I don’t know what this place is, or even exactly where it is, but I’m enjoying saying the hell out of it, and have been doing so ever since I found out how it’s pronounced. About five minutes ago.
“This train is calling out New Cross Gate, Brockley, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Penge West…”
Penge, Penge, Penge, Penge, Penge.
It’s a great name. I’m very much in favour of places with great names. Even if it does feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere when you get out the station. There’s a lot of green stuff out here. Trees, I think they’re called. You don’t get many of them round my way.
According to Google Maps I need to turn right to get to my next theatre, and… oh, is that it? I can literally see it from here. Well, that was easy.
I stroll down the road towards the pub on the corner.
It’s very quiet. The only cars on the road are the ones parked along the curb.
I look both ways to cross. I need to get some distance for my exterior shots. But I end up standing in the middle of the road to take the photos. No car comes. I'm there for quite a while, feeling the power of standing still in the middle of the road thrum through me, until someone walks by on the pavement and gives me a funny look, and I feel embarrassed so slink back over in shame.
Still, Bridge House is a handsome building. And I say handsome because it’s very masculine, not that I want to get all gender-normative on a pub, but that’s the energy I’m getting. A sophisticated man, to be sure. Black pepper aftershave and a saddle tan leather weekend bag lifted straight out of the Vogue Christmas buying guide ‘for him’. Anyway, in building terms its red brick and black-painted stucco. And boxy. Like a child’s drawing of a building. Almost completely cuboid.
And lots of writing too. Not that I think writing is inherently masculine, you understand. I mean, obviously. I’m just mentioning it. As a totally separate point.
There’s information about the next pub quixz up on the wall. A rundown of the events in some local festival painted on the window. A warning about the deck being slippery placed under the window. And a rather pissy note about not putting cigarette butts in the plant pots over by the door.
Inside it’s all dark walls and rugged wooden tables. There are antlers on the walls and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It’s also very quiet.
This is my kind of pub.
On the left, white sheets screen off a room. The sign stuck to the fabric warns of a life drawing class happening on the other side. Clipboards and art supplies wait on the table outside.
Sadly, I’m not here to get my charcoal on, so I head in the other direction.
Up the stairs, towards the bar. Except, not quite yet. I’m going to pause here a moment. These stairs need to be appreciated. Wide and deep with a little hint of sweepingness to them. These are the type of stairs that Scarlett O’Hara would make full use of if she was here.
I’m so glad I wore a long skirt today. Long enough that I have to pick it up at the front to go up stairs, so I don’t trip over it.
Look, I’m not saying I want to live in the Victorian age. That would be terrible. But I do harbour the conviction that I would be pretty darn good at it if somehow u did get flung back in time. As long as I was rich. And able bodied. And educated. Had control over my personal fortune. Was unmarried. And… hmmm. Okay. Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy having a good sweep up some nice stairs when I have half a chance.
Up here is the bar. But I don’t need to go there.
There’s a table set up right at the top of the stairs and it looks hella box officey. There’s even a sign advertising £1 programmes, which is a bit of a clue.
I give my surname and get checked off the handwritten list and given a lilac admission token.
Just as I’m reaching for my purse so I can grab one of those one pound programmes, the box office man hands me a sheet of paper.
“And here's a free cast sheet,” he says.
“Oh, lovely,” I say surprised. You don’t usually get cast sheets, free or otherwise, when there’s a programme that needs selling. But, now that I look at the desk, I can’t actually see any programmes, one pound’s worth or otherwise. Perhaps they keep them under the counter. Perhaps the content is a little to risqué for public viewing. There might be children about after all.
I consider asking, but I’m happy with my cast sheet, and anyway, the conversation has moved on and I am rapidly getting left behind.
“We’ll be opening around twenty past,” says the box officer. “You know, first night, technical things.”
No need to explain, good man! Twenty past seven is a perfectly reasonable time to be opening up a theatre above a pub. Especially one with unallocated seating.
“You can go to the bar, take drinks up. We’ll make an announcement, but don't wander too far.”
Time to explore then. But not too far. Obviously.
There’s a beer garden, but I’m not overly committed to this weather, so I find a table and plonk my bag down.
The tables around me begin to fill up. Everyone is clasping little lilac admission tokens.
“Welcome to the Bridge House and Bridge House Theatre,” comes a loud voice over the tannoy. “Tonight’s performance of Twelfth Night will start at 7.30. If you have tickets for tonight’s performance make yourself known at box office, or if you'd like to buy tickets, also make yourself known at box office.”
If the bouquets of lilac admission tokens are anything to go by, the entirety of this pub has already made themselves known at box office.
“Good evening,” comes the tannoy again. Then silence. Then a splutter as it kicks into life again. “Welcome to the Bridge House and Bridge House Theatre. Tonight’s performance of Twelfth Night night will start at 7.30.” There’s a pause. Except, not quite a pause. I can still hear him talking. Just very quietly, somewhere far away. “If you bought tickets on line please go to the box office situated on...” Here the microphone gives up again, and so does the speaker.
The pub lapses back into quiet chatter.
Some ladies at the table next to me start turning around in their chairs, looking back at the bar. “Have they gone in?” one asks. “It looks they’ve they’ve gone in.”
I turn around too. It does look they’ve gone in. The bar looks curiously empty.
“I’m just going to…” says one lady getting out of her chair. She pauses, and grabs her drink, and her admission token. “I just don’t want to be sitting here and…”
She goes off, in search of answers.
Seconds pass. Then minutes.
She hasn’t come back.
Chairs scrape as the other ladies get to their feet and they also grab their drinks and their tokens and follow on behind.
I look after them. Should I go too? It’s not 7.30 yet, but we’re close. Really close.
The ladies return, silently placing their drinks down on the table and taking their seats.
“Welcome to the Bridge House and Bridge House Theatre… The house is now open.”
The ladies almost groan as chairs scrape and drinks are picked up again.
“Please have your tickets ready at the top of the stairs. Mind the step as you come in.”
By the time I make it back towards the bar, there’s already a queue coming out the door to the theatre.
Whatever they are putting in the drinks at Bridge House, they should weaponise it. These people are speedy.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” says the box office person, holding the door that leads back to the theatre and checking the lilac passes as they come through.
Inside, the walls are painted. Trompe l'oeil (I took first year Art History at uni, okay?) woodgrain on the doors, Christmas cartoons running up the stairs, and a clock waiting for us up at the top to show us the finish time. Very nice.
Plus, I still have my admission pass! Double nice.
Oh. Turns out I do have to give it back. Oh well. At least I have my cast sheet.
“Mind the step,” says the person on duty at the door to the theatre space.
I immediately stumble over the step.
In my defence, I was staring at the theatre.
It’s a black box. So, don’t get too excited. I mean, it’s a nice black box. The walls don’t have that strange crumbly consistency that you so often find in these places. Someone knows a good plasterer, is what I’m saying.
But more importantly, instead of having a boring bank of seats facing a stage, chairs have been placed all along the walls and in the middle… is that a beach?
It looks like sand. In a neat rectangle taking up most of the floor space. And there are those wooden posts tied with rope that you always see by the sea, that I'm not sure of the purpose of, but possibly it’s to do with keeping the beach pinned to the ground so that it doesn’t roll into the waves or something. There’s also some twig-based matting going on.
There isn’t much room between the sand and the seats, what with people’s bags and all, so I pick my way along the matting to get to a spare chair.
A front of houser comes around holding a switch-ya-phone-off sign. He walks slowly, holding the sign at eye height, making sure each one of us has seen it before moving on.
Right then. No excuses.
I better check my phone.
Airplane mode initialised. We are ready!
I’m quite excited now. I’ll admit, I was a little wary about Shakespeare in a pub theatre. I’m not, well, ‘into’ Shakespeare. Shakespeare and me don’t get on. Frankly, I think most of his plays are crap. Too long. Too many sub plots. Way too much showing instead of telling. And don’t even talk to me about a Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was basically trolling the audience in that one. In the modern sense of the word. But Twelfth Night… ahh, I do like Twelfth Night. Just the right amount of improbability, balanced out by a good dose of self-awareness.
And look how young and sweet this cast is, with their fresh adorable faces and boundless energy as they rush on and off the stage, slipping between roles with off-stage commentary to cover the costume changes.
And what costumes. I’m having a serious case of costume envy here. Orsino’s shiny satin dressing gown definitely belongs in my wardrobe, as does Olivia’s black wrap coat. As for the Feste’s pink Lennon glasses, I’m eBaying that shit as soon as the interval hits.
A phone goes off.
Vibrating loudly inside its owners bag.
She jumps and reaches down for it in alarm.
Sat on a wooden post, while receiving Orsino's words of love via a messenger boy, Miriam Grace Edwards’ Olivia turns her head and gives the owner of the phone an imperious stare. At least I presume it’s an imperious stare, I can’t actually see. She’s facing the other way. But the back of Edwards’ head sure looks imperious.
“Where lies your text?” she asks Eve Niker’s Viola.
In the interval, we’re all ordered out.
“See you in a bit, mind the step,” says the man on the door.
I promptly stumble over it. Again.
My table is still empty. I dump my bag and myself in its comfortable embrace. It’s beginning to feel like home.
“Welcome to the Bridge House and Bridge House Theatre,” comes the voice over the tannoy. “This is your three minute call for the second half. Three minutes. Please start to make your what back the the theatre.”
“Welcome back!” says the man on the door.
My foot catches the step as I pass.
The mobile phone sign is making another round, bouncing up and down so that we definitely don’t miss it this time. It pauses in front of the phone lady. Her neighbour points at her, dobbing her in. And the sign pumps in and out. We all laugh. Oh dear. Poor lady. She’s taking it well. Laughing and nodding along. She definitely won’t be making that mistake again any time soon.
We’re ready to begin again.
And oh gosh, I’d forgotten just how long this play was. All that bit with the letter and Malvolio in prison. And Sir Toby Belch. Just, all of him. I wish there was a retelling radicle enough to cut him out. But we’re zipping along all the same, only pausing long enough for a song before we’re off again.
Opposite me, two people take up a corner with notebooks resting on their laps, and for once I get to pick the first option in my game of Director or Blogger. It is the first night, and well, technical things.
Although which of them can claim the role I cannot quite decide. I wanna say the bloke but that's just the old gender normative social conditioning again. And I just spotted a third notebook on my left, and a laptop to my right, which is throwing everything up in the air.
The lady in the corner is laughing a lot though. And she did jump when Niker started waving around that blade while hiding in that corner. Perhaps she is a blogger after all.
The cast gather for the final song, and stretch out their arms to clap in the universal gesture indicating that we should join in. I try, but, you know me and rhythm. I ain't git none. Still, bless them. I can't even be mad. They're all so... heartbreakingly wholesome. I'm utterly charmed with the lot of them. Even Fayez Bakhsh's Sir Toby Belch.
Last time crossing the threshold, and I don’t trip over the step. I’m feeling pretty damn smug right now, I can tell you.
A front of houser is positioned at the top of the stairs, wishing everyone a good night.
“If you know anyone who might like it, please tell them!” he says.
Hmm. I mean, I did like it. So consider yourself told.
Right, I've got a staircase that needs sweeping down.