Get talking shop with anyone who works in theatre and eventually (with the aid of a few G&Ts to hasten the process) you'll discover that they all have something in common. A dream venue. No, not to visit. I mean to work for. A career goal, if you will.
If you’re really paying attention (and haven’t been hammering down the gins yourself) you’ll notice that the one that they go all cow-eyed for is rarely the one that they actually work at.
I don't mean to suggest that they're all in the wrong jobs. It’s not as if we’re a pile of chess pieces scattered over the board by someone too young to learn where the horsey one is supposed to go. Just that... it's hard to fantasise about a place once you know what the office kitchen looks like.
Anyway, the venue that makes me go all gooey inside is the Bush Theatre.
And I have good reason. A few, actually. Firstly, I love their programming. All that tasty new writing. Yum. Secondly, they have cats. And thirdly… I can’t remember thirdly. Let’s just go back to the cats, shall we?
Pirate and Marley. Both originally rescues from Battersea, they are now twin-holders of the Resident Cat title at the Bush. Which just goes to show the commitment to promoting talent that the Bush goes in for.
Both Pirate and Marley have twitter accounts, but are a bit lax about keeping them up to date (can’t blame them, it can’t be easy typing without thumbs). They also have their biographies on their website’s staff list.
Oh yes - that was thirdly! Their style. And by that I mean their house style. Tone of voice. Use of language (both clean and charming - the winning formula). Branding. The whole lot. Bush marketing team - I think you’re just swell. People don’t say that enough. Creatives get complimented all the damn time. Box office gets a fair smattering too. But marketing? Never.
I see you though. Doing the work. Fighting the good fight. You got this.
Even if you don’t tweet enough about the cats.
Without a steady feed of Pirate and Marley news on my social medias, I was excited to go right to the source!
One problem. Pirate and Marley are not theatre cats. Not in the traditional sense. They don’t hang out in the bar, snooze on the box office desk, or get under the feet of the ushers. As far as I can tell from studying what photos are posted of them, they seem to live up in the office. So, if anything, they are theatre-office cats.
Which is great. I’m fully in support of this. Not everyone is cut out to work front of house. But it does mean that the only way to see them is… well… to be an employee.
That is why I am so keen to work here…
Hang on. Sorry. This isn’t a job interview.
Where were we?
Right. The Bush. Not in the office. But at the box office.
"Which show are you here to see?"
Oh no, that ol' question again.
I don't think anyone can truly expect me to remember the names of the shows I'm going to see this deep into the marathon. Not just like that. While I’m standing there. At the box office. I need spreadsheets, and calendars, and diary reminders.
I frowned as I thought hard.
I could remember the poster.
A woman. Smiling. And ice cream. Melting.
I was fairly confident that there had been sprinkles.
That didn’t help.
Or did it? Could I just say the ice-cream show?
The poor box officer was beginning to look concerned.
Nope. I couldn’t say the ice-cream show. If I did, concern would transform into downright alarm.
Right. Name of the show. Focus. It had two words. One of them a grammatical article. Other than that...
"The one in the studio?" I chanced, ninety percent sure that was the case.
As she reached for the box it came to me.
“The Trick!” I said triumphantly at the same time as she said: “The Trick?”
Clearly I’m not ready for the Bush. Clean and charming my words are not. Moth-balled and half-forgotten more like.
In search of better words, I headed towards the library. Oh yes, the Bush has one of those. Because they are perfect. I bet they even have a nice kitchen.
The show in the main house had already gone in, so I was able to nab a table to myself to sit and gaze happily at the bookshelves before the studio opened.
There are books everywhere at the Bush. Not just on the shelves, but above the bar, on the walls, and filling up every windowsill. Forget working here, I am fully prepared to move in.
Too soon came the tannoy announcement that it was time to head in.
“If you would fill up the middle block and not cross the stage,” said the lady on ticket duty. “Fill up the middle block and don’t cross the stage. Did you catch that? Middle block. Don’t cross the stage.”
“Can I get a playtext?” I asked before she could tell me about the middle block and not crossing the stage. No programmes for this show. But proper playtexts at programme prices.
She switched gears instantly, organising change while checking tickets over her shoulder “Middle block, please!”
“Thanks,” she said, as we exchanged paper money for paper playtext. “And-“
“- middle block, don’t cross the stage?”
As I headed in (to the middle block, careful not to cross the stage) I heard her giving the same instructions to the people coming in.
It did the job.
The middle block was nearly full, and the stage untrodden by our mucky boots.
It was my first time in the studio. I don’t know why. I've been a main house stan for... forever. I suppose that’s the whole point of this marathon. Forcing me to go where I haven’t been before. Even if that is literally just down the corridor from one of my favourite theatres in London.
The studio is small, as you would expect a studio to be. Seating on three sides - four rows in the middle block, and two either end - leaving an intimately sized stage space in-between. Intimate enough to open a show with slight-of-hand tricks. Intimate enough to feel the pressing power of the words. Intimate enough to nod along at the truth of them. Intimate enough to laugh. And cry. And not be embarrassed about either.
The vibe was relaxed. Comfortable even.
So comfortable that when the dreaded call came - for a volunteer from the audience - the show managed to avoid that ripple of tension that so often follows these requests.
A hand went up from the stage-left block. A volunteer! Our knight in shining armour was a young man in a dark tracksuit. And he performed admirably.
Show over, you only have to stumble out of the building and you are already at the traffic lights that will take you right over the road to the Shepherd’s Bush Market tube station. And then home.
Although now I have the rather awful task of trying to decide what my second, and final, trip to the Bush will be in 2019. Perhaps Pirate and Marley would offer my a private consult to help me choose? I’m sure they have excellent incite on the matter…