After months and months (and months) of monitoring the Rudolf Steiner House website, they’ve only gone and programmed a play. I thought I could get away with not visiting the theatre that lives in this building. I thought it was wall to wall lectures about strange esoteric and spiritual things that I don’t understand. But no. They’ve gone all commercial. They’ve got Sherlock Holmes in for the summer.
I’m a little bit annoyed, to be honest.
But it’s fine. I’m sure the Rudolf Steiner House is very calming.
All pale walls and the smiles of the spiriually enlightened. That’s how I’m picturing it.
Full disclosure, I have no idea who Rudolf Steiner was (or quite possibly, is…) but given the titles of the things that they usually programme “Exploring Your Intuitive Self,” “Inner Light and Strength - Nurturing Seeds of Spiritual Renewal,” “How to Protect Yourself from the Demonic attacks of Electromagnetic radiation and Vaccines”) I’m thinking he must have been some proto-Scientology dude.
Hope it doesn’t turn out like when I was offered a personality test in Totteham Court Road…
The House is just off Baker Street. Close to Regent’s Park. It looks quite nice from the outside. There’s a window filled with books down one end, and an a-frame advertising the play down the other.
Inside it is all pale walls and spiritually enlightened smiling people. There’s a counter at one end. That must be the box office. And a sort of foyer space lined with blue upholstered chairs down the other. All very hospital waiting room, except for the massive roller banner with the show artwork next to the doors to the auditorium, which I think is supposed to serve as a backdrop to any Instagrammers that float through, and dozens of show posters stuck to every available surface.
“Are you picking up tickets?” asks the man behind the counter.
“What's the name?
I give my surname, spelling it out letter by letter.
He looks down for a second. “Maxine?”
“Great,” he says, handing me a receipt-paper ticket. The same style of ticket they have at Above the Stag. “You're in I12.”
Well, okay then. I look around, decideding what my next course of action should be. The doors are open but it’s far too early to be going in.
I decide to risk it, and sit on one of the blue chairs.
There aren’t many people here. They’re all outside, hanging out on the pavement.
I get out my phone and start editing my Jackson’s Lane post.
I hope no one tries to indoctrinate me. There’s a bit I wanted to rewrite and that’s always tricky on my phone’s touchscreen.
The man sitting closest to me says something.
I ignore him, turning to Google to double-check something.
He says something again.
I look over.
He’s staring at his phone.
He’s still talking. Or rather muttering. To himself.
He swears. He’s annoyed.
He must be editing a blog post too. I get that way sometimes.
“That’s four tickets,” says the man behind the box office, as a family waits at the counter.
Oh yeah. I’d forgotten kids loved Sherlock Holmes. I certainly did. I had all the books on tape. I used to listen to them on my way to school. Clive Merrison and Michael Williams pretty much narrated my childhood.
“Now,” says the mum, pausing dramatically. “Do you have such a thing as ice cream?”
Crisps? Yes. KitKat Chunkies? Yes. But not ice cream.
Oh dear. Not sure how they are going to make it through a month-long summer run of a kid-bait play without the cold stuff.
That gets me thinking about the other important theatre purchase… programmes.
There don’t seem to be any on sale. There aren’t any on display on the counter, and the ticket checker on the door doesn’t have any either.
Either there’s a programme seller inside the theatre, or programmes are against some Rudolf Steiner principal. I hope not. While I admit to being the least spiritual person in the world, composed of one part anxiety and two parts cynicism, I don’t like to think that my programme addiction is putting me in harms way of demonic attack.
Perhaps that’s why the theatre ghosts avoid me. Somehow they’ve found out about the six 35 litre boxes I’ve got filled with the things at home.
And before you say it, no, my desire to meet a theatre ghost is not a symptom of some latent spirituality. I don’t actually believe in ghosts. I grew up next to a 12th-century graveyard and never heard the slightest whisper of a WooOooOo in the night. I just want to chat to one at some point. Without the burden of belief.
I should probably go in.
I show the ticket checker my receipt.
She leans in, peering at the teeny text.
“It is very small,” I say.
She laughs. “Is that an I or an L?”
“It’s an I.”
She points at the door on the right. “You’re on the right,” she says.
So I turn right.
And this is it. The Rudolf Steiner Theatre in Rudolf Steiner House.
It’s a proper little theatre. There’s a stage, with a full-on proscenium arch. And raked seating set in three blocks, divided by two aisles.
I find row I and stare at the seats, trying to work out which is mine.
All the other rows seem to have their seat numbers marked by little badges applied to the bottom of the flip seat. But not row I. They must have fallen off or something.
“Do you know what number you are?” I ask a lady in my row.
She grabs the seat next to her and points to a previously unnoticed number.
“I’m 11,” she says.
I lean in, squinting at the number. “12,” it says, very faintly.
“I would never have spotted that,” I laugh. “It looks like I’m next to you then!”
From the foyer I hear the tiniest little tinkling of a faerie bell.
“Have you read any reviews of this?” asks my neighbour.
“I don’t think they’ve had press night yet,” I tell her. I know that they haven’t had press night yet. They haven’t been shy about telling us when press night is. It’s 25 July. It’s on the Rudolf Steiner website. It’s on the play’s dedicated mini-site. It’s probably on the flyers. I don’t know, I haven’t checked. But press night is 25 July.
“Yes, it’s the second performance,” says my neighbour.
“We’re going in blind.”
“Oh yeah,” she says. “That’s the risk you take, I suppose.”
Yeah, I mean. Sure. Can’t say I read reviews before a show all that much. Even in my pre-marathon days. I was usually booked in long before the critics submitted their verdicts.
Looks like I'm in the minority though, as the audience tonight is a bit thin. Small groups are scattered about the middle bank of seats. The rows all half empty due to a price banding which discourages sitting forward. Now, I'm not a fan of flat-pricing unless that flat price is somewhere in the region of fifteen quid, but I think the Sherlock-gang were a bit ambitious with their premium seats here. But hey, maybe the reviews will have this place sold out come 26 July.
Although, I'm really not sure what the press are going to make of it. It’s a strange play. We've got a Holmes and Watson, but that’s about as close to Conan Doyle as we’re getting.
There’s ghostly goings-on as a man is murdered by… an invisible thing. The only witness, a bluestocking with a penchant for whiskey, and getting one over on Holmes.
Leaves shake, pictures lose their grip on the wall, and telescopes spin on their tripods.
I keep on waiting for the Hound of the Baskervilles-twist, but no, it looks like we're really going down the whole invisible route.
It's like Mousetrap and The Woman in Black snuck into the writers' room and locked everyone else out. Add to that a sprinkle of biodegradable woke-glitter, and you have Sherlock Holmes and the Invisible Thing.
The family next to me are having a hard time coming to terms with the invisibleness of the thing too.
The keep on leaning into their mum to ask what's going on with childish whispers, and then returning to their sweets when the answer they get placates, if not entirely satisfies, them.
In the interval, I go back out into the foyer.
The pair behind the counter warn any drink-buyers that they can't take their new purchases into the auditorium.
An old lady comes in, asking about the show. "It started at 7.30pm," they tell her. "But it's on for the next month."
And there it is again. The tinkling tiny bell.
I look over. The ticket checker is ringing a brass bell. Going over to the main doors to call back into everyone hanging out on the pavement. They're not paying attention. It's not what I would call a classic theatre bell. The bells at the Royal Opera House would laugh if they saw it, before chomping it down in a single bite. It really is small. The kind of bell an infirm Victorian lady would have used to summon her dependent niece to bring thin broth and a bottle of gin in the morning.
She changes her grip, whipping the bell up and down. "I think if I do it like a town crier..." she says, showing the guy behind the box office.
"I don't think it's working," he says kindly, as exactly no one comes through the door.
She sighs. "I don't think it's working either."
"I think we need to figure out another way to do it."
Yup. I agree. You can't be using piddly little bells on theatre audiences. The thing about theatre-goers, you see, is that we all hate sitting in theatres. We will postpone the torture for as long as physically possible. Until every usher is on the brink of getting a heart attack. Think of it like letting children out of class for their morning break. They're all hopped up on custard creams and Ribena now. There's no getting them to settle down for double chemistry. Not even if you promise to show them some cool colour-change reactions. It's too late. This is why all plays should be done in 90 minutes. No interval. No bells. No-fuss. Just good clean theatre fun. And we won't even complain too much if nothing blows up.
But we do all make it back in.
I grab my jacket from where I left it on the seat and shift down to the other end of the row. It was a bit awkward sitting right there next to that family, when there is so much space going spare.
Turns out, now that i’m sitting behind someone, the Rudolf Steiner Theatre really isn't meant to be a theatre. The rake is awful.
Maybe I really should have gone for those premium seats.
I try hard to focus. There's a lot of talking going on as Sherlock explains the mystery of the invisible thing. I was so sure they were going to do a Sussex Vampire, I'm left baffled by the revelation. I mean... okay then. I guess... Fine. Whatever. It's been a long week. And like, I get that Conan Doyle wasn't available to make notes on the script. He might have told them that The Adventure of the Creeping Man wasn't his best story. But at least the narrative decisions he made in that tied into the popular perceptions of science at the time.
It was fun though.
And no one tried to recruit me into a meditation circle.
Plus I get to use Baker Street tube to get home. And that's cool.