Going to see a show at a venue that you used to work for is like going back to your old school to pick up your exam results. You're kinda excited about the possibilities, but that's buried deep under a mountain of fear, trepidation, and the deep conviction that you never wanted to see any of these people ever again, and you've somehow managed to forget all their names over the past three weeks.
I'm not saying that's how I felt walking to Canada Water Theatre (or Canada Water Culture Space as it will ever be in my head), but I'm also not not saying it.
Thankfully, a lot of time has passed since my time here, and everyone I knew has now moved on. But that didn't stop them popping into my head to say hello as the ship-shaped building appeared around the corner. So intense was that feeling of their presence, I could swear that I could hear them squawking in the distance.
I decide to go check, crossing over the small terrace outside the building towards the water of Canada Water. I look down over the railing. Yup. There they are, tossing their heads and doing their very best to pretend that they had never seen me before and we definitely didn't spend our lunchtimes together on the reg. Ducking bastards.
Well, two can play at that game. I leave them to their ducking rude behaviour and go inside.
Everything is just as I remember it. The cafe on one side. The bar on the other. The bright orange walls, and the spiralling staircase. On the left there's the doors which will take you up to the offices. And on the right are the ones that lead to the auditorium. Go further in and you will find bookshelves. Because CWCS isn't just a theatre. It's also a library. Or rather, it's a library and a theatre. I'd say the ratio between library and theatre is probably 85:15. So really, it more library than theatre. A library with a theatre attached, if you will.
Even with this filar ratio still in place, there's the disconcerting shift. Where everything is the same enough to be recognisable, but just different enough to confuse and make me question things.
Like, where the hell is the box office?
I'd expected there to be someone with a laptop and a box of admission passes on the end of the bar. But there's nothing at the end of the bar apart from bar.
I'm not the only one looking around.
"I don't know, mate," says a bloke. He looks at his phone. "Ground floor it says."
A woman arrives. She's involved with the show. I can tell she's involved with the show because she spends the next five minutes loudly saying hello to people she recognises.
"I'm just going to pick up my ticket. I'll be right back," she declares with a regal wave of the hand before disappearing off towards the library half of the foyer.
Ah. I can see where she's going. There's a small desk set up over there, dwarfed and in the shadow of the library's one. What do we call that? The lending desk? The circulation desk? The desk you take the books to? Well, that one.
Stuck to the front of the small desk is a small sign. Box Office it says. I'm in the right place.
CWCS has gone up in the world since my day.
A real box office. Amazing. There are even freesheets piled up on the corner, just waiting to be picked up.
When I get to the front of the queue I give my name.
Nothing. Not a flicker of recognition.
"Here you go," says the girl on box office, handing me an admission token as if I were just some regular punter coming to see a show.
My fantasies that there might be some plaque dedicated to all my hard work somewhere in the building, perhaps something tasteful next to the kettle in the kitchen, are dashed.
"Thanks," I say, and move away to lick my wounds in peace.
I turn over the admission pass in my hands. These things have improved too. Gone are the laminated logos of four years ago. Printed on the photocopier and cut out by hand. They're now heavy plastic cards. Gold heavy plastic cards.
I put it in my pocket and turn my attention to the freesheet. It follows the standard formula. One I use myself when making these things: title and company name, then intro, then credits, then supporters. Simple, effective, and nothing out of the ordinary, except for the largest arts council logo I have ever seen in my life. They must have been extremely grateful for that funding.
This gets folded and put in my pocket too.
There's a long queue at the bar.
I want to recommend the matcha lattes. Matcha lattes were my drink of choice when I worked here. Me and the other girl in the office would go up onto the roof on sunny afternoons to drink the obscenely green froth and watch the reflection of the clouds pass across the high glass towers. Now that I think of it, I'm not entirely sure we were allowed to be on the roof, matcha lattes or no. But hey, it was a while back, and I'm sure the statute of limitations on roof-matcha drinking has now passed.
I try looking back through my old photos to find some of the view, but all I have turn up is one of two ducks on the roof. I don't plan on apologising though. You're getting a picture of ducks on a roof out of this.
Oh dear. I seem to have spent a little too long on anecdote island. People are going in.
I follow them.
CWCS is a strange venue. And not just because it's inside a library. There are two banks of seating, but they are not on opposite sides of the stage as you might expect, but angled either side of an aisle, so that they hug the diamond-shaped stage like the setting of a ring.
I don't remember where the best seats are anymore, so I pick a spot near the aisle on the third row. It looks as good as any other.
To seats are slow to fill up. The queue at the bar is clearly still in full force.
But there's loud music playing and the mood is high. Bonnie Tyler tends to have that effect on people, and I Need a Hero is an absolute banger of a tune.
Even the front of houser on door-duty is getting in the mood, mouthing along to the lyrics.
"We went around twice and couldn't find it," laughs someone sitting behind me. "I was like, is it in the library...?"
Yeah, this place really needs better signage out there.
Still, plenty of people have managed to find it. The house looks full. Which is definitely different to how it was in my day. Though to be fair, it was all folk-music and flamenco back then. Nothing like the show on tonight, which from the looks of the freesheet features a spoken word artist and "two acrobatic dancers." Sounds good, although I'm not entirely sure what acrobatic dancers are. There aren't any biogs to draw clues from, but judging from the twitter handle of one of them, she's a b-girl. I guess that explains it. Breakin' is fairly fucking acrobatic.
The spoken word artist comes out. He's Adam Kammerling and he's doing a show about masculinity and violence, Shall We Take This Outside. He was an introduction for the two dancers: Si Rawlinson, who was drafted in at the last minute, and the b-girl, Emma Houston, who trained in contemporary dance. Then he points to the tech desk. Rachel will be doing the lighting, and playing the role of his mother. I look over. Oh my god! It's! I know her! Well, I mean. Know in the sense that we worked in the same place for a while. Aww. That's nice.
Introductions done, Adam invites the audience to heckle him.
I slip down in my seat, praying that it won't be that kind of show.
It's not. After Kammerling gets his heckle ("Cut your hair!") we're allowed to relax, or as much as one can relax in a super pumped audience.
Kammerling tells stories from his childhood back in Somerset and as a fellow Somerseter, I feel an instant kinship. Even if I ran with the young-farmers crowd rather than the car-park kids, some experiences are universal, even to those who grew up outside the confines of the West Country. I mean, haven't we all gone on Mission Impossible style expeditions to secure the new box of cereal from the top shelf? I didn't have the benefit of two dancer side-kicks though.
And oh god, the dancers are cool. Playing brothers and friends and bullies and furniture, they preen and pose and punch as Kammerling tells his tales. There are not mere props in a spoken word performance. Something to look at while we listen to Kammerling's words. We all wince and groan as Rawlinson tells a story about falling during a performance, and laugh as the pair of them lend their knees as a seat for Kammerling.
CWCS definitely didn't have shit like this in my day.
After the show, it's only a matter of going out one door and heading straight through another as I rush into the tube station that lurks directly underneath the building.
Part library. Part theatre. Part tube station. And built like a ship. That's CWCS. The weirdest damn theatre in London.