when faced with a castshhet crisis, will go and photocopy some more, but something about his stance tells me the matter is closed and he has no interest in talking about it any further.

Which makes me wonder why on earth he is even bothering to stand behind the programme desk. Take the sign and go! Be free! Live your life, far away from the tyranny of paper-products!

He doesn't though. He stands stoic, amongst a flurry of disappointed programme buyers.

Well, there's nothing left for me down here.

Back up those 62 steps again fighting against the flow of people still coming the other way.

I make my way back to my seat and find my neighbour deep in conversation with the guy sitting next to her.

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Turns out she flew in all the way from the states to see this. Or rather, to see Karimloo.

She saw him perform in New York, and he made quite the impression on her.

The guy asks if she's enjoying the performance, and she hesitates. "I wasn't expecting it to be quite so... experimental," she says.

Yeah, the reading of the stage directions doesn't really allow for losing yourself in the story.

But, you know, it's okay. I'm enjoying it. If one can actually enjoy Doctor Zhivago. I mean... it's fucking depressing. And everyone in it is dreadful. The only character I have any respect for is Pasha. At least he was loyal to his two great loves: Lara and communism.

As Karimloo appears on the balcony for the final tableau, there's a standing ovation. A full house standing ovation.

Well, almost full house.

I refuse to stand just because everyone else is. I try to limit my ovations to around five a year. And with four months to go... well, I don't want to be running through my stock too soon.

Karimloo gives a quick speech.

The audience gasps in amazement as he tells us the orchestra was only given the score yesterday.

The composer and lyricist and invited on stage and they speak too. There are hugs. Lots of them.

It's all very charming and appreciative.

It takes an absolute age to get out of here. The stairs so clogged it takes me a full three minutes just to leave the auditorium.

By the time I make it to Sloane Square tube, I'm exhausted. But the couple on the platform opposite are still living it. They play the cast recording on their phone, cuddling up on the cold bench.

Hello!

I'm back at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre this evening. Turns out they have another venue.

I actually already knew this. When I was there last time, and we were led off to the small room in another building, I had definite memories of having gone to the Bernie Grant before, and it not involving trans-courtyard travel.

But I didn't mention it, because I am a strong believer in ignoring things until they go away.

Turns out these beliefs are unfounded though, and the actual theatre at the Bernie wasn't going away no matter how long I looked in the other direction.

Which I find very rude of it, but what can you do.

Still, the show should be good. My friend Helen went to see it the last time it was doing the rounds, and I remembered her telling me that she not only enjoyed it, but it lead to having thoughts. I'm not sure I have the brain-space for thoughts right now, but I'm willing to give it a go.

So, back in Seven Sisters I am, and into the main building.

It looks busy tonight. There are people hanging out in the courtyard and there's a queue at the bar.

I'm going in the other direction though. Towards the box office.

There's someone already there. A woman looking at one the flyer for tonight's show.

"It's a play," explains the box officer.

"When does it start?"

"At 7.30. It's 80 minutes without an interval," she says, getting straight to the most important selling point.

But this woman doesn't seem convinced. "Let me ask..." she says, wandering off.

Hmm. Well, I'm sold. 80 minutes no interval? The best damn type of play there is.

"Hello!" says the box officer.

I bounce over to the counter. "Hi! The surname's Smiles?"

"What's the first name?"

I give it and a second later she's handing me my ticket.

But I'm not paying attention. I just spotted something on the counter. A pile of somethings.

"Can I take one of these?" I ask, picking up one of the programmes. There's no price indicated, but you can never be sure with these things.

"Of course!" she says.

So I do.

I take my prize out to the courtyard to have a look.

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It's a freesheet. Just credits and biogs. But it's very nicely printed, and, well... it's free. So I ain't complaining.

"There's no signage!" someone cries out.

I look over. A lady sitting on a shiny mobility scooter is complaining to a front of houser.

He tries to calmly give her directions, but she doesn't look very happy.

"But you didn't tell us this before! And there are no signs!"

She moves off and the front of houser trots after her, giving directions with big hand movements that suggest a very long journey.

I go back to my fancy freesheet.

Looks like they're turning Black Men Walking into a TV show. So that's exciting.

More people keep on turning up. This is clearly the place to be tonight.

A bloke standing near me is talking about the protests.

"Yeah... there were a few thousand," he says. "But Boris just didn't give us enough notice. You need three weeks to plan something like that properly. Organise coaches to get people down from the north and all that."

Yeah, I can't imagine why Boris didn't give three weeks' notice for the protesters to organise themselves.

I look around, through the glass walls of the Bernie Grant. A queue is forming.

I better get myself in it.

The entrance to the theatre must be down the other end, becuse the queue is going right past the box office, in front of the main entrance, and down towards the bar, neatly blocking off everything of importance.

Newcomers squeeze through us to pick up there tickets, and then squeeze through us again to get down to the end of the queue.

As set ups go, it's not great.

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Someone with a radio makes a noble attempt to move us. "Over this way please," he says, flapping his hands to indicate that we should press back against the doors.

The lady with the scooter inches herself through.

We all shuffle dutifully out if the way.

The house opens, and the queue begins to move.

Slowly.

As I approach the front, I begin to see why.

People hand over their ticket reams, still attached to the booking info and receipt, forcing the usher to unfold and refold them to get to the ticket section.

I have mine all prepped and ready to go. The receipts and whatnot torn off and stowed in my bag. It has never occured to me up until this point that this wasn't standard behaviour.

But my new-found oddness isn't my big concern right now. Last time I was here, we had our tickets taken from us, and never returend. As if they were personalised admission passes and not perfectly normal paper tickets. I keep a close eye on the front of houser, making sure he hands the tickets back. He does. Thank the theatre gods.

It's my turn.

I had my ticket, and only my ticket, over.

"Fantastic!" he says, handing it back and I get that glow satisfaction of having done something right. I look around smugly. This is how you do it, everyone! Tear those tickets! Don't be handing over any useless ticket-stock. The ushers don't need to be knowing your address.

Through a door and into a dark corridor we go.

There's someone already on stage. A young woman. Gazing out into the distance. That's Dorcas Sebuyange, according to the freesheet.

And yes, this is the place I remember. This is the theatre. Floor level stage, with a big bank of seating rising off from it.

I start climbing. An usher blocks off the steps, guiding us to fill the rows from the front. "Just fill up this row," she orders, waving us in. "All the way down, please."

"Can we sit further back?" asks the lady standing behind me.

The usher considers this for a moment, then agrees, stepping out of the way so that they can pass.

There are those double flip-down seats, and no one wants to share, so that even with the ushers best efforts, there are gaps all over the place.

As the rows fill up, new arrivers have the squeeze through in order to find spare spots.

I shift down to allow a couple to sit next to each other.

The woman doesn't look impressed. She peers over my shoulder and points to a spare bench in the middle. "Is anyone sitting there?" she asks, ignoring the twin jackets that are very obviously saving a spot.

"Yeah, sorry," comes the reply.

With an irritated sigh, she takes the clearly inferior bench next to me.

The house lights dim.

The play starts.

We're in Yorkshire. A group of black men are meeting up for their monthly walk.

I do enjoy a play that fulfills the promises made in its title.

And I can see why Helen liked it.

As the men very pointedly say hello to every person they pass, I'm reminded of the cliff walk I went on with some friends last year. Helen (I don't need to remind you who she is, do I? She’s a blog regular) spent the entire nine-odd mile walk wishing everyone we encountered a cheery good morning, and grinning herself silly at their stilted and awkward replies. It was the first time I'd witnessed her style of aggressive politeness in action, and I've been in slightly terrified admiration ever since.

And yes. There are thoughts. Little thoughts. That fit in my head.

"Sorry," says the bloke sitting a few places down from me.

He wants out.

And there isn't room to escape.

We all twist around in our seats, shifting out knees to one side so that he can crab-walk along the row and out.

An usher follows him out the door.

A few minutes later, the play ends.

So that was pointless.

On the way out, I decide to walk. Not all the way to Hammersmith, that would take all night. But to Turnpike Lane. Which is quite far enough.

I've always been a walker-thinker. My feet are connected straight to my brain.

And as I dart across roads, and make my way around a scary-looking park, small thoughts turn into medium-sized thoughts. And by the time I get off the tube in Hammersmith, the medium thoughts have grown into big thoughts, and they're crowding out my brain. All I can think about it the search for connection to the landscape that surrounds us, to the history that lies beneath our feet. Of staking a claim to the place we call home. Of aggressive politeness.

It's late now. And dark.

A guy passes me on the pavement, talking on his mobile.

He stops. "Bonjour!" he says to me. "Ça va?"

The big thoughts shatter.

"Ça va, fuck off," I very much don't say as I keep on walking.

I think I'll leave the people person bullshit to Helen.

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Living in revolting times

It is incredibly hard to get a photo of the Cambridge Theatre.

I don't claim to be a great photographer. I'm very much a point-and-clicker when it comes to this kind of thing, so when I say it's difficult, I don't mean it's hard to get a good photo of the Cambridge Theatre, I mean it's hard to get any photo.

This is not an issue of light (although I wouldn't exactly call Seven Dials a sun-trap) or finding somewhere to get a good angle from. No, it's people.

Here I am, standing in the small cake-slice corner between Monmouth Street and Mercer Street, lining up a great shot, and people keep on getting in the bloody way. If it's not tourists attempting to squeeze themselves between me and the lampost, it's bikes riding up on the pavement. And when those people have cleared, it's the Instagram girls, posing in the middle of the street, while their friends risk their lives to crouch down with their DLRs to get the perfect shot of Insta-babe's outfit against the background of Matilda the Musical.

As I wait for the photo shoot to finish, someone rams their suitcase into the back of my legs.

I think we can make a good guess as to who chose looks and who chose books in this scenario. And looks are winning.

Time to go in.

The doors are flanked either side.

Experience has told me that one of them is a ticket checker and the other a bag checker. But which is which? I cannot tell. This is like that logical deduction riddle. If one man in a suit checks only tickets, and the other only bags, what one question do you ask to gain safe entry to the theatre?

"Box office?" I try with the one on the right.

"Yup," he replies. "Just through here, but I need to check your bag first."

Well, that worked, I guess.

I open up my backpack for him and he prods around at the top layer before waving me in.

The Cambridge is very thirties. All Poirot fonts and... well, that's it really.

The box office is on the left, hidden behind a glass window, with holes at face level. Put there, presumably, so the box officers can breathe. The counter is fronted by mirrors etched with a vaguely art decoish pattern.

There are three men standing behind the glass, but a big family has just come in and they are spreading themselves out.

The box officer on the end leans out to one side and beckons me over.

"The surname's Smiles?" I say as I approach the bench.

He grabs the box of tickets.

"Maxine?" he asks, picking one out. "Here you go," he says, sliding it under the glass without waiting for an answer. I must be the only Smiles in tonight. Makes a change.

My next stop is the merch desk. Which, very pleasingly, is actually a desk. Or rather, a row of desks. The old fashioned wooden ones where the lid lifts up, and there's a small hole to fit your ink well in. The type of desk that I had at my school, despite my education happening long after the advent of biros. I think they thought it added to the aesthetic. Theyust have left them there to impress the parents. All those foreign dignitaries who wanted a classic English prep school education for their little darlings. And yes, I went to a fancy school. Keep up. It was certainly an education. The headmaster had to step down in my final year because of rumours that he was a bit too friendly with the boys, if you get my meaning.

Hmm. Probably not the best place to be remembering these things.

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I buy myself a programme. It's six pounds. Not really much more to say on the matter. There's some other merch stuff on offer, but nothing is really speaking to me. I like the look of the Trunch hoodie, because you know I'm always into the villains, but it has the Matilda title treatment on the front which kinda negates the entire point of the thing. If you're the Trunch, you're the Trunch, you don't be wanting the name of that little maggot on your chest. Honestly, who dreamt that one up?

I'm also handed a voucher for cut-price sweets, which is actually a pretty sweet (... sorry) deal and one I might steal for my work.

Anyway, enough of this. I've got a lot of stairs to climb because I'm in the grand circle tonight, which is the one right at the tippy top of the theatre here and, because this is the West End and we don't like poor people around here, there's no entrance from the foyer. I have to go back out into the sunshine, and get in via another entrance, leading to the povvo stairs.

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I'll give it to the Cambridge though, they actually thought about this. From the foyer doors, there's a roped-off corridor leading to the grand circle entrance, meaning that I don't have to be subjected to a second bag check. Well done to whoever came up with that.

Up all the stairs, passing ads for shows currently cluttering up the other LW theatres in town ("What will you see next?" they ask. All of them, Andrew. All of them.)

As I reach the summit, the posters give way to tilted frames advertising platinum blonde hair dye and national green hair day. Looks like we've gone a bit immersive up here, and I am appreciating the effort.

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A front of houser catches my eye and I show him my ticket. "Through this door, on the left and one row up," he says, pointing to the door right next to us.

I go in. Passing the little merch stand. They have programmes and CDs on display, as well as those sweets, and what looks like cups of toxic fluid. I've never seen anything so bright claiming to be edible before. Red and yellow and green. They look like they belong in the opening scene of The Secret World of Alex Mack (yes, I'm old. Leave me alone).

I'm tempted to buy one. Prove myself as the true investigative journalist that I'm definitely not. But people who remember Alex Mack are too old to drink that many e-numbers in public.

Instead, I go find my seat.

There's a break in the rows up here, forming two sections with a corridor parting the rows like the red sea down the middle.

I'm in the top half, because I'm poor. But right at the front of the top half, because I'm a master ticket buyer.

Families come in toting arm-fulls of shopping bags, which they struggle to fit under their seats. Small children perch precariously on top, like baby dragons guarding their golden hoard.

Ushers run around handing out booster seats. A must all the way up here, as even with the benefit of the corridor in front of me, and a somewhat grown-up height, the front of the stage is still hidden from view to my adult-eyes.

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But, you know, I've seen it before. So it's fine. I'm guessing you have too. As have the simply astonishing number of latecomers who don't seem even slightly bothered that they've missed the first fifteen minutes. So I'm not going to go into detail about the show, but I still think the interval is in a really weird place. Bruce Bogtrotter eating a cake is not a natural finishing point, nor is it a cliff-hanger. It has to be the most awkwardly placed interval since The Royal Ballet shoved an extra one into the already existing Alice in Wonderland when they realised that getting a ballerina to dance flat out for 90 mins was a touch mean.

Anyway, I go off to explore.

Up in the third-class tier, there are two front of house spaces to hang out in. The bar. Which is packed. And a room with nothing it it but a merch desk and a mirror. Which is also packed.

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I have to dive out the way as a mum lobs an empty Sprite bottle at me, presumably aiming for the bin a whole two feet away from my two feet.

"Sorry," she says, already walking away.

Honestly, I've long come to accept that I'm invisible. I don't draw the eye. And I'm fine with that. I walk alone. I am as one with the shadows. But I draw the line at someone seeing me after acting like I ain't there. Commit to my imperceptibility, you cowards.

I go back inside. My row has a railing in front. I prop my feet up on the bar. This is quality seating action. More rows should have footrests.

Mr Wormwood and the son, Michael come out. I mean, Rob Compton and Glen Facey, as Mr Wormwood and son Wormwood, come out. There's a bit of banter with the audience. Don't try this at home, and all that. "We don't want any kids is the audience tonight going home and trying these things out," says Compton, meaning the disgusting business of reading books. I can't agree more. I read hundreds of books as a kid. Thousands. And look where it got me. Visiting over 200 theatres in eight months and getting bottles chucked at me. I’m a tragedy of wasted potential. If things had been different, I would have made a great bottle-thrower.

"Veruccas of the mind," he goes on.

He's not wrong.

"Who here's read a book?" Hands pop up all over the place. "You should be ashamed," he sneers. "You, madam, what's your name?"

She gives it.

He jabs his finger in her direction, chanting that she's a nasty bookworm, a worm, and books are stupid.

"She won't stop reading," he says, calling down after his onslaught of insults. "But she won't put up her hand in a theatre again."

And that's something we can all be grateful for.

And then we're off again.

Swings descend from the ceiling, and I get all teary-eyed over the When I grow up song, like I always fucking do.

Francesca McKeown's Matilda fights the good fight, brings down the baddies, and gets her happy ending.

Confetti shower for the people in the stalls, and then it's time to go home.

I trudge my way back down the stairs, feeling exhausted.

Matilda always makes me feel really sad. Helpless. Defeated.

If even this bright and brave little girl needs magical powers to overcome her oppressors what hope is there for the rest of us?

That's probably not the takeaway I'm supposed to get from this show, and no doubt I'm projecting, but... man, I think we could all do with some laservision right now.

Theatre Surveillance

I feel a little awkward writing about this venue. You see, I’m currently waiting to hear back from a job here. I usually wouldn’t mention this kind of thing to you, but we’ve built up a fair amount of trust with each other over the past eight months, and I know you won’t tell anyone.

The hiring manager must be in deep deliberations about the whole thing. Usually I hear back within a week or so. But it’s been quite a bit longer than that now. Nearly eight years. So, you know they are really being thorough over there. And I appreciate that. I tried calling a few times. And emailing. And was told the decision-making process was still ongoing. So, I decided to let them get on with it. Hopefully they’ll get back to me soon.

It’s hard though. Because I really want that internship.

Anyway, it’s nice to know that even when they are in the depths of renovation (and hiring) work, The Old Vic still gets the neons out, and has the title of the show blazing across The Cut.

A Very Expensive Poison.

I’m looking forward to this one. I’m hoping to pick up some tips.

There’s scaffolding everywhere, with staff members scurrying around in hi-ves orange waistcoats and radios, but by the looks of it, there’s some sort of box office happening inside the main foyer. I make for the doors, and stop.

Time for a bag check.

The bag checker has a good old rummage around inside before letting me through.

Up the short steps, and in I go.

It looks different in here. Plastic sheeting is draped over the entrance to the stalls, leaving only the “Dare always dare” sign to peek over the top, giving me the feeling that I’ve stepped into the midst of a police investigation into a strip club murder.

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In front of the plastic sheeting, that is very definitely not hiding from view the remains of a battered and bloody body, is the box office. Moved over from its old home on the side, leaving in it’s wake yet more plastic sheeting. Over on the other side, over by the stairs, is the bar. Or at least, what’s counting as the bar in these turbulent times. A small desk. With a stack of paper cups. And presumably, some wine or something squirrelled away somewhere.

“Is anyone waiting?” asks one of the box officers.

I scamper through the crowd towards him. “Yeah. The surname’s Smiles?”

He digs the Ss out of the ticket box and flicks through them. “Yup. Maxine. You’re in the stalls, so head outside and to the right.” He points the way in case I don’t know which way right is. Which for the record, I don’t. It’s much appreciated.

I go back outside and turn right. Or at least, in the direction the nice box officer pointed.

The twin screens up on the wall outside have given up their marketing duties in favour of helping direct people around.

Stall 01-13 & Loos says the one closest to me, with an arrow to point the way. The background is a screaming pink. Or perhaps a shocking pink. A Schiaparelli shocking pink. But when I try to photograph it, it all goes distorted, as if the signal has been intersected. Something to do with my shutter speed. That or some high-level conspiracy from the big wigs at The Old Vic. It’s so hard to tell nowadays.

I go round the side of the building, onto Webber Street.

There’s lots of hoarding round here. A black corridor tacked onto the side of the building. This is where they’re keeping the loos (incidentally, I’m enjoying that The Old Vic calls them loos, instead of toilets. So rare in the world of theatre. The Pleasance does it. And perhaps a couple of other places. But otherwise, it’s toilets all over the place).

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But before all that, hidden under the scaffolding, is a side door.

I think that’s where I’m going.

There are two people standing on the door.

“Can I check your bag?” asks one, dressed in all black.

What? Again?

“I’ll check your ticket,” says the other, sporting an orange waistcoat.

I hold out my bag to the black-jacket with one hand, and my ticket to the orange-waistcoat with the other.

Both are approved and I’m allowed in.

“There’s a bar just on the right,” says orange-waistcoat as I step through the doors.

Up a few steps and yup, there’s a bar on the right. Well, a long table covered with a black cloth and wine bottles.

And a stack of programmes.

I definitely want to get me one of them.

“Can I get a programme?” I ask one of the two women behind the desk.

“Of course!” she says cheerfully. “Cash or card. Whatever’s easier.”

“Brilliant. Card please.” Always best to save cash for those tricky fringe venues.

“I love you purse,” she says as I go about the business of keying in my pin number (don’t. Just don’t. I have a tappy card. Or at least, it’s supposed to be a tappy card. But the tappiness hasn’t worked since the first week I got it. I broke whatever makes a tappy card tap. So I’m stuck with button-pressing until 2020).

“Thank you,” I say, as the payment goes through and I’m four pounds poorer. I give my elephant-purse a friendly pat. “He’s so old, but I refuse to give up on him.” He really is old. Over a decade. Which is alarming for so many reasons.

She laughs. “I have stuff like that. So old it's falling apart. Would you like a receipt?”

I tell her no. I have no use for receipts in my life. Try as I might, I cannot convince my work to let me claim programmes on expenses.

She hands me a programme “Oh wow, love the pink,” I say.

Turns out the Schiaparelli pink of the screens outside weren’t a coincidence. In lieu of artwork, shows get their own colour.

And A Very Expensive Poison has pink.

Personally, I would have gone with green. There’s actually a Pantone colour called Poison Green (16-6444 TPX if you happen to be a Pantone nerd), but it’s a bit too soft to suggest serious deadliness in my opinion. A touch too much blue. I think would have gone for something more like a Pantone 2423C if I was in charge.

“Yeah, the colours are great,” says the programme seller, not unenthusiastically, but still, I suspect she’s not up for a full-on Pantone discussion right now. And anyway, I forgot to bring my swatch book with me today.

I go into the auditorium.

There’s a programme seller in here. But not much else. The stalls are almost empty.

I make use of the lack of people by getting out my phone and snapping a few quick pics.

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“Sorry,” says the programme seller stepping up to me. “There’s no photography.”

“Oh, sorry,” I say, surprised. That’s the first time I’ve been stopped in a theatre while the curtains are still down. There’s not a scrap of copyrightable set on display.

“It’s alright,” she says kindly, before retreating back to her place on the wall.

Well, okay. Not sure what to do now.

I sit down and get out my programme. It’s a nice one. Well designed. There’s even a fold out of rehearsal photos. I don’t care much about rehearsal photography (it’s literally always actors sitting on the floor and laughing) but I do love a fold out.

I really want to take a photo of it.

Can I take a photo of it?

I look over at the programme seller. An old woman goes up to her. “Sorry dear,” says the old woman. “Can you tell me the number?”

The programme seller leans in to look at the ticket. It really is quite dark in here.

I risk it. And snap a photo.

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I look around furtively to make sure no one saw.

No, the usher is directing a young couple to the bars. “They’ve got wine, beer, and champagne at that one,” she says, pointing to table out in the stairwell. “And then there’s the big one upstairs.”

I slink down in my seat. I think I'm safe.

It's a shame though. I do like The Old Vic auditorium. With it tasselled balconies and moulded pillars and shaded lights and massive fuck-off chandelier. I wish I could show it to you. Oh well.

Two ushers appear at the front of the stalls, each holding up one of those don't-even-think-about-taking-a-photo signs. Which, even exclusing the, well, exclusive, vibes, doesn't strike me as a good use of someone's time. There's no one in here directing traffic. We have the programme sellers. And the sign holders. And... what looks like two security people hanging out by the wall. And that's it.

And why are there security people in the auditorium? I watch them, trying to figure out what they're doing there, near one of the doors. They stand, talking quietly to each other.

They're making me nervous.

Like they're going to pounce on me and drag me outside if I try to take another photo.

People are pouring in now. The rows fill up. I spot someone in the middle aim their camera phone at the ceiling and snap a picture of the chandelier.

I hate him.

The lights dim. The red curtains rise.

And the play begins.

We're in a cafe. A lawyer is meeting his client. It's bad news. They've cut her legal funding. But he's going to keep representing her. The fight is too important. Her husband has been murdered and everyone knows who to blame, except no one wants to admit it. Not publically, anyway.

We're back in the early 2000s, back to a case I only vaguely remember: the poisoning of Litvinenko.

And hey - look! Tom Brooke is playing Litvinenko! Do you remember when everyone was obsessed with Tom Brooke? Or rather, Tom Brooke's face. It's a great face.

I actually have a story about Tom Brooke. Or rather, Tom Brooke's dad. It takes place in The Old Vic too, so totes relevant. Not sure I should really tell it though... the walls have ears. Let's just say, it involved Tom Brooke's dad. A woman who would not turn off her phone. And a rolled up programme.

I’ll say no more. I'm very discreet.

MyAnna Burning, in the role of his widow, steps forward to speak to us, the audience. To explain. It's very important that we understand what happened.

The poisoning, I mean. Just to be clear. Not the thing with Tom Brooke's dad.

It's not easy for her though.

A red carpet is rolled out. There is a new president in Russia. And he wants to tell us a story.

Reece Sheersmith comes to the front of the stage, where he gives us a short history lesson. The Moscow Theatre Siege. We all shift uncomfortably in our seats. I look over at the security officers, still standing by the doors.

Sheersmith sneers, finishing his speech with a snide attempt at a happy ending.

"Ah, the doors are opening," he says, pointing to the auditorium doors behind us. "Enjoy your drinks. There's no need to return."

I go outside.

"Make sure you have your ticket with you so you can come back in," says an orange-waistcoater on my way out. I reach into my bag to double-check. Yup. Got it.

I go out and hang out underneath the scaffolding, lost in a forest of metal polls and orange hi-vis. They're everywhere. The orange-waistcoaters. I'm still not sure who they actually are. Ushers? Duty managers? Spies for the government who know that putting on a hi-vis jacket will get you in most anywhere without question? Quite possibly, all of the above.

"Sorry ma'am," says a orange waistercoater, coming over to talk to a woman near mewho's standing around, minding her own business, enjoying a plastic cup of wine. "You can't take drinks outside."

"Oh. Right," says the lady with the wine, her eyes widening in bafflement.

But she goes back inside all the same. No questions. Such is the power of the orange hi-vis.

Her place is soon taken though, as the queue for the loo stretches out of it's black corridor and stretches down Webber Street, curling around the front of the building.

I take a few steps away to avoid those trying to squeeze in, but still find myself getting jostled by all these women impatient to have a pee.

"Have you seen the queue?" a woman half-shouts, outraged. Her partner says something, but she's not having it. "It's not good enough!"

And with that she goes off to compain. A few seconds later, she's back, bringing an orange-waistcoater along with her.

The orange waistercoater points at the queue, and tells her yes: this is indeed the queue for the loos. And yes, she'll need to get in line with everyone else.

Others decide to fulfill their interval needs elsewhere.

I spot a couple tripping back happily from the Sainsbury's, Magnums in hand. No tiny theatre ice-cream tubs for these two. They look very smug as they skip past all us losers, standing around in queues without even a drink to call our own. Serious relationship goals right there.

"It's a coupe!" cries a man walking past me.

I though he meant the play, but no - he's looking at his phone, lit up with an article about the prorogation.

I go back in. I need some of that sweet sweet Old Vic air-conditioning. Which has really outdone itself tonight. Freezing cold, and I'm loving it.

I dig out my ticket to flash to the hi-vis on the door, but she stops me, actually taking the ticket from my hand to give it a proper look before letting me back in.

I'm rather pleased with this. Glad to know that I'm not looking overly trustworthy and can still push out those creeper-vibes.

Still… rude.

The side of the stalls is cluttered by people not wanting to commit to going back to sitting down.

I even have to shoo someone out from the end of my row in order to get to my seat.

But eventually, they cannot put it off any longer, and they slide into their seat with heavy wine-scented groans.

Sheersmith isn't impressed by our return. It demonstrates a lack of trust between us. He appears in the boxes, hanging over the sides to pour his own poison into the stalls below. At least, I think he does. I can hear his voice. And see a spotlight pointed at the box. But from where I'm sitting, I can't actually see him.

My neighbour drains his wine and checks the time on his phone.

This is a long play.

Not unentertaining though. And the message of fighting your own government in order to serve your country has never felt keener.

Burning comes out into the audience, handing out pieces of paper to those sitting on the ends of the rows in the stalls.

She returns with a microphone, pointing it in their faces as she asks they to read the results of the inquiry into Litvinenko's death.

They acquit themselves well, and she thanks them each in turn.

I hope they were given warning that was happening. It's a lot to ask.

As we meekly file out past the security guards, and the orange waistcoats, I can help but think of the demonstrations that are happening just the other side of the river.

I should really go join them.

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What I did on my Bank Holidays

It’s three am. My alarm has just gone.

At some point, I thought this was a good idea and I haven’t had the energy to argue with myself about it yet.

Until now.

A small voice at the back of my head tells me it’s okay. I can just roll over and go back to sleep. No one will mind. No one will even know.

Apart from @_andy_tea on that there Twitter. Because I may have told him I was doing this.

But he won’t tell. I mean, probably. I hope not. One never knows with Twitter people. They're all weirdos.

Dammit. I'm going to have to get up.

So with an internal chant of DoItForTheBlogDoItForTheBlog I get up and start on the business of pulling myself into some form of existence that is acceptable for public viewing.

I would say the theatre gods are laughing at me, but even they are not up this early.

By 4am, I’m washed, dressed, eyelinered up, the cat is fed and I am out the door, scurrying down the down to catch the night bus into Central London.

I’m yawning so much I end up flagging the wrong one by accident. Sorry Mr Driver of the 266, you’re not going my way.

A few minutes later the N11 arrives and I clamber sleepily up to the top deck. It’s surprisingly full up here, considering it’s still dark out, on an August bank holiday, but there’s a seat free right at the front, so I get to ride in style the whole way into the West End.

Out at Trafalgar Square, I scurry, still yawning, towards Charing Cross Road.

It’s quiet. The only people about are a couple of giggling girls struggling to keep upright on their stilettos.

I pass the Garrick, where there is very much not a queue for Bitter Wheat tickets.

Past the Theatres Trust, who have recently claimed there are only 263 theatres in London (hilarious!), and then, up ahead, my destination. The Wyndham’s.

I check my phone. It’s 4.45am. And there’s a queue.

One two threefour people. And someone talking to them. A homeless man. Asking for money.

“Is this the day seat queue?” I ask.

“Yup,” number three in the queue confirms. “You’re in the right place.”

“Oh, good.” I join the end of it. Number five.

Seeing that we are all distracted, the homeless man walks away.

“Thanks,” says number three. “We’re really grateful.”

It was no problem at all. I’ve had a lifetime’s worth of practice of chasing people away.

We settle into silence. There’s not much going on. We stare at out phones, lighting ourselves up as beacons for anyone wandering around at this time of the morning.

“Sorry,” says a bloke coming up to me. “What’s the time?”

I tell him it’s five o’clock.

Five o’clock.

Five hours until the box office opens.

At least, I hope it’s only five hours. It could be more than that. Box offices have a habit of opening late on bank holidays.

Andy T (of Twitter) popped in to ask yesterday for me (I mean, he might have had other reasons for asking, but I'm choosing to believe it was for me), and they said it was a standard 10am start. But you can never trust the word of a box officer who’s not working that shift.

I shrug off my jacket, place it carefully on the ground, and sit down on top of it.

My vintage 49er doesn’t do much in the way of padding, but at least it's some sort of layer between me and the tarmac.

At seven minutes past, three more people arrive. “Are you trying to get tickets for Fleabag?” asks the girl, who is clearly in charge of this outing. “Is this where the queue ends?”

Only one of them is wearing a jacket, and the three of them try to squeeze themselves onto it.

I brought a book, but it’s too dark to read. So instead I get out my notebook and start writing up last night’s theatre trip. My handwriting is illegible at the best of times, so the darkness isn’t going to make much of a difference now.

At 5.21am two more people arrive.

“I’m just trying to work out which end is which,” says a young woman, standing back from the line to take us all in.

We point her in the right direction. “It’s this end,” someone tells her.

“Yeah,” says her friend. “You can’t just join the front of the queue again.”

The “again” is very pointed. They must do this a lot. Except, usually experienced day seaters know which end of the queue to join.

I think they might be a little drunk.

They too settle down.

That’s ten of us now.

The street-sweepers have started their rounds.

Across the way, a few tourists emerge from the Hippodrome Casino. The security guard on the door crosses his arms and watches them until they are safety deposited into their Uber.

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People pause as they walk past to look at us with interest.

“What are you guys all waiting for?” asks a man riding by on a bike.

“Tickets for a play,” explains one of the drunk girls.

“Aladdin?”

She laughs. “No! Fleabag!”

He loops round, doubling back on himself to approach the front of the queue. “Can you help a homeless guy out?”

We all shake our heads.

He rides off, with a shout of “are you all on ecstasy?!” over his shoulder.

Then nothing.

The sun begins to rise.

I have about 700 words down in my notebook. I can’t write anymore. I turn to reading. The Long Earth. I’ve been trying to avoid this one, knowing the number of Terry Pratchett books in the world that I haven’t read yet are dwindling rapidly. But day seating seems to be as good a time as any to crack this one open. After a 3am start, I deserve it.

Just before seven, a couple arrive together on bikes. The woman points at us each in turn, counting us up before air-punching. They got here in time.

The street sweeper has made it to our side of the row. I tuck in my feet so he can get at those tricksy cigarette butts.

The man on his bike is back. “The show is cancelled everyone!” he calls as he rides past. Something tells me he’s a bit of a jokester.

The street sweepers and partygoers are all gone now. The roads have been taken over by delivery vans. People in the queue take it in turns to go to Pret, sharing intelligence about whether their porridge pots are out yet, and codes to the loo for those who just need a pee.

I put my book down. I can’t read anymore.

My legs are aching. I stretch them out in front of me and blankly watch this little corner of the world wake up.

A group of giggling young woman approach us, asking the number one queued what time she got there.

“Four,” she says.

“Four?!”

The supreme ruler of the queue nods and confirms it. “Yes, four.”

“Okay then…” they walk away whispering and giggling.

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At ten to ten, I stand up. I can’t sit on that pavement anymore. Everything hurts. My back. My legs. But most of all, my bottom.

The doors open.

A woman dressed all in black comes out.

I like her immediately.

“I have 33 standings!” she shouts so that we can all hear.

Everyone turns round to look at the queue. It’s grown, running all the way down the side of the Wyndham’s and beyond. Is that less or more than 33? I can’t tell. I try to count, but loose my place after twenty or so.

“We do have two single seats,” says the woman in black. “But they are very high in price.”

Number three in the queue asks how much they are.

“One is 125, and one is 150. I think. Don’t quote me on that,” she says as I attempt to quote her on that. “Let me colleague know if you want one.”

We all shuffle our feet. No one queues for five hours to buy a 150 quid ticket when there is a ten pound one on offer.

“I’ll be counting down the row,” she goes on. “So we all know where we are. If you’re standing, it has to be you attending. You’ll be asked for ID and the card you paid with when you pick up your tickets this evening.”

A little part of my brain wants to ask why we can’t get our tickets right away, but it is quickly hushed by the surrounding neurons. It’s still far too early for questions.

As a couple of front of housers work on getting the doors open, the woman in black chats to queuers one and two. “What time were you here?” she asks. “Very good!”

And we are let in. Two at a time. Like the ark.

“I can’t wait to go home and sleep,” I tell the woman in black as queuers three and four go inside.

She laughs. “I’ve had a lot of people tell me that. That they’re going straight back to bed.”

I remember her question to the first people in the queue. “What’s the earliest you’ve had someone arrive.”

“We had a couple fly over from Spain. They came at midnight. With a tent.” She looks over as number three in the queue comes back out. “You can go in now.”

Into the foyer, and over to the box office, set into the wall on the right.

Two people are on duty.

Queue member number four is getting her details into the system.

I go to the other box officer.

“Morning!” I say, as cheerily as I can manage.

My box officer starts tapping away on his computer, giving me the spiel as he works. Tickets are non-transferrable. You’ll need to bring ID.

I nod along.

“Can I have your postcode?”

I give it.

“What’s your surname?”

I give that too.

“I think I have an account,” I say, knowing full well that I do. This ain’t my first trip to a Delfont Mackintosh theatre.

“It looks like you might,” he says. “What’s your first name.”

“Maxine?”

“Yup,” he says, agreeing that I am indeed the Smiles he has on the system. “There you go. Now, is that cash or card.”

It’s card.

Now ten pounds further into my overdraft, he hands me a ticket. Or rather, the voucher.

“Sign this please,” he says, sliding over a pen.

And with a flourish of my name, I’m off. Back outside in the sunshine, and utterly unsure of what to do next. I’m exhausted and yet the day as only just begun.

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Nine hours later, I’m back.

The Wyndham's has shed its sleepy exterior and it’s now buzzing with excitement.

“This door if you have your ticket, or this one if you’re picking up,” says the man on the door.

I’m picking up, so I go through the second door.

A bag checker is waiting inside. He peers inside my rucksack, feels the bottom, and then pauses, staring at my chest.

“Is that… Hanson?” he says, stepping back in horror from the sight of my t-shirt.

“Yeah…” I say, pulling it out for him to get a proper look at the family portrait of the Hanson brothers, with NIRVANA emblazoned beneath them. “It’s a joke t-shirt,” I explain.

“Oh… good. I was going to say…”

I smile. I fucking love this t-shirt.

Bag checker thoroughly confused, it’s time for me to go to the box office.

“Can I see your ID please?” asks the box officer after I had over my signed voucher.

I give him my driving license. Provisional because of course I never learnt how to drive.

He looks from one to the other, checking, and then with a smile hands over my ticket. “Just to remind you, if you leave before the end of the performance, you can’t go back in. Enjoy!”

The foyer of the Wyndham’s is very comfortable looking. In a side-room-in-an-art-gallery kind of way. There are sofas around the walls and large paintings that seem to belong outside of any recognisable artistic movement. There are pillars and stiped wallpapers. The ceiling is covered with cherubs.

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Where next? The merch desk of course. I’m getting me a programme.

No queue, four pounds fifty, and I can pay by card. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Right. Downstairs. Benefit of being early in the queue. I get to stand in the stalls instead of the back of the balcony.

There’s a ticket checker down here. He tears off the stub while he reminds me that there’s no readmissions. As if I could forget.

Round the corner and down a bit more. I pause to admire the carpet. All fancy florals and woven Ws. Nice.

Inside it’s your classic West End auditorium. Cream-coloured walls and curved boxes, with gold twiddly bits iced on top.

I head to the back. Standers are cramped against the back wall. So many that they some of them are spilling down the side.

“Are standers allowed over on the other side?” I ask one of them, pointing to the completely empty wall on the other there.

She shrugs and says they were directed to stand on this side.

I decide to risk it and slip through the rows, pacing up and down this section of wall to find the best spot.

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A few minutes later, number three from the queue turns up.

“Is that… who are they…?” he says, looking at my t-shirt.

I explain the whole Hanson/Nirvana joke thing. He doesn’t look convinced.

Clearly my t-shirt doesn’t play well to the Fleabag crowd.

An usher comes over. “Hello. You’re all standing,” she says. We nod. We are indeed all standing. “Just to let you know, you can’t take any empty seats. And you can’t sit down on the floor.” Right. No sitting for us. At the Wyndham’s you pay ten quid to see the show, and the other hundred to sit down. “It’s a health and safety issue,” she explains. Ah. “In case there’s a fire we need to ensure a free exit.” Okay. Fine. That makes sense. “If you leave, there’s no readmittance. You’ll be taken to the Stalls bar and you’ll have to watch the rest of the show on the screen.”

“Don’t worry, we’re not leaving!” says queued number nine.

I have a quick flick through of the programme. It’s a standard Delfont Mackintosh jobby. Lots of recycled articles that you’ll see again and again for all their shows. But there’s a nice little piece about how Fleabag came about, and the new writing programmes that helped it happen. Great intel for anyone who wants to be the next Phoebe Waller-Bridge.

I try to get comfortable. There’s a recess in the wall behind me which is making it tricky. But at least there's carpet under my feet. And it's probably for the best I'm not sitting down. Five hours sitting on cold tarmac have made themselves known in the bum region.

The lights go down and… nothing. I expected a gasp or a whoop or something. You get gasps and whoops when the lights go down at big shows. Can you imagine the lights going down at, I don’t know, Hamilton, or Cursed Child, and there not being a gasp or a whoop?

As Waller-Bridge rushes out from the wings, a stander near me raises her hands to clap, but quickly lowers them when she realises no one else is in a clapping mood.

I sink against the wall, feeling a little let down. The last thing I wanted was to be in a silent audience. I’d just have stayed at home and watched series one on the iPlayer.

But it doesn't take long to get us going. Snort laughs and tentative giggles turn into fully-grown guffaws and by the end we're wincing and howling at the fate of poor Hillary.

As Waller-Bridge takes her bows, the stalls stand to ovate, starting at the front row and working back, like a tidal wave of applause crashing into the back wall.

I'm almost thrown back by the force of it.

"Well, that was worth it," says queuer number three as the house lights go up.

"Yup," I agree. "Now it's worth it."

54 Block Pickup

I swear, sometimes the theatre gods want nothing more than to mess with me. They like to have their fun, this we know. But even so, I cannot work out how it is remotely amusing for them to block off half the roads around Kings Cross, sending me on wild and twisting diversions all around Coal Drop Yard, when it is 32 frickin degrees outside, just so that they can have me arrive at my theatre for the evening out of breath, red, flustered around the edges, with only three minutes to go before the show is supposed to start…

Ah.

Okay, I see it now.

But even so, it's not very nice of them. Especailly after everything they've put me through this year already.

I thought we'd come to an understanding of sorts. I would visit all the damn theatres, paying my due respect as I go, and they would help me. Or at the very least, not get in my way. I don't know where it went wrong, unless for some reason they don't approve of my methods.

Perhaps they don't like the way I write. All my short sentences and four-letter words.

Oh gawd, it's the swearing, isn't it?

Shit.

Oh well.

No time to think on that. Literally no time.

I burst into the Lord Stanley pub in a heaving ball of sweaty mess.

I look around. It's Sunday night and it looks like the pub is doing a fair amount of business. But this lot are all drinkers. Where are all my theatre people?

Oxygen deprived, I begin to panic, suddenly convinced that I had come to the wrong pub. One final trick of the theatre gods before they seal my marathon in a coffin and send it floating down the Thames, with ninety or so theatres still unvisited.

It's the final day of Camden Fringe. And the Lord Stanley isn't a classic theatre pub. Some improv group or other runs the theatre space upstairs. Chances of me getting in here again before the year is out are slim.

But no, it's okay. People seem to be drift over to the back of the room, driven by an unseen herder.

And there, I see it, the box office. Or, at least, what counts as a box office in places like this. A laptop, propped up on a small ledge.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the show is about to start!" calls out the young man behind the machine.

He's standing beside a doorway, and nailed to the inside is a chalkboard. "Camden Fringe. A Tingle in the Plumbing," it reads.

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Looks like I've found The Free Association's Comedy Room.

Finding what little air is left in my lungs, I manage to give my name to the box officer.

"Oh," says a passing woman, stopping in her tracks as she heads towards the door. "Do I need to...?"

"I just need to get you checked off," says the box officer.

"We have old fashioned paper tickets," she says, which sounds deeply unlikely to me. This is Camden Frnge after all.

The box officer looks at me. "You're fine," he says and I leave him to deal with the paper ticket lady.

Through the door I go, and up the creeky, narrow, stairs, twisting my way up and up. There doesn't seem to be any signage, and I am left to follow the echoes of laughter to find my way.

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Through another door, and yes, this is it. A small room painted black, but with heavy red curtains blocking out the windows. A large medallion is stuck to one wall, and there seems to be bricks on the other.

Wait, not bricks. They're tiles. The type of tiles that are made to look like mismatched slithers of stone. Those tiles that you find gracing the bathroom walls in the facier end of hotels. I’m not sure what to make of that.

There's a small stage. Two small stages, actually. One on each side. But they have been drafted in for seating purposes. Down each side of the room are two rows of chairs, running up onto the stages on both ends. The chairs are old fashioned. Really old fashioned. The have studs all over them, pinning in the upholstery. They look so old that I'm a little bit nervous about sitting down on one, just in case it crumbles under my weight.

I pick one in the second row. It appears stable enough.

I sit down carefully.

I think we're safe.

I get out my fan and do my best to get some air circulation going in here. It's very hot. Stifling. And my already overheated body is suffering greatly.

There are freesheets on alternate chairs. I pick one up from the seat next to me.

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It's nice. Good paper. An A3 folded in half. Artwork on the front. Inside there's a credit list, biographies, and a note from the playwright, which begins by offering a mea culpa that we're only getting three stories tonight, and not the four advertised on the poster. And the front of the freesheet for that matter.

I respect that.

Nothing bugs me more than when an artist wants to change a title in order to fit an updated running order. The title is the title. It's printed on the tickets. It exists. It's in the system.

Own your titles.

I try to read the rest, but it's really hard to balance a freesheet in one hand while flapping a fan in the other.

I need to pick one.

I go with the fan.

A few minutes of dedicated fan-flapping later, I'm feeling a little better.

It's only then that I'm able to take in what's happening in the centre of the room.

Two people crouch on the floor. It's Rebecca Banatvala and David Reed. Playing Jenga.

Playing with one of those oversized sets that I think are sold for garden use, but tend to get most of their air-time at drunken parties.

A woman sitting near me giggles as she watches them.

I'm not sure Jenga is much of a spectator sport, and doesn't particularly lend itself to comedy.

Perhaps she's drunk too.

The room gradually begins to fill up, everyone clutching at their drinks. No one looking bothered or concerned that the show was supposed to be starting shortly.

As the row in front of me is claimed, the Jenga players are hidden from view.

I knew it was coming. I've sat in enough unraked second rows to know that floor-work can't survive it. It does always baffle me though, why directors are so intent on getting their performers down on the ground, when they presumably know the room set up. It's almost like they don't want half the audience to see their work. Perhaps they're embarrassed or something.

Anyway, the music stops. The Jenga pile is smashed.

Reed heads up onto one of the stages were he has a laptop set up.

Banatvala begins the first tale, The Astronaut, in which she's... well, an astronaut. And we, the audience, are all students in a lecture she's giving. She tells us of space, of the adventure, of seeing the earth from the outside, of knowing fully and completely who you want to be and what you want to do in life, and then she tells us about coming back, of motherhood, losing a part of yourself, a part which is never wholly replaced.

Reed steps down off the stage and it's back to the Jenga pile. For some reason. I can't tell what they're doing down there. I focus on keeping my fan going until eventually whatever task they are doing is complete and we can get on with the second tale. The Shopper. This one sees Banatvala as a woman always seeking more. Her parents worked hard, and each birthday saw her gifts growing as did the family's place in the world. And she sees no reason that this should ever stop. She marries well. Their wealth accumulates. She develops her tastes, and her accent. And when children come, she wants more for them too. Unfortunately, one thing you cannot purchase is buy-in from your progeny.

Last up, The Accountant. Reed straps bells to his feet for this, and seats himself on a box, because Banatvala is getting her rap on and she needs a beat. Redundancy has taken this character hard. Or rather, made him hard. Both of the soul and, ummm... delicacy prevents me from completing that thought. I hope my flapping fan and flushed cheeks are not misinterpreted here, because he's out for what he can get, and is determined to get everything. Everything being women.

A man in the front row is drafted in to play Seamus, the hapless partner to one of the accountant's conquests, and made to hear the entire tale in all its sordid detail.

Blackout.

Tale complete.

We applaud the pair of them, our clapping calling them back to the stage for one more set of bows.

Someone comes over to speak to my neighbour.

"It's really hot in here," he breathes.

"It wasn't too bad on this side," she replies.

I put my fan away. Job done I think.

On my way out I pause, seeing the arrangement of Jenga blocks on the floor for the first time. They're laid out carefully. Like a snake. Perhaps hinting at the accountants snake-like traits? I cannot tell you. This tower of direction falls down when the players can't see what's happening at the lower levels.

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A Goth goes to Redbridge

I've just travelled from one end of the Central Line to the other, and I feel like I have stepped up the train into another county. I'm in South Woodford. Redbridge. Which is not a part of London I'm familar with, and yet recognise instantly. The shops are all exactly the same as anywhere else in London. There's a Starbucks. And a Marks. And I can spot a Waitrose coming up ahead, but even so. Something feels off.

I feel different.

Or rather, I look different.

Which is odd because I'm wearing my classic combo of great big black skirt and black t-shirt.

And then I realise, it's not me that's changed. It's everyone else.

Do you remember back when I told you about my trip to the artsdepot, and I mentioned how out of place my friend Helen looked in Finchley? Well, that's me in Redbridge.

In a world of untucked pastel t-shirts, I'm walking around looking like Joy Division wrote my personal theme song.

Although apparently, I'm yet to perfect my resting bitch face as everyone is smiling at me. It's making me feel paranoid.

A homeless man sitting on the pavement offers me a cheery "Hello Miss!"

A group of men all wearing flip-flops grin as the shuffle past me.

Everyone is happy.

It's weird.

I'm beginning to think they must pump something into the air around here.

The confirmation email I got from the Redbridge Drama Centre after booking my tickets has been the chirpiest I've received to date on the marathon, and by far the most delightful. Following an assurance that Emily and Molly will be busy stuffing my tickets into envelopes as I read, the email goes on to promise a "rather unique!" box office if I "thought better of it and will be picking up tickets."

With nothing further to go on, my brain has been going all sort of wild places (Up a tree! Underground! A hole in the wall you must whisper your darkest secrets into before being allowed inside!), but nothing could have prepared me for the next email.

The show had been cancelled.

That was a serious blow.

I could actually feeling my heart sinking as I read it.

This isn't the first time this had happened to me. I'd planned to get to the Redbridge right at the start of my marathon. It would have been one of my first venues. I had it all diarised and planned out. And then the day before, when I went on their website to buy the ticket, there was nothing but a note to say that the show was no longer going ahead, but I could see it at some other theatre on its tour. Which was no bloody use to me.

The disappointment was compounded by the problem that, despite the name, the Redbridge Drama Centre doesn't have all that much drama going on. It's taken nearly half a year for me to find another marathon-qualifying event on their appalling website for me to go to.

So, I was feeling a wee bit stressed about the whole thing.

But all was not lost.

It was not really cancelled. Just postponed. Moved from the Friday to the Saturday.

I didn't need to do anything. My tickets had been moved across to the new date. All I had to do was turn up.

Fair enough. I could move things on my end. I wasn't missing out on what might be my last chance to get to this place before the year runs out. Except, the email didn't end there.

"If there are any problems with this," it went on to say. "Please let us know and we will be able to make arrangements for you to see the show on the Friday still."

What on earth...

The show on Friday was cancelled. But I could still see it.

It was all very strange.

I began to wonder whether I had done something wrong. If perhaps I should have paid homage to the keepers of the box office in advance. Perhaps they just already knew that my secrets aren't dark enough.

Maybe it was all a test. And by turning up on Saturday, I have already failed it.

So, it's with some trepidation that I turn off the main road, walk through a housing estate, and pause in front of what looks like an old school building to get a photo of the outside.

There's a ramp leading the way down to the main entrance, which I follow around and go in.

I find myself in a barn-like space. Brick walls painted white. The bar takes up one side, decorated with black umbrellas and a street sign hanging from the ceiling pointing out the way to 42nd Street and 5th Avenue (in completely different directions).

In the corner is a model of a cow. I don't have the brainpower to process that right now, so I move on.

Over the other side is... I'm not sure, I have to take a few steps to one side to fully understand it. It's the front of a tube train. Bursting out of a brick tunnel which leads to a back office. The TFL logo is painted on one side, and the driver's seat has a computer next to it.

It must be the rather unique box office!

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They weren't lying.

There's no one sitting inside, so I hang around, trying to make sense of this place.

A woman comes in and slips into the tube carriage. "The box office is now open," she half-sings through the front window, with a Broadway-style opening of her arms.

I sidle my way over as someone in the office calls out: "And the bar!"

"And the bar," the box office lady confirms. "More importantly."

"Everything is open!" I say, not wanting to be left out.

"Are you picking up tickets?" the box office lady asks me. "What's the surname?"

"Smiles?"

"What a lovely name," she says. "I would love that to be my name. I would smile every day."

I give her my standard patter that I dole out whenever anyone shows interest in my surname. It's Scottish. It means small.

"Aww," she says, as she hands over my ticket. "Well, smile through the performance!"

The Redbridge air must be getting to me, because I leave the tube grinning from one ear to the other.

There are a few tables dotted around, but over by the cow (I'm still not ready to contemplate the cow) there's a black sofa that looks mightly comfy and more in keeping with my aesthetic. I lob my bag and myself onto it and watch all the people come in.

It's soon packed. Every table is full of people chattering, excited about the upcoming show. Music is playing. Someone dims the lights. A party atmosphere starts to form.

I just hang out with the cow.

We start by merely side eyeing each other, before I realise that it's not the cow that's looking back at me. She seems to have a see through centre - a glassed off compartment where her four stomachs should be, and through that a poster of two men peer out. It's most disconcerting.

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"The auditorium is now open!" calls a voice from the door on the far side.

I sigh in relief, and head over to join the queue.

The door takes us through a corridor lined with show posters, around a corner, through another room that looks like it belongs in a hospital, round another corner, and this time into a hallway lit by a row of chandeliers. Very la-di-da.

An usher stands guard by the door, checking tickets.

The boy infront of me shrugs.

"You don't need a ticket," she laughs, clearly recognising him. "You just turn up!"

I can't just turn up so I flash her my ticket and she nods me through.

The old man behind me tries to hand his over. "I'm just looking at them," she explains, and he is also nodded through.

Inside is a floor level stage, with a good-sized bank of seating rising up away from it.

I clamber up the stairs, making my way to the back. I don't want to be taking any of the good seats away from these people. But it's not a large theatre, and even from the back few rows, I'm still not all that far from the stage.

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One of the front of housers comes and asks for a surname. "Can I have a show of hands?"

Said owner of surname shows his hands and the front of houser goes over to him. "These are yours I believe," he says, handing over a pair of tickets.

Now, I don't think I've ever seen in-seat ticket delivery. I bet ATG are pissed they didn't think of that.

Tickets all delivered, the show starts. Five minutes late, but no one seems to care. They're all so happy.

I can't say it lasts for long. The show is Elergies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens and it is super depressing. A serious of monologues from people who died of AIDS, interspersed with songs.

And that finale, with a massive cast busting out a tune together, filling the entire stage... Really not sure I can take on that on a Saturday night. My poor emotions.

As the doors open, I slip out quickly and hurry back to the tube station.

It's a long way back to Hammersmith.

It's a long way back to anywhere from here. I'm almost grateful that the theatre's programming is so infrequent. The chances of me ever feeling the need to come back here are very slim. Shame though. I did like that box office.

As I cross the North Circular, a man dances out of my way, and then stops, startled.

"Hey!" he says. "I saw you coming the other way."

I give him a confused look and keep on walking, but as I pass his friends I realise that yeah, I do recognise them. They're all wearing those frickin flip-flops!

Oh dear.

It's probably for the best I'm not coming back. Only been here two hours and already people are starting to remember me. They'll be talking about this for years: The day the Goth came to Redbridge.

I better get out of here.

Being Good Isn't Always Easy

Only a month since it's opened and the Troubadour White City Theatre has already lost its crown as the newest theatre in London. The Troubadour is old news. There's a newer theatre in town.

I can't tell you much about this newer one. The website for the Turbine Theatre is still in its infancy by the looks of it. I know the theatre's in Battersea. I know they are currently showing Torch Song. But other than that... nothing. They don't even have an email address or box office phone number on there. When I tried to get some contact deets out of them on Twitter, no one replied.

Which is like, super helpful and really promising. Nothing says 'you're going to have a great time here' like a theatre ignoring you. And everyone else it seems. Questions about e-tickets, pleas for help with online booking, requests to know if they sell food, all left floating around unanswered, lost to the wilderness.

So, with my mental state ready tuned to the Fuck You Turbine Theatre channel, I make my way across Chelsea Bridge to see what's up with this uncommunicative newcomer to the London theatre scene.

I find them under one of the railway arches.

It looks nice enough.

Tables and chairs have been set around aside and people are enjoying their pre-show drinks in the evening sun. Through the large window I can see the long counter taking up the length of the foyer. One side marked up as the box office, the other as the bar.

But just in case there's any confusion, they have a man posted on the door to welcome us all in. He's wearing a taupe-coloured apron that wouldn't look out of place in one of those hipster coffee shops decorated solely with exposed pipe-work and man-buns.

"Have you got your tickets yet?" he asks.

I tell him I need to pick them up and he directs me over to the box office, just a few short steps inside the door,

I barely have to make those steps before another man in a taupe apron is ready and primed with the ticket box in hand, asking for my name.

I give it.

"Maxine?" he asks, pulling out the ream of tickets.

Yup. That's me.

Tickets in hand (there's a lot of ticket stock going on here) I take a quick circuit of the foyer to see what's going on. The bar is busy. It's a warm night and everyone needs a drink. There's a screen on the far wall advertising what they have. Wine. Spirits. Good selection of both. I'm not really interested in any of that. My focus goes straight to the last portion. The snacks.

Cookies. Flapjacks. Macaroons. Crisps.

A macaroon does sound good. I don't think I've seen them offered in a theatre bar yet. Could the Turbine Macaroon be the next Bridge Madeleine? I try to sneak close to get a look, but the cookies and whatnot seem to be pre-wrapped in paper bags and stacked up in a way that means they're not visible for drive-by drooling. I pass.

I turn my attention to the decor. It's very train-tunnel-chic, with a modern chandelier of bulbs sticking out from an upturned crinoline hanging from the curved brick ceiling. The designers, who have clearly noted the trend for bookcase-wallpaper in fringe theatres, has gone one step further and made a book-bar.

It's pretty nice looking. I like it.

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Still not sure what the connection between theatres and bookshelves are, but I'm happy to accept it as a thing, and welcome it into my life.

And no, I'm going to stop you there. They aren't playtexts. Or books about theatre.

Unless A book of Archeology is the name of the a Tom Stoppard play that I managed to miss.

Whatever. It's cool. Theatre people tend to also be booky people. It's all good.

But by the looks of it, theatre people aren't, or at least Turbine Theatre people aren't, programme people.

I can't see programmes anywhere. The front of housers don't seem to have any. And none of the audience members do either. I consider asking if there are freesheets, but it's much too warm in here and I really want to go stand outside for a bit.

So I do that instead, trying to breathe in what little breeze there is, before I start seeing movement through the window, as everyone gets up and begins the gentle march towards the auditorium.

I join them. Walking down the corridor behind the box office. The walls are lined with mismatched mirrors on both sides. I stop to take a photo, before realising that I'm wearing the exact same outfit I wore the last time I paused to take a theatre-mirror-selfie. I quickly put my phone back down and carry on.

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The wall-of-mirrors breaks up as the hallway leads off into mini side passages, where such mysterious locations as staircases, the accessible loos, and countless other wonders live.

We keep on walking. The corridor stretching out longer than I thought train tracks were capable of being wide. So long that I begin to wonder whether all these mirrors are playing tricks on me, and I'm being lead deep into the Turbine's lair where I'll be forced to spend the rest of my days chained to a smartphone, replying to all the tweets they get with the faux-jovial tones of the professional content person. "We're open from 10 today for all your pre-matinee brunching needs. Try the macaroons!!! [insert heart eyed emoji x 3]"

But no, there's the end of the corridor, and an aproned-up usher is tearing tickets.

Through the door and everything goes dark. Black curtains line one side of the corridor, and moody lighting highlights the brickwork on the other.

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Over the sound system, a woman begs a man to stay close at hand, and if he doesn't stay forever, she'll understand.

"It's Dusty!" says the man in front in tones of wonder.

The curtain ends and we stumble into the theatre. Another aproned usher checks my ticket and directs me to the front row, but I take a moment to hang back, and look at the space.

The roof of the tunnel curves above us. On one side is the stage, small. On the other is a bank of raked seating.

In the middle, are four rows of chairs. The first two set at an angle, mirroring the pointing stage. The next two straight across.

Four rows. That's a lot to not have a rake between them.

I thank whichever theatre god it was who pushed me to by a front row seat. That's never my first choice. But somehow, for this theatre, I knew.

Because here's the thing. This theatre has flat pricing. Every seat in the house is £33. (Well, 32, with a one quid booking fee, but same-diff). And flat-price seating is great. Allocated seating is also great. But having a combination of the two is tricky unless you are really sure you haven't got any duds in the house. I don't want to be turning up to find I have the back of someone's head in my sightline, if I know for a fact that they paid the same as me to sit there, blocking me. If you're going to flat-price, you better be damn sure that every seat has a similar experience (like, say, the Jermyn Street Theatre), or seating should be unallocated in order to reward those who turn up early and are prepared to queue for the best spots (like upstairs at The Royal Court).

And I mean, it would be fine if the tickets were cheap. I guess. But like, properly cheap. Not fantasy-cheap. Not the cheap we are told to consisder cheap. But real cheap. As in, I don't have to think twice about spending this money type of cheap.

£33 is not a cheap theatre ticket. I know people who run theatres like to think that £33 is a cheap ticket. But they're wrong. They are wrong by about twenty-pounds worth of ticket. If I've going to be sitting in a restricted view space, and I'm not in the West End, I better not be paying more than 15 quid.

But today, that's not my problem.

I find my chair in the front row, and deal with the business of removing my jacket and trying to cool down.

It's really warm in here.

I get out my fan and give myself a good blast.

"Oh! That fan's great," says my neighbour as he catches the tail-wind of my efforts.

"Shall I keep going?" I ask, just to check. I'm not very good at telling when people are taking the piss.

"Yeah, don't stop!"

Well, alrighty then. I do my best to keep a steady stream of cool air going over the both of us, until the theatre has filled, the lights have dimmed, and a slim figure wearing a pale pink sheer robe emerges in our midst.

He strikes a match, lights a cigarette, and saunters on stage, ready to tell his tale.

He's a drag queen. Prone to falling in love. Seemingly always attracting those men that can't quite give him the commitment he craves.

As he disappears off stage, we get a glimpse into his effect on men as our next character stands alone on stage, enchanted, and part of a one-sided conversation. The words of our drag queen lost to the ages.

When he finally reappears, the makeup is gone. As is his admirer. Lost to societies expectations of straightness.

Through the open wall behind him, I see actors running around in their underwear, preparing for the next scene. The neon signs above the stage switch over. We're in the second part of the play, the stage pulls out into a massive bed, and we have a new lover for our favourite drag queen.

Blackout.

Someone in the row behind shouts "bravo, bravo," through the applause.

We appear to be in an opera house.

A sign lights up on the wall.

"Intermission."

... an American opera house.

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But there's no time to worry about that. I need some fresh air.

I escape back out the hall of mirrors and head back outside.

And there I stop. Staring at something.

A programme.

Someone is holding a programme.

Where the hell did they get that?

I go back in, looking around, and there I see it. A programme. All blue and yellow and Great Gatsbyish in its artwork. Propped up on top of the box office.

Shit. Okay. There's no one at the box office. Not now. But I guess I can queue at the bar.

It's already curling it's way all across the foyer.

I join the end.

It's moving very slowly. This might take a while.

I start looking around. My eye catches something. A Great Gatsbesque something.

One of the front of housers is holding a stack of programmes.

Wishing the queue a mental so-long-suckers, I tap out and go over to the usher. He's chatting to two blokes, but as I approach he looks over.

"Can I get a programme?" I ask.

"That's two pounds fifty."

I dig out a note from my purse, and I notice one of the blokes riffling through his wallet.

"Oh, sorry," I say. "Did I just queue barge?"

"Ah, it's alright," says the usher with a dismissive shrug.

Oh dear. I scuttle away shamefaced. At least I have a programme now. Which means I can tell you that the drag queen is played by Matthew Needham, and the pair of actors in their pants were Daisy Boulton and Dino Fetscher, and the new love interest was Rish Shah.

That was certainly worth the wait.

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Back in the theatre and a stage manager is stirring a pot on a stove that has suddenly appeared during the interval.

The air is filled with the smell of cooking.

It's a very familiar scent. Almost sweet.

With a tap of her spoon, she disappears. And a new stage manager replaces her, peering into the pot and giving it a good stir before he too disappears.

I don't know what it is, but I really want my dinner now.

"Smells like onions," says someone coming through the door.

Yes! That's it. Onions.

My stomach rumbles.

As the play restarts, Fetscher takes over cooking duties. Cracking eggs and adding them to the concoction, before adding a very healthy dose of salt. My kind of cook. As he replaces the salt on the shelf, he does a little spin, a neat pirouette.

"Bravo," calls the man sitting behind me.

But the bravo-man's approval is fickle. As Fetscher scoops up the shells and tips them into the pedal bin, the bravo-man tuts. "Health and safety," his whispers.

Quite.

After that, there's just enough time for my heart to be broken a couple more times (damn you Jay Lycurgo), and experience some mild flashbacks of dealing with my own Jewish mother (thanks Bernice Stegers) and then we're done. We're out. And I'm walking over the river feeling a little bit shakey and disorientated. But whether that's due to the play, or all those mirrors, I cannot tell you.

Not my President

So, apparently, The Tabard is not the pub where all the Globe volunteers go to get drunk after having a hard night corraling Shakespeare fangirls.

I am slightly disappointed about this, but mostly relieved. I really didn't want to have to deal with one of those ushers crying into my shoulder as they swear they are going to hang up their red tabard for good if they have to listen to one more dick joke.

It is a pub though. And a pub theatre at that. And with the paned windows, and facade hanging out over the pavement, it does have that look of Tudor England about it. I might be walking past The Swan, if I weren't in Turnham Green. So, who knows. Maybe I'l get lucky.

The effect doesn't last long though, as I walk past the beer garden and spot the entrance to the theatre.

An external staircase, rising out from between the tables in a tunnel that makes me think immediately of those jetways you use to get into planes.

I stop to take a photo, standing far back on the pavement to get it all in: the tunnel, the beer garden, and a little bit of the pub in the background.

But something's wrong with the picture.

I look up.

Someone's waving at me.

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I lower my phone, and he grins.

Do I know him? I don't think I know him.

"It's alright, go on!" he says.

"Sorry!" I apologise, but he just waves his hand in a gesture that suggests I should get on with taking my photo. So I do.

And then I go hide, because I'm now really embarrassed.

But I can't hide forever, and witness protection isn't a thing for theatre marathoners, so off I go, through the beer garden, past the waver, and into the tunnel.

Posters advertising tonight's play, Harbor, line the wall, interspersed with headshots of the cast, and creative credits. So, there's really no excuse not knowing people's names. I dutifully take photos just in case there's no freesheet to be found upstairs.

There's a landing up here, with a low bench under the window. Someone has set themselves up in the corner with the papers and they look very comfortable, I must say. Like having your own personal conservatory, with a pub attached.

I've never been one for hanging out in conservatories though, so I go through the door and find myself in the box office. It's a big one. Big enough for the walls to be lined with counter space, so I'm thinking this is where people hang out during the interval.

I join the queue, give my name to one of the box officers, and get my ticket.

"And there's a complimentary programme for you," she says, handing it over.

Sweet.

I decamp to the corner to have a look at it.

It's not a programme, let's be real. Despite it saying “Programme” on the cover. It's a freesheet. But it's a super-swish freesheet. Professionally printed. Super thick cardstock. Little bit too thick, because that combined with the black background means we've got some cracking on the spine, but that's pretty common with that combo. Which is why you should always spring for lamination when you're a fan of black ink and heavy card.

Yeah, okay. I'm sorry. I'm a print professional. Don't get me started on paper coatings or we'll be here all day.

Inside, there's a nice little biog about the writer. Chad Beguelin is a six-time Tony nominee, apparently. Making him the playwright equivalent of Amy Adams. Always the bridesmaid... Aww. Well, I'm sure his little play is just super.

It's still early, so I hang around in box office, earwigging on all the audience members as they come in to pick up their tickets.

This one sounds a bit upset. She hasn't received any emails from The Tabard in a while, and she's feeling a mite neglected.

"When did this happen? Was it recently?" asks the box officer, all concern. "Because you know, with the introduction of GDPR, the law has changed. We had to start the mailing list from scratch. You should have received an email..."

Never underestimate the public's inability to read an email until they stop getting them.

I should probably go in.

The route takes me past one of those magnificent paned windows overlooking the street, and then into the darkness of the auditorium.

So dark I have to squint to make out the seat numbers.

The bloke in front gets out his phone to use the screen light to guide him to his seat, but I can just about cope without.

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The Tabard is on the larger side of titchy. With proper flip-down, raked seats, and a central aisle. The stage is floor level, and the packed set, a fully-furnished living room by the looks of it, is making everyone who comes in super cautious as they try not to trip over a throw pillow between the entrance and their seats.

With no ushers in the auditorium, the guy sitting across the aisle from me has taken on the role for himself.

"This is D," he says to someone eyeing up the seats in confusion. "The numbers go that way."

And therein lies the problem with having allocated seats in small theatres.

"This is D," he says, raising his voice above the Bruce Springsteen that's being pumped in. "I am six, and the numbers are going up."

A bell must have gone somewhere, because there's suddenly an influx of people and I have my own baffled person standing at the end of my row.

"D?" I ask, figuring if the bloke across the aisle can act the usher, then I should probably give it a go too.

"I need two..." she says.

"It's down that way," I say, pointing at D2 and feeling very pleased with myself about the whole thing. I would make a fucking great usher. I can count! I can point! I can be polite. Sort of. The front of house manager at my work doesn't know what she's missing out on.

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But half-way through drafting my letter to her requesting some shifts, the house lights go down and we're in a vehicle with Jessica Napier's Donna and Constance Des Marais' Lottie, mother and daughter respectively. And you can tell they spend a lot of the time on the road because Lottie is reading and she isn't even the tiniest bit car sick. Plus, the book she's reading is House of Mirth, so, you know she's smart. I mean, yes. I was a pretentious brat as a teenager whose bookshelf was chocked full of classics, and like, I'm a fucking idiot now. But I never read those books in the car. Reading in the car was reserved for trashy novels and maths homework. Unimportant things that I didn't mind throwing up over.

This travelling pair are off on their way to visit Donna's brother. But the fact that she hasn't seen Kevin in over a decade and he's unaware of his rapidly approaching sibling is something Donna doesn’t think worthy of worrying about.

But, you know, Douglas Coglan's Kevin takes it well. Controls his rage, anyway. As does his husband, Ted. And they become one big happy family. Drinking martinis. Looking through scrapbooks. Getting stoned...

Now, The Tabard is a small theatre, and the curls of smoke soon fill the auditorium.

The woman sitting next to me pulls her sleeve over her hands and covers her nose. I'm just glad that I thought to pop in a cough sweet before the show started.

I'll give Beguelin his due. It's a funny play. Even the silent bits are funny. As a character pauses, I find myself grinning just anticipating their next line. I honestly think he'll go far. So, like, don't give up, Beguelin! Seventh time lucky and all that.

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In the interval, the audience buzzes as everyone heads out. No one hangs around in the box office. It's off to the bar with the lot of them.

"It's so good. I didn't know what to expect," says one as she walks past me. And I agree. I didn't know what to expect either. But here we are, and I'm really enjoying it. Even if I am severely troubled by the year this thing is set in. They talk about iPods and Richard Simmons, and don't have mobile phones, which makes me think the early 2000s, but when they go to McDonald's they're drinking from paper straws which doesn't seem right. We were in pure kill-the-turtles mode back then. Very odd.

I use my time to Google the play, and turns out Harbor premiered in 2012 which throws all my theories up in the air and I don't know what's going on or what to think anymore.

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When I go back in, I start examining the set for evidence.

Nicholas Gauci's Ted is wandering around the set wearing a party hat and blowing up balloons, but I ignore him. I have more important things to concentrate on. There's a bookshelf and a few volumes are thick enough that I can read their titles. There's a biography of Bill Clinton, which, okay, whatever, that doesn't help. Likewise the Abraham Lincoln. But next to those, is SPQR. The Mary Beard history of Ancient Rome. Now, that I can use. Because I remember all the fuss when that book came out and it wasn't that long ago. I turn to Google. Published in 2015. Hah. Wait. What?

Okay, so, it's fine. Kevin and Ted are super into British historians and got a copy of the first printing. 2015. That's cool. They just don't like mobile phones. Some people are like that. The rays giving them cancer, or whatever. As for the iPod... Lottie is a weird kid. She likes Edith Wharton after all. Perhaps she's into retro music-devices. Like hipsters with vinyl. She doesn't want an iPhone because... who's she going to call anyway? The dad she doesn't even have a phone number for? Ha. As for all the other apps and things that would be super useful so that she doesn't have to borrow her uncle's laptop the whole time... I don't know. Reasons.

Things become even more confusing when Napier sites George Bush as being in charge, but then the fog clears, and I realise what's happening.

The year doesn't matter, because this isn't our world. Smartphones haven't been invented. Trump isn't president. Instead, there's George Bush. No, not that one. George P. Bush. The son. Or grandson, depending on who your 'George' is. Everyone is super green, with even the multinational fast food companies offering up paper straws as standard.

It's a kinder world. A gentler world.

A world where Mary Beard has her rightful place on every bookshelf.

Which makes it all the harder to cope with all those lovable characters not being able to get their shit together long enough to make each other happy.

As it's time to say goodbye, Donna asks her daughter about House of Mirth. How did things end up for the main character, Lily? Because that's what you do when in the midst of a life-changing event. You ask about a book you had a short conversation about three months back. Lottie is happy to oblige, letting her mom know that everything went wonderfully for the main character.

And so everything's great and everyone is happy, and they are all going to live long and fulfilling lives and... hang on. That's not how House of Mirth ends is it? Fuck.

Bloody Beguelin.

Holding out for a heroine

I'm nearing the end of my Camden Fringe adventure. And it has been an adventure. All these funny little spaces that I wouldn't have had the chance to see without their epic programming. I can almost forgive them for adding venues to the marathon. Almost.

Without the Camden Fringe I wouldn't have needed to check out any comedy venues. They're not part of the remit. But those igenious folks at the festival found a way to stuff some theatre onto those tiny stages, so off I go. To 2 Northdown this time. A place I've never been, or even heard of, which is something I'm starting to get bored of saying relation to Camden Fringe locations.

2 Northdown is on Northdown Street. Number two, as it happens, which is a pretty amazing coincidence. Don't you just love it when that happens.

I've arrived far too early, but there's already a group hanging around outside, waiting to go in.

I hang back and try to get a sense of the place.

It's small. Or rather, narrow. Like a terraced house. Except there are great big doors taking up the ground floor and a winch over one of the upstairs windows, which makes me think this building must have had a more industrial past. It looks nice though. Smart. A little bit classy.

Not sure I want to be hanging out on the pavement outside though.

So I go for a walk, up to Caledonian Road and around in a loop. By the time I get back, it's five minutes before showtime, and the group outside have all relocated. Presumably inside.

I follow their lead.

There's a tiny little foyer inside the door. Just large enough for one person to turn to the left, where there is another door.

Here a posing table has been set up, complete with cash wallet and printed lists. Looks like I've found the box office.

I give my name the girl on table-duty and she draws a line through my name.

"Got you," she says, and she steps back to let me through.

Two steps in and I'm already almost crashing into the back row.

This place is small. A single room. With the bar on one side and the stage on the other.

Even the loos are in here. One on either side of the stage, like soldiers standing sentinel.

There's a bench pressed against the wall, which seems to have become the unofficial line for the loo. The two sides aren't divided by gender. In fact, both of them have a male and female little icon on them, which seems a very binary approach to take for loo-inclusivity in 2019, but oh well. There's a sign underneath, which I figure might be there to explain that the loos are for anyone who wants to take a piss, but when I get my glasses out, I see it's nothing of the kind.

"Please don't use the bathrooms during the performance," it says. "They're not soundproof and it's awkward for everyone."

Ew.

I turn my attention to the decoration.

Framed show posters cover the walls, and by the looks of it, they're all signed. They're from some pretty famous comedians. Famous enough that even I have heard of them, and that's saying something.

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The rest of the space is filled with chairs.

And almost every single one of them is taken.

I spot a single spare seat at the end of the row, and ask the girl sitting next to it if I can take it.

"Yeah!" she cries out enthusiastically.

I don't think I've ever seen someone so happy to have a stranger sitting next to them.

But then, the excitement in this room is at last-day-of-school levels. Everyone is chattering and drinking and hugging.

As new people come in, cries of recognition echo around the room.

My neighbour squeals as she spots a friend and stands up to hug her, leaning right over me to do so.

Something tells me they all know the cast, and they are super pumped to see them on stage.

It's all rather sweet.

And impressive.

There's no way I could pack out an entire venue if I were to put on a show. Maybe, if I really laid on the guilt thick, I might fill out the front row, but the fact that every seat in this place is taken tells me a lot about these performers. Whoever they are.

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Flyers had been left on our seats and I have a look at mine to find out.

Let's see. It's Denni-Tyla Bell and Olivia Martin performing in a play they wrote themselves: Bananas are a funny shape.

I mean, they're not wrong. Bananas are a funny shape.

They're also apparently being sponsored by Bonnie Tyler and in their list of thanks, they credit Russell T Davies. So, my expectations are currently sky-rocketing.

The house lights go down.

There's a roar from the audience. They are here for this.

Although, I'm not quite sure what here is.

The stage lights have gone on, but I can't see anything.

I lean out to the right and catch a glimpse of an arm, but whether said arm belongs to Bell or Martin, I can't tell.

And here is the point where I discover why theatre isn't programmed in comedy venues. The stage may be raised, but unraked seating is never going to be able to cope with the demands of an actor wanting to... sit down.

I do my best, darting from left to right, mirror the head waving of the bloke sitting in front of me, but it's no good. When the performers are sitting, they might as well be invisible to those stuck in the back.

So I settle back in my chair, and just listen.

Bell and Martin's characters are getting ready for a night out. They don't know each other, but they have a lot in common. They're virgins. Not that they're frigid, you understand. No, they're just picky. Like Cher from Clueless. But without the natty tartan suits. And like Cher, they want someone who likes them for them. And they're feeling a bit let down. By the boys who want to get in their pants, the terrible sex ed classes at school, and their own bodies.

I find myself staring at the wall of framed posters, where I can just about see what's going on in the reflections in the glass. They're getting dressed up, doing their hair, and all the while talking to us. Their invisible friend. Their diary. Perhaps even their conscious.

But when it comes time to go out, they take us with them.

Phones rise out of the sea of heads to film the girls as they bop around to club bangers. And I suddenly realise how these two young women managed to fill an entire venue, because they are completely charming and absolute darlings, and I want to be their friend too.

And when it comes right down to it, their show isn't about boys or sex and going out on the pull, it's the power of female friendship, and the importance of sticking up for one another.

And if it came right down to it, I would definitely want Bell and Martin fighting my corner.

And not just because they have Bonnie Tyler and Russell T Davies on speed-dial.

As the stage lights go into blackout, a good chunk of the audience bounces out of their seats and applauds. And keep on going, even when Bell and Martin clearly want to say something.

They thank us all for coming. And the person doing tech. A few tears are shed.

"Everyone can leave!" says Bell to finish things off with a big wave of her arms.

But this lot ain't going. A couple of audience members go up with bouquets of flowers.

Never have I felt so much love in a room.

It's intoxicating.

But it's time for me to go, so that the pair celebrate with their people.

Behind me, the great doors have been opened out onto the street and I slip out, letting the party go on without me.

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On Sundays Peckham wears Pink

I know I diss Peckham a lot in this blog. But that's only because it's so damn hard to get too, and yet still apparently contains half the theatres in London. I've been to Peckham more in the past eight months than I have in my entire life. I mean, seriously. What's up, Peckham? Why so greedy on the theatres? Some of us have to go through life living with only one theatre within walking distance, and you have them everywhere. In drama schools. And old munitions factories. And now, apparently, car parks.

Yup, I'm off to a car park. To watch some contemporary dance.

Because: Peckham.

Anyway, this place, Bold Tendencies, is apparently not just a car park. Or it's not a car park anymore. It's like, a bona fide venue. Or possibly an art gallery. I hadn't heard of it before. But I suspect that's just because I ain't cool enough to be hanging around in car park in Peckham on the reg.

They did send a super intense pre-show email, though.

E-tickets need to be scanned on the rooftop. But the performance is not happening on the rooftop. You need to get a wristband, and then that will allow you down onto Floor 8. But wait, when getting your ticket scanned, make sure the barcode is expanded to fill the entire width of the screen and the brightness is turned way up high. And when you have your wristband, make sure that it's visible to security.

I ignore everything else. Door times. And bar locations. And the artworks on display. I've hit information overload.

But it's fine. I can do this. Download ticket. Fill screen. Get scanned. Wristband on. Down to Floor 8. Flash wristband. Into venue.

Easy.

I'll figure the rest out when I get there.

If I ever do.

Now, I don't want to turn this whole thing into a rant about trains. But seriously, Peckham needs to get itself a tube station. I can't deal with this.

And like, I arrive in Peckham. And I didn't die. So whatever. Here I go.

Although, I've not sure where exactly.

The little circle in Google Maps that is supposed to be me is greyed out and ineffectual, and while that is an accurate reflection of my current state, is not exactly helpful.

I have no idea where I'm going.

I open the pre-show email again, do a bit of scrolling, and yup. There are instructions on how to find this place. So, thank you Bold Tendencies. I needed you, and you were right there. Down Rye Lane, over the pedestrian crossing, towards the Multiplex and up the staircase on my left. Exactly as promised.

I trudge my way up the stairs. Spiralling round and round and getting a good glimpse of the type of rubbish businesses leave on their rooftops.

And then I stop. Because this endless round of spiralling bleakness has stopped. And there's a doorway. And light is streaming out. And suddenly, everything is pink!

The man on the door grins and steps aside to let me through into a pink hallway.

The pinkest hallway I've ever been in.

The pinkest anything I've ever been in.

Well, at least, the pinkest anything I've been in since my best friend's fifth birthday party.

The walls are pink. The floor is pink. The ceiling is pink. The lifts have been painted pink. As have the doors. And the steps.

And not mauve or salmon or coral.

But pink pink.

Proper pink.

Flamingo pink. Or possibly bubblegum.

Oh my god. I just realised. This is it. This is the famous millennial pink. I found it. In Peckham.

And it's everywhere.

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I keep on climbing, and turning, and climbing. And it's pink. All pink.

Do I like it? I don't know. My little goth heart is screaming in agony, but that former five-year-old at her best friend's party is squeeing in delight. And just before the two sides get into a fight, it stops. I'm outside. On a rooftop. And all of London is spread out before me, twinkling in the darkness.

There's a large hut over to my right which I'm fairly confident is the place I'm supposed to get beeped in, but it's no good. I have to check out that view first. I can see everything from up here. There's the London Eye. And the Shard. And the... Walkie Talkie? Is that what it's called? I can't remember. Whatever, it's very impressive.

I take a few photos and then just stand there, breathing in the night air down to the bottom of my lungs. But it's no good. It's been raining all afternoon, and the puddles are beginning to leak into my shoes.

I'm going to go and get beeped.

I go over to the information shed, but there's a slight problem. The reception up here is crap.

Or rather, the reception in Peckham is crap.

I walk around in circles as the ticket downloads, trying not to look like I've having an anxiety attack on a rooftop, but being very aware that I'm doing a bad job of it.

Finally, it downloads. I have my ticket.

Screen brightness up. Screen zoomed in so that the barcode takes up the full width. I join the queue.

One of the box officers catches my eye. "Are you with them?" she asks, indicating a group waiting at the counter.

I tell her I'm not. I don't have friends willing to come see a show in a Peckham car park at 9pm on a Sunday night. But I'm flattered that she thinks that I do.

"I can scan you," she says.

I hold out my phone and she beeps it.

"So," she says. "That's one standing."

She rummages around in a box of wristbands. "I don't seem to have any..."

"Oh no..." I say.

And then it happens.

I don't know why. Something came over me. I couldn't stop myself. I made the joke. You know the one. The joke that anyone who has ever done even a day's worth of customer service has heard a thousand times. "You can upgrade me if you like. I don't mind." I cringe as the words come out of my mouth, but it's too late now. I've said it.

She smiles politely and refrains for leaning over the counter to batter me over the head with her scanner. For which I can only silently thank her and offer her my eternal respect.

"I have some," says her fellow box officer, bringing over another tub and rescuing the both of us.

A red wristband is duly fished out and my very sweet box office gets it ready.

I offer up my wrist and as she sticks it in place, she gives me the rundown of the event.

"The show starts at nine. The doors will be opening soon, and it's one hour. It's in two parts. There will be a short break in the middle, about four minutes. Do you know where you're going?"

"Down one level?" I say, feeling proud and a little bit smug that I remembered that detail from the pre-show email.

"Have you been here before?"

I admit that I haven't, but again, I'm secretly rather pleased that she thinks that I hang out in car parks in Peckham.

"It's down the ramp," she says, pointing behind me to the other side of the roof. "You're standing so there will be someone down there who will show you where to go."

She hands me a freesheet, and with that, I'm released.

The doors aren't open yet. But that doesn't matter. I wanted to be here early. Because this place isn't just a car park. Oh no. It's not even a car park with a theatre. It's a car park with a frickin' outdoor gallery.

The rooftop is covered with all sorts of interesting things. And I am off to explore them.

First, there's a twisting set of tunnels. I stomp my way through them, boggling at the sight of leather jackets hung on the wall and dining tables stuck to the ceiling.

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Fellow tunnels gasp and jump when they bump into me. One man even claims I almost gave him a hard attack.

It's all very pleasing.

Next up I go over to a huge painting of a mouth that looks like it was lifted staight off the truck of a travelling circus.

But as I walk over to it I stop.

There's a car up here. An actual car. I stare at it, wondering if this place still has a dayjob as an actual car park, but then a low thrumming, somewhere between a car revving and a swarm of bees, emerges from the vehicle, and I realise that it's another piece of art. I find the panel and read. Something to do with the Polish mob. Very disconcerting.

I walk around a bit more, looking at all the installations. But then I spot people beginning to make their way down the ramp, so I figure it's time to go in.

At the bottom of the ramp, a man with a suit and dark glasses nods as I approach. At first I wonder if he's anything to do with the mob-mobiles, but he smiles and the effect is gone.

"Am I going in the right direction?" I ask, suddenly doubtful. Behind him there's a huge pillar of TV scenes, and I think I might have stumbled upon another piece of art.

"You are in the right place," he says, kidly. "Just speak to my colleague over there and she'll show you to your seat..." He spots my red wristband. "Or standing or whatever."

I head in the direction he indicates, and show my wristband to the woman standing there. "Standing? Yup, if you just go to the back."

I seem to be walking behind the stage. There's loads of speakers and a tech desk here. And then in front of them, a dance floor, surrounded by little lights, and seating on three sides.

At the other end, there's a woman wearing a pink hoody. "Standing?" she asks, clocking the wristband. "Yup, you're just around here at the back," she says, pointing to a raised platform behind the seats.

There aren't many people here yet. So I pick a space near the middle. There's a railing to lean against, and the platform means I should be able to see over the heads of the people sitting in front. These spots were sold for as restricted view, but I think even my short-arse is going to be fine. Pretty darn good for a fiver, I must say.

There's someone on stage, having a photoshoot. At first I think she's a model, because she's giving serious pose. And then I figure she's one of the dancers. But when I put my glasses on, I realise I know who that is. I recognise her. It's Sharon Eyal. The choreographer.

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When they're done taking pictures, Eyal slips on those huge bulky trainers. You know the ones. They're all over Instagram. I want to say they're called Buffalos, but I might be making that up. Either way, she's rocking it and I'm super jealous, because I want some. But I know I would look ridiculous in them. And not the good kind of ridiculous. The kind with geometric hair paired with architectural glasses. Just the what-the-fuck-is-she-doing kind. Which is not a look I fancy rockin' at my age.

But somehow, I don't mind being less cool than Sharon Eyal.

That was never I battle I was going to win.

As for the rest of the audience, I'm not so sure. There's a lot of oversized shirts going on. And baggy trousers. And massive jackets. In fact, everything they're wearing is huge. Like I've stumbled into the student halls on the last day of term, and there are just piles of laundry everywhere.

Even the woman in the pink hoodie looks cool. Now I see her from the back I can see that it says "Ask me about the art," in block capitals, which is a phrase I'm spotted elsewhere around here so it must be a Bold Tendencies thing, but I don't care, because I really, really, want one now. Even in fucking pink. I don't care. Ask me about the art, dammit.

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As more people arrive, the standers all shuffle around to make room for them. But after a while, no amount of shuffling will fit everyone in, and a second row starts to form.

A small group gather behind me. They manage to push the girl in next to me, but the blokes are left behind.

"I want to sit on the floor," one of them announces,

"There's loads of space!"

But they decide to stay put.

The lights dim. People start to come out from a door behind us.

There's Sharon Eyal again, with a cute little boy next to her. They go and take up position in the middle of the central block of seating, standing close to each other.

The music bangs out loud, and the dancers appear, dressed in skin-tight black bodysuits.

It's a strange set up this. Not the stage or seating or anything. That's pretty standard for a pop up. I mean the car parkiness of it all. I'd never really noticed just how low the ceilings in car parks are before. It's not the most logical location for a dance performance. Jumping is out, for sure. They’d hit their head mid jete.

Good thing Eyal isn't really into the jumpy thing. More shuffling steps and twisting trance-like limbs.

People start getting their phones out, taking pictures. That's a thing I've noticed about these unusal spaces. Whatever barriers are broken to get performance of theatres seems to have smashed the normal conventions of watching it.

A bloke sitting in front of me films a short clip, starts editing it on his phone, then posts it to Instagram.

As soon as it's uploaded, he does it again.

Then he navigates to his profile to make sure it's gone up.

It has. So now his 18 followers can enjoy a ten-second amateur film, taken above the heads of the people sitting in front, of a group of dancers dressed in black, performing in low lighting. I'm sure they'll really enjoy it.

He shows it to the woman he's with.

She's impressed at least. She impressed that she takes her own film. Which she then sends in a Whatsapp message. "Lev dance company [heart emoji]" she types.

I can't help but think the heart emoji is a touch insincere, considering she's been playing on her phone for the entire performance.

As the bloke lifts his phone up right in front of me, yet again, to take some more footage, I let me eyes wander over to Eyal and the boy.

They are having great fun. He's drumming along to the music with his arms, she's got her own groove down.

He tugs at her sleeve, and she leans down so that he can whisper something in her ear.

It's super cute.

As the piece finishes, the lights go down and the audience roars their appreciation, masking the music that is still playing.

"What's happening?" asks the bloke standing behind me.

"It's the interval," his friend says. "Shall we go to the bar?"

"Can we?"

"Yeah. We've got like, twenty minutes. It's still open. We should get a drink, otherwise we'll just be standing here for twenty minutes."

I want to tell them it's four minutes, not twenty, but it's too late. They're already off, circling around the stage towards the bar.

Four minutes later, they haven't returned. I hope it's because they just have found some empty seats to sneak into.

I use the time to look at the freesheet. Turns out the tower of screens are actually videos taken in the rehearsal room. So, you know, that's cool.

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The lights go down, and the car park is filled with an inky blackness, made all the ribbon of London lights around us.

Trains rumble past, competing with the loud, ravey music, and I can't help but think about what the neighbours must feel about all this. Loud music pounding out at 10 o'clock on a school night, without even the benefit of walls to keep it contained.

At the end, the audience jumps to their feet - including the pair who spent the entire performance working on their social media. Through the forest of bodies, I can just about make out Eyal and the boy joining to dancers for the bows. The boy demonstrates his flossing technique and a dancer joins in, making us all laugh.

The dancers are handed huge pink blooms, which they immediately run out to the audience with, handing them over to people in the front row.

As soon as the house lights are back on, I'm off, leaping down from the platform and racing through the press of people unsure if they need to get in one more drink before they go home. There's a train back to Victoria in, gawd, six minutes, and I am going to make it, dammit.

Down the pink stairs.

Counted out by security on a little clicker.

Back outside and onto the spiral staircase, weaving through the slow-moving crowds.

I pelt it past the Multiplex, past the back, over the crossing, round the corner, into the station, tap in, up one flight of stairs, then another. I can hear the train pulling in. Oh gawd. But it's okay, I'm here, I'm here. A few more steps. I fling myself through the open doors and collapse into an empty seat just as my lungs are about to explode.

Made it.

But damn, I swear Peckham is trying to kill me.

Wash Out

Eight months into the marathon, and I think you know me well enough to sense that I'm a bit of a daredevil. A thrill-seeker. A speed junky. Always chasing that next high.

So on a Friday night, as the clouds darken and the rain begins to pour, there's only one place I could be heading.

Yup. I'm off to catch for some free outdoor theatre.

Yeah, it's risky. I know. But don't worry. I've checked their Twitter feed and there's no mention of it being called off. And with a six o'clock start, there's still time to run over to a different theatre and catch another show if it does get rained out.

There is the tricky matter of what to wear, but as I'm currently living out of a suitcase, and don't own any waterproofs anyway, I just make sure I've got my scarf in my bag and head off to London Bridge.

On the short walk from the station, umbrellas pop open all around me, but I refuse to give in. I march on, striding between the raindrops and resolutely deciding not to put up my own umbrella.

It's just rain. It's fine. The only thing I have to lose is my eyeliner.

Still, it's not without trepidation that I approach The Scoop.

And not just because everyone seems to be scurrying away in the other direction.

A low stone wall is quarantined behind crowd-control railings. Their only purpose seemingly to stop people from peering down into the stage from above. All I can see is a lighting rig, peeking up from inside the well like a submarine's periscope.

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As I walk around, following the path that leads to the bulbous glass shape of City Hall, I finally manage to catch a glimpse of what's happening.

Which is to say: nothing.

Rows and rows of empty seats. Wet and empty seats.

Wide stone steps, circling the floor-level stage, are filled with nothing but the slick sheen of rain.

I press on, walking round towards the entrance.

Two security guards stand around wearing hi-vis jackets. They don't pay me any mind as I walk past.

A woman in a waterproof does. She smiles as I approach, looking damp but resolute.

"Is the performance still going ahead?" I ask, a touch sceptically.

It's a couple of minutes to six. If it's happening, it's has to be soon.

"It is," she says, sounding very stoic about the whole thing.

I am filled with admiration. You have to applaud theatre people. They are the ancestors of those epic posties of old. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these stage managers from putting on a fucking play.

"Oh, you brave souls," I say, really meaning it.

"There's a marquee that you can sit under if you do decide to see it. It's not strictly for the audience, but there are only five people here so..." She lets the sentence trail away.

"I'm going to go for the marquee then," I say, and I do.

I walk around the back of the seating, past a small wooden shed, and find the promised marquee. Underneath there's a tech desk, being kept nice and dry, a small group of people huddling around it, and a dog.

I duck my head under the marquee and find an empty spot.

A gust of wind sneaks in, picking up my skirt just as I'm trying to sit down, and wafting it over the sleeping dog. They lift their head and look at me through half-closed eyes.

"Sorry," I apologise to the dog's owner. "I'll try and keep a hold of my skirt away from him... her? Him? ... her?"

The owner looks at me from under her umbrella. "It doesn't matter," she says before turning away.

Well, alright then.

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The dog isn't bothered by either my skirt or my misgendering and they promptly go back to sleep.

A second later, someone arrives with a rolled-up blanket, and the owner carefully tucks the dog in.

The dog sighs contentedly.

They look super comfy.

The rest of us shiver as we wait for the show to start.

A young woman races down the steps towards the stage. We're off! The Sea Queen, a very appropriate title for the weather, as the pirates slop their way across the wet stage.

It's pretty cute. There are songs. And swords. And a girl pirate who don't take no nonsense from any boys.

They're all miced up, but even so, it's hard to hear over the patter of the rain on the roof of the marquee. I strain to make out the lyrics and then, as a cast member darts off to the left, I realise I don't have to. Because there's a captioning screen right there. It's got all the words, and I hadn't even noticed it. So, I can read along the bits I miss.

I'm very happy right now. Even if it's freezing.

As the pirates' shirts grow sodden I scramble about in my bag for a scarf.

More people arrive. A cool looking girl stands on the steps to watch from beneath the shadow of a huge umbrella. People walking past stop to look over the wall. A family appear and the two small girls squirrel themselves under the marquee, sitting close to the dog - but not too close.

But the rain doesn't stop. Puddles begin to form on the stage.

As the actors race about, swashbuckling about with swords, the stage manager comes out. She raises her hand and the battle stops, mid-swash.

"Ladies and gentlemen," she calls out. "Apologies to those that have just arrived, and those in the audience sheltering," she says, indicating our group under the marquee. "We’re just going to pause-"

"-the pivotal moment!" says the girl pirate, earning herself a giggle.

"Pause for health and safety reasons," continues the stage manager. "We're just going to check in with one another."

"We won't tell who wins!" says pirate girl.

"Shame!" calls back one of the marqueers.

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The cast all creep their way damply off stage and go to hide behind the set.

The rain continues to pour down onto the marquee, weighing down the roof until a huge flood splashes off and makes us all jump.

Underneath, a gentle camaraderie forms between the marqueers.

A couple gets chatting with the lady at the tech desk. She's the captioner. She was supposed to be doing the show on Wednesday, but it got rescheduled. Because of the rain.

They ask if she's a student and are surprised to learn that no, it's her actual job. Then they ask about the actors, and are again shocked to find out that they've all graduated and are now bona fide working actors.

We wait. This rain really isn't letting up.

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I blearily stare at all the office blocks rising above the edge of The Scoop. Odd view. Considering we have the river right behind us. You'd think they'd want Tower Bridge as a backdrop.

Perhaps I should go. Not because I'm damp and cold. I am damp and cold, but the actors must be damper and colder, and I do wonder whether they would feel more comfortable leaving if, well, we weren't here.

"Looks like they're stopping," says someone nodding towards the stage. A couple of actors scuttle out from behind it. They're in costume. But not the pirate costumes from before. They're in doublets. Fancy doublets. With frogging. Not really suitable wear for the high seas. These look altogether more Shakespearian fare.

The family decide to call it quits.

"Thank you for coming," says the captioner. "Sorry we couldn't do anything about the weather."

"Oh, are you in control?" asks the dad.

"Yeah," says the captioner with a sigh. "Sorry."

They say goodbye to everyone and make their way out into the rain.

The rest of us cross our arms and wait for news.

The stage manager reappears.

It isn't looking good.

"Ladies and gents," she starts. "Thank you so much for your patience. That took a little longer than expected. We're going to have to cancel this show, just because the floor is a bit slippy. But the forecast is looking good for later and we're still going ahead with Twelfth Night and we'd love for you to stay and see our beautiful production on the same set. It starts at eight, so don't go too far, go get a drink something warm to eat, and well see you later."

And she's off. Presumably to find a drink and something warm to eat for herself.

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More cast members appear. One of them is wearing a massive dress. So massive she needs help keeping the skirts up away from the ground. It's pale cream. Can't be having that dragging only on the damp concrete.

They wave at us as they make their way around the seats, stopping to clap in our direction as they draw near.

We applaud right back.

Not all heroes wear capes. But they frequently wear big arse-dresses and ruffs.

Time to go.

I pull my jacket tight around me and emerge from the marquee.

It's not so bad now that I'm not sitting on a cold stone step.

As I clamber back up the steps, the rain stops. The sky clears.

People start to emerge from the cafes and pubs they'd been hiding in.

I decide to walk to Embankment. Take in the river.

I won't be coming back for the second show. I've already seen two Twelfth Nights this year. I'm sure the cast with cope with my absence. They're made of strong stuff.

Chateauneuf du Programme

Ah, the glamour of the West End. The bright lights of Piccadilly Circus. The hoards of French teenagers hanging out with Eros. The shops heaving with Union Jack merch. You can't beat it.

Honestly, I can't think of a better place to watch a musical, set in Peckham, and based on a TV show that aired its last episode before I was born.

If you hadn't guessed, I'm off to see Only Fools and Horses. Only Fools and Horses the Musical, I should add. Because, yup. It's a musical. Something that managed to escape me until I saw one of the banners outside the theatre, buffeting in the wind.

I'm not sure who thought that what Del Boy was lacking as a character was a heartfelt ballad, but someone did, because it's now a thing. And I'm here to see it.

At the Theatre Royal Haymarket.

What ever happened to the Haymarket?

No, I'm not dissing their programming choices. At least, not right now. I just mean, wasn't there a thing? It was for sale a few years ago, right? And, like, wasn't there a Kickstarter to raise money to buy it? On behalf of a collective that would use it to programme female writers. Or something like that.

Anyway, it's clear from where I'm standing on Suffolk Street that they were not successful. Which is a shame.

Not that there's anything wrong with the idea of Only Fools and Horses. The Musical.

Full disclosure, I actually really loved that show as a kid.

It was one of the few things we would watch as a family. That and Are You Afraid of the Dark.

Yeah, there was always quality TV playing in the Smiles household.

Back in the early nineties, it took a lot to convince my Mum to switch over from the newly launched QVC. But she was always down for a rerun of whatever classic Trotter-tale was on that afternoon. We'd sit together, giggling away, having great fun, until the end credits would roll and a second later Joan Rivers would be trying to sell us a necklace covered in glittery eggs. I sometimes used to wish that Derek Jason would join the Midnight Society to help stop the curse of home shopping.

I jostle my way through the Phans crowding the opposite pavement on their way to Her Maj's Theatre and head in.

The Haymarket has that classic West End layout which keeps all the different tiers separate, with different entrances for each of the circles to ensure that there is no disgusting mixing of the classes.

What it doesn't have, is any indication of where the box office is.

I examine each of the doors, and pick the one in the middle because it doesn't have a queue.

I find myself in the foyer, and here I find the queues. Two of them. One on the left. One on the right.

"Err, box office?" I ask the nearest front of houser.

He points to the one on the right.

Ah. Yeah. Of course. I should have guessed that. It's the classic hole-in-the-wall arragement. My favoruite kind.

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I give my surname and get a ticket in exchange. No fuss. No questions. Easy.

That done, I go back outside to see what door I need to go through.

Upper Circle and Gallery? Nope.

Private Boxes? Nope.

Royal Circle? That's the one.

I join the line, and find myself queueing to get back into the same exact foyer I just left.

Fuck's sake.

At least I'm getting the full Haymarket experience I suppose. Bag checks and all.

"I'm just going to need to check your bag," says the bag checker. "If it's full to the brim we might need to move some stuff."

It is full to the brim. I carry around a lot of stuff. Including the programme from my matinee today. I hope he doesn't notice that.

"Do you mind if I look under here?" he says, pointing to my scarf which is buddled up on top of the pile. I move it for him. "Lovely," he says, as he has a little poke around in what must be the most gentle and well-handled bag check I've had on this marathon. No squeexing of bottoms and touching things without permission here. A fully consensual bag check. Very 2019. I like it.

"Now," he says, as I zip up my bag. "You go through the door right in front of you."

And I'm in.

But I don't go through the door right in front of me though.

I have another stop to make first.

The merch desk.

This was the queue that confused me earlier, but there's no queue now.

"Can I get a programme?" I ask the lady behind the desk.

"Of course!" she beams. "That's ten pounds."

Blimey. "Blimey." I'll admit it's been a while since I did the West End. But still. Ten pounds. Fucking hell. "Okay," I say. What else can I do but agree? I mean... I'm eight months into the marathon. I can't baulk now. And it's not like I haven't paid more.

"I like your purse," she says as get out my debit card.

I thank her. It is a nice purse. It's in the shape of an elephant. I've had it since I was at uni. He's looking a bit sad and creased now, but he still makes me smile. So he stays.

"Are you looking forward to the show?" she asks brightly. I can see she's doing her bestest to help me recover from the price-shock.

"Yeah, kinda," I say, feeling guilty about not being more enthusiastic.

It's not her fault that I'm only here for marathon reasons.

"I know what you mean," she says, nodding sympathetically. I'm not sure she does, but I'm really appreciating the effort. This is customer service excellence. Whoever is doing the training at the Haymarket needs one hell of a payrise. And perhaps should consider tackling the staff at the Soho as their next project.

"I'm sure it is," I say, trying my best to be positive. "I just have like, a mental block or something."

"You'll come out smiling," she promises before offering me a receipt.

I hope she's right.

I go through the door, as directed, and start walking up the stairs. They're well fancy. Custom carpets with the letter H woven into them topped with little crowns.

At the top, a front of houser steps out to intercept me. I show him my ticket.

"Great," he says, all smiles and friendless. "Just through the door ahead and on the left. Bars and toilets are down there," he says, pointing off to the right.

A second later a programme seller stops me to ask if I know where I'm going.

This is starting to get a bit intense. I'm not used to all this niceness. It's like Pret love-bombed all over the theatre. Soon they'll be offering me free coffees and tweeting me heart emojis.

I find my seat without further assistance and settle down in the front row to find out exactly what ten pounds means in the world of programmes.

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I'll give them this: it's hefty. Lovely paper stock. And some great artwork. They have Grandad's army discharge record, dating profiles for the characters, the menu of Sid's Cafe, and a whole double-page spread of classified ads from the Peckham Echo. They sure had a lot of fun making this. And perhaps all these cute bits are worth ten quid to a superfan. However, this musical is supposed to be set in the eighties. And yet the classified ads are full of mobile numbers, and even worse, 020 area codes, which I'm sure I don't need to remind you, weren't a thing until 2005.

I put the programme away and concentrate on the theatre. It's really lovely in here. All chandeliers and paintings of naked nymphs. When the choice came to go big or go home, they went big. And then bigger. It looks like the decorators were in a Rococo-off in who can add the most twiddly bits to their sections. And better yet, it's haunted. So, you know I'll be keeping an eye out for theatre ghosts.

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My neighbour arrives and she is very dressed up. Matching bag and purse. One of those tweedy Chanel jackets. Hair is freshly blown and she's carrying a Selfridges shopping bag on one arm and a suited-up boyfriend on the other.

I hide my battered black rucksack under my chair.

As I take in the rest of the audience, I realise that I am properly underdressed, which is not a feeling I get all that often. I like my clothes. I like to dress up. In dresses. Sometimes skirts. I literally don't even own a pair of jeans. I only have one pair of trousers, which I dig out if I need to hike up a cliff or something, but otherwise, it's all skirts and belts and vintage trinkets. But my studded clompy boots are marking me out as a slob in the midst of all these kitten heels.

The lights dim. There's an announcement.

Switch off phones, pagers, and walkmans. Because noise isn't "pukka or cushty."

That gets a giggle. And with the audience still laughing, we're off. And... it's exactly what you'd think it would be. An extended episode of Only Fools. With songs.

And yes, that includes the theme music, which everyone in the audience joins in enthusiastically with.

I mean, everyone apart from me. Because I don’t do singing.

As the set rotates to take us inside the Trotter residence, there’s a coo as Grandad appears in his chair. But my neighbour's bloke isn't having it. "That's not Paul Whitehouse!" he mock-whispers to Chanel Jacket.

Oh dear. Someone left it a bit too late to book their tickets, and missed out on the original cast. Probably was too busy matching her shoes to her bag.

Despite being set in South London, they make full use of their position opposite Her Majesty's Theatre and take every opportunity to mock Phantom of the Opera, even sending Rodney and Cassandra off on a date there. Which is a nice, gentle, in-joke for those whose only knowledge of theatres are the ones they say on the way in from the tube station.

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It's the interval now, and I'm not sure I really want to be the goth-girl lurking in the bar, so I stay where I am, drinking in the Roccoco joy. As the auditorium empties, I peer into all the dark corners for any sign of spirits, but the only ones I spy are in the hands of people making their way back from the bar.

I bet the real ghosts all being kept busy by the ushers. Having their ectoplasm mopped up and the being sent to sit on the naughty step when they try and scare an audience member.

"Sorry, can I be a nuisance?" asks Chanel Jacket's bloke. Without Chanel Jacket. But with Chanel jacket. He drapes it over the edge of the circle. Carefully folded.

An usher comes over. I get excited that she might be here to shoo off a ghost, but no, she wants the tweedy jacket removed. Chanel Jacket's bloke drapes Chanel jacket over her seat instead.

When Chanel Jacket returns, she rummages around in her bag and pulls out a folding fan. It's already half unfolded. She flaps it around it its half-cocked state and I begin to grow suspicious about the matching accessories and tweedy jacket. I'm not sure how a woman can rise to such levels of sartorial splendour without learning how to flick open a fan properly.

I'm just about to offer to teach her, but she twists round in her seat, digging her knees into my leg, and I decide that I'm not cut out for the world of fan education. So I let her flap it around ineffectually. An impressive outfit ruined by terrible fan skills.

We're back in Peckham now, with the cast doing their mostest to give us a good time and Tom Bennett's Del Boy always ready with a wink for the audience.

And after a rollicking sing-along as a send-off, and one final dig at the Phantom, we're sent back into the West End.

But Peckham with forever remain in our hearts.

Unfortunately.

Early to the Execution

I'm off to court. And by court I mean a council chamber. And by council chamber I mean that I'm going to be watching that site-specific, immersive, Agatha Christie play over in London County Hall. Witness for the Prosecution.

I'm a little worried about that. The immersive bit.

I had a look at the website for the production and found, buried deep in the FAQ, the very question that I always want to ask: Will there by any audience participation?

And you know what, they manage to write an entire answer without either confirming or denying it. I bet they had a lawyer draft it for them.

They state that its an immersive production. They admit that actors will be in the aisles. And then they assure the reader that the audience remains seated throughout the performance, But at no point do they answer their own question.

And that worries me even more.

As does the recommendation that we should arrive forty-five minutes before the start time.

Especially as I'm reading this while on route, barely an hour before the matinee kicks off.

They best have their speediest bag checkers on duty this afternoon because there is no way I'm going to make it.

As it happens, I'm sideling down Belvedere Road by 2pm, and the lobby at London County Hall is next to empty when I arrive.

"Are you here for the play?" someone asks as I go in, blinking against the gloom after all that dazzling sunlight going on outside.

"Yeah," I say, managing to make out the very smartly dressed young man who's talking to me. "I just need to pick up my ticket." I point towards the box office lurking behind him at the other end of the foyer.

"Can I just check your bag first?"

Of course he can. I open it for him and he prods around at the top layer before giving the bottom a good squeeze. Honestly, the indignities my bag suffers through in order to support me on this marathon.

The smartly dressed young man doesn't find anything suspicious, so he lets me go off to collect my ticket.

I give my name, and one of the two box officers behind the counter digs it out for me. There's a display of programmes, with a sign. Four pounds. Cash only.

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Four pounds is fair enough, but what's this 'cash only' nonsense? Surely the whole point of buying one at the counter rather than off one of the front of housers in the auditorium is so that you can use a card. Do they not have a card machine back there? How on earth do they manage to deal with walk-ups without one? Perhaps this is a more immersive experience that I had anticipated. We really are being sent back to 1953, and I need to find myself some shillings quick because decimalisation hasn't hit yet and the box officer is going to look at my fiver as if I just handed him a membership card to crazy town.

But the box officer takes my note and gives me change without fuss.

I'm almost disappointed. All of that build up and I managed to get through the doors within three minutes. What am I supposed to do with the other twenty-seven? I hang around in the lobby. It's very impressive. Mosaic tiled flooring with some sort of crest action going on. A fireplace. Stone carvings. It is just like being in an episode of Poirot. I full expect to see David Suchet strolling though one of those glass-paned doors muttering about 'the little grey cells.'

I take a few photos. But after that, I soon run out of things to do.

It's time to go in.

Two ushers flag the very grand looking staircase. Behind them looks a high iron fence which I presume they use to lock us all in once we've been found guilty.

I show my ticket to the closest one.

"Central Gallery," she says, reading it. "Up the stairs and to the left."

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Signs pointing out directions to all the different doors are wrapped around the massive marble pillars, as thick as tree trunks.

I check my ticket.

I'm after door number seven.

The nearest pillar says that doors four to nine are on the left.

A front of houser catches me looking at the pillar, and he gives a here-to-help kinda smile.

"Is door seven this way?" I ask, pointing in the direction of the arrow on the sign.

"It's just through here," he says, indicating a doorway behind him. The exact opposite direction of the arrow.

Good thing he's there, I guess. Having a front of houser on duty by the door is definitely a lot more efficient than accurate signage.

I go through the door. There's a stairwell in here. Considerably less grand than the marble monstrosity behind me.

Up I go. And up. And up. Everything becomes that bit less stately the higher I go.

These are clearly the town hall version of theatre's povvo stairs.

I'm not after a drink though. I'm still trying to locate door seven.

The signs send me off to the right.

Down a corridor with windows overlooking a grim looking courtyard.

And there, on the left, are a few steps leading up to a door.

Door seven, according to the sign. There's even a crest on it. The Royal coat of arms that is used by government departments. Dieu et mon droit and all that.

Inside, I find the gallery. Long leather covered benches with an impossibly steep rake.

But I don't even have the chance to contemplate those dangerous-looking steps because my attention is entirely focussed on the other side. The view.

A courtroom.

Sort of.

Not like any courtroom that I've seen before. Even on TV.

Concentric circles of leather chairs surrounding a raised stage.

The judges' bench looks over it, and the figure of Justice presides over the entire thing. Sword in hand. It's enough to make me feel like I've done something very very wrong. Justice may be blind, but Guilt has frickin' laser vision.

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I should probably go find my seat.

I wobble my way up the very narrow steps up to the back row.

I presume that's where I'm sitting. Row D. That's the onetwothree - fourth row back.

I peer at the benches. I don't see any seat numbers. Or any indication of what row it is.

Oh wait. There's something. On the ground. I can't make it out. It's so gloomy up here.

I get out my phone and light up my screen, directing it towards the floor.

Ah, there we go. Tiny seat numbers on tiny plaques.

I shuffle my way into the row.

It's really high up here.

Like, really high.

At least the rake is good though. At least, I think it is. There's no one sitting in the row in front just yet. There's no one in this entire gallery. I'm sitting up here all by myself. I'm starting to think that I'm the only one who actually read the FAQs on the website.

Eventually, someone else turns up. He stares at the rows for a long minute, bending over and squinting at the ground before he too gets out his phone to help light the way.

"The seat numbers are on the floor," I say, feeling helpful.

"I was just checking I was in row C," he replies.

This becomes a pattern. New people coming in. Them blinking in confusion at the floor. The emergence of their phone. And then one or other of us passing on a vital piece of information.

"That's row B."

"The one at the end is seat 30."

"No, you've come through the wrong door."

"Seriously, there's no seat number 10 here."

"What door number does it say on your ticket?"

"Well, then perhaps that's the door you should have taken."

"Don't get pissy with me."

"Fucking bitch."

I jest.

I didn't say any of that.

I sure thought it though.

I got quite worked up. I'm really warm now. There are fans blasting up here, but they are pointed up, and cooling nothing but the ceiling. I need a drink.

I make my way back down the very steep steps, holding onto the balustrade very tightly as I go. People wander round the corridors looking lost, holding tickets in front of their faces and muttering door numbers to themselves.

I leave them to fend for themselves and wind my way back to the bar.

The queue stretches all the way across the little foyer and out into the opposite corridor.

That is... way too much effort for a gin and tonic.

Thankfully, there are a couple of jugs of water on the table behind, with a stack of cups nearby.

"Can I help myself to water?" I ask. Just in case it was special legal water or something.

"Yeah, go for it," says the woman behind the bar with a wave of her hand.

Super.

Armed with my cup of water, I stumble my way back to my seat.

More people are in now. But I still have my entire bench to myself. That's rather pleasing. I quite fancy the idea of sprawling around up here with my cup of water in my hand, and my fan in the other, lording it over all those fools below who spent real money on their tickets just to be cooped up in chairs. With armrests.

Suckers.

Wait.

Hang on. What is that?

The group of old ladies sitting in the front row have put something on the stage and are pushing it around between them.

I dig my glasses out of my bag to get a better look.

It's a box of Maltesers.

They're treating the stage as if it were the conveyer belt in YO! Sushi, sliding their snacks around between them.

Hell maybe other people, but they save a special layer of it saved for weekday matinee audiences.

A front of houser closes the door, sealing us all in together in our sweltering inferno,

At least I got my whole row to myself.

As soon as I think it, I regret it. The theatre gods, they be listening, and they be cruel. And just as I am cursing myself internally, the door opens once more, and two men come in, heading straight for my row.

They probably don't deserve the death glare I sent shooting their way, but it's too late now, the show is starting.

Or at least, the pre-show is.

An actor, who according to the programme is Karlina Grace-Paseda, and is playing the role of Stenographer comes out when a rather nice suit, to swear in the jury.

I hadn't noticed them before. Two rows of seats, tucked up next to the judges' bench.

She hands them a bible and a piece of card, and each one in turn holds up the book in one and reads from the card in the other.

There's two seats still unoccupied. Ten members of the jury. I'm not sure this is a fair trial.

I wonder what they do in these situations. Bring in some more people from the stalls?

But as their lights dim, those two seats remain unoccupied. Making a mockery of this entire process.

Still, no time to think of that. A man is being dragged on stage and is about to be hanged and I have never been so glad to be sitting high up in the gallery before that is alarming as fuck.

It really doesn't look good for him.

Not even when, fifteen minutes in, the doors open once more and the two missing jury members are slipped in.

I keep a close eye on them, but they're more interested in the business of folding up their coats and getting comfy then what is happening on stage.

I think Lewis Cope's Leonard Vole should demand a retrial.

Although, I'm not sure I could handle that.

The fans are off, and while they weren't doing much, at least I knew they were trying.

"It's so warm!" says a lady as we all make our escape in the interval.

She's not wrong.

I head for the corridor and hang out next to an open window overlooking a grey courtyard, and try to cool off.

My little perch turns out to be rather popular and I'm soon surrounded by a bunch of ice cream eaters discussing the case.

Well, I say ice cream eaters but...

"I think one of the lawyers did it," says one, as she stares blankly at her tub.

"Really? I think it's a double jeopardy situation," says another as he watches her struggle. "It's under the lid."

"Double jeopardy? I don't understand how that works. What do you mean under the lid?"

"So, he can't be tried again. Here, the spoon's under that card."

"Oh, I see!" she says, retrieving the little spoon. "Nah. I still think it was the lawyer."

"That's... an interesting theory."

It is an interesting theory. But not one that I can weigh in on. Because I already know the ending. I say the TV adaptation a couple of years ago, and I remember the general gist of it.

Then again, the play might be different. We don't know which way that jury is going to go. Those two latecomers may be the key to overturning everything.

As I go back in, the Stenographer is swearing them in. Better late then never I suppose.

There seems to be something else going on now.

The members of the jury are being asked to write something.

They tear pages out of their notebooks.

Two pages each.

I think we can guess what they're writing.

Guilty on one.

Not guilty on the other.

Looks like we're having a Blue Peter trial.

Here's a verdict I made earlier!

It's not looking good though.

When the judge, Michael Cochrane, comes out, he lays down a pair of white gloves and a black cloth in front of him.

No explanation is needed. We all know what that means. The black cloth is still in the public consciousness even if it's not on our judges' heads anymore.

Although, with Priti Patel as home secretary, there'll probably be handing them out at every county court in the country by the end of the year.

When the time comes, the stenographer goes over to the jury, and they hand over their pieces of paper.

A jury member stands. And she reads out the verdict.

Very well done. A lovely clear voice. Although she should probably have put down her coat beforehand.

During the bows, the actors all point to her, and she gets her own round of applause. And a spotlight.

Nice.

Time to go.

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At the bottom of the stairs, there's a A-board.

"Remember you are #SwornToSecrecy but share your pictures of the chamber with us."

I stop to take a photo.

Someone asks an usher where the toilets are. She points out to a door. A door leading to the courtyard.

Huh.

Now, I'm not a theatre loo-goer. I tend to avoid that whole... situation. It's fine. I have a bladder of steel.

But this intrigues me.

I follow the directions, out through the door, and do indeed end up in that grey courtyard I'd seen from the corridor window,

There's a little cabin out here. Wooden. With two doors.

One has a queue stretching out of it.

I don't need to read the signs to know which is the ladies.

A woman standing behind me tuts. "Always the way, isn't it?"

Yeah.

I join the queue.

Inside there are two stalls and two sinks. The counter is flooded with water. The floor of the stalls is a mess of loo roll.

There's nowhere to hang your bag. I stare at the filthy floor and contemplate my options before managing to balance the strap over the door lock.

There's a no touch flush, but when I go to wash my hands I can't figure out the tap.

"Am I being dim?" I ask the queue, waving my hands under the spout thinking the no touch technology must extend to the clean up.

The lady next in line pushes a slim button and a shoot of water spurts out. It lasts all of two seconds.

By the time I get out, the queue has grown. It stretches across the courtyard, and all the way through the doors and back into the lobby.

The men's is, of course, empty.

Honestly, this is why I don't pee at the theatre.

This is not what I want from my theatrical excursions, or indeed, from life.

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