When did I last wash this skirt? I can’t remember. Was it clean this morning? Oh please god, let it have been clean on this morning.
Not the sort of thoughts to usually go through my head while watching a show, but as an actor gently gnaws on my knee, it’s the only thing I can think about.
How on earth did I end up like this? With an actor biting down on my knee as softly as a puppy? Let’s go back to the beginning, shall we?
I was back in Battersea, after my epic run on three of BAC’s spaces on Friday night. I’d spent the whole day lolling around in bed and eating multiple meals composed of eggy-bread buried in icing sugar and was finally beginning to feel myself again.
Still, I wasn’t looking forward to doing that journey again.
Back down the Northern Line, all the way to Waterloo. Up the escalators, into the main concourse. Find a train going to Clapham Junction. Short journey there. Longer walk out of that labyrinth of a station. Walk up Lavender Hill towards BAC, turn a sharp right, then straight down Latchmere Road until I reach the Latchmere Pub.
Are we there yet? Not quite. Still need to negotiate my way across the busy junction so that I’m on the opposite pavement to the pub. Got to get those exterior shots, after all. Then back again. In the pub. Veer right, weaving through all the tables of Saturday-night revellers, then straight up the stairs and… there. We made it.
“Have you been here before?” asked the lady on both office after I gave my name.
“I haven't,” I admitted. I mean… you saw that journey itinerary. I’m a North London gal. If I spend too long south of the river, my haemoglobin levels start to drop.
She looked surprised. Although whether it’s because I have the look of a keen theatre-goer about me, or if it’s the fact that I might be about to faint after breathing in too much Battersea air just getting myself up those stairs, I can’t tell.
“Okay then,” she says, gearing up for what is clearly a practiced speech. “The theatre is just up those stairs,” she says, pointing over to her right where there is a flight of stairs covered in old Theatre 503 show posters. “Seating is allocated.” She double checks the screen. “You're in A3. We're completely paperless so you don't need a ticket. It should be in the email we sent you. Did you get an email? I can write it down if you like.”
I did get an email. Lots of emails. Well, two emails. But they were great emails. Theatre 503 are definitely out there, fighting the good fight in making their theatre accessible to new audiences.
First the confirmation email - with instructions on how to get there (including which entrance to the pub to use - nice touch for the anxious sorts amongst us. Me likey), how to pick up your ticket, and yes - the seat number.
Then comes a welcome email, which includes even more detailed instructions on the getting there (bus routes, stations, and parking) plus the added bonus of all those little things that so often go unspoken in our little club called Theatre. Latecomer rules. Bringing proof for concession tickets. The need to actually go to the box office on arrival.
They also, and this one surprised me, ask you to call the box office if you’re running late. When I saw this I was almost tempted to be late on purpose, just to call and see what happens. But yeah, my anxiety put its foot down on that one, and I turned up in plenty of time.
There’s also a follow up email. But we don’t care about that. We’re still at the box office after all!
“The house should open about 25-past,” continues the box office lady as if I hadn’t just gone on a 200 word tangent about emails. “So, you have time to go down to the pub and get a drink if you like. You are welcome to bring it in, but please no food.”
Didn’t I say Theatre 503 was doing the mostest?
“Can I take one of these?” I ask, noticing the giant pile of freesheets stacked up on the counter. I could. I take one, trying very hard not to notice the playtexts for sale.
That done, I go to sit down. There’s a very squishy looking leather sofa and I have my eyes set on it.
From this angle, deep in the embrace of said very squishy leather sofa, 503 could pass as someone’s living room. A very cool person, with an even cooler flat. But a living room none the less. There’s the squishy sofas (plural, there are two of them), a coffee table within leaning distance, and an equally squishy armchair just off to one side. By now I’m practically playing an imaginary episode of Through the Keyhole (“Who would live in a house like this,” says David Frost in my head as I contemplate the slither of kitchen visible through an open door). The bookshelf filled with playtexts may hint at a resident slightly more obsessed with theatre than the norm if you ignore the sign stating their price (a very reasonable £3.50), while the plants hint at someone who makes it home before midnight.
The theatre bell ends my fun. The house for tonight’s performance of Wolfie was now open! A rush of regulars run to the stairs, no doubt still on unallocated seating time. I go with them, not wanting to miss the fun. The stairs creeks pleasingly under our pounding feet.
But I’m forced to stop in the theatre door.
That is no what I expected.
This was no pub-theatre blackbox, with a floor level stage and some battered furniture serving as a set. This theatre has a stage. A proper one. And not only that, it has a set. A proper one if those too. A pastel coloured cloud that the two actors were currently using to bounce and turn against, like floating babies in the womb.
As my seat number, A3, might have hinted, I’m sitting in the front row. Not my preferred location, but for five pounds a pop, I could hardly say no.
This might have been a mistake.
Erin Doherty and Sophie Melville, the Sharky twins, as we are soon introduced, have absolutely no respect for the fourth wall. They are determined to tell us their story and they have no qualms about getting us involved.
As they are born, the front row can high-fived to celebrate their arrival.
The twins have pockets that are full of silver sequins, which they chuck liberally over us to demonstrate their pure, shining joy at being in this surreal world of theirs. Sequins coat my skirt, my boots, the floor. They tumble out of my hair.
You should sparkle for someone, they say. And someone should sparkle for you.
They sparkle for us. Sequins pour off them, littering the stage. They stick to their fingers and eyelashes.
Bubbles fall from the ceiling as the children of the forest tumble from the sky, taken back to the human world by a cynical woodpecker. Then burst on our cheeks with a cold kiss.
Balloons are handed to the audience, and planets are passed back.
Sophie Melville asks for a pen, and an audience member provides, lobbing it over our heads to land on the stage, where it is quickly picked up by Erin Doherty and inserted into her mouth where it is rolled around lavishly (it is later returned. Washed, I hope).
One audience member, deemed to have judgey eyes, is given a pair of sunglasses to contain the judginess. This is the second production of the weekend (and of Battersea) for the performances to insults the audience. I’m still not quite convinced about this new-found trope. But I’m sure playwright Ross Willis has thought more about this than I have. The judgey-eyed lady puts the glasses on, confused, but willing after a little encouragement from the twins.
And then there was the biting.
Sophie Melville, one of those falling children of the forest, abandoned to the trees for her father, is learning how to be a wolf. She runs, she hunts, she crawls between the stage and the front row, inspecting our legs, sniffing each of us in turn to see what kind of meal we would make.
My knee is deemed interesting enough to be worthy of further inspection. A bite. Gentle. She’s only a cub after all. And her teeth aren’t built for tearing. We all wait while a decision is made. No. My knee will not be dinner that night. She moves on to my neighbour.
I don’t know whether to feel honoured or offended by this.
Frankly, I think I should probably be grateful just to have survived.
I stumble back out into the night and somehow make my way back up the hill, feeling a little giddy. At the traffic lights, I check my phone.
From my pocket, stuck to my hand, is a round silver sequin. The little sparkle to accompany me home.