Somewhere around Holborn, a man and a woman are striding down the pavement together, walking in step and wearing the hell out of a pair of well-fitted suits. “I'd kill my neighbours but I wouldn’t move into their flat,” says the man.
“Yeah, yeah,” replies the woman, nodding earnestly.
As we walk past each other, me heading south of the river, and them apparently off to pick up some a very sharp cleaver, I can’t help but think that’s a bit rude. If you’re going to go around killing your neighbours, surely the least you can do is move into their flat. Otherwise, what was the point? With house prices as they are, your neighbours flat is going to be the most valuable thing they have by far. If you don’t make use of it, what really was the point in killing them? Because they had a habit of blasting Taylor Swift’s new album at 3am every morning? Pur-lease. Buy some noise-cancelling earphones or prepare to rock out to ME! for the foreseeable future.
To kill them and then just leave their flat there, untouched and empty, seems the cruellest thing you can do.
Which is why I’m so glad to be going back to the Ovalhouse tonight.
Not that I killed them in my last visit. Or even hurt them. Criticising a lack of freesheets does not a lambasting make. And besides, I’m not sure I could take down a venue even if I tried.
But still, I said my piece, and now I’m back, to make use of the greatest asset the Ovalhouse has at their disposal - the fucking art.
This time, the cricket isn’t on. The streets are quiet, apart from the gentle slosh of cars driving through puddles.
The bucketing rain from the afternoon has now settled into a gentle drizzle.
There are a few people braving the outdoor seating in the Ovalhouse courtyard. Under a wooden canopy, admittedly, and all bundled in thick coats, but still, you have to admire the dedication to getting the most out of British summertime.
I decide not to join them.
Not because I don’t enjoy sitting in the cold and the wet, overlooking a grey carpark. It’s just that I’m running a little bit later than I’m comfortable with. Turns out two hours to walk three and a half miles isn’t all that generous when you take it at a stroll.
Back into the oval box office, and back to the counter.
I give my name and the woman in the window digs out my ticket. No need to specify the show. The main house went in ages ago.
“Here's your ticket,” she says before reaching for a neat little stack of booklets piled up next to the ticket box. I eye them hungrily. “And here’s your programme. They’ll be an announcement in the bar when the house opens.”
She hands over the ticket. And the programme.
I try not to look overexcited.
I’m not entirely convinced that I managed it.
I retreat to the bar, and take a seat in the same spot, at the same table, as my last visit. It’s almost like I’m becoming a regular. Soon I’ll be demanding “the usual” from the bar staff and complaining to the management if anyone dares sit in my chair.
Not today though. Today I sit quietly and have a look at the programme.
Okay, programme is a little generous. It’s a freesheet. Printed on a piece of A4 and folded twice. It’s nice paper though. And in colour. Got biogs. And a little intro into the First Bites series the show is part of.
I could not hope for more.
And I didn’t, actually.
I wasn’t expecting any sort of programmage. Not after my visit to the main house left me coming away with no idea who anyone in the cast was.
Now, I’m not saying the people at the Ovalhouse read my blog and have used the past week to quickly put together some freesheets, but… No really. I’m not saying that. I’m am absolutely positive that it is entirely coincidental that the first show I saw did not have a freesheet on offer for reasons that I’m sure are justified and valid, and this second show does, likewise for reasons that are justified and valid. However, that’s not going to stop my claiming responsibility for this if anyone asks.
Yup, the fact that the Ovalhouse are handing out tasty little freesheets at The Lost Ones is all because of yours truly, and this here blog.
A lady steps onto the Iive music stage. I know what that means, the house is now open!
“Welcome to Ovalhouse. The house is now open for The Lost Ones. If you just follow these stairs around the side of the bar.”
See? Told you.
There’s a general scrape as chairs are pushed back from tables and we all make our way to the door for the upstairs theatre space. We don’t have far to go. It’s right next to the bar. And clearly marked. Not like the main auditorium where the door can only be found in the back of a back room and down a very unlikely looking corridor.
None of that nonsense here.
UPSTAIRS THEATRE is written in clear capitals above the blue double doors, which are now, as promised, open.
The door leads us into a stairwell, where, just in case we didn’t quite catch the meaning of the name, there’s another sign. UPSTAIRS, it says, with an arrow pointing up the stairs.
As we make out way up, I’m kinda hoping that there’s another sign up there, saying DOWNSTAIRS with an arrow pointing down, but all I find is a front of houser, with a ticket beeper in hand.
“Thanks!” I say brightely, still filled with freesheet joy as I present my ticket for beeping.
“Enjoy!” says the front of houser, equally brightly.
It must be fun playing with the ticket beeper. I wouldn’t mind having a go.
Although, I do wonder about the beeper. Like, why is it? I get it’s a cool piece of kit, which makes the most delightful beeping noise, but what is its purpose? At The Pleasance they use it to beep in people who have e-tickets (let us not even talk about The Bloody Pleasance and their Bloody e-tickets), but everyone in the queue in front of me here has a paper ticket. E-tickets aren’t even an option at the Ovalhouse. I mean, sure, you can print your own. Which can very often be treated as an e-ticket. Just show the pdf on your phone. It works out as the same thing. But they don’t offer an e-ticket explicitly. So, why the beeper? Why not just tear tickets, and take print-at-homes? This seems like it would be the faster of the too options. Much as the beeper is swanky af, it does take a second or two to line up and, well, beep.
It is cool though.
As is the upstairs theatre.
But, like, in a low temperature kinda way.
I take off my jacket, more out of habit than hope, and then think better of it, pulling my scarf out from my bag and wrapping it around my shoulders as a makeshift shawl.
Everywhere else in the audience keeps their coats firmly on. Sensible people.
Lucky for me, the Upstairs theatre at the Ovalhouse is small, so there’s a chance the sheer concentration of bodies in this limited space will warm things up a bit.
The performers are sure doing their bit for the cause.
They are already out there, on the stage, dancing as the audience comes in.
There’s seating on three sides of the room, but no one has dared cross over, past the dancers, to the two rows of benches at the far end.
With no third row available, I’m in the second row. But right at the end, in the corner, in the nearest approximation of my favourite seat that I can find.
It’s a good thing that I’m right at the end, because even from here, the people in the front row is doing the mostest to block the view. Not that it’s their fault. They’re just sitting there, minding their own business, being considerate audience members.
It’s the benches that are to blame.
Now, I understand why some theatres have a bad rake. When you’re trying to fit in as many seats as possible into a small space, sometimes you are limited by the frickin-ceiling. But when there are only two rows, the reason for placing the second of these on a platform that barely clears a couple of inches, doesn’t not a logical decision make.
Especially in a studio space, where you just know the cast is going to be sitting on the floor.
I have a theory. If you were to plot the size of a cast against the number of minutes spent at floor level, you’d get a classic exponential curve. Okay, perhaps they’d be a spike for the solo-players - they like to do things standing up, but after that, it would be bums on the ground for the majority of the run time, falling rapidly as the number of credits on the cast list increases, until you reach those massive community project casts, which are all-standing, all the time.
Just as I am having these thoughts, the lights go out. We are left in darkness, listening to Arly Ifenedo and Amina Koroma fret in the dark as they try and figure out where they are and what’s happening to them. The answer appears far too easily for our outside eyes. They’re on a ship. A slave ship. Packed in with hundreds of others just like them. They are strangers, but not for long. They are driven together by proximity, pain, and a shared language amongst so much confusion. Sister forged in blood rather than born in it.
They never leave the ship, but Koroma’s play covers a lot of ground: differing races and religions, obviously, but not just between the slavers and their prisoners, but also between the girls themselves. Female genital mutilation is breathed about in whispers between the two of them, and forms the basis of choice for Ifenedo’s character. Her choice to run from being cut had her fleeing into the path of her captures. And her prayers result in her being faced with another choice: return, and face the blade, or stay, and face the slavers. It’s here that the play lost me, I must admit. Both of these two options too awful to contemplate or to weigh against one another. My mind and my emotions shrank away from it, my body unable to stop shivering no matter how tightly I wrapped my scarf.
On the way out, our front of houser hands us feedback forms. To help the artists with the development of their work. I tuck mine away in my bag.
I never fill these things out.
I’m really not the sort to make my opinions known.