It occurred to me while I was walking through Old Street that I was doing reverse my regular route from a few years back. Walking from Bethnal Green to Angel was a regular habit of mine, as I left work at Rich Mix and went to see a show at Sadler’s Wells. Now that I work at Sadler’s, I'm doing the exact opposite - down City Road, past Moorfields Hospital, round the Old Street roundabout with its massive billboard advertising the Pixel 3, through Hoxton, past Box Park and the chain link fence covered with padlocks, up to Sainsbury’s, across the scary road I was convinced would be the death of me one day and… there it is. The place that had been my home for a-year-and-a-half.
It had been quite the traumatic journey. Seeing all the things that had changed (and even worse, the things that hadn’t). The newsagent that used to sell the most delicious, and yet worryingly cheap, curries didn’t seem to be there anymore. But the car wash operated by staff a little too enthusiastic with their hoses still was (my feet remembered to cross to the other side of the pavement long before my brain did). There was the printers where I used to run down to hand-deliver my mock-up of how I wanted a flyer to be folded (now I do it via emailed clips, filmed on my phone - how times change), but it was shut so I couldn’t go in.
As I stood outside Sainsbury’s, on the opposite side of the street, I tried not to pick out all the ways the building at moved on since I was last there. But, I couldn’t help it. Those vinyls are new. And the light-up poster-boxes have been removed from the windows. I wonder if… I had to check. I ran around the building to look at the back. There’s a wall on Redchurch Street that runs along the length of building’s backside. When I worked there it got painted with the name Rich Mix. It was pure Instagram bait, and I wanted to get hooked again.
The words Rich Mix were still there, but they were different. Gone where the bright and blocky 3D typography I remembered and instead there was some more old school graffiti lettering going on. Metallic silver against a dark blue.
Change is weird. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be allowed.
Oh well, there was no use crying over lost street art. It’s time to go in and face the box office.
There is already a queue to get into the main space ('The Stage' as it has now been renamed) down on the ground floor - usually given over to the music performances that most people know Rich Mix for.
I ignore that. We aren’t here for a gig. Not tonight.
“I’m here for Stolen?” I said. I don’t know why I said it as a question. “Surname is Smiles,” I added, as if I was just a regular punter who hadn’t worked here for 18 months. Thing is, according to the box office system, I was a regular punter on a first time visit. I actually had to create a new account. Well, who needs to book tickets online when they have a box office a couple of doors down?
“The doors won’t open for another ten minutes or so, but you can hang out down here or go to the cafe,” the guy on box office suggested. I plump for hanging out down there and busy myself admiring the new poster designs - so much better than the ones I put together during my time there.
The cushioned bench seats that line the front window are the same though. Still as ratty looking as I remembered. Comfy though. I perch, and edit my Theatre 503 blog post while I wait for the house to open.
By the time I get to the end it is 7.23 and I am pretty sure the house must have opened. Seven minutes before start time is cutting it close. I look around. There is still a queue to get into the main space. And another one for the lift. Had there been an announcement? Did Rich Mix even do announcements? I couldn’t remember. I doubt I ever listened to them even if they did. With a staff pass, open times is just a bad pronunciation of the German banking family.
I scoot past the lift and head for the stairs, following the red line that is laid out on the floor in true hospital-style to lead cinema goers through the convoluted route up a level, past the popcorn and then around the main space’s gallery before reached the cinema-wing of this cumbersome building.
After the first floor however, the line peels off, and I am left to do the long walk up to the fourth floor alone. Really alone, as every level I pass looks dark and deserted. Still, nice views though.
The door at the top of the stairs takes you to the foyer outside of the fourth floor loos. If you’re quiet you can hear the bangs and screams filtering through from the cinema screen on the other side of the wall.
We have no time for second hand car chases though, so I turn left, through the double doors, past the lift and… there we are. Theatre space on one side, and the bar and more, shall we say flexible space, on the other.
“Sorry, can I tear your ticket?” asks one usher as I grab a freesheet from the other. Always doing things in the wrong order, me.
The theatre is already packed. These people are better than me at gauging when to go upstairs. There are clusters of people sitting on the aisle end of the bench seating. No one wants to sit at the ends. Which is silly. The benches are all of three metres long. They only sit six bums or so at a time. Middle or end, it doesn’t make much difference to your view.
“We’re pretty full tonight so move down,” says someone who very much doesn’t look like an usher. “If people don’t move down for you… make them.” Golly. Hard line. I like it.
“I don’t mind squishing through,” I say to the three people sitting close to the central aisle. I really don’t.
They stand up, but that doesn’t help much with the whole getting past them, as now their legs are in the way.
“Oh, sorry - I thought you wanted to go to the end?” says one.
Well, yes, but…
But they are already moving down the row. Oh well. Middle seat it is for me, then.
"We're going live in one minute," announces the important looking person who definitely wasn't an usher.
Going live? That's a strange way to say a show is about to start.
"We start broadcasting in one minute!"
Broadcasting? What on earth...
I look at the freesheet I had been handed.
"The staged reading will be livestreamed by HowlRound TV."
Gosh. Okay. Fine.
I give a surreptitious look over my shoulder, checking that there are no cameras near me. I think I'm safe.
The minute clocks down and then, yes - we are live. After a short introduction, the reading begins, and...
You know, I thought a play about stolen Nazi artworks would be fascinating. I thought it would be like The Woman in Gold, or even Jilly Cooper's Pandora.
I looked around me. People take out their freesheets and start reading them, turning them over to study the biographies. One woman even pursues the feedback form, so desperate was she for reading matter.
Never a good sign.
As for me, I couldn't stop staring at the back curtain. Behind the corridor is a corridor. And down the corridor was the tech room, where Rich Mix kept their big printer. I'd spent many hours in that room, printing out A3 posters on the printer. Sometimes I'd go there just because I needed a bit of space. It has big windows overlooking Bethnal Green Road, which is more than can be said for the offices. When I left, there was rumblings that they'd be moving the office up to that room. I hope that's true.
As I mentally make my way back through the curtain, I apply myself to the problem of this play going on. It has all the right ingredients. The decadence of twenties Germany descending into a dictatorship. Scandal and intrigue and coverups. Precious masterpieces hidden away. It could have been a thriller. But it wasn't.
And then I realised the problem. This wasn't a play. At least, it shouldn't have been. It was a short story. Or perhaps a classy novella. It was meant to be read on the page, and not on the stage.
After the shouldn't-be-a-play finished, the not-an-usher returned to interview the playwright. The questions were rehearsed. So were the answers. Another thing that could have been better accomplished written down.
"Now," says the NAU. "My assistant is going to get some pens. If you can please fill out the feedback form."
I get the form out and look at it.
"Age?" laughs the person next to me. "Mind your own business, that's what my age is."
But my eyes are already travelling down to question two. Sex: M/F.
Two options. In 2019. In an arts venue. At a play.
With one question, the entire form is revealed to be hollow.
I shove it in my bag and get up to leave, not bothering to wait for a pen.
"If you don't fill in the form, I'll be very annoyed," says NAU.
I walk out. Not even feeling a little bit guilty.