I'll say this for the marathon. It's transformed my friendships. Gone are the days when the people I love treated me like a fellow human being, one who can get up, get dressed, and arrive on time at a shared destination. Over the past few months they've all come to realise that this year, I'm basically a spreadsheet in a dress. Want to spend time with me? Put your name down in the appropriate column.
They've also all changed the way they talk to me. They don't ask how I am anymore, they ask what I've seen. The answer is pretty much the same anyway. It's amazing what a run of good shows can do for my mood.
And as each theatre trip begins to merge into the one before, they've all stepped up to fill in the gaps in my rapidly diminishing brain-power.
"I'm in Pret by exit 2, which is the right exit for the Coronet," messages Helen.
That's the kind of meet-up message I like right now. Clear. Concise. And requiring no thought processes at all from my end. At Notting Hill Gate, I followed the signs, left by exit two, practically fell into Pret, and found Helen.
"I was there, but I had to leave," she explains as I offer her a Nutella taiyaki. "There was a table, which I presumed was the box office. But when I said my friend had booked the tickets, they said I could wait. But there weren't any chairs? So... I left."
Replenished by our pastry fishes, we make our way to The Print Room at The Coronet, just a few doors down.
"Has it had something done recently?" asks Helen.
I have to admit ignorance. It did look very shiny and fancy though. Bigger than I had imagined. With bright paintwork and gleaming windows, and those narrow wooden doors that you find on old West End theatres.
"It does look very fresh," agrees Helen.
It smells fresh too. Or floral at least. Was it the small bunch of flowers on the tasteful side table? That didn't seem likely. Real flowers haven't smelt of anything since 1974.
"Did they... spray perfume around?" I ask the world in general.
The world doesn't have an answer for me.
"Look at this," says Helen, pointing out a hanging display in the middle of the foyer and proving her worth once again as an excellent marathon companion. Always pointing things out for me to photograph, and then getting out of the way of the shot with seamless grace. Still not entirely sure what the display was, but I liked it.
I liked everything about The Print Room's foyer. And there was plenty to enjoy. From the black and white tiled floor, to the cushions neatly tucked up against the marble stairs, to the...
"What is that? Is that a ruff?"
"It is some kind of ruff," agrees Helen, going over to inspect the mannequin wearing a lacy collar. Now I love a ruff. I even own a ruff. But no one in the entire world appreciates a ruff like Helen appreciates a ruff. If there was a magazine called Ruff It, Helen would be the editor.
The presence of a mannequin wearing a lacy collar in the foyer of The Print Room was not explained. But remains only one of a thousand mysterious objects we discovered on the way to our seats.
Up the stairs was a wood-panelled corridor, curving around the auditorium.
Freesheets were balanced on tiny side tables, weighed down by books and other assorted items. There were decanters, and tea lights, and even a globe.
"Says a lot about Notting Hill that they can leave all these knick-knacks lying around," she says, as she acts the photographer's assistant, repositioning a flyer into a more eye-pleasing position.
"Wow... that's... wow." I might not have said it out loud, but I was definitely thinking that as we rounded the corner and caught our first glimpse of the auditorium. It was as if Stratford East and Wilton's Music Hall had somehow reached across Tower Hamlets to each other and made a baby together.
Still gaping in awe, I show our tickets to the usher.
"Right, so if you go up the stairs until row f..." she says before giving instructions so detailed I was beginning to think Helen might have called ahead to warn them about me.
"She knows we're not Notting Hill natives," I whisper to Helen as we make our way up the stairs. "Probably thinks we'll eat our tickets when she's not looking."
We squeeze our way into row f.
"Christ, there's like... zero leg room," I say, as my knees bash against the seat in front.
"Wow, there really isn't," said Helen, managing to somehow tuck herself neatly into the seat next to me, despite having a full two inches on me height-wise.
Not having legroom is not something I encounter all that often, considering I'm all of five-foot-three (and a half, but I don't want to be one of those twats who adds fractions to their height, or their age).
I wriggle around, trying to get my legs to fit, but it isn't happening. I was going to have to make peace with one knee or the other getting smooshed that evening. I decided to sacrifice my right knee, and twisted slightly to the left.
In an attempt to distract myself from the protests of my already suffering right knee, I take a photo of the stage. "It's just all black," I say as I inspect the image.
"Even with you new camera?"
Helen has had to sit through a lot of explanations about my love my Pixel 2. "Even with my new camera," I sigh.
"Do you think that's a backdrop, or a curtain?" asks Helen, referring to the black cloth that's messing with my photos.
"You think there's a whole stage behind there? That would make this place enormous."
"It is a big stage," says Helen, looking around. "For not that many seats."
"Good for dance, I suppose."
"Yeah... do they do a lot of dance?"
I couldn't answer. I have no idea. We were there for a dance performance. The Idiot by Saburo Teshigawara & Rihoko Sato. But apart from that, I had no knowledge about the level of their dance programming.
"What was this place?" she asks. "Was it like a cinema or...?"
Again, I don't know.
"You mean you don't research every theatre carefully, giving all the stats in a neat sidebar?"
"No. That's Wikipedia."
Having now read the freesheet, I can tell you that The Print Room started in a former, well, print room and since moved into The Coronet. Hence The Print Room at The Coronet. But still squished in my seat, I didn't know that. I don't think it's just the late nights and constant bombardment of theatre that's making me so slow. I think maybe, just maybe, I was always a little bit thick.
The lights dim, and stay dim, long after the start of the show. Dancers scurry through the darkness, leaving only a hint of shadow and footsteps to show where they'd been.
"When the lights didn't come up, I did wonder if it'd stay like that for the whole performance," said Helen as we made our way out.
"God yes. I felt like one of those annoying old people at the Opera House who complain that modern ballets are too dark."
"I was trying to convince myself that if I can't see anything, it was because the choreographer didn't want us to see anything, but then also... I did kinda wonder if something was broken."
"And there was someone frantically flicking switches backstage. Yes, I thought that too."
"What is that?" I ask as we pass a fully knick-knacked out alcove in the foyer. "Is it a bar or..."
"I don't think it's a bar," says Helen.
"Well then, what is it?" We duck in to examine the paintings and a little figurine of a beetle lurking within. "I mean I like it..."
"I like it to."
"But what is it?"
"No idea," says Helen. "And these cushions... they're everywhere," she says, pointing to a black and white cushion portraying a close up of a vintage looking face. They were everywhere. On chairs and sofas, yes. But also on the staircase and the floor.
"They look like those expensive candles you can buy in Liberty."
"Yes. And plates and things too. Fornasetti," she says.
"Pornasetti more like," I say, feeling more than a little smug about my pun. "They always look a little bit dirty." Not the ones in The Print Room, mind you. Very PG in their cushion choices, I must say.
I frown. "Was that piece based on the Dostoevsky, do you think?"
"I have no idea."
"I haven't read it."
"Nor have I, but I always think with these things, when art is transferred between medias, you shouldn't have to read the source text, It should stand up on its own."
"I don't even know who the characters were. I'm pretty sure he was in love with the woman in the satin skirt."
"Did you? I thought she was a figment of his imagination."
That hadn't even occurred to me. "Okay. But who was the other one? His mother? His sister? His wife?"
"They didn't really interact enough to demonstrate a relationship."
"I don't know what to think. I enjoyed it. But like... as an abstract dance work in drama costumes rather than as a story."
"I don't have an opinion. And you know me, I always have an opinion..."
It's true. She does.
Not for the first time, I'm grateful for my marathon being about describing the experience I have at the theatre, rather than reliant on reviewing what I see. I also don't have to have an opinion. Opinions are not obligatory for this blog. So, I'm not gonna have one.
I do have a theory though, if you care to hear it. That little desk that Helen talked about, it was the box office after all. Now, little desks serving as box offices are hardly unusual. I've detailed plenty of examples here on the blog. But what is unusual is having little desks in old venues. Even if they have been newly refurbished. Places like Stratford East may have boarded off their old hole-in-the-wall box office, but they built a shiny new one across the corridor to replace it. Which makes me think... That alcove that wasn't a bar... Was that...? Did it used to be.. .? Enquiring minds are vaguely interested.