There’s a school of thought amongst theatre-people, or more specifically, theatre-journalists, that arts venues should be integrated into the daily lives of the community. Not just serving the locals, but being right there, amongst them, in the most literal, physical sense.
The Guardian for one have been banging on about it for a decade now. Ever since the financial crisis - just over ten years ago. Get all those empty high street shops, and hand them over to some artists to play with.
Which, I suppose, is exactly what Tara Theatre did. Except 20-odd years before we’d even heard of sub-prime mortgages.
Before Tara Theatre was Tara Theatre is was a chiropodists. And before that an opticians. And before that, a drapers.
I know all this because I looked it up. Because it was the least theatre looking theatre I'd ever seen. And I've been to a theatre on a barge.
Part of a terrace of shops, and still sporting its large shop window, it blends in nicely with all the other businesses on Garrett Lane.
Which may go some way to explaining how I managed to walk right past it. Twice.
Thankfully, I was alone in my lack of geographical awareness, as the foyer was packed when I did eventually manage to fgure out that this lovely well-lit cafe was actually a lovely well-lit theatre.
To be fair to me though, as theatres go, the cafe elements are strong in this one.
From the bank of bottles behind the box office, to the neat little table and chairs in front of that window, to the reading nook, and the jar of cookies on the counter.
I stared at the cookies while I waited to collect my ticket.
They looked good. They looked really good.
They had Smarties on them.
Thankfully, just as I was about to break out my purse, the queue cleared and I was next in line.
Ticket acquired it was time to explore.
Which, given that the front of house areas are all fitted into a floor space meant to contain a drapers, takes a surprisingly long time. Most of which was taken up by the tiny garden. Covered by a Mark of Zorro of multi-coloured fairy lights and dotted with small tables and chairs, the Tara terrace really is the most delightful spot. Even if the frighteningly warm February weather had forsaken us and a more appropriately spring-like chill had taken over.
“Another big set of Indian doors,” cried out a woman as she stepped out into garden. “Look!”
The man she was with looked as he was bid, and then, without another word, they both turned around and walked back inside.
The doors were very impressive. As were the ornaments that decorated the walls, high enough that they blocked any hint of the busy street beyond. I can just imagine it would be the perfect place to bask in the summer.
Not so much in February. But I basked anyway.
It was almost a shame to say goodbye to it and head into the theatre.
The huge, carved Indian doors that lead through to the theatre space had been flung open.
With the bare brick walls and high ceilings, it could have looked like any fringe venue in London. But trust old Tara to do things differently. High up on the walls are massive carved shutters, sitting on runners just waiting to be pulled back by bright red ropes.
As I snapped some photos, something else red caught my attention.
A paper napkin. Doing its very best to envelop the thickest cookie I had ever seen in my life. It was topped with Smarties.
My row was filling up. There was no way to get out without disturbing them. I was stuck in my seat. Without a cookie.
The cookie owner sat in the row in front of me. I stared at his cookie longingly, regretting every life decision that are led to me sitting there, cookie-less.
Just as I was thinking these thoughts, the cast came in (all two of them), introduced themselves (as Ayesha and Kudzanayi) built the set (put up a banner), introduced the play (The Importance of Being Earnest), and started shaking hands.
That wasn't a good sign.
Hand shaking this early on was a clear indication that there would be high levels of interaction later on.
I was right.
The hand shaking was followed up by the offer of invisible cucumber sandwiches to those sitting in the front row.
I was not in the front row.
I did not get an invisible cucumber sandwich.
Don't get me wrong. I would rather not have an invisible cucumber sandwich, but if I did get one, I'm fairly certain I would have eaten it.
Whether it was extreme politeness or some other reason, every single person in the front row took a sandwich and then abstained from eating it. I don't know what happened to them (it's hard to keep track of invisible foodstuffs) but I like to imagine that they all got swept away at the end of the night.
"Untouched, again!" the stage manager would say with a disapproving shake of her head. "Such a waste." And then with a heavy sigh they'll be disposed of in the brown bin.
Anyway, more fool them I say, because the front row was soon called upon to provide all sorts of assistance, and they could have done with the sustenance. From acting the flowers to Cecily's watering can, to playing actual roles with actual lines, this was a production that involved getting, well, involved
So much so that the house lights stayed on throughout, in an artistic decision that theatre people might call "shared light," (in that the actors are working by the same light the audience are in) but around here I call "really fucking uncomfortable."
I froze, and prayed to the theatre gods that Ayesha and Kudzanayi wouldn’t need to look deeper into the audience for their helpers.
It was very stressful maintaining such stillness. Especially when you need to laugh.
That is, until the tongue clicking started.
Both determined to fill the role of Lady Bracknell and resigned to sharing it, Kudzanayi Chiwawa and Ayesha Casely-Hayford both gave her a characteristic cluck that sent tingles racing across my scalp. Yup, for the second time in this marathon, I'd had my ASMR triggered by a play.
So relaxing. I unfroze and allowed myself to laugh along properly.
Which certainly helped distract me from the sight of the young man sharing his cookie with his companion.
That cookie really did look very good.
Although, saying that, it does strike me as a strange sort of snack to have in the theatre. Can't think why though. My reasoning is probably based on it not being a traditional theatre foodstuff, like ice cream and overpriced wine. If I started seeing cookies consumed around the West End, no doubt I would thinl it perfectly normal in a matter of months. I mean, it's quiet, self contained, and doesn't cause too many crumbs. Why shouldn't we all eat cookies to accompany our play watching?
Nicki, who you might remember from the Adelphi pie-eating-trip, regularly sneaks baked goods into theatres. I say sneaked, but according to her, the bag checkers wave them through easily enough. They're on the lookout for sandwiches. No. Seriously. That's what they've told her. Fondant Fancies are fine, but baguettes are banned.
No mention on the status of invisible sandwiches. Presumably they get through without being spotted.
The play over, I retraced my steps, trying to get the photos I'd missed on the way in.
Two months into my marathon and I've become very brazen. I even asked an usher to move so that I could get a photo of those carved wooden doors.
Once I'd thoroughly annoyed everyone, in was time to go.
But, I still had one bit of unfinished business to take care of.
"How much is the cookie?" I asked at the bar.
Well, that settled that then. I was having me one of those.
"Having a cookie?" laughed a perfectly strange man as I tucked it away in my bag.
Honestly, I don't see why anyone is interested in what people do or do not choose to eat. As if they have nothing better to occupy their thoughts with...