Dante's Theatre

Boris Johnston is prime minister, and temperatures are topping thirty degrees, but at least I don’t have to go south of the river tonight.

Such are my priorities right now.

Still, a nice journey on the Victoria line is not to be sniffed at. Especially when it’s almost completely empty and I get to sprawl about on the seats, lazily flapping my fan, feeling like I just stepped out of a Tennessee Williams play.

The fan stays very much out for the short walk to my destination for the evening: Ye Olde Rose and Crown pub. I really hope this place has air con. I’m not doing all that well right now.

It’s taken a while to get to this one. For a pub that makes claim to be of the pub-theatre variety, they don’t have all that much in the way of theatre. Music? Yes. There’s plenty of that going on. But no matter how many times I clicked on their website, theatre was never in the listings.

I even started following them on Twitter. Just in case they were the sort of venue that was a bit lazy about uploading their calendar. I thought they’d at the least retweet a visiting company. But all I got were weekly tweets about their Sunday roasts. Which only served to make me hungry. Not hungry enough to travel all the way to Walthamstow, you understand. But a gentle gnawing that acted as a weekly reminder that I was not having a roast for Sunday lunch, and that my stomach was not particularly pleased with my life choices.

But with summer, comes the Edinburgh previews. And the Ye Olde got in on the action with a one act musical. On for only two nights, I had to do some rearranging. But I’m here now, booked in, and ready get this pub marathoned.

Oh, and yes – they did tweet about the show. This morning. Super helpful, and more seriously, also a slightly worrisome indicator of ticket sales.

Anyway, I can see it now. Just over the road. Reached by a rainbow coloured crossing, which is rather nice. Let’s just not talk about the address. Hoe Street. They do love their farming equipment in Walthamstow…

It’s quiet inside. Going to the pub clearly isn’t high on the list of things to do on a boiling hot Wednesday evening hereabouts. I was about to ask at the bar where I need to go, but I’ve just spotted it. Over there. A table in the corner, with a BOX OFFICE sign propped up on the window behind and a laptop set up on top. There are two people sat there. Both with pints. Which surely is the best way to handle that job.

“Hi!” I say. “The surname’s Smiles?”

“Maxine?” says the female half of the pair, looking up from the screen.

That’s me.

“That’s perfect. We’ll be opening the doors at around twenty past,” she says. “Because of the weather.”

“Although you can sweat up there if you want!” says the bloke.

Well, I suppose that answers the air con question.

“You can get a drink from the bar,” says the woman, pointing to the bar behind me. “And it’s fine to bring glasses up to the theatre.”

“Where is the entrance?” I ask.

She points to the door right next to her. There’s a sign. “The show starts here.” Ah. I should have guessed that. I blame the heat. My brain is little more than pink goo right now. If it gets any hotter it'll start dripping out my ears.

Not sure alcohol is that good an idea for me right now, so I take a seat over by the window and try to cool myself down. It’s not going very well.

The minutes tick by.

People come in.

Someone buys a ticket.

Another is checking in.

Most are just here for a drink though. Perhaps they just found out who the prime minister is.

It’s past twenty past now.

I look over at the door. It is still very much closed.

It must be really hot up there.

I grab my fan and flap it about, more in nervousness at the impending heat than the current climate. Whoever’s idea it was to programme a heat wave right now clearly lacks an ability to read the room.


“If you’re here for the show, The Room,” comes the voice of the woman at box office, cutting across the pub. “The doors are now open.”

Right then. We’re doing this thing.

I make my way over to the door, which is not actually open in the strict sense of not being closed. It requires a good push. But soon I’m through and into a small foyer, with nothing in it about from some massive windows.

There is another door though. This one is actually open. It has a sign. “Only drinks bought here allowed upstairs.” Which I suppose means that I’m going up the steps. So I do.

There’s someone at the top.

“Right down to the end,” he says, pointing down the corridor.

I follow his directions, going right down to the end of the corridor, where there’s another man waiting.

“Here’s a programme,” he says, handing me one from the stack. “You can sit wherever you like,” he says, indicating the door on the right.

Just as I’m beginning to feel like a parced-parcel, I'm in the theatre.

It's big. Well, big for a pub theatre. And it's almost all stage.


There's a small platform at one end, with a couple of rows of seats on it. The rest of the room is given over to the set. Two chairs. A small table. And a few props. In the background, I spy a keyboard.

It feels all wrong and topsy turvy, as if the stage should have been on the platform, and the seating on the floor. But we're here for a musical, and I suppose this gives our cast lots of room to bounce around.

Our cast of one that is.

I don't think I've ever seen a musical one hander.

As our performer and accompanist come out, I fold up my fan, but all my good intentions about keeping said fan closed and out of action for the duration of the performance disappear half-way through the first number.

It's really hot in here. And not just hot, but close. The air is heavy and thick. The windows hidden behind huge wooden shutters, painted black.

A woman in the front row has the same idea, wafting herself with a neat wooden fan while I flap around with my great big fabric one.

The less well-prepared members of the audience do the best they can with their free programmes.

Our poor performer, standing not five feet away from us, has to watch as we play the roles of delicate southern belles while she struggles through this liquid heat, unable to stop for even a moment as the entire show is her. Just her. Carrying this emotionally heavy story all by herself, dragging her character's turmoil with her and all the while pretending they were weren't all trapped within an oven preheating for tonight's dinner.

I'm not a sweaty person, but my skin is as clammy as meat left on the kitchen counter overnight. My fringe is plastered to my forehead. I run my fingers through it and cringe in disgust at the feel of my damp hair.

But my shudders of horror are stilled when I feel something crawling down my neck. Visions of creeping spiders flood my mind, but when I go to brush it away I realise it's a droplet of perspiration.

Under the spotlights, the stage looks a good deal smaller than it did at the beginning. The black walls press in closer. Everything is more concentrated, pushed together, the music filling what little breathing room we have left.

And then, half-way through the third song, shit... should I even tell you this? Oh gawd. I hate this. It's an Edinburgh preview. I'm not here on a press ticket. On the one hand that means I'm under no obligation to the production or anyone involved in it. But on the other... they didn't ask for a blogger to be here, with her thoughts, and her words.

Fuck. Let's just give the facts... and not mention names. I don't want this turning up in search listings.

Half way through the third songs, as she whistfully reads a letter from her daddy, our performer falters. And stops.

Behind her, the music keeps on going.

She apologies. But can't start up again.

The man on the piano sings a line but it’s no good. She hasn’t forgotten the words.

It's too much.

She turns, running to a door at the back of the stage area, and collapsing through it. She cries out, unable to move any further.

The piano stops. The man behind iy gets up and goes backstage. The door closes behind them.

Silence fills the room.

There's a scrape as someone sitting behind me pushes back her chair. It's the woman from the box office. She disappears through the side-door to see what's happening.

We wait, fanning ourselves. We all know what happened.

I'm finding it hard enough to breath just sitting her. I can't imagine forcing my lungs to push air out into this heaving fug. Adding the extra challenge of making it sound good is an impossible demand to place on someone.

A few minutes later, the box office lady is back. "Just give us five minutes," she says. "It's very hot today."

We settle back. A few people start chatting.

The woman with the wooden fan shows it to a lady sitting in the row behind. "I got it from Spain," she explains.

Our performer reemerges. She walks back on stage and retakes her place. A second later, we're back in the room, with the letter from daddy, back into the emotionally twisted inner life of this character.

There's no stopping this time. We're drawn in deeper and deeper until there's no escape. The layers peeled back, one by one, each revealing a secret darker than the one before.

And then we're done.

We applaud. Of course. Just getting through that performance would have been hard enough, coming back on after a collapse... well, that's the act of bravery and endurance that I would never be capable of.

She disappears backstage. Our continued clapping does not call her back. Hopefully she’s chugging back a pint glass if ice cold water.

Afterwards, people hang back.

Someone opens the door, but there's no rush to the exit. They start turning around in their chairs to talk to one another.

Not me though. I can't take this anymore. My dress is sticking to me in all sorts of inconvenient places. I have to get out of here.

I stumble back down the corridor, retracing my steps down the stairs and back into the pub. The doors are open and I aim myself at them, filling my lungs with the roadside air, gulping it down as I make my way back to the tube station, feeling as if I have just walked through all nine circles of hell.

And it's not even over yet.

Thirty-nine degrees tomorrow.

May the theatre gods protect us all. Especially those that have to go on stage.