You’d think after my near-fainting incident at the Wanamaker on Friday I’d be taking it easy this weekend. A couple of days off to laze around in bed and eat toast.
Unfortunately, the theatre gods had other ideas. A marathon won’t wait for no woman. So, I was off again, to Ealing this time, for theatre number 28 on the list - a spot of Polly Stenham at The Questors Theatre.
Don’t worry, I still got my toast.
I was actually really looking forward to this one.
I do like Polly Stenham’s work. Even if her plays are all about posh dysfunctional people. Perhaps that's the appeal. As a (somewhat) posh and (somewhat) dysfunctional person myself, I mean.
I’d never been to Ealing before. Stepping out of the South Ealing tube station was a bit of a shock to the system.
It was completely deserted.
Empty pavements. Closed shops. Every house a collage of darkened windows.
Where had everyone gone?
It was as if the entire neighbourhood had been abandoned.
Do the people of Ealing go to bed really early on Saturday nights? Or were they already out partying?
It was hard to tell.
If it weren’t for the constant flow of cars coursing down the road, I might have thought I was in some 28 Days Later kind of situation.
Feeling a little creeped out, I headed straight for the theatre.
This road looked very residential. Don’t get me wrong, it was nice residential, with fuck off massive houses. The type you can imagine being the home to a sweet family of children who rule over a magical kingdom at the back of a wardrobe during the school holidays. But it was residential none-the-less.
Was there really a theatre down there? And if so, what did the neighbours think?
I had to ask myself: would I want to live next door to a theatre? Perhaps, I decided. It would depend on the theatre.
As I was making a mental list of the theatres that I wouldn't mind living next to (yes to the Almeida and the Bush, no to the Young Vic and the Polka) I passed a primary school.
If living next to a theatre means also living next to a school… even a fancy preparatory school, I’d rather nope out of the whole thing. Sorry Ealing. I won’t be moving quite yet.
Amongst all these gargantuan houses, Questors itself was a surprise. It was not the converted mansion that my brain had been expecting, but a modern, glass-fronted building, set back from the road behind a packed car park.
As I picked my way between the vehicles and made my way to the front door, I realised why the pavement here are so devoid of life: everyone drives.
As to prove my point, two cars pulled in and manoeuvred themselves into the last free spaces.
I definitely wouldn’t fit in around here.
Still, you have to admire the people of Ealing for their dedication to amateur theatre. This is quite the building.
There’s a huge blazing sign over the doorways (there are two - with separate entrances for the studio and the main house). I mean, yes - the ‘u’ has burnt out. But I’m sure that will be fixed after the next fundraising drive. It’s still bloody impressive.
As are the staff... or should I say volunteers?
"Is this for the studio?" asked the lady on box office, already reaching for the box of studio tickets. "Or the playhouse?"
"The studio. Good guess," I said, wondering what gave me away. Do I look like a Polly Stenham fan? And if so, what does a Polly Stenham fan look like? It’s my nose, isn’t it? Always gives me away.
Ticket collected (oh, yes - they have real tickets here), I headed back outside and across the way to the Studio door.
Within minutes a queue had formed.
“A queue for the studio? Bloody hell,” laughed a bloke as he came in.
Looks like there are a lot of Polly Stenham acolytes in Ealing. I suspiciously looked up and down the queue, checking to see if we shared any characteristics.
There was one thing I couldn’t help noticing.
We were all very white.
And very theatre.
"I can't believe this is our last proper rehearsal.”
“I’ve just come off 11 weeks of panto.”
“I’m on lighting and sound tonight.”
“What did you think of the script?”
I debated whether I should announce my own theatre creds ("who are we going to commission to write the programme notes?") to indicate that I too was just like them, but somehow I didn't feel necessary. I was there. I was already one of them.
"The play as one hour, forty minutes. No interval," came a booming voice from the front of the queue. "Please use the facilities now, as there's no readmittance." And then, just in case we didn't understand the full implications of this: "It's in the round so you'll be walking across the stage."
The theatrical equivalent of the walk of shame, that is.
"And please read the sign here." He paused. "It says there's smoking and a lot of bad language."
This declaration didn't get the reaction it deserves.
He tried a different tact.
"There's smoking and a lot of swearing," he said, moving down the line and tearing tickets.
"A lot of fucking swearing," piped up the man behind me.
Too much. The ticket tearer attempted to reign in this unruly crowd.
"A lot of interesting language," he amended as he tore the final tickets.
Finally, we were let in.
Even after seeing the fancy frontage, I was taken aback by the scale of the studio.
A good size square floor was surrounded on four sizes by neat rows of seats.
Where did I want to sit?
At the back. Obvs.
But somehow I found myself heading to a front row seat.
After my incident at the Wanamaker, I was feeling invulnerable.
Actors don't scare me no more. So, they want to catch my eye... well, let them. They can even talk to me if they want. To hell with it all.
Though, I still put myself in the corner. Just in case. I was feeling brave. Not stupid.
Plus, there was a nice little gap between the chairs for me to dump my coat and whatnot.
Congratulating myself on my seating choice, I settled in for a good read of my programme.
Oh, yes. They have them too.
I suspect not professionally printed. No bleed on the images. But hey, they were only a pound ("although a donation is always welcome" - they've got a 'u' to repair after all).
The power of the Questors soon became evident as the play started. Piles of black-clad stage hands flooded in, furnishing the space under cover of darkness.
100 minutes later we were done.
As I stepped back out, buttoning my coat in preparation for the fifteen minute walk to the station, clunks sounded all around me. Car doors opened and slammed shuts. Engines started.
And very soon I had Ealing all to myself once more.