Last day of the Vault Festival and I was off to spend it... at the pub.
The Horse & Stables, over on Westminster Bridge Road had been drafted in to provide yet another venue to mop of all those shows that couldn't be squished into the Vaults themselves.
On arrival, you're met with a big Vaults board just inside the entrance. If it weren’t for that, I might have thought myself in the wrong place. Because everyone in the pub looked like they were there to, well, drink.
Thankfully, I’d made a good study of the e-ticket before I left, including the access information, so I knew my theatre for the afternoon was of the upstairs variety. And there, lurking right at the back. Was a staircase.
At the foot of the stair was a small table. And a woman. And a Vaults roller banner. This all looked very promising.
“Are you here for Hopeful Monster?” she asks.
She checks me in.
“25% of the ticket price goes to child.org,” she says, peeling off a large round sticker off an A4 sheet.
“Oh nice,” I say taking it from her.
It’s pink. “I [heart] my mum,” it reads.
I look around, not knowing where to stick it. Not sure I want to wear it on my coat. I leave it flapping around on my fingertips.
I tuck myself away next to the staircase and make friends with a horse’s head wearing a St Paddy’s Day Guinness hat. He doesn’t look overly happy about it, although whether it’s the hat or my need for company that’s distressing him I can’t quite work out.
Soon more people arrive to collect their stickers, each looking more perplexed than the last as they try to work out what to do with it. A man dances around as he bounced his stickered-up hand between coat and scarf as the final home of his sticker. He settles on the front of his hoodie and pats it down on his chest. The look on his face suggests that he has immediate regret.
One woman has it on the back of her hand.
The stickiness on my fingertips is starting to bother me. Without thinking about it, I grab my phone and smooth the sticker down on the back. Just like I would if I were at the Donmar and this was one of the stickers handed out to the fillers’ queue on press night.
I couldn’t see my face, but I imagine it looked just like the man in the hoodie.
Regret. Deep and sorrowful.
My phone is new. So new that I still haven’t managed to buy a case for it.
And now I had a cheap paper sticker stuck to it proclaiming how much I [heart] my mum.
People rush up and down the stairs and I press myself against the wall, out of the way while they lift chairs from unoccupied tables and carry them back up.
A seat cushion slips off one.
“That's not supposed to happen,” laughs the woman as she tries to fix the chair.
“Don't worry, I won’t tell anyone,” I whisper back.
Eventually, the procession of chairs came to an end and we were allowed upstairs.
“It's unreserved seating, but if you can leave the first two rows free for children that would be ideal,” said the person greeting us at the top.
The stage was small. A table, flooded with light from a totem pole of lamps set up on either side. Close proximity would be essential.
I dither next to the third row, trying to decide whether the aisle seat on the short right-hand row would be superior to the aisle seat on the slightly closer left-hand row.
“It’s a full house,” calls the usher. “So if you can all move down.”
I panicked, and picked the long row on the left, going right to the end, next to the fireplace.
A minute later they first two rows are completely filled with grownups.
I looked around. There was not a single child to be seen. Reminds me of the Puppet Barge in Little Venice. These shows may be made with children in mind, but it takes a childless adult to want to traipse out to these things on a Sunday afternoon.
Now, you know that I don’t write a lot about the actual performance in this blog. That’s not what we’re about at the marathon. But in this case, I wouldn’t have been able to even if I wanted to. Because I didn’t see it.
No, I didn’t have to leave due to a near fainting incident. I assure you, I was in the room and in my seat the entire time.
I just couldn’t see it.
Literally, none of it.
Oh, I occasionally caught a glimpse of a hand when it was lifted far enough off the table to be visible over the heads of the people sitting in front of me. But not enough to establish any kind of storyline. For me, Hopeful Monster was nothing more than 40 minutes of listening to gentle music.
I sat back in my chair and thought about how I was going to get that sticker off my phone, every so often catching a slither of something on stage.
There was a giraffe at one point, I think. And some grass. And a creature which was possibly a pterodactyl. But beyond that, I couldn’t tell you what the show was about or what happened in it.
It was funny, for sure.
But the laughter stopped dead at the third row. I wasn't the only one with a viewing problem.
Recently I’ve been playing with the idea of awarding badges to certain theatres. Best madeleines. Longest queue for the loos. You get the idea. There’s one badge in particular that scratches away at my conscious. Forget the “I [heart] my mum” stickers. If I were going to hand out anything after this trip it would be the “If this were my first trip to the theatre, I would never return.”
Just imagine thinking you want to test out this whole Going To The Theatre thing, hearing about this show, thinking it sounded rather cool, than turning up, sitting down, and not being able to see a damn thing until the end of the performance, when someone comes up and asks you to donate money.
After you effectively just donated a tenner to sit in a cold room for a little over half an hour.
Like, firstly: fuck no. And secondary: fuck NO.
Sure as shit you wouldn't be feeling very charitable. And chances are, you would never come back to the theatre. Ever. And I wouldn't blame you.
It made me think back to something I said in my post about the Play Pie Pint performances at the Vaulty Towers - it's all very well being creative, but you need a crack admin team to make the creativity come off. It's no good just having a great show (I'm giving Hopeful Monster here the benefit of the doubt and calling it a great show. I'm sure the people who actually got to catch a glimpse of it thought it was just swell). If anything, that's step one in the long walk to making sure every person in that audience gets the best damn experience possible. From making sure the venue is well signposted, to double checking the damn sight lines. When someone buys a ticket to a show, they are creating a bond of trust with the organisation. In exchange for the money, an audience member has certain expectations. Only one of which is that they are going to enjoy your show.
Being in the presence of something is not the same as partaking of something. Just ask one of the eunuchs in the Ottoman Imperial Harem.
Now, I’m not blaming the Horse & Stables here.
I’m blaming the bloody Vault Festival.
I don’t know how many people work for Vault Fest, but before signing up a new venue, they should really find someone to go down there and assess whether a small room above a pub, with no rake, is really suitable for a close-up, tabletop show. And maybe not squeeze it full of chairs borrowed from the pub downstairs in order to cram as many people into the room as possible.
I mean… just a thought.
Cool stickers though.