The Ruffians on the Stairs

Proving once again that I really can complain about anything, I would like it on record that the Hope Theatre is too close to my work.

I stayed an extra hour in the office, walked as slowly as my legs would allow, took a half-mile detour, popped into Boots, and still managed to arrive with fifteen minutes to spare.

At least that gave me time to wrestle with my phone. In the rain. It's now got to the stage where I can't take a photo at all if it isn't plugged into some form of charger.

Let me tell you, if you haven't stood in the rain, balancing an umbrella on your shoulder, a phone in one hand and a charger in the other, than you have not truly experienced a theatre marathon.

Oh yeah, I'm sure it's possible to do this challenge with fully functional technology at your disposal, but is that really in the spirit of the enterprise? No, my friend. No, it is not.

I mean, sure... you would benefit. Better photos, perhaps even better blog posts. They'd certainly be produced by a less stressed blogger. But if my phone didn't crap out and lose my changes at least twice while writing each of my posts, what on earth would I blame my typos on? Riddle me that.

Perhaps we should consider my terrible photos as an external expression of my inner marathon trauma. An artistic series if you will. We can call it: The Downfall of a Theatre Blogger 251.

Fine, we’ll workshop the title later.

Anyway, yes - sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself there. Running down a path that no one is interested in. Certainly not you.

Let's go back to the image of me, standing in front of the Hope & Anchor Pub, taking photos, in the rain.

No, wait. Let's go even further back. All the way to my detour.

Because the truth is - I lied to you.

It wasn't a detour. Or at least not a planned one. I got lost. Well, not lost exactly. I knew where I was. But where I was wasn't at the Hope.

But Max, I hear you sigh. You literally just said this theatre was close to your work. How did you manage to get lost?

Well, I wasn't lost. As I've already told you. I was just... elsewhere.

I walk past the Hope & Anchor a lot. Exactly because of the whole working nearby thing. So when I headed out to go there, that's exactly what I did. I walked past.

I have a lot on my mind at the moment, and... can I blame the rain? Eh. I'm going to blame the rain. It was coming down pretty strong.

Anyway, I caught myself before I had gone too far. And walked myself back.

I must have been looking a bit bedraggled by that point as the man having a cheeky cigarette by the door almost stumbled in his efforts to open the door for me.

The pub was packed, and it took a fair bit of squeezing between tables to make my way to the box office, positioned at the end of the bar.

“Have you been to the Hope before?” asked the bloke manning the box office lapton after I’d been handed my ticket and bought myself a programme (£1).

Ah. He’d sussed me out. Yes, to my shame, this was the first time I had been to the Hope. Over two years of walking past, and I’d never made it through the doors before.

“Right,” he said. “Well, you'll be heading up the stairs. I'll ring the bell when it's time. Its 60 minutes, no interval. And if you leave you can't come back in.”

Nicely done.

Though I think some of the regulars could have stood to have heard that speech. As a few minutes later, I spotted a group heading upstairs. Not wanting to be left behind, I dropped into line and followed them.

The line stalled at the door.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to be up here yet,” came an unseen voice from the top of the stairs.

A queue started forming behind me.

There was no going back now.

We were doing this thing.

Soon the line was winding its way right back down to the pub. I may be a newbie, but this felt very familiar. This was Royal Court Upstairs-style queuing going on right there.


“I have cheese in my pocket,” said the man behind me.

Not to me, you understand. I was just eavesdropping.

“What a strange admission,” laughed his companion.

A very strange admission indeed, but I didn’t get to hear the explanation for the pocketed cheese as the bell started clanging below.

“The doors are now opening for the Ruffian on the Stair,” called out the box office bloke. I fancied he gave the queue a derisive look but that was probably my imagination. Still, I wouldn’t blame him. There was certainly a collective air of delinquency going on amongst us.

The door finally opened, and we made it upstairs. And after having my ticket ripped (what a joy to actually have a proper ticket getting its stub ripped off. It’s one of those theatrical rituals that is so joyful in its simplicity. A proof of use. Like a stamp getting postmarked) we headed inside.

The stage was so small, the front row looked as if they were part of the set. Like dining table chairs pushed back against the wall because the room is needed for something more important than the business of eating.

The bravery that had gradually been building up this month suddenly evaporated. I headed to the second row, in the darkest corner I could find.

And from my tucked away spot, I inspected my ticket.

I hadn’t given it proper attention before. But the combination of ripping and unreserved seating intrigued me.

It had the logo on it. And the twitter handle. The address and the url.

So far, so standard.

But then on the back:


“DID YOU KNOW?” it shouted out in all caps (and bold too!). “By purchasing this ticket,” it continued, in a more reasonable font, “you are personally helping to ensure that all actors you see tonight are paid a legal wage. Aren’t you great?”

I preened. I am pretty great.

That was quite the distracting thought though.

Not my greatness. That’s something I have to live with every day. I mean the legal wage bit.

The Hope Theatre is tiny. TINY. And there were three people on stage.

I tried to do the maths, but failed. I… got distracted by the play.


I’d never seen a Joe Orton work before, and I had really wanted to. I admit it, I was drawn in by story of his demise, a modern-day Christopher Marlowe. But man, that guy could write.

The lady sitting across from me certainly agreed. Her facial expressions as each shocking new line was dropped were magnificent. It was like sitting opposite a live reaction gif. Mouth dropped. Eyebrows raised. She jumped and gasped and jerked back in her seat in perfect time with the action.

I don’t think I have ever loved anyone more than I loved that women during this hour-long play.

May the theatre gods bless and protect you, lady. You are perfect.

Feeling a little woozy from the play and my short-lived love-affair, I had to hold onto the balustrade for balance as I made my way back down the stairs.

The pub was nearly empty now.

I buttoned up my coat, slung on my shawl, and stepped outside.

The rain had stopped by then, and it was snowing.