It’s the hundredth day of the year and I’m off to visit my one hundredth theatre of the marathon. That’s a nice little bit of synchronicity that happened quite by chance. With days when I’ve seen nothing at all, and others where I’ve rushed around from one venue to the next, reaching the centenary of days in the marathon and the theatres visited in it, at the same time, didn’t seem likely. It's a mini miracle.
Back when I started this journey, all those years ago on the 1st of Jan, I had vague plans of doing something when I hit one hundred theatres. A brief overview of everywhere I’d been. Crunch the numbers and count up the stats. But here we are, and I haven’t done any of the prep work.
So, let’s just dive in with theatre one hundred, shall we?
I’m on route to the Lantern Arts Centre, which, in case you didn’t know, is in Raynes Park. Don’t worry, I hadn’t heard of it either.
It’s one of those tricky venues that doesn’t have much in the way of programming. The runs are short and far apart. So when something came up that fitted the marathon criteria, I put it in my spreadsheet without too much in the way of thought as to what it was that I was actually booking.
As I sat on the tube, trundling my way down to south London, I looked up the show I was seeing. A Turbulent Priest. Ah. Thomas Beckett. I’m already feeling smug about my historical knowledge, although it extends just far enough to connect the phrase with the name and no further.
The show’s artwork is quite possibly the most terrifying picture I’ve ever seen in my life. Two men, one of them presumably Mr Beckett, locked in a violent embrace, with their tongues hanging out and their necks in choke-holds, all in a style that makes me ponder what would have happened if Goya was ever let loose in a stained glass workshop.
I closed the webpage and read the latest Brexit news on The Guardian instead. Much less distressing.
Turns out Raynes Park is rather a long way from South Wimbledon station. I good 40 minutes trek.
It’s a good thing the show starts at 8pm.
Actually, I fully approve of 8pm starts full stop. Because 8pm starts mean short shows. And short shows mean that I can still achieve the coveted goal of being home by 10pm, even with an 8pm start. I mean, a 7pm start combined with a 60 minute run time is the ultimate dream, but I suppose if one has to lumber all the way to Raynes Park in a post-work rush, then 8pm is more than acceptable.
Even with my walk, I rocked up with twenty minutes to spare, giving me plenty of time to wander around admiring the building. It really is rather spectacular. Red brick, with twin turrets that might have gone some way to explaining the name. It does rather have the look of a lantern. Not one of those glass camping ones, you understand. But a brass one, covered in latticework that throws pretty patterns all over the walls. The type of lantern that you tell everyone that you found in a Moroccan souk, but most likely started its life in a factory in China.
It won’t surprise you to know that most of the building is given over to a church, but turn the corner and you find a small door leading to the arts centre side of the enterprise.
I stop to take more photos. A young woman approaches. She tests the door. It doesn't open. So she rings the bell. Through the window we see a man come running to the door, opening it from the inside. "Hello!" he says cheerfully.
They both disappear.
A minute later, an old lady comes along. She's heading for the Lantern too. The door rattles as she tests the handle. It's not opening. She makes a disapproving noise under her breath.
"So sorry about that," says the man as he opens the door for her.
She goes in and the door closes one more.
I'm done taking my photos, but I don't want to knock on the door and send the man running to open it again. It must be a right pain in the bum having to answer the door for every audience member coming along. I hang around, waiting.
Soon I spot another woman coming down the pavement. She's talking on her phone. "Yes, the bus drops you right outside the building," she says. Looks like we have ourselves another person going to the Lantern tonight.
"Hello!" says the man, all smiles as he opens the door for us, his enthusiasm undiminished by his door duties.
There's a desk in the foyer, and when he returns to his post I give my name.
"The surname is Smiles?"
"Ah! I remember seeing that one," he says as he flips through the envelopes before handing me the one with my name on it. "Have you been here before?"
I admit that I haven't.
"You need to head around the corner, up the stairs and the theatre is at the far end."
"Round the corner, up the stairs, on the far end," I repeat.
"Or just follow someone else," he says with a smile.
But there's no one else around the corner, so I journey up the stairs by myself. I find a small group standing at the top. They're wavering.
"That looks like it?" says one, indicating the sole open door.
"Yes, just through there," says someone, apparently on stair duty for this exact circumstance.
We go in just through there.
Or try to, anyway.
There's some bottleneck action going on as people gather to examine the merch table. Or at least, I presume it's a merch table. I can't get close enough to look. I squeeze myself through, emerging on the other side into a wide room. White walls. The ceiling is clad in wood panels, like an ironic throwback to the seventies, but is probably original. Small posters are dotted around at intervals advertising dance classes. It looks like a church hall.
It is a church hall.
There's a raised platform on the end. The stage. With rows of chairs lined up in front of it.
Some brave soul is sitting by herself in the front row. She's keen.
I slip into the second row. Slightly less keen.
"With so little seating they could have allowed more legroom," says a man as he too comes to sit in the second row. He's not wrong. The six or so rows of seats have all been bunched up at one end of the hall, leaving a mass of empty space behind us. Good for those who want to sit close to the stage, I suppose, but not so great for those who want to wriggle their toes every so often.
His companion suggests stretching out his legs underneath the seat in front, which must have done the trick because their conversation soon moves onto the Archbishop of Canterbury. Not the Turbulent Priest, you understand. The current bloke. Who, I have just now realised, because I Googled it to check the spelling of his name, is no longer Rowan Williams, and hasn't been since 2012! Wow, I'm really not keeping up with things. Turns out things do occasionally move on in the Christian church.
Needless to say I can't follow the discussion. Something to do with the Pope. Which, and I've already admitted my ignorance of this whole situation, seems to me to be about five hundred years too late.
I drift out of their conversation and move onto the next.
Behind me a couple are also discussing the Arch-bish. The old one. The really old one. Our man Beckett.
I stop listening. I don't want any spoilers for the show.
I open the envelope and have a look at my ticket. I haven't needed to show it to anyone. It's blue. Clearly made in the office with the help of some WordArt. I am utterly charmed.
The lights dim. The sound of religious chanting fills the space.
Two actors make their way up onto the stage, then hide behind a black screen in order to make their entrance.
They are Saint George and Thomas the Apostle. And Beckett. And Henry II. And a hundred other historical figures that I probably did get taught about at school but have no recollection of. They rush back and forth, diving behind the screen to change costumes as they try on new characters, covering for each other with meta asides to the audience and singing songs in between the historical reenactments.
They are doing the absolute most.
I say 'they' and not their names, because I don't know who they are. There was no cast-sheet floating around (admittedly, there may have been one on the merch table... but that was a battle I wasn't willing to fight) and there's no mention of them on the Lantern's website.
Sorry unnamed actors. You sang. You danced. You changed costume. You educated me on medieval English history. And I have no idea who you are.
My fault. I should have asked during the interval...
Wait, hang on… did they say interval? I checked my phone. But we had a 8pm start! What kind of sicko programmes a two-act play with an 8pm start?
I try and calculate how long it will take to home.
Too long. I slither down in my seat, feeling exhausted. It's going to be a late one.
Even the rap battle between church and state in the second act fails to revive me.
A hundred shows in a hundred days. I’ve been to see one hundred shows in one hundred days. Not only that, I’ve been to see one hundred shows, in one hundred different theatres, in one hundred days.
And I'm tired.
I should celebrate. Buy a cake. And a candle. I have some icing at home. I could decorate my cake. Write "100 THEATRES!!!" over the top in wobbly letters.
But it's late.
And I'm so damn tired.
And I want to go home.
And the thought of having a sad little marathon party by myself is just too depressing to contemplate.
But... Yay... 100 THEATRES!!!