Is Streatham Space Project the newest venue on my marathon thus far? I think Streatham Space Project is the newest venue on my marathon thus far. Not even a year old, it opened in June last year. I doubt they’ve even taken the plastic wrap off yet.
And, yup. It is very shiny. Very shiny. Golden even. The walls are positively gleaming in the evening sun. I don’t want to insult the people of Streatham by saying that it looks like a tiny gleaming nugget within a pan full of gritty river water, but… I’m just going to leave that sentence hanging there.
There’s a little laminated sign stuck on the sliding glass doors. “We are… OPEN to the public. C’mon in!” it says. I’d love to know what incident prompted the creation of this sign (probably lots of locals sticking their head around the door and asking if the place is open to the public, and can they come in) but as someone with the anxiety, who even five months into her theatre marathon, still gets a little nervous going into new places, I really appreciate it.
For all the millions the Opera House has spent on their Open Up project, a simple sign on the door can do it just as well.
I follow the directions and go inside.
It’s nice in here. Less of the shiny and more of the earthy, as branches circle the ceiling lamps and there's a Blair Witch-style font action going on with the signage. STAGE one way. BAR and TICKETS the other.
Now, that’s a question. Tickets. What am I needing to do on that? I have an e-ticket. But one thing I’ve learnt on this marathon is the stuff you get sent by theatres isn't worth the pixels they’re printed on. E-tickets are confirmation emails, confirmation emails get you admission passes, admission passes are stickers, and stickers are brill. Nothing means anything, and it is always best to ask.
The box office and bar take up the back wall of the cafe space. I head over and join the queue. There doesn’t seem to be any differentiation between the two spaces, as the two blokes behind the bar jump from one side to the other, box office to bar, and back again, as each person in the queue asks for different things. Tickets or drinks, or some tasty combination of the two.
It’s my turn.
“Do I need to pick up a ticket?” I ask. “Or is it just e-tickets?”
“Just e-tickets. We’re completely paperless here,” says one of the blokes behind the bar.
“Great.” I mean, not great. I fucking hate this paperless trend. It’s the red flag of a dying civilization. The end of a golden age of theatre that stretches back centuries. A victory of bean-counters over memory-makers. But, still. Great. At least I know the situation.
Although… completely paperless? Oh dear. That doesn’t bode well for potential freesheet action.
Oh well. I’m not going to think about that.
Instead I step into the Studio. It looks to be a gallery and there’s some pretty amazing photos of trees by Mark Welland on the walls. The kind of photos I wouldn’t mind owning, and certainly don’t mind taking a few minutes to look at and ponder over. I do like a tree.
I get distracted by a bing-bong. An actual bing-bong. The sort of bing-bong that would open an episode of Hi-de-Hi! on a Saturday morning when I was a kid.
“Welcome to Streatham Space Project,” the voice on the tannoy says. “Just to let you know that the show tonight, Freeman, will start at 8 o’clock, and the doors will open at 7.45. So you have plenty of time to queue at the bar. If you could make your way to the Stage at 7.45 that’ll be great.”
Oh. See, now. I was sure the start time was at 7.45. I was rather banking on it, as, let me remind you, we’re in Streatham. And that’s a long way from Finchley. Which is where I live, and more importantly, sleep. Those fifteen minutes could well be the difference between me just having a cheeky late night, and being so tired that I want to die.
I tuck myself up with the fire extinguishers and double check the website. Yup, start time 7.45. No mention of doors. So either the Space Project is still working out some issues in their communications, or the performance is running behind.
“The house will be opening in a few minutes for Freeman. Please have your names or tickets ready to be ticked off the list. Please make your way to the auditorium.”
My quiet corner next to the fire safety equipment is soon overrun with people flapping around A4 pieces of paper that they’ve printed-at-home their e-tickets (paperless my arse).
“Is this the queue?” someone asks. We all shrug in response. It is now, I guess.
“Excuse me, excuse me,” says one of the blokes from the bar. He squeezes through us, holding a laptop in his arms. “Excuse me.”
He makes it through to the other side and with the laptop balanced in the crock of his arm, beams at us all, ready to take names and check the not-so-paperless tickets.
Well, here I am, the paper-whore with only my name poised and ready to give at the door.
“S-M-I…” he types up with one finger, the laptop wobbling on his arm with every key-press. “Maxine?”
That’s the one!
I go in.
I’m running out of words to describe black box theatres. They’re black. They’re shaped like a box. There’s a single bank of raked seating. The stage is at floor level. I’ve been to at least a hundred of these this year. Probably. I haven’t actually counted.
The stage is actually surprisingly small given the amount of seats there are in here. It feels a little out of proportion. A little squashed. Like a pug’s snout. Still cute, but makes you wonder about the tactics of the people who created them.
I plonk myself down at the end of the third row. That seems to be my go-to seat in unreserved theatres at the moment. Just far enough away from the stage so that you don’t feel exposed. But closed enough that it still feelings incredibly intimate.
Someone comes to sit next to me, and the intimacy increases by an alarming factor. He manspreads out his knees, bumping and jostling my own knees out of the way. Then, room cleared, he pumps his legs together, as if working away on an invisible Thighmaster.
The lights dim and the leg exercises finish. Thank goodness.
Thirty seconds later, he’s checking his watch. He sighs. Deep and shuddering.
Something tells me this is going to be a long evening for the both of us.
He sighs through the performers creeping around after one another to Grieg’s In The Hall of the Mountain King and shouts of “Tory scum!”
He sighs as the names of black people who have been killed by police officers are projected up the screen. So many names they overlap and merge into one another, forming a solid wall of white.
He sighs through the Equus-style horse made up of dancers and ridden around the stage. The horse ride that would lead to William Freeman be imprisoned, and beaten brutally, for five years.
He sighs through the shadow puppet failed-assassination of Edward Drummond. The failed assassination that would lead to the M’Naughten rules.
He sighs as Sarah Reed undergoes the most distressing assault scene I’ve ever seen on stage.
He sighs through the lindy hop. Through the gospel singing. Through court testimony and horrific murders.
He sighs again and again and again.
He sighs as we laugh. He sighs as we cry.
He sighs through it all.
I’ve never felt so sorry for someone in my entire life. To witness six harrowing tales of real suffering, and to only be able to sigh in response. Awful.
An hour later, we’re out.
“More info on the show if you’re interested!” says a front of houser, standing by the exit and handing out leaflets.
I am very much interested. I take one.
Outside, I stop to have a look at it. It’s full of information about mental health. Signs, symptoms, courses of action. All good stuff. And nicely printed too. But not a single thing about the show. No cast. No creatives. I write this post ignorant of the names of any of the performers who sang and danced and wrung us out for a full sixty minutes.
They were good though. Whoever they were.