I’m really happy right now. Like, stupidly, happy. Bouncing down the street, happy. I feel like the Sharky Twins in Wolfie, throwing pocketfulls of sequins all over the place as a physical manifestation of all the shiny joy that’s gurgling inside me. I have no reason for this happiness. I’ve been to some great fucking theatres recently. That helps. And people keep on smiling at me. That’s true. And also strange. Not sure what’s going on there. You’d think reading a black-bound copy of one of Kafka's short stories would be enough to put anyone off, but no. There they are, on the tube, gurning at me. It’s so weird I can’t help but gurn right back.
It’s all very troubling.
My happiness has grown to such excessive levels that people are starting to notice.
“That’s very positive of you!” said one of my co-workers this morning.
And she was right. It was very positive of me.
And it wasn’t even ten o’clock. Far too early to be positive about anything, let alone work.
If this goes on any longer, I’m going to get my Goth-card revoked.
But even after a full day listening to Nightwish on blast, I’m still springing my way through the rain like Tigger after a long session snorting lines of icing sugar at a birthday party.
Oh well. Might as well make the most of it before the inevitable crash sends my friends into intervention-crisis-mode again.
Damp of clothes, but not of spirits, I arrive at the Soho Theatre. it’s my second trip here of the marathon. I seem to be working my way down from the top. I’ve done the upstairs studio, now it’s the turn of the theatre space on the second floor, with only the basement left to go.
I give my name at the box office, basking in the reflection from the neon pink surround.
The lady behind the box office stares at me, waiting.
“Oh sorry,” I say. I had forgotten where I was. The theatre of a thousand shows. “It’s for Citysong.”
“Citysong,” she repeats with an internalised sigh, reaching for the relevant box and pulling out my ticket. “Can you confirm the postcode?” she asks, not looking up.
I can, and do.
“If you want to wait in the bar, they’ll make an announcement,” she says, handing over the ticket, her eyes already fixed on the person waiting behind me.
I feel myself deflating as I walk across the foyer. My happy pink sparkle flickers and dims. The neon glow of the SOHO sign strapped to the ceiling does its best to replace it, but to be honest, I think the yellow and blue are making me look jaundiced.
The bar is rammed. It always is in here. But someone is giving up their counter space and I quickly nab it before it gets swallowed up by the Soho hoards.
“This is a five minute call for Hotter, would any remaining ticket holders head to the third floor. Five minutes to Hotter,” comes a loud voice over the tannoy.
The chatter in the bar barely even faulters.
A man comes over and nudges me out of the way so that he can put an empty bottle and a dirty glass on the counter in front of me. He leaves without saying a word.
“This is a final call for Hotter, any remaining ticket holders, make your way to the third floor NOW.”
Someone springs from their seat and legs it towards the stairs.
Oof. That person is going to get a look would they get up to the third floor.
“Ladies and gentleman, the house is now open for Citysong on the second floor. Please have tickets out ready to be checked.”
I get my ticket out of my pocket. It’s hot pink. The same colour as the box office. And about ten times brighter than the current state of my sparkle.
I head for the stairs. I can’t be late. I don’t want the tannoy-lady to get mad at me.
“The far stairs, running time is one hour twenty minutes, there’s no readmittance,” says the ticket checker as she tears stubs, barely glancing at the tickets before giving her spiel - as efficient as a machine. “You’re in the balcony, running time is one hour twenty minutes, there’s no readmittance.
“The far stairs, running time is one hour twenty minutes, there’s no readmittance.”
“Don’t worry, I heard!” says the man in front of me. “No need to repeat the speech!”
Her shoulders visibly slump. “Thank you for saving my voice,” she says, before gathering herself back together again.
I hand over my ticket. I want to tell her that I heard the speech to, but I’m not quick enough. “The far stairs, running time is one hour twenty minutes, there’s no readmittance.”
Through the door and into the theatre. “Would you like a freesheet?” a front of houser asks, not waiting for a reply before she offers one to me.
“I absolutely would!”
She looks taken aback. Like the man who didn’t need to hear the ticket speech, we had gone off script.
“Thanks?” she says, handing it to me.
I can see why the confusion.
That’s not how it’s supposed to work here. Get ‘em in, hand them a ticket, store them in the bar until the correct doors are open, get them to the right space, retrieve the ticket, get them seated, show them some art, then push them out the door. That’s the process. Anything that doesn’t fit with that, oh so precisely calibrated process is worrisome and wrong.
I leave her to her confusion and walk down the back of the seats towards the far stairs, then traipse all the way down to the third rows.
Seats may be allocated, but it looks like the third row is my spot wherever I go now.
There’s someone in front of my. A young woman. She’s trying to flip down the seat without spilling her drink. A tricky feat when your other arm laden down with jacket and bag and freesheet, made all the trickier by the fact that the flip down seats in here made for two.
“Shall I handle that?” I say, jumping forward. “I’m next to you anyway. Save your hands.”
She graciously steps back and allows me to pass, flipping down the seat for the both of us.
“I’ve never sat in a double seat before,” she laughs, finally managing to put all her belongings down.
“Yeah, you don’t see them that often. It’s usually at drama schools,” I say, taking on the role of expert in theatre seating. Well, I am really. I’m sat in more than most, that’s for certain. “I think they have them in LAMDA,” I continue, hearing that I’ve now tipped over from the realms of knowledgeable theatre person into obsessive theatre person, but not being able to stop. “Or is it RADA? No, it’s definitely LAMDA. Anyway,” I say, seeing the flash of fear cross her features. “They don’t seem to have them much in professional theatres.”
“They’re quite difficult,” she says, bringing back the conversation into the land of normal people.
“Yeah, they’re tricky.”
“Because as you try to sit down, they bounce up!”
I nod, glad that she’s taking the lead on this.
“Can you book them together?” she asks.
I shrug. “It’s a weird one. Because even if you come as a couple, there’s no guarantee you’ll be sharing a seat. Like, you could be split up. Across the divide.”
Let it never be said that I’m not a riveting conversationalist.
We lapse into silence, and I get out my phone to take a few photos. Including the Blogger Special - programme in front of the stage.
“Ooo!” says my new best friend. “That’s a good trick. I might follow your example there.”
And she does, holding up the freesheet and taking a picture that captures both the piece of paper and the stage.
The Soho Theatre’s Theatre isn’t all that big and seats are filling up fast. People sitting up in the balcony, which is little more than glorified slips on either side of the auditorium, are twisting around in their seats and practising their leans. The stage doesn’t look that deep. They should be okay, view-wise.
My neighbour’s other neighbour arrives.
“It’s better now that this one is flipped down,” she says to me, patting the flipped down seat next to her. “I don’t feel like I’m going to fall into a chasm.”
I laugh. I really hope I remember all of this when it comes to write-up time.
She leans towards me and points up at the lighting rig. “It must be starting now. They’ve built up all that haze.”
She’s right. There’s plenty of white smoke wafting around up there.
I glance up at the nearest balcony, wondering whether any of it was wafting up there too.
“Oh! They’ve moved all the people from up there!” It’s true. Hardly anyone is still sitting up in the slips. The front of house team must have moved them down to fill up the few remaining seats in the main block.
Well, they got themselves a bargain. I wonder if that was their game-plan. Or if they even had a game-plan. Bit of a risk to buy tickets up there in the hopes of moving down, but it worked for them. I’ve done it before. At big theatres where I’m fairly confident the management are going to close off the highest circle on the night. But if that was this lots' plan, they are a lot braver than me doing it in such a small venue on a night as well sold as this. Good for them.
“Perhaps we will see them appear on the stage,” says my new friend. “I’ve seen two or three shows where they had people sitting at the back of the stage, facing us.”
“Have you ever done it before? Sat on the stage?” I ask.
She shakes her head.
“It’s really creepy.”
I don't get the chance to explain the sleepiness of on-stage seating as the lights are dimming, and the red aura that has been hanging over the set is gone. I can see it properly now. A huge map. And beyond the map…
I blink, for a second thinking that my neighbour had been right. The balcony people had been moved to the back of the stage. But no. They’re not there. It’s only a reflection. The map is made from a mirror. I can see the faces of the people in the front row shimmering in the darkness.
The cast emerge from behind the map, all dressed in black.
They speak in poems. My brain recoils, unable to keep up. Words tumble over each other without meaning. I can't find the rhythm. I can't follow what's going on.
And then I can.
As quick a change as the flicking of a switch, I'm thrown into this tale of a city, of Dublin, of the families that live there and the relationships the bind them.
Actors disappear behind the mirrored map and reappear in a new set of black clothes and a new character.
Men, women, children, a personification of porn itself.
All treated with gentleness, affection, and humour.
And with love. A hundred romances pressed carefully between the pages of this play. The love for a child, for an aging parent, of a caregiver.
Laughter hits pockets of the audience, leaving the remainder untouched, marking out the Irish people in our midst.
But no one us safe. Belly full gaffaws mix with filtering giggles, and sigh filled awws.
“Wow, intense,” says my neighbour as the lights come back up. She’s not wrong. That was intense. I can feel it, something, moving, in my heart. The shifting of a stone, breaking up into a hundred thousand tiny particles and passing through my veins, sending tingles all over my body.
“Watch out for the ping!” says my neighbour, sliding off our shared bench. And with that, she’s gone.
I take my time putting my glasses back in my bag and shrugging on my jacket.
As I stomp back up to the back of the seating bloke, an usher is chatting to an audience member. “There's a lot of Dublin memes in there,” says the audience member to the usher. “So, like, portions of the audience are going to be getting this entirely different show.”
Their eyes are shining with shared joy.
I turn around to get one last look at the stage, but it's dark and bare. The building is quiet.
And caged. I never realised how much of this theatre is kept behind a grill of metalwork before. The lift shaft is encased it a heavy duty mesh not unlike chicken wire. Huge metal shutters cut off the now vacant box office, and wait to be drawn across the entrance to the bar.
It's time to go.
Time to return to my city. To London.
It occurs to me though, that a city is nothing more than collection of people falling in and out of love, waxing and waning in their affection for life, for the landscape, for each other. And for theatre, I suppose.
Leaving a trail of invisible sequins in my wake, I step out into Soho, with my heart as full as the city, and a resolution to spend tomorrow solidly listening to The Cure before it’s too late.