“What are you seeing tonight?” asked a colleague curiously.
“Pain-T” was my reply, using a hard 't' that forces its way past the teeth. I’d been saying it like that all day, much to my own amusement and everyone else’s bafflement.
“Right…” she said, quickly hurrying away.
In my defence. That’s how it’s spelt: Pain(t).
Slight pause before the t, before tackling the last, segregated, syllable with full force.
I’m nothing if not literal when it comes to titles.
You don't see it much in the word of theatre, but randomly punctuated titles is a running joke in contemporary dance. Or contemp/ary dance. Or quite possibly, con(temp)/ary dance. Or perhaps even, c⁰(t3mp)/RE d@nc3.
The more the title looks like an unsolvable algebraic equation, the higher the art. That's how it works.
You wouldn't believe the nonsense that I've prevented you lot from seeing. Forget those lists of the 100 most influential people in the arts. Those list-makers don't know shit. You want to find the people who are really making an difference? Go to any theatre's admin office. That's where they live.
Slogging it out, making ideas happen. Or not happen.
I spend a huge chunk of my time putting myself in the way of artists’ intent on throwing the entire keyboard at their titles.
Like that time I was asked to make the title a colour. Not the word for a colour, you understand. The actual colour.
It must have been around then that I started pronouncing titles exactly as they are written.
“Yes, I’d like to talk about Eggs Plus Ham. Sorry, is it not called that? But, that’s how it’s written? Eggs plus-sign Ham. Oh, do you not want people to call it that? You’d prefer them to say Eggs AND Ham? Would you like me to change that to an ampersand? Yeah, thought you would.”
When you do end up seeing one of those titles crop up, what you're really witnessing is the death of a marketer’s soul. Try as hard as you might, you just can’t hashtag a bracket.
So spare a thought for the marketing team at the New Wimbledon, who as part of the Richard Foreman season in their studio (the Time and Leisure Studio - there’s another terrible name for you) had to deal with the unsociable Pain(t).
Spare a thought for me too, because I had just passed the theatre on my way to meet my friend Ellen for tea and cake and I had spotted something unexpected on the poster.
“It’s 18+,” I told her. “I did not know that when I booked.”
“What does that mean? Nudity, I guess.”
Yeah. Nudity. Now, I’m not fussed about nudity on stage. Even on tiny, intimate, studio stages. But that age warning worried me.
“It won’t be that bad,” Ellen soothed as she walked me back to the theatre apres-cake. “It’s Wimbledon. Probably just a few bare bums.”
Well, that was cold comfort.
“Can I check your bag please?” asked the sole person standing in the studio foyer.
Tucked into the side of the New Wimbledon, the studio lurks amongst a line of squat looking shops.
It’s a bit of a shock after the New Wimbledon proper. No marble staircases. No gilt curlicues stuck on the walls. No stained glass.
Instead I was directed up a grey staircase. Purposely grey. With paint rather than breeze blocks, but still. Grey. Its knock-off Farrow and Ball credibility knocked still further by the purple balustrade. Even the doors, still set with their stained glass panels, got the grey treatment.
Like the stained glass doors just down the stairs, the bones of this old building had been covered up with all the sniffiness of a Victorian lady unable to look upon the bare legs of her dining table lest it provoke inappropriate thoughts.
Talking of inappropriate thoughts, what was that noise?
Panting. Female panting. Very excited female panting. And moaning. Very decidedly female and distinctly excited panting and moaning.
The top of the stairs was crowded with men.
Somehow I didn’t think any of them were the source of this symphony of sex.
Nor was the woman balancing the tickets on a small ledge that I could only presume was serving as our box office that night.
“Name?” she said, barely looking up as she was buffeted by people squeezing past.
“Is my name in the programme?” came a voice loud with laughter from the back of the crowd. “My name better be in the programme.”
Let’s just hope the there was no one from the marketing team in ear shot. That’s not the kind of joke that anyone wants to hear after battling against a print deadline. Least of all after they’ve spent months having to deal with that blasted set of brackets.
Name or no, I grabbed a programme and went into the theatre. Red lights simmered in a haze over the stage, and the moans grew more intense. I peered through the gloom, trying to work out where I should sit. At the back. Obviously.
I made my way up the steps towards the back, and promptly tripped down a step, making my arrival to the row rather more dramatic than I had intended.
“I would have done that too if I hadn’t seen another person trip earlier,” said a lady in my newly chosen row, not unkindly.
“It’s all part of some masterplan,” I said, recovering my bag and my dignity.
“They’re secretly filming it.”
“It’ll be all over the internet by next week,” I agreed.
Though if the Time and Leisure (that name…) really wanted to go viral, they should have kept the camera trained on my face during the show. Never have I put on such a varied display of facial expressions: from squinting against the lights being blasted into the audience, to bewilderment, perplexion, and puzzlement.
Now, I consider myself an experienced theatre-goer. I’ve been to the theatre more times this year than most would even attempt in a lifetime. But nothing in the 73 shows I had seen in 2019 could have prepared me for Pain(t).
The disconnected phrases. The lack of characters. The complete contempt for storytelling.
I had to go way back to 2012, to In the Republic of Happiness, to find a mental-match to store Pain(t) with.
After a while I let my brain off the hook, and started planning my dinner. At only 70 minutes long I could be at home before ten, throwing up a whole world of culinary possibilities. I could almost taste the tuna pasta.
Ellen had been right. It was only Wimbledon.
I’ll leave the genuinely 18+ exploits for Magic Mike Live.