The serpent beguiled me

When the marathon is over and done, I swear, I am never getting on the Thameslink again. The stress of it all. I swear. There is literally nowhere in London that is worth getting on the Thameslink for. Waiting twenty minutes for a train and knowing that if you miss it, you've, well, missed it. Whatever it is. Nope. Not for me.

That's not happening tonight, though. I make it all the way to Peckham Rye without incident to anything significant beyond the state of my nerves. 

I hurry down the road, dodging away from a bike as it swerves in at me on the pavement.

"Nice dress!" shouts the cyclist before he returns to the road, making for what was quite possibly the scariest, and nicest, thing that has been shouted at me on the street.

Peckham is clearly a place of contradictions.

Like stepping off a high street, cluttered with crumbled cans, and into a bright square, with young people lounging around on the lush grass, and the gleaming tower of Mountview looking down on them.

Okay, it's not really a tower. Or all that gleaming. But sitting there stark against the blue sky, it does look mighty impressive.


There's a young woman walking just ahead of me, all bouncing blonde curls and pretty summer dress. I take her for a student, but her pause of confusion when she reaches the doors tells me that she is also a newcomer to the world of Mountview.

She steps back, and spotting the button which operates the door, gives it a quick tap.

The door heaves itself open, but so slowly I'm right behind her by the time it's wide enough for a person to fit through.

And there's another door. She makes a go of it, but it isn't shifting.

"Hang on," I say, hitting the button, but her shoulder has already done most of the hard work and we squeeze ourselves through before the door's gears properly kick in.

There's a big desk right taking up most of the entrance foyer, and there's no question that this is the box office. Chunky reams of ticket stock lie waiting on the counter, ready to be printed.

The blonde girl goes ahead, but queues at Mountview are not to be tolerated, and another box officer rushes forward and calls me to the counter.

"Picking up tickets?" she asks before I even have the chance to get out my usual line.

"Yes, the surname's Smiles."

With a nod, she reaches for the ticket box and pulls one out. "Maxine?"

"That's the one."

She hands me the ticket, and a freesheet to go with it. Ah, drama schools. You know where you are with them. Always get a free bit of paper to take away with you. Except RADA, who makes you pay for their programmes. Bastards. To be fair, they are really nice programmes. And only a pound. But still. Bastards.

"You can enter through either door," says the box officer, going into full flight attendant mode, with her hands outstretched to indicate the doors either side of the reception. "It's unallocated seating."


I look at the doors, and assess my options. "Mountview Theatre Auditorium Right," says the door on the right. I can't see what the one on the left says, because it's open and the outside of the door is hidden from view. But I presume it says the same, except left instead of right. Bit of a silly place to put signage but there we are.

I decide to live life dangerously for once, and go for the mystery door.

The front of houser standing guard beeps my ticket.

Paper tickets and a ticket beeper. We really are living the dream here at Mountview.

"The back row is reserved," he tells me. "But you can sit upstairs, downstairs, wherever you like."

Blimey, so many options. I don't know what to do with myself.

I go in.

It's nice in here. Modern. Kinda sleek looking.

The stalls are all set in front of a raised stage, and a balcony surrounds them on three sides. The seats are proper chairs, unfixed. But there's still a rake. With the floor set in steps. Seems a bit of an unusual combination, but the place looks good.

There aren't many people in yet. So I really can sit wherever I want.

I go for my usual third-row fix, but kinda in the middle, because I feel like switching things up a bit.

There's no one sitting in the first two rows. I've ventured the farthest forward of everyone in here. Which is not a situation I ever thought I'd find myself in.

If no one sits in the front row, can it be said to be the front row? Does the first occupied row become, by default, the front row? Am I now sitting in the front row? Am I a front rower all of a sudden?

These are not the sort of philosophical questions I want to be grappling with half-way through my marathon.

I turn around and will the next people to come through the door to sit ahead of me. Not in front of me. Fuck that. Just generally, you know, more forward.

"We should sit at the front, shouldn't we?" says a newcomer to her friend.

"Yeah, we should," is their reply.

Oh, thank the theatre gods for keen people.

But even these enthusiastic newcomers don't want to commit themselves to the pressures of the front row, and plump for the second. No matter. They've done what was required. I am no longer the first thing the young actors will see when they come on stage. Something that we can all be grateful for.

Still, prime position for photos, I must say.

That's a rather magnificent tree going on, which looks banging in pictures. All gleaming shadows against a galaxy-toned backdrop. Pieces of paper cling to the bark, and strings of faerie-lights emerge from the branches.

If the tree of knowledge really did look like that, you could have signed me up for a post-berry education, because I would have been sinking my teeth into those apples before the snake even hissed out his first sibilant.

Right, now that's sorted, I can relax and have a look at the freesheet. It's a folded piece of A3. Done on the photocopier. But there's no shame in that. That's how I do the freesheets at my work, so, you know, it's a Maxine-approved method and all that. They are actually doing a better job than me here, because this fine piece of work includes headshots, which I always refuse to include in mine. I have my reasons. Let's not get into it. You don't care.

Anyway, the benefit of headshots on this production is that I get to see all their lovely faces. Which is nice in itself, but extra special in this case because the entire cast of this musical is made up of women and non-binary students. Kinda excited about that, as I'm seeing Children of Eden, which is a musical about... well, you know, all that Old Testament stuff. God and Adam and Noah and all those other male names from My First Bible picture book. I mean, sure, there was also Eve and... Noah's wife? Whatshername? But considering Eve gets blamed for the entirety of human sin, and Noah's wife is credited as "Mama Noah" in the freesheet, I think some gender-switched casting is just what the good book needs.

I think I mentioned this when I went to the Embassy Theatre, that I don't name people at drama school shows, because they're students and like, they don't need a blogger turning up with her grouchy old opinions (even though I'm the opposite of grouchy at drama school shows, because I love them so much), so I think I'm going to have to meet you back here in the interval and regroup then. Ya?

Except, no. Hang on. I have something to say. Now, it' been a while since I sat GCSE RS but I don't remember the snake in the Garden of Eden being a cane-wielding cabaret star and I think the Rev Dr Wood would have been a lot more pleased with my essays if she'd mentioned that at some point. Because that is fucking great.

Kinda glad it is the interval though. It's freezing in here. I'd been sat there, wanting to put on my jacket for the past hour. And it's not like these chairs are even comfy. The freestanding ones never are. What you gain in manoeuvrability the audience loses in nerve endings.

I go out into the foyer to give my bum a break, finish by Embassy Theatre post, and that. It's weird editing something I wrote about one drama school while standing in another. Feels a bit wrong somehow. I quickly hit publish and try not to think about it.

Just in time, as it happens.

"Ladies and gentleman," comes a voice over the tannoy. "Act two of Children of Eden is about to begin. Please return to your seats."

I go back inside.

It's sweltering. They must have turned the air con off for the duration.

I keep my jacket resolutely on. That's how they got me last time. Tricking me into thinking I would expire of heat and then slamming on the fans. I won't be taken in again.

I get out my phone to take a few pictures of the set. They've done something to it during the interval. The tree now has a door in it.

"So sorry," says the ticket checker, coming to stand beside me, his hands clasped in embarrassment at the whole situation. "You can't take any pictures.

Oh. "Oh." Shit. "Sorry!" Double shit. "I won't. I'll... get rid of them," I promise.

I'm not sure he believes me. But doesn't stick around to check.

He bows away, and I don't know which of us is cringing more at this interaction, him or me.

I think we both know I’m not to blame. He should save his condemnations for the serpent and its tricksy ways with a bowler hat. They tempted me to take photos of the tree! I swear, I should never have done it if it were not for them…

I don't delete the photos. But yeah, in a small concession to the possibility that it was my fault, and not the actors playing the role of the snake, you won't be seeing them. Sorry about that. 

Although, that does make things difficult. Because I didn't take any pictures of the space that don't include the stage. And I won't be able to get any on the way out. Not now that he's pinned me as a stage-snapper. I think about this a lot during the second act. About the various ways I can surreptitiously take a photo. But I'm not much for subterfuge. I think you know well enough that I would make a terrible spy.

At the end, we all applaud the cast mightily. That was well good.

As the house lights rise, the band swing back into action.

Usually this is the audience's cue to escape, but people are hanging around. Chatting.

I make a dive for the exit, scooting past the usher who told me off.

So no photos.

Ah well.

I hit the button and squeeze myself out the automatic door and race for the station. But it's no good. There's a ten-minute wait just to get to London Bridge. Fucking hell, I am never living anywhere that doesn't have a tube station. I mean, seriously, fuck that noise.

I use the time to look through the photos. Hmm. I wonder if I can get away with showing you this one.

A bit of balcony, A few rows of seats. The side of the stage.

No tree though.

Let's risk it, shall we?