"You're going to see Harry Potter's wand."
That was my colleague Nicki. I got the impression that she'd been sitting on that joke for a long time. Not least because it had been over ten years since the then still teenage Daniel Radcliffe famously got his kit off on stage in the charming play about a horse-mutilator.
So no. I wasn't going to see Harry Potter, or his wand. Not that night anyway. We've still got a trip to the Palace Theatre ahead of us. But unless The Cursed Child has changed a lot since I last saw it, the wand action will be rather less euphemistic than Nicki intended.
I was going to see Equus though. In the much raved about production at Stratford East. A theatre I had managed to convince myself was a lot harder to get to than it ended up being, meaning I arrived early enough to finish off my Crescent blog post while sitting on one of the plinth-like benches in the courtyard in front of the theatre, battling with my skirt as we both got buffeted by the winds.
"Have you seen my dog?" wailed a young woman against the weathet. "She's a black and white staffie and I've lost her." She groaned, long and low. "Oh God, my mum's gonna kill me." She then burst into such twisted sobs that the cynical part of my brain immediately took over. It had to be a scam. I didn't know how, but something in my waters told me it weren't right.
Is that the better scenario? I can’t figure it out. On the one hand it’s bloody awful if she had actually lost her dog and her mum really would be angry, but then, isn’t it worse if she’s in such a terrible place that she has to prey on people’s dog-based sympathies in order to extract… I don’t even know.
It is a moral quandary too deep for me to excavate after the week I had. So, I left her there.
If there really is a little black and white staff lost and alone in Stratford, may the theatre gods punish me for walking away.
Either way, I hope she found someone to help her...
As for me, I was inside, picking up my ticket.
I do like the Stratford East. Or the Theatre Royal Stratford East to give it it's full title.
It has all the guilt and glamour of a traditional West End theatre, but the combined pressures of location and being a producing house has meant that they've been forced to up their game in ways the West End would never bother with.
The box office is large and spacious. The corridors lined with comfortable bench seating. No door is unattended by at least one front of houser, constantly in the lookout for anyone who appears lost or confused.
Then there's the mirrors. Speckled with age, and lining both sides of the corridor they could have given the place the feeling of a fun house, but thankfully they are set just high enough on the wall that a short-arse like me isn't going to be confronted by her reflection unless she actively goes in search of it. Which I immediately did, and found them perfect for eyeliner checks. Less good for lipstick. I just had to hope that there wasn't any celery in my teeth. Not that I had eaten any celery that day. As a rule, I tend to avoid it. But it's important to always stay vigilant about these things.
Eventually, the house opened and I stopped my search for celery. And by "the house opened" I mean the ushers drew back the must luxuriously over the top red curtains from the doorway to the theatre. And by doorway, I mean the entrance to a well-proportioned foyer from which more doors led off to the stalls, and a staircase to the upper levels.
After the blistering white of the corridor with all its mirrors, walking through the red, low-ceilinged foyer was like getting a gentle hug from an old friend. I wanted to linger. No, not linger. That suggests leaving eventually, and I wanted to stay forever. To move in. A nice fold-out sofa at one end would do me. I could get my meals from the bar, and earn my keep by directing people to their seats in the evening.
Perhaps that's the deal the current ushers have going on. They did look very... at home, in their cosy little foyer space.
"Row C?" beamed one, glancing at my ticket. "You're in the third row, just over there."
I said earlier that Stratford East is like a West End venue in its approach to decorative flourishes. And that's true.
But while the West End tends to match their gilding with soft greys and creams, giving you the feeling that you are l clambering up to the top of a wedding cake when you go to one, Stratford, on the other hand, has no room in their theatre for tastefulness. Walking into the Stratford East auditorium is like falling into Lord Byron's fancy dress box. The gold details fight against their red background for dominance, conjuring images of military jackets and lion tamers.
That was, except for the stage.
Towering white curtains, blinding against all that red.
I love modern sets in old theatres. But, not the other way round, strangely. I suppose it's like houses. You can put a Conran sofa in a Wattle-and-daub manor and it will look stylish as feck, but slide a Napoleonic secretaire into a new build and it gives off the impression that you've lost the family seat to your uncle's drinking habit and even though you've had to relocate to Catford, you just can't let go of the desk where your great-granny used to write her sappy poetry.
The effect must have been even more startlingly from further back, but the third row does have its benefits. From there you can see right up to the lighting rig.
That box you can see is for surtitles. It was a captioned performance.
I'd wondered why my ticket was so cheap. Ten pounds to sit in the third row. That's bargain of the century in my book. But the combination of a very high stage and the surtitles does put you at high risk of getting a crick in your neck by the end of the show.
The rewards of sitting so close though are worth any twinges induced by looking up though. Equus is a very physical play, and I could see every individual muscle as they rotated and rolled, shivered and flexed.
Yeah, yeah. And his wand too.