I’m feeling a bit down at the moment. A trifle low. A touch, if I dare say it, sad.
I hate admitting it. Not because I’m ashamed or anything like that. It’s the reactions I get to these statements that are so frustrating. I don’t know how it is for you, but when I tell people that things are a bit sucky in Maxine-land, they either brush it off with a series of dismissive noises, or they take the exact opposite approach, going into hyper alert, as if I’m about to off myself right then and there in front of them. When what I really want is for them to pat me on the head, agree that everyone is terrible, and tell me that it’s all going to be okay, because they are going to beat up everyone who has ever wronged me.
Okay, I hear it. You’re right. That’s not the way to handle things.
I can beat up my own damn people.
In the meantime, as it is mental health awareness week, I’m going to admit to you that the marathon is really getting to me at the moment.
It’s the damn relentlessness of the whole thing.
It just goes on and on and on.
For nearly five months, I’ve been going to the theatre almost every night. And then filling in every free moment in between shows with writing about them. Thousands of words. Hundreds of thousands of words. Three whole novels’ worth of words. I’m not even kidding. No wonder at least half of them are misspelt.
And, okay, it’s a bit lonely.
I don’t mean the going to the theatre part. Because I’m very often not alone. And, as someone pushing the limits on how far one can sit on the introvert scale, going to the theatre by myself is never something I've much minded. It’s the loneliness of the marathon itself. The fact that I am entirely on my own in this enterprise. The lovely people that accompany me on my trips don’t have to spend the evening desperately trying to recall fragments of conversations, or their intervals making notes on their phones. They don’t have to give over their lunch-breaks to writing blog posts. And their weekends to emailing PR companies. They don’t live within the confines of a spreadsheet.
I sometimes think about it akin to being jetted off on a solo mission to Mars. Thousands of people will be involved in the enterprise, but in the end, when it comes right down to it, no matter who is on the other end of the shuttle’s radio, they’re up there, all by themselves. But at least that lonesome soul goes in the knowledge that they have a place in the history books set aside from them. Somehow I don’t think they’ll be a ticker-tape parade waiting for me at the end of this year.
Anyway, all this maudlin moping is just a build up to saying that I'm after something different. Something I haven’t seen before. Something to shake me out of my funk.
So, I’m going to the circus.
Well, I’m actually going to Shoreditch Town Hall. But I’ll be watching circus. The latest Barely Methodical show: SHIFT. I’m pretty stoked.
I even bought my ticket. With money.
Mainly because I just couldn’t face dealing with a press person long enough to ask for comps, but still.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love press people. I love especially theatre press people. They do a job that I in no way ever want to have to do (again). But putting in ticket requests requires being nice. And I’m in no mood to be nice right now. Wait. No. I don’t mean that. I am nice. Most of the time. I suppose what I mean is: positive. Asking for tickets requires a certain level of bouncy cheer and enthusiasm that I am not capable of at this moment in time. I’m too busy embracing my inner Eeyore to use the required amount of exclamation marks in an email.
Still, even after I’d made the decision to lay down my debit card in the pursuit of another check mark in my marathon spreadsheet, it didn’t mean I wasn’t in full money-saving mode.
And as I analyse the seating plan for tonight’s performance, I realise that the cheapest seats are all gone. Greyed out. Not there.
I click through a few more dates until I see them. There. Thursday night has some. Up in the balcony. Well, that was no good. I’d already made plans for Thursday. Oh well. Second price down it was then. I picked my seat and bought the ticket and then…
I hadn’t clicked back to Tuesday. My ticket was for Thursday.
As soon as the confirmation email landed in my inbox, I forwarded it onto Shoreditch Town Hall with an abject apology and a begging request for them to exchange it.
Nine minutes later, it was done. Ticket exchanged. Followed by a friendly command to enjoy the show.
Ah. Now that’s the stuff.
While I respect press people, it’s admin staff that I really admire. They are the real heroes in theatre. The ones who turn chaos into order, dreams into reality, and an outing into an experience. I would lay down my cloak on the wet ground before them if they hadn’t already organised for Building Services to sort out that dangerous looking puddle outside the front door.
I could almost forgive them for only having e-tickets.
Not that this stopped me from heading right over to the small podium positioned just inside the very fancy foyer of the town hall to absolutely double check that printed tickets were not a thing that would be happening in my life tonight.
They’re not. But I take it with relative good grace, and do not in any way express contempt for the future of this planet we call home.
They do have freesheets though.
There’s a stack of them on the counter. I take one and go off to explore.
As former town halls go, Shoreditch must be on the more sophisticated end of the scale.
Where Battersea Arts Centre is all collages and finger paintings and a bee strewn mosaic floor, Shoreditch has grown-up faerie-lights with proper sized bulbs, and light up screens in place of posters, and a more geometric approach to tiled flooring.
They even have a ladies powder room, which I take to be the loos until I saw an entirely different door dedicated to that function. The door to the powder is blocked off, so in lieu of being able to ascertain its actual purpose, I’m going to imagine a line of vanity tables inside, complete with soft pink lighting and deeply padded chairs, where ladies touch up their makeup with fluffy puff-balls and leave a trail of lipstick-marks in their wake.
Twin staircases take you up to the Assembly Room, which sets off another train of fantasies, this one a heady mixture of Scarlet O’Hara, Beauty and the Beast, and that bit in Titanic when the old lady fantasises about Leo as her brain depletes of oxygen (I mean… we’ve all been there).
“Third row back and third seat in,” says the ticket checker when I give my seat number. I didn’t bother getting out my phone, so I enjoy the level of trust that’s between us here. Clearly I don’t look like the sort of person who sneaks into a circus show on a Tuesday evening without paying.
He’s very friendly. All big smile and even bigger energy, but seems to be a bit lacking in the freesheet department. If I hadn’t stopped off at box office in my endless quest for tickets, I wouldn’t have seen that they had any.
Not sure the people of Shoreditch Town Hall really thought that one through.
Don’t be sending people away from box office, and then using that very location as the pick-up spot for these very important documents. Especially when the box office is down a flight of stairs and the other end of a long corridor, meaning you’d have to be pretty darn dedicated to work your way back there to get one once you find out there are none to be had upstairs.
But I soon forget about that as I step through the doors and into the mammoth space of the Assembly Room. It’s hard to make out what’s going on at first. The balcony hangs low overhead, casting a deep gloom over the space below, but as I emerge from its shadow I start to be able to make out details. The Italianate mouldings that bring to mind Botticelli shells and 18th-century follies, the skylights cut into the curved ceiling, and the small balcony overhanging the stage which looks ripe for an Evita revival.
This is a municipal building from a time when local government was more than just a by-word for incompetence and could be spoken of without a sneer.
Set at one end of this vast space, is a stage. It’s square, but tipped on its point so that it forms a diamond, and then set amongst two rows of angled seating. That’s where the high rollers are sitting tonight. Close enough to get squished by any flying circus performers.
I, on the other hand, will be sitting towards the back of the room. In straight seating. Third row, and third seat in.
The balcony is empty. They must have taken it off sale for these tricky early-week shows
I’m sitting next to a young couple. They’re clearly here on a date. He’s trying to impress her with tales of all the things he’s seen here before. She's managing to sound interested. It’s rather sweet.
Thankfully I’m saved from further eavesdropping by the arrival of the circus crew. Three blokes and a girl. She’s the tiniest wee thing and is soon being flipped up in the air with all the concern of a bratty child for a ragdoll.
We all Oo and Ah in appreciation, occasionally bursting into spontaneous applause as the troupe show absolutely no concern for their own welfare.
And sitting so close, I finally manage to see how on earth these people manage not to crush their knuckles while rolling around in the Cyr wheel (release grip and open palm as the rotation take you towards the floor - obvious now I think about it).
It’s all rather marvellous, but I can’t help feeling that something is missing.
As the three guys take hold of the Cyr wheel, lifting it by tiny increments as Esmerelda Nikolajeff tip-toes her way around its circumference, rising through the air in a terrifying spiral, she wobbles. Just for a moment, and so imperceptibly that I might have thought that I had imagined it had not been for Charlie Wheeller holding out his hand to her. He doesn’t grab her, or even touch her. He leaves his hand there, ready for her to take hold of, if she needs it. She doesn’t, and with a bright smile she continues on her way.
That’s it. That’s what I wanted.
Not the wobble.
But the hand.
For all their astonishing attempts to conquer the rules of gravity, it was the small moments of interaction that reached me. Tiny Esmerelda insisting that she can support the towering Louis Gift high above her head. Beren D’Amico’s trembling fear of being left on the stage alone. And Charlie and his hand.
It's the trust. The total awareness of each other.
It wasn’t flash and fireworks that I was after. I want to feel something. To have my heart wrenched out, stomped under foot, grilled and sautéed, and then handed back, pulverised and charred, with an searing electric shock to get it beating once more.
I want to see a show that will jolt me out of this incessant routine, and make me cry big snotty tears.
I want to lean into this stupor and break it with the sheer weight of my despondency, dammit.
Is that too much to ask?