“… is this an intervention?”
I thought it best to ask. I’d never had one before and I’d expected there to be more passive-aggressive daubing of the eyes with Kleenex.
The reply from Helen came quickly: “Max, you’re loved and valued…”
So it was an intervention then.
If the handkerchiefs were out, they weren’t coming through over the digital messaging system.
I took a grubby tissue out of my pocket and blew my nose before typing my reply. Just to show willing.
“The ‘me’ in my blog is just an exaggerated version of me,” I explained. “Not actual me.”
This is true.
Sort of true.
Everything I write in my blog is real. We don’t do fiction here at the London Theatre Marathon. If I started allowing myself to make things up, even small things, it wouldn’t take me long to embrace the click-bait and go full hog on a SEO-friendly spiral of lies.
There would probably also be listicles.
“How I learnt to embrace sitting in the front row”
“10 ways theatre improves your relationships”
“The cats of London theatre, ranked by snobbishness. You’ll be shocked by who’s at number 3!”
Wait, hang on. That’s a really good idea, actually…
Err, where was I? Right, lying.
I don’t do it. Everything you read has happened. I really did almost faint at the Sam Wanamaker. If I say I turned up to a show a month early, well - I am exactly as stupid as that makes me sound. Any dialogue that you encounter here is as close to an accurate transcription as what my memory can manage.
And I really do have anxiety.
But while I may have put out more than 60,000 words since starting this blog, it might surprise you to find out that I’m fairly selective in what I chose to write about.
“Selective? Max, you spent half a blog post telling us how you turned up to one of your chemistry A-levels drunk the other day,” I hear you moan.
Yeah, and didn’t you enjoy that? Look, I could have done this marathon without ever starting this blog. A few photos and a two line review for Instagram would have served just as well. But, hey - I’m a writer. Of sorts. So that’s what I do. I write. And if I’m writing, I may as well attempt to be entertaining. Which means picking out the most interesting parts of my outings and making a pretty post out of them. Parts which very often touch on my anxiety as they are the cause of so much of my embarrassing fumbling.
And does it not work? Are you not entertained?
My name is Maximus Scaena Riseum, Runner of the London Theatre Marathon, General of the legion of theatre ghosts, loyal servant of the Theatre Gods.
Ah, yes. The theatre ghosts. What started as a silly story soon turned into a running joke and then...
“I’m not going to kill myself by jumping into an orchestra pit,” I messaged, just to be clear.
“I’m not worried about a dramatic suicide so much as wearing yourself out to a point where you are ill and miserable,” rejoined Ellen. “You know you best tho obviously,” she added, ever the diplomat.
Glad we’d got that sorted.
For the time being.
“I can’t believe I’m delivering Crosstown doughnuts while wearing a Greggs t-shirt,” I said, as I turned up at Helen’s flat that evening with Crosstown doughnuts and wearing a Greggs t-shirt.
I was at LAMDA that night, and a trip to Hammersmith is an excuse to buy doughnuts and visit Helen.
We had important matters to discuss.
Like my burgeoning writer-crush on David Ireland.
“He’s got a new play opening in Belfast,” Helen told me setting down a big mug of tea in front of me. She’d just spent the past five minutes dropping a load of intellectual chat about intertextuality and the use of language in Cyprus Avenue on me, which is the type of quality chat I’m after with my doughnuts.
“But seriously Max, this marathon…”
Ah. Turns out you can’t buy off your friends with doughnuts. Well, not for long anyway.
After another assurance I wasn’t dying quite yet, I made a hasty goodbye and rushed over to LAMDA, the sugar high helping to speed my legs along. And I didn’t get lost this time.
At least, I didn’t think I had.
As I walked into the same foyer that had so confused me on my last visit I was left confused anew as girls in school uniforms and lashing of eyeliner wandered around. God, I don’t remember ever looking that cool in a kilt when I was at school. They must be the younger siblings of the actors. Keen to embarrass their big brothers and sisters during their graduation shows. Sweet.
There were rather a lot of them though.
And all in matching uniforms.
That was strange.
Unless it was a local school sending their drama school hopefuls off to inspire and enthuse them before they buckle down for their GCSEs.
I picked up my ticket and lost myself in the babble of all the young people, feeling older and schlumpier than I have ever felt in my life.
Should I take another programme? I already had one from the last time I was here. I took one. They’re free and I’m a hoarder when it comes to programmes.
Plus, I wanted to check out the casting again. I remembered something strange about it all.
With a lot of grads to process, LAMDA have two full casts for Bare. The Jets, and the Sharks. I don’t know whether this is a LAMDA naming convention, or if they were specifically dreamt up for this show, but I love it.
I’m glad I did, as stapled to the Sharks cast page for Bare: A Pop Opera, was a tiny cast change slip, so slim it might have been the shredded output of a Bansky artwork: This performance the role of Sister Chantelle shall be performed by Phoebe Ellabani (a Jet!).
I went in primed for menacing finger-clicking.
God, those kids get everywhere. The theatre was rammed with them. They were all over the… stage.
I’ve been a bit slow lately.
All that theatre. It’s numbing my brain.
“Sorry,” I apologised to the two young men sitting at the end of my row.
They shot to their feet.
“Our fault,” said one. “We got here much too early.”
So respectful these young people.
They probably thought I was a casting director. Why else would I be there?
I shuffled my way in and looked down at the seats. We had some flip down bench seating going on.
“This will require a bit of coordination,” I said as my new neighbour appeared, indicating our joint seating arrangements.
He laughed indulgently, as one does when an elderly granny hands over an expired coupon and tells you not to spend it all at once, and we managed to negotiate the tricky seat flipping between us without injury.
These Gen Z kids are so darn respectful of their Millennial elders. I won’t ever hear a word against them.
They don’t half like it warm in their theatre spaces though.
During my last LAMDA trip I’d been the only one in the audience dressed in winter clothes. Everyone else was in t-shirts while I’d sweated in out in a jumper.
But this time I was ready. Cardigan off. Greggs t-shirt out.
Probably not what a casting director would wear.
I could feel them all mentally filing me as the weirdo stranger in their midst. One with a unhealthy obsession with vegan sausage roles.
They’re not wrong though. I mean, not about the vegan sausage roles. I’ve still yet to try one of those. But the weirdo stranger bit was spot on. I’m not sure a theatre marathon really counts as a reasonable excuse for going to a drama school’s graduation show.
They are gradually turning into my favourite ones though. Not the theatres themselves. They’re fine, I guess. But the intensity of the performances. The energy.
For the marathoner, it’s an inoculation against jadedness. A boost of hope that’ll help you believe in this ridiculous thing called theatre again, to bring everything back into focus when all the shows begin merging into one.
The next morning. I’m at work. Message from Helen. “You want to come to Belfast and see his new play?”
Well, it does one good to get away from the marathon. Doesn’t it?