“Where are you going tonight?”
Bless my coworkers. They do try and be supportive of my mission, even if they think it’s completely bonkers.
“Katzpace?” It’s the first time I’ve said it out loud. I think that’s how you say it.
“Katz-pace,” I try again, feeling altogether less confident about my chosen pronunciation. Perhaps it really is Cat Space.
They give me a look. “Are you going to a cat cafe, Maxine?”
“I don’t think so…?”
I mean, who even knows anymore. I’ve been some weird-arse places lately. Perhaps Katzpace really is a cat cafe masquerading as a theatre. I sure won’t be the one to complain if that’s true.
I check the website.
No mention of cats. Or even a cat.
They do have a tagline though. “London’s coolest theatre.”
Well. That’s something. I hope they’re being literal because it is very, very warm today. And I don’t do well in the heat.
And it’s not even sunny. Just muggy and disgusting. On my way south of the river I stop on Blackfriars Bridge to try and grab a blast of that cool air coming off the river.
The breeze remains resolutely still. Bastard.
Oh well. I make my way down onto Southwark Street, passing The Bunker and the Menier. Borough Market is looming just ahead. It should be around here somewhere. I carry on, eyeing up all the buildings on the other side of the road. Nope. Nope. That’s not it. Pub. Pub. Pub. Nope. Not that either. That’s a bank.
I think I’ve gone too far.
I cross the road and double back.
The proximity doesn’t help. My eyesight surely can’t be this bad.
Just as I’m reaching into my bag to grab my glasses, I spot something. A crowd of young people gathered around a doorway. They look like the sort of people who might attend London’s coolest theatre.
Strange building though. Not at all the sort of place I imagine a theatre to live. It's cold and formal. Blue and white. It even has pillars. I can imagine a bunch of accountants setting up shop here.
And, oh look. So they have. Upstairs.
Down here though, well... It's London's coolest theatre.
They’re really pushing that tagline hard. It’s even written on the A-frame sign positioned out on the pavement, and stencilled onto the doors.
I’m beginning to get a bit worried.
Katzpace may well be London coolest theatre. But I am not London’s coolest theatre-goer. I barely scrape the top five.
The sign above the door is for Ketzenjammers. A bierkeller, apparently. I don’t know what a bierkeller is, but I’m guessing it has something to do with beers and cellars.
The stairs inside lead down. The walls are covered in a mural featuring beer steins in a battle with what looks like wine bottles.
Ah yes, the great Wine War of 1262.
At the bottom of the stairs, I have a choice. Left or right. Both directions look equally deserted. Katzpace is supposed to a basement theatre, but we’re already below street level.
I pick a direction at random, and turn left.
More empty corridors. More turns. This time I go right.
There’s a door here. I go through.
Tables. And benches.
Is this what a bierkeller is? Twisting corridors and empty rooms?
There’s another staircase. Very industrial looking and metal. It has a sign stuck right in the middle.
“You're Dead, Mate. DOWNSTAIRS. BOX OFFICE & BAR @ 7pm. SHOW @ 7.:30pm.”
Thank goodness. It looks like I’m going the right way.
Expect, there’s another sign. A content warning one. You know the type of thing: this production contains nudity, forced religious indoctrination, and faeries offering forbidden food. That kind of thing. Except this one is followed up by the warning that readmittance is not allowed if you need to leave the theatre. After the gentle care taken at Bernie Grant to both warn and protect their audiences, this seems a little mercenary. As if they're saying:We’re going to be throwing all of the words around, and you better be strong enough to handle it, because there’s no chance of a time-out here.
Further down I think I’ve found it. The bierkeller. Long curved ceilings mold themselves around the long rows of tables below. Lone theatre-goers sit at tables, not talking to each other.
There’s a table right at the base of the stairs. It’s after 7pm. This must be the promised box office. I wait awkwardly on the bottom step until the queue has cleared.
Eventually, one of the three young people sitting behind the desk looks up.
I give my surname.
She finds my name on the list and gives it a tick. “Yup. I’ve got you. Here’s a progamme,” she says, handing me a freesheet. “The bar is open if you’d like to get a drink and take it in.”
Getting a drink in a bierkeller is probably the thing to do. But it’s Monday. And I’m alone. And, well, I don’t want a beer.
I take myself and my freesheet to an empty table.
The freesheets may not be programmes, but they are pretty swish all the same. Decent paperstock. Nice full page for the poster image. Printed in colour. Run off on a photocopier, but I’m not judging on that.
And could have done with a proofread. Katzpace is misspelt in the thanks (Katzspace), which doesn’t seem all that grateful. But you know, typos happen. As literally every post on my blog will testify.
Year 3000 is blasting over the sound system. It what seems to be an attempt to inject atmosphere in this vast, empty space.
Strangely empty, now that I come to think of it.
I look around. The lone theatre-goers seem to have disappeared. Instead, there’s now a queue over on the other side of the room. From behind the line of people, a neon sign glows. “Katzpace Theatre.”
Looks like we’re going in.
I hurry after them, trying to stuff the freesheet into my bag while also attempting to get said bag over my shoulder.
The neon sign points the way to a pair of low doors. Tall people need not apply.
It’s dark in here. Really dark. The only light comes from a small lamp on stage.
I peer through the gloom, trying to work out the best place to sit.
There are three banks of seats.
The central tier is on a rake. That looks like the best option, but it’s full already.
The side options sit inviting empty. Three rows. No rake.
I take a chance and go for the second row, hoping all the tall people are kept at bay by the low hanging door frame.
A second later, someone sits in front of me.
She’s not even that tall, but I can’t see a damn thing.
I scoot along right to the edge of the bench, where I find a slither of a view between a pillar and the lady’s head.
That’ll have to do. I sit and swelter. London's coolest theatre, my arse.
Others are not so content with their lots.
“We don’t want to spend an entire fucking hour in bad seats,” says a bloke sitting in the row behind me.
They get up and start testing out different locations.
They’re not the only ones.
People pop up and down in different rows, clambering into spare seats and darting back out again as they try to negotiate themselves the best possible view in a giant game of musical chairs.
And they’re all so young.
I don’t think I’ve even been in an audience where the average age is this close to twenty.
In three weeks I’ll be turning thirty-three. Thirty-fucking-three. The same age that our lord and saviour, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, had Fleabag 2 and Killing Eve on our tellie-screens. Oh, and Jesus was crucified. But no one cares about that anymore.
And it’s fine. Totally fine. Like, I’ve been Googling what people have accomplished by the age of thirty-three. But you know, whatever. We all go at our own pace. Some people write era-defining scripts or start religions that span millennia, while others go to watch a lot of theatre and write silly blog posts about it. It’s all good.
I mean, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote Vindication of the Rights of Women at thirty-three, laying the foundation for feminism, and I have a This is What a Feminist Looks Like t-shirt that I sometimes sleep in. So, I’m doing my bit towards the continuing efforts to crush the patriarchy. Sort of.
And Amelia Earheart flew the Atlantic, which is admittedly is something I’ve yet to accomplish even with the benefit of easyjet.
Samuel Smiles gave a speech that was to become the foundation to his book, Self-Help. A book which went on to sell 20,000 copies in its first year, and is still in print 165 years later. And I’ve… been bested by my own ancestor.
But it’s fine.
Let's be real, it could be a lot worse. Alexander the Great was already dead by my age. And... yet still managed to conquer the known world in that time.
I can’t even conquer the known theatre-world.
Turns out though, I’m at the perfect play. Cos our hero is having a similarly angst-filled evening.
But even worse, because like Alexander the Great, he’s dead.
Twenty-three years old (because of course he is) and he’s having a crisis. Unable to go back, and not ready to move on, he’s having to be comforted by the only entity available - Death himself.
Not exactly who I’d want as a councillor, if I’m honest, but deaders can’t be choosers. And Death's met everyone. Literally everyone. Even Alexander the Great. I suppose if anyone has any insight into the human condition, it’s him.
It’s a brave writer who takes on that character. I’m not sure I would have had the guts in a post-Terry Pratchett world. But it’s an even braver writer who decides he also wants to play the part. I mean, good on you, Teddy Morris.
The young people seem to be enjoying it too. They’re laughing themselves sick. The kind of hard, explosive laugh that you only get from audiences that are mates of the people on stage. The kind of laugh that’s filled with the shock and surprise of finding out that your weirdo friend is actually pretty talented.
Death and his patient leave the stage and we’re plunged into darkness.
“Are they coming out?” someone asks as the applause stretches out into eternity.
Turns out they’re not.
They’ve moved on.
And we’re left to make the most of our lives.