“I’m visiting your alma mater tonight,” I tell one of my coworkers as he tries to do some photocopying. “ArtsEd?” just in case he’s forgotten where he studied.
“Oh, right? What are you seeing?”
“I don’t know,” I sigh. “I don’t book to see things. Hang on…”
I bring up the confirmation email. “It’s a double bill. Zero for the Young Dudes and The Sewing Group,” I say, a little doubtfully.
“Right… in my day we did Chekhov and things like that.” He checks his printing. “You know, there’s a great pub just by the station. Like right next to the station. It’s called the Tabard.”
“You mean the one with the theatre upstairs?”
“Oh, yeah,” he says, realising who he's talking to. “You must have been there.”
I must indeed.
“It’s called the Chiswick Playhouse now,” I tell him.
He pulls a face. “Why?”
That I cannot help him with.
Anyway, as I was saying, I’m going to ArtsEd tonight. Or more accurately, The Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation Theatre that lives within the drama school.
Out at Turnham Green station, past the Tabard Pub (and the Chiswick Playhouse), round the corner, and there it is.
I try to step back to get a nice photo of the entrance, but young people are pouring through the door from every direction. Looks like everyone is in to support the troops tonight.
Inside there is a small desk laden with ASOS parcels. And just beyond, some barriers. All open, and not in need of a student pass.
I go in.
The bar is directly opposite, with a curious lack of queue considering I’m surrounded by students. That’s generation z for you right there. Or rather, not right there. They’re all hanging around in the foyer space, leaping onto each other to envelope their friends in great big hugs, and talking excitedly about absolutely everything.
I head over to the box office.
I can tell it’s the box office because there is a tiny little sign posted off to one side of it. “Box office,” it says shyly, peeking out from in between all dancing heads crowding around the desk.
Most of these people already have their tickets. The bright yellow cards flash as their owners bounce around, greeting a newly spotted friend.
Amongst the chaos I find the actual queue. Or at least I think I do, as when I make it to the front, I discover that there was an entirely different line, approaching from an entirely different direction.
The box officer wavers between us. “Hi! Hi! Hi,” she says, her hands alternating between us as if she were playing a game of invisible two handed table tennis.
For once in my lift, I’m going to pull age, if not rank.
“I’m just going to sneak in,” I say, sliding up to the counter. And before anyone can complain, I give my surname.
A quick flip through the ticket box, and I’m being handed my own bright yellow ticket. “Here you are!” says the box officer with more energy than I have ever been able to muster in my entire life.
“Thank you!” I reply, attempting to draw on whatever dregs I have left and failing.
“You’re welcome!” she sings back in return.
It’s no good. I was never meant to be a performer. Better stick to what I’m good at. Sitting quietly and watching the pros get on with it. Well, the almost-pros in this case. The on-their-way-to-being-pros. The studying-hard-and-putting-the-rest-of-us-to-shame-as-they-fight-to-make-it-in-this-impossible-industry-but-have-a-good-a-shot-as-any-of-joining-the-ranks-of-the-pros.
What was I saying? I don’t remember. Let’s move on.
I work my back through the crowd, towards the bar, the only place which isn’t absolutely rammed.
Sitting on the counter are a couple of booklets. I pick one up curiously and find that it’s actually the programme for tonight. I look around, and see no other copies. Good thing I found them before they were all gone!
It’s nice enough. Printed on thick card. Inside there are lovely headshots of all the bright young things. A short intro into each of the two plays. And that’s it. Well, what more do you need, really.
I check the time. It’s twenty-five past. I should probably go in.
A large curved wall is marked up with the name of the theatre in huge letters against a deep red wall. There is no mistaking who paid for this theatre.
The nearest door has a massive queue stretching all the way out of it, but if I’m reading the tiny sign, posted high up on the wall, correctly, then there should be another door lurking being the Lloyd Webber sponsorship opportunity.
I follow it around, past the loos, and into a small corridor.
There’s an usher posted on the end. And a considerably shorter queue. It only has two people in it. Well, three now that I’ve joined.
“Strictly speaking, one of you was supported to go through one door, and one the other,” says the ticket checker as he looks over the bright yellow tickets of the couple in front of me.
“I’m sure they’ll forgive us,” says one.
“They will! They will!” laughs the ticket checker. “Together forever. That’s how it’s meant to be.”
And with that, he lets them through.
Inside, I stand off to one side to get a photo.
It’s nice in here. They spent that Phantom money well.
The walls are made up of stripes, all painted shades of purple and red and pink.
It’s like stepping into a Bridget Riley painting. Or perhaps wrapping one’s self in a Paul Smith scarf. Pick whichever metaphor makes me sound cooler, please.
The stalls are almost full. These young ones don’t fuck around.
“Hello!” says my new neighbour with a massive grin as I sit down.
Did I ever have that much energy and enthusiasm? If I did, it was so long ago that I no longer remember it.
“This is a date,” says my neighbour’s companion. Or, his date, even. “Hold my hand!”
After a bit of grumbling, my neighbour offers out his hand to his date.
Aw. Young love.
The house lights go down.
The first play of the night starts. The Sewing Group.
Two women bend over their hoops, working on their embroidery. As a new member is introduced, they speak in stilted sentences. Unable to get off the subject of their work without floundering, while the newcomer struggles to make sense of her new home.
I can’t blame her. I’m struggling to.
Statements contradict themselves and no one seems sure of their own backstories.
Plus, there are bonnets. I love bonnets. Theatre needs more bonnets. Especially for the audience. It’s so cold in here even my ears are freezing. I’m regretting taking off my jacket. And my cardigan. And my scarf.
Turns out just because a room’s walls are stripey, it doesn’t mean sitting in it really is like being wrapped in a Paul Smith scarf.
Metaphors are lies.
At least the play is good.
It’s funny, and weird, and twisting, and sad, and surprisingly, not written by M. Night Shyamalan.
But as soon as it ends I’m racing back out into the foyer to warm up.
Cardigan very much on, I find a place next to the bar and get out my phone, trying to look as unobtrusive as possible.
I love drama school productions, I really do. But being the oldest person in the audience by a good ten years is not what I’m after from my evenings.
When the call comes to go back in, I’m once again baffled by the sheer verve and passion of young people. “Ladies and gentleman,” the woman on the tannoy squeaks. “Please return to your sets. This performance is now ready to begin. THANK YOUUUUUUU!!!!!”
Honestly, I’m so glad I’m a bitter old hag now. I can have lie-ins. I mean, not now. I’ve got a stupid marathon to do. But 2020? Yeah, I’m not getting out of bed that year. And quite possibly, never again for the rest of my life. I will stitch myself into my pyjamas and surrender to my duvet for ever more.
“Is this the zombie one?” says my neighbour’s date back in the auditorium.
“Ergh!” says my neighbour. “Don’t ruin it for me!”
“But it’s got zombies in it!”
Their date is going super well.
As for me, I don’t care. I’ve never been fussed about spoilers, and am always up for some zombie action,
A girl comes out on stage, plonks herself down and starts eating from a bowl. She lowers her head, fixes her eyes on us, and gives us the most sinister smile I’ve ever been unfortunate enough to witness.
Turns out, Zero for the Young Dudes! is not actually about zombies. It’s about young people. And I think we’ve both seen tonight that the young people have way too much fervor to ever be cast as extras in a Romero movie. Anyway, they’re fighting the power that is the old ones. Willing to sacrifice themselves and everyone else for the cause of socialism. Anyone over thirty is an evil capitalist traitor, and honestly... they’re not wrong. Old people are awful.
Both casts come out for the curtain call, and as soon as the house lights start to come up, I grab my bag and slip out.
I love generation z, I really do, but that doesn’t mean a trust them for a minute. And that play was intense. I skitter back through the barriers and out the door, before they have a chance to get any ideas.