Right then. Here we are, back at The Pleasance. It’s my last trip of the marathon. Two spaces down, one to go. And I’m feeling determined. Not about the show. The show’s fine. That will happen... probably. I just need to make sure I get there on time.
No, what I’m psyching myself up for is the ticket.
Or rather the paper ticket.
Two times I’ve asked for one, and two times I’ve been fobbed off with inferior, and frankly unacceptable, e-tickets, while all around other theatre-goers fan themselves with their fancy yellow paper tickets, flaunting their superior negotiating skills.
This time however, I’m not giving up. It’s my last chance. If I don’t get a paper ticket tonight, then I never will.
I am fully prepared to do what it takes. Beg. Cry. Stomp my foot. Prostrate myself on the floor. Throw a full scale toddler-style temper tantrum. Hunger strike. Whatever. I am placing no limits on my behaviour in pursuit of this paper ticket.
As I walk over the grey cobbles that separate Caledonian Park and Shearling Way, I accidentally find myself as an extra in a music video, as some young person raps away while balancing on the low brick wall while getting filmed by his mate with an iPhone.
It’s not raining, but huge droplets land at random, and the threat of an oncoming downpour sends the rapper and his mate off in search of shelter before their song is done. At least, I hope that’s the reason, and not the woman wearing an oversized check jacket wandering around in the back of their shot.
I round the corner, and walk the last few minutes alone. The streets are really quiet round here. Those large wet droplets have scared away even the most ardent outdoor lovers. All the tables laid out below the Pleasance are empty save for a slick of dampness on their surfaces.
I go up the stairs, glancing over the railing to have a look at the big pulleys that hang over the courtyard below. They are fantastically heavy duty, and make a great picture with the cheerful bunting hanging there below and the bright signage of the Pleasance Downstairs theatre in the background.
There’s where I’m going to be tonight. The downstairs theatre. Last one on my list for the Pleasance.
Let’s do this thing.
I go inside and aim straight for the ticket machine. The bright yellow monster that sits next to box office. You may well ask yourself how I’d managed to miss it so completely on my previous visits. I sure ask myself that question every damn day.
The screens, which had previously shown adverts for upcoming shows, are dark.
I stand there, staring at it.
It can’t be broken. It just can’t. I refuse to accept it.
There’s a sign stuck to the front. It’s not an out of order sign though. If anything, it’s the complete opposite - giving instructions for use.
I decide to give it a go, as if pure force of will would spur circuits into action. I get out my card, and swipe it, as instructed. Upside down. Magnetic stripe facing me.
The screens remain resolutely dark.
“Is the ticket machine not working?” I ask the lady sitting behind box office. I try and say it as casually as possible, not letting the trauma raging beneath squeak out in my voice.
“No,” she says. “Sorry about that. Are you collecting?”
“Yes,” I say, swallowing my heavy sigh and sliding over to the desk. I really don’t fancy going all toddler tantrum right here but I’m steeling myself to the fact that I might just have to.
“What show is it?”
Errr. Fuck. Why can I never remember? My eyes land on a pile of freesheets resting on the counter. “Kill Climate Deniers,” I read.
“And the surname?”
“And the postcode?”
Err. My eyes cast around. Sadly there are no freesheets with my address lying on them. Somewhere deep inside, a neuron sparks, and I manage to say it before it splutters out once more.
She nods, and a second later a ream of yellow tickets are puttering out of the machine under the counter.
She tears them off, folds them up neatly, and hands them over.
“I…. thank you!” I say, taking them from her. I think my hand is shaking.
Is that it? Did I do it? Did I manage to get a printed ticket out of the Pleasance? And from their box office, no less!
I actually did it!
Or rather, the lovely box office lady did it.
No, we did it. Together. The pair of us. A team.
“There’s also a freesheet,” she says, indicating the pile.
I want to cry.
I take one. Then another. Just in case.
“The show’s in the downstairs theatre,” she says, pretending, very sweetly, not to notice the emotional crisis I’m going through in front of her.
“Oh, yes,” I say, managing to pull myself together for a few more seconds. “Do I have to go out and down?” I ask, pointing in the general direction of the pulleys.
“No. You'll go through here,” she says, pointing in the opposite direction, towards a black fire door off in the corner. ”Someone will call you when it's time to go down.”
I retreat with my prizes to the tables off to the side, where I stare at them for far too long.
I am really, really pleased with myself.
I take a photo of it and text it to a couple of friends.
They are perplexed, but do a good job of being supportively excited about my victory.
I lay the ticket reverently on the table and look at the cast sheet. It’s a decent cast sheet. There’s some stuff about blocking out the sun for the purposes of temperature control on the back, which is a little worrying, despite the cheerful looking drawing to illustrate the process (it’s done with balloons, apparently). I hastily turn it back over. Not sure I want to be looking at that. All sounds a bit super-villain if I’m honest. Something on the front catches my eye. A trigger warning. Or is it called a content warning now? Whichever. One of those.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audience members are advised that the following production may contain images of people who have died.”
I read it. Then I read it again, just to make sure I understand.
Is it… I can’t tell… are they trying to be funny here?
I break it down into parts, reading each one multiple times.
The first part, “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audience members are advised,” is very specific. But okay.
“That the following production may contain images.” May contain images? May? Do they not know?
Now, I’ve gone to print on programmes before a show is fully finalised. I know the panic that ensues when something comes up the day a new production opens and you suddenly have to coordinate the printing and distribution of several hundred programme slips. But I don’t think I’ve ever encountered this on a freesheet. A freesheet which has obviously, and I don’t mean to be rude here because I do it myself, been run off a photocopier, and therefore doesn't require much time to print.
Moving on. “Of people who have died.” People. Just people. A phrase as broad as the first one was narrow.
Why are only Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander audience members being advised of this? Are there Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander dead people? Is that why? If it isn’t, why aren’t we all being advised? And how do they not know? Is the showing of dead people somehow randomised between shows? French and Germans one performance, Americans and Marshall Islanders the next.
I am very confused.
A front of houser walks past. “Five minutes. Fuck, what’s going on!” he says to himself, as he makes his way to the box office. A minute later, he’s coming back. “Are you here for Climate Deniers?” he asks the few people hanging around. We nod. We are.
Five minutes soon becomes three, then two, then…
“The house is now open for Kill Climate Deniers,” says the front of houser, taking up position in the pivot point between the bar and the foyer. “The show is one hour thirty minutes with no interval. There's no remittance so if you have to go wee-wee do it now. Err,” he pauses. “There's an adult way to say that…” He regroups. “You can take drinks in plastic cups and... Follow me!”
He marches over to the fire door, and opens it for us, nodding as we flash our tickets at him.
Down a staircase lined with posters made of posters - all collaged together with a sign on top pointing the way to the loos and the bar in one direction, and the downstairs theatre in the other.
There’s someone to meet us at the bottom, ready and waiting with a ticket beeper in hand. I do like a ticket beeper. When it’s not my phone that needs beeping.
“Sorry,” she says as a packet of cigarettes drops to the ground and she crouches down to retrieve them.
No need to apologise. I’m just here to get my ticket beeped!
She obliges and I go past, up some metal steps and onto the next person.
I show her my ticket.
She waves me past. “It’s free seating,” she says with a hand movement that indicates she has no interest in my paper ticket and it might as well be yesterday's Evening Standard for all she cares.
I put the ticket away safely in my pocket and go in.
It takes a few seconds for my brain to catch up with what I’m seeing. Somehow, this is not what I expected. The stage is sunken, surrounded on all four sides by purple seat. Double seats, I notice. Since telling my seat-neighbour at Soho Theatre that double-seats were a thing that didn’t exist I've been seeing them absolutely everywhere.
Turns out people have had to coordinate their sitting down together in theatres all over London, and I didn’t even notice.
That is not my fate tonight though. I have a double-wide all to myself.
In fact, everyone in the audience could have claimed a wide seat of their very own if they had a mind to. There aren’t many of us here. Not that it’s empty. Just… not full. Really not full. We are in serious Tuesday-night levels of not-fullness right now.
But the banging eighties tunes blaring over the sound system are doing their very best to fill the space and the energy is happy, if not exactly bouncing.
A door opens.
Not a door.
The door. The door we had come through earlier as audience members.
But this is definitely an actor. He’s holds up a copy of the playtext. The same playtext that had been available for sale from the box office for the mighty sum of five pounds.
Kill Climate Deniers.
It’s his play.
I mean, it’s not his play. The play was written by David Finnigan, and this dude is Nathan Coenen playing the role of David Finnigan (or Finig, according to the cast sheet). But for the purposes of us sitting, hearing this tale, it’s his play.
He taps the front of the book, in what must be the most meta use of a prop in theatre history.
He tells us about the title, and all the spiralling problems that resulted from it.
Which, I mean, okay, it's a little bit inflammatory. But with all the Tumblr kids threatening to eat the rich at the moment, merely killing a climate denier sounds a little... twee. It's hard to imagine anyone getting worked up about it.
But all these explanations are only a framing device for the actual play. The one that is apparently riling everyone up. A play about terrorists, the Australian environment minister, her press rep, and some quality eighties bangers.
The cast rush in and out of the doors. That first door, and another one the leads from the outside world straight onto the stage, so we get glimpses of daylight every time they come on.
Good thing the rain has cleared up.
"Bloggers mean nothing,” says Kelly Paterniti in her role as press rep when Felicity Ward's environment minister is confronted by an online journalist. She scans the audience, daring the bloggers to reveal themselves. “If you are a blogger, you mean nothing.” I purse my lips and try not to giggle. You tell ‘em love, bloggers are scum.
But she’s not done with her blogger-baiting. “If there is a blogger within earshot I hope they get sick and die.”
I press my lips together even harder, and stifle the cough that is suddenly attacking the back of my throat.
It's hard to stay mad at her, she's wearing a great dress and I kinda want it. Dammit. Costume envy strikes again, and isn't going anywhere fast as Bec Hill appears wearing an amazing cut off leather jacket with the most extraordinary black eyeshadow action going on, that I am definitely going to attempt, but fail to recreate, at some point very soon. And clearly pink Lennon glasses are now a trend in London theatre, because look, Hannah Ellis Ryan is wearing them too. God, this cast looks cool.
That is, until they start to dance.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that they can't dance. But when you are attempting to recreate a rave atmosphere in a theatre, it helps to have more than ten people in it. And having the story stopped in order for the playwright, who isn't actually the playwright, to tell us more about the history of the play, means we're stuck in a Sisyphean loop of building up energy only to have it put on hold and let to drain away before starting it up again.
A few people in the front row bop around to show willing, but I'm not a bopper even at the best of time so I leave them too it.
The cast point guns at people, take swigs from an audience member's drink, and accuse an innocent man in the front row of writing for the Daily Mail. All with the playwright-who-isn't-a-playwright there to step in and apologise on his play's behalf, rendering it all rather... sweet really. Made toothless by cavities.
After the bows Felicity Ward leans forward towards the front row. "Thank you for being a nice Tuesday audience."
I wonder what the playwright, who is actually the playwright, thinks about paper tickets.