I’ll give the Bob Hope Theatre this: it’s well named.
Everywhere you look, you see him. From the huge photo next to the box office, to the bust near the door, to the portrait glaring at you through the front windows. He’s everywhere.
After my crash course in the horror that is London Overground on Wednesday, I was determined not to suffer the vagaries of the rail networks again. Leaving the office a full two hours before kick-off time, I found myself enjoying the most stressfully drama-free journey south of the river I have managed to undertake since beginning this marathon. No crowds. No cancellations. Not even a hint of a delay. I even managed to get a nice photo of the Shard while I lazily hung around on the platform at London Bridge for my train that disconcertingly managed to arrive exactly on time.
All this meant that I arrived in Eltham a tiny bit early. Forty-five minutes worth of early.
No matter, I thought. I was in Eltham. A new, exotic, local for me. I could explore! Buy myself a little snack perhaps. The rain-sogged air practically fizzed with possibilities.
As I made my way up from the train station, fighting with, and inevitably giving up on, my umbrella, the fizz dissipated like a forgotten can of Fanta.
Everything was closed. The intriguing-looking Wiccan shop had its shutters firmly down. As did every cafe that I passed. Even the police station was dark.
I was beginning to get worried. I really didn’t want to spend the next three-quarters of an hour standing around in the blustery rain.
I pressed on.
Finally, up ahead, I spotted something.
What a relief. Maccy Ds never close. Not until all the drunks have cleared out anyhow.
“We’re closed,” said a lady blocking the doorway as a man tried to get in.
“But-“ he started.
She shook her head. “Nope. We’re closed.”
I hung back, marvelling at the exchange. What was this place where a McDonald’s closes at 7pm?
I turned the corner, trudging in the opposite direction to the theatre, desperate to find anywhere where I could get something warm to drink before diving into the frantic world of am-dram theatre.
Closed. Closed. Closed. Everything was closed.
Except. There. Just ahead. A Costa. And open until 7.30pm. Thanks to the theatre gods, I was saved. Thirty minutes later, an overpriced hot chocolate warming my belly, I retraced my steps, back towards the theatre.
Eltham really is a sleepy little town. Permanently sleepy by the looks of it. I passed two funeral homes on the short walk to the theatre.
Which might go some way to explaining this architectural memorial to a dead comedian. When considering their highly specific decorative themes, the Bob Hope can only truly be matched by the Pinter for shrine-like dedication.
I kept a close eye on the Portrait of a Comedian as a Young Man as I waited at box office.
The lady on duty smiled brightly when it was my turn, probably wondering why this woman was glaring at young Bob Hope.
I gave her my name.
She looked through the ticket envelopes. It didn't take long. There were only two of them.
"Did you get an e-ticket?" she said in a way that suggested that I definitely had got an e-ticket, but she was too polite to mention what a numpty I was for not realising.
Now, I never select an e-ticket by choice, so I really hoped I hadn't.
"Let me check the list," she said, already peeling through the pages towards the small smattering of s-based surnames.
"Anna?" she asked triumphantly.*
"No?" I was tired, but even so, I was pretty sure that wasn't right. I'm not the Anna type.
I looked down at the list. "It's Maxine," I said, indicating my name. But there was an Anna just below me. Anna Smillie.
My god. There were two of us.
Reeling from this news, I staggered off to find a sturdy wall to lean against. That proved rather tricky. Every wall was crowded with beige boards. Information on how to support the theatre. Information on the youth theatre. Information on Bob Hope. This is a theatre that does not believe in the benefits of negative space.
Even their drinks price list (tea or coffee, £1) was crowded with background imagery and mixed font use.
I was beginning to get a headache.
Still... one pound cuppa...
Trade was unsurprisingly brisk. I still think it's weird to drink tea at the theatre though.
I mean, what is it with these small local theatres and tea? Do these people, when they go to the West End, march up to the bar and demand a cuppa? Or do they leave that behaviour back at home in Eltham or squill back copious rum and cokes when on the town.
Did Anna Smillie order tea? Was she walking around right then, holding a teacup in one hand and a saucer in the other?
I scanned the crowd, trying to work out which one she was.
She clearly had good taste in theatre. Both she and I were there to see Nell Gwynn. The version that premiered at the Globe. You know! The one with the massive hat.
"Are they still giving tickets out?" asked someone buying a cup of tea.
I paused my Anna-search and listened in. If there was any intel going on how to get a real, paper ticket, I wanted in.
"Yeah, if you come here, they give you one."
So that's how it's done. I'll need to remember that next time I go to... Eltham.
Resigned to my fate as an e-ticket holder, I headed into the theatre. Instantly the brown information boards were forgotten in a sea of blue. Blue walls. Blue floors. And rows and rows of blue seating.
This must be what it was like to go to the theatre in Atlantis.
There was certainly something rather magical about the play. And the massive hat.
I don't write a lot about the shows I see. It's not really what this blog is about. The play is not the thing, as it were.
It's all about going to see the play, not the play itself. I'll write a few sentences at best. But when it comes to am-dram theatre, I write even less. Next to nothing, or nothing entirely. It's not my business to review amateurs.
But... (you knew there was going to be a but, didn't you), our lead, our pretty, witty, Nell... holy shit balls Laura Ashenden was marvellous. Seriously.
I came out practically bouncing with joy, just pausing long enough to snap of final picture of our Bob.
As I skipped past one funeral home, then the next, I realised I'd forgotten all about my comrade in smilesiness. Cousin Anna! I'm so sorry I missed you. Come see a West End show with me! i’m buy you a rum and coke…
* Not actually Anna. Name changed to preserve me from angry Emmas... I mean Annas.