Ah, Southgate. North London's homage to suburbs.
I used to live there, many years ago. And work there, come to think of it. Back when I first moved to London to do my post-grad degree.
But despite going full ham on Southgate, I'm ashamed to admit, I never made it up to the Chickenshed Theatre.
Probably because this was well down before I started working in th arts. Before I even started watching theatre. That’s how far back we’re talking here. A fresh-faced twenty-one year old, embarking on an MSc, with no time for things like art, or culture, or... Christ, what did I do back then? I seem to recall crying in the university library a lot…
Anyway, the Chickenshed.
My one and only encounter with the place actually happened last week, when a bunch of teenagers tried to blag a free bus ride by telling the driver that they were Chickenshed students and… nope. That was their sole reason. The driver waved them on. Mainly because it was nearly 11 o’clock at night and he probably didn’t want the murder of five teenage girls on his conscious. That, and they were Chickenshed students.
Good for him, I say.
As I walked down memory lane, or as it appears on the maps: Chase Side, I couldn’t help but stop to peer into half-forgotten shops along my way. Oh, look - there was the bank where some bloke tried to ask me out and got mad when I couldn’t remember his name. And over there, the supermarket where a guy followed me down all the aisles only to tell me I had nice shoes.
It was almost a relief when the street extended beyond the reach of shops and I was plunged into a dark road bordered either side by even darker games pitches. Remembering things is exhausting.
Eventually, even the darkness grew tired and I emerged blinking into the bright lights of the Chickenshed car park.
A very busy Chickenshed car park.
Children swarmed everywhere.
“Did you get the part?” asked one parent, slinging their child’s satchel up over their shoulder.
“Yes, but not the main part.”
I waited for them to clear so that I could grab a shot of the front of the building without risking any child protection laws.
Inside was another matter altogether. They were everywhere. Tables full of them sat eating their post-class suppers. I lurked to one side, editing my Time and Leisure blog post, and trying not to feel like the creeper in the room, writing about an 18+ show while surrounded by the under eights.
"Would you like a programme?" came a voice from just behind my elbow. I jumped, hiding my phone and hoping very hard that the owner of the voice hadn't seen my extended description of excited moaning.
"Absolutely," I said, tucking my phone away in my pocket. "I clearly have the look about me of someone who is in need of a programme. And I totally am. Good spot. I love me a programme." I was speaking way too fast.
The programme seller looked at me nervously. "It's my last one," she said, holding it out so that I could see there was only one. "I've been asking everyone..."
"Oh..." I handed over the two pounds fifty and slunk away.
The house had opened, but there didn't appear to be any moves made from either parents or children towards the doors.
"Are you going to see the show?"
"The one tonight? Nah."
"What about you?"
That was worrying. A room packed with theatre kids and not one of them wanted to see the show that evening. What else is the purpose of a 7pm start if not to make it accessible to those with bed-time still single digits?
I went over to the blue door, as directed by my ticket. No left or right at the Chickenshed. It's all red or blue over here.
One person on the door the check tickets, another inside to point you in the direction of your seat. The staffing was enough to serve the 300 seater auditorium. It's a pity that there wasn't an audience to match.
I looked around. The first four rows of the theatre were fairly full, but as soon as I turned around, nothing but banks of empty seats rose up behind me.
And not a single child.
Had a really risked both panic and heart attacks getting across London to be there before 7 o'clock, only to spend the evening with a bunch of grownups? Apparently so.
Still, it was a short show. 90 minutes, no interval. The bestest words you can ever hear in a theatre.
With a 20 minute walk back to Southgate station and a 30-minute bus home, I might make it back in time for my own single-digit bedtime.
The massive stage, way bigger than any 300-seater theatre should have a right to, was flooded with performers. It was as if the director was inspired by those clown car clips from old TV shows. More and more people squeezed themselves on to dance, sing and tell us about their depression, in wave after wave of scenes until they outnumbered the audience by a factor of three.
I slunk down in my chair, hoping a fox would find its way into this hen house and maul us all.
But 90 minutes later, the stage emptied and the house lights rose.
No one clapped.
No curtain call.
"Is that the interval?" someone asked.
Interval? The theatre gods wouldn't do that to me. Would they?
Turns out they would, because: yes, it was the interval. The programme had lied to me. The show wasn't 90 minutes.
Like the ever-growing cast, more and more minutes had been added.
When we were finally released, it was past nine o'clock. All hopes of being in bed before ten dashed.
I settled on napping on the bus instead.
It was empty.
All the Chickenshed students had left hours ago.