Is there anything more hedonistic than taking a half-day off work to watch ballet?
No, my friend. There isn’t.
And I can’t even blame the marathon for such an extravagant use of my time.
I’d had this outing planned for months. There was no way I was going to miss ballet-god Rupert Pennefather’s glorious return to the London stage.
Sadly, we all know what they say about god and plans.
But I wasn’t going to let the little matter of an injury and the resulting cast changes get in the way of my self-indulgent afternoon. So, after a quick lunch at my desk, I sauntered down to the London Coliseum. Or rather, the Coli. Everyone calls it the Coli. Or at least, I think everyone does. I certainly do. Perhaps just the pretentious twats who frequent it on the regular use that name. Of which, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, I am very much one.
Which leads me to this question… how do I write about a venue that I am this bloody familiar with? One that I even have a charming nickname for? I can’t describe walking around in wide-eyed wonder as I’m sure I would have done if I’d been a newbie. The Coli really is the most extraordinary venue. Over-the-top in almost every aspect. It’s not just the gilt, and the velvet, and the massive stage. These are merely the base layer onto which Frank Matcham built his monument to excess. There are domes. Multiple ones. With stained glass. And stone gargoyles guarding the staircase. Marble balustrades. Mosaic covered ceilings (with umbrella’s to match). Carved wooden doors. Roman iconography. Golden horses. And then topping it all, a spinning globe lit up with the name of the theatre.
It has so much bling, even Elizabeth Taylor would think it a bit gaudy.
It is… epic. And ridiculous. And, let’s be real here, utterly hideous.
And I love it.
If that makes me sound like I’m part of some sort of elitist cabal… you are probably right.
I do believe that the arts should be for everyone. And that no one should feel unwelcome at any venue they wish to visit. I’ve had my fair share of feeling uncomfortable and out of place in theatres, as this blog is quickly becoming testament to. I get it. I really do.
But the Coli is one of my happy places. I come here a lot. It’s where they keep the ballet. So I know how it all works.
For instance, I know that the security guards are really stringent about not letting water bottles in. You see will often see a collection of bottles at the bag check table, as trophies of the security searches. As I was heading down St Martin’s Lane, I did a quick rearrangement of my bag in preparation, so that my bottle was hidden between my spare carrier bag and my book.
“The wire is just for my phone charger,” I explained as the man doing bag checks poked around inside and came across my USB cable.
He laughed and waved me through. My bottle headed in with me, undiscovered and unconfiscated.
Skills. Ya gurl has them.
After that… I got some glorious ballet (courtesy of English National Ballet) and bumped into three other members of the cabal. All ballet regulars. All there for a spot of Manon on a Friday afternoon. For the first time in this marathon, I was part of the theatre’s ‘in-group.’ I rather enjoyed it. It’s a sign that you go somewhere far too much when can can go to a random weekday matinee and still meet three people who know. And one of them is a playwright. So, suck it Other-Max’s friends. I know cool and interesting people too.
Three acts and two intervals later. It was time to leave.
I paused in the foyer, looked up at the grand mosaic ceiling, and bid it a quiet goodbye. I won’t be seeing it for a good long time.
I think, the hardest thing to leave behind is the ballet boys with queues in their hair. Oh, Manon. You are a gift of a ballet.
Next stop was the Charing Cross Theatre.
Yes, yes. Quieten down. Don’t worry. I am quite aware that I’ve been there already.
If you’ve read the post (which of course you have, I literally just linked it for you), you’ll know that one of my points in the West End vs Fringe debate was the lack of programmes. Turns out, they do have programmes… now. They just hadn’t arrived in time for my visit.
But thanks to the very helpful person on the other end of the @CharingCrossThr Twitter feed, I was now aware of that. And I had plans to get my hands on one.
Quick walk down past Trafalgar Square, across the Strand, and there… the source of lovely programmey-goodness to soothe my now Coli-less heart, and fill that empty void in my soul. I mean, my programme collection. Obviously. My soul is doing just fine right now. As you can clearly see. And all for the very reasonable price of three quid. Excellent work all round.
Right. Where next?
Kennington, as it happened.
With this one I managed to amaze even myself with my lack of geographical knowledge. Because when I checked the map, I was surprised to see that Kennington wasn’t positioned so far south that it was practically dropping out of the bottom of London. It is a mere two miles of where I was standing. Hardly worth taking the tube for. It was a nice night. I had a warm shawl over my coat. I could walk it easy. So I did.
I was off to the White Bear. If you think that sounds like a public house, you’d be right. The White Bear theatre lives above the White Bear pub. Which is handy.
A fact that, despite already knowing this, still managed to confuse me when I arrived.
When I walked in, I could see the bar. And I could see the sign indicating the presence of a theatre.
What I couldn’t see, is the box office. What I expected, after a few visits now to the more fringey-end of the theatre world, is someone perched on one end of the bar with a laptop, ready to take names and hand out tokens.
But everyone at the bar was busy serving drinks. Like it was some sort of busy and functional pub and not an add on to a theatre.
It took my hearing the theatre bell to realise I actually needed to go upstairs.
And there, at the top of those stairs, I found the box office.
A real one. Not a slither of a counter being otherwise employed, but an actual old school hole in the wall.
“That's an unusual name,” came the reply when I gave my surname.
There’s no denying it. I told you I get a lot of commentary on my name at box offices.
“There's a playwright called Roy Smiles,” he continued. That was a new one. I didn’t know any Smileses outside of my own family. I told him so.
“No relation then?”
Shame. Knowing a playwright is pretty darn exciting, but being related to one… that’s a whole different level. That would blow Other-Max’s friends way out of the water in the Battle of Coolness.
“Would you like a programme? Very good value. Only a pound. Very glossy.”
Oh yeah. This is a man who knows how to tempt a girl.
I can never resist a programme.
He was right. It was very good value. And fantastically glossy.
And it contained the biography of ANOTHER Other-Max. Maximus Polling. Who was playing the role of the young soldier in Franz Kafka: Apparatus.
Playwrights. Actors. I’m really not fulfilling my potential as a Max here. I need to up my game.
Perhaps when I complete this marathon and am crowned Queen of London Theatre (as is my right) I will finally be worthy of the name.
Along with the another Other-Max, I was also treated to another repeating motif: Kafka. It was my second of the week. The first featured in Other-Max’s play, Ghost Fruit.
I guess of have two themes for this week: Other-Maxes and Kafka variations.
I’m really not against either of these things.
Especially when my second dose of Kafka promised brutality, and cruelty, and a mechanical execution machine.
I was keen to see it, and the killing apparatus, but not from up close. I have my limits.
Tricky in a theatre as small as the White Bear. With three rows of bench seats on two sides, at right angles to each other, with the stage acting as the pivot, there aren’t many places to hide.
Terrible rake too. But there no way was I risking the front row. Not for this play.
I slid myself to the end of one of the second rows, so that I could cling to the wall if things got too gruesome.
I’d made a good choice.
There was an uncomfortable amount of rice pudding on view.
I felt quite queasy.
Things like that don’t happen at the Coli.