It's been a few days, hasn't it? I took a couple off from the marathon. A combination of the hell inferno, work inferno, and moving-to-Hammersmith inferno (temporarily... cats won't sit themselves, you know). But I'm back.
Turns out however, that even from my new, more reasonably central, location, Greenwich is still really, really far away. And I arrive at the Greenwich Theatre feeling a little battered and dazed.
The doesn't stop the bloke behind the box office giving me the biggest smile when I walk in though.
"Hello!" he calls over, in a manner far too cheerful for me to handle right now.
"Hi," I say, trying to conjure some enthusiasm, but really just wanting to sit down. "The surname's Smiles?"
He looks over the tickets, all laid out in regimented columns next to him.
"Can you confirm the postcode?" he asks, picking one up.
Ergh. I hate this question. Always a challenge at the best of times, but after brain melting-heats and a move which means I'm not even living in that postcode right now, I'm not sure I can answer without making use of a crib-sheet. It's like my Chemistry A-levels all over again.
But just as the silence stretches out for a beat too long, my mouth decides to take over and gives the answer my mind could not provide.
The box officer nods and hands over the ticket.
"Head over to the bar, just through there," he says, pointing off to the right.
It the same route I took to go to the main house all the way back in... gosh, it must have been right at the beginning of the year. February perhaps. One of the first theatres on the marathon. Well, in the first fifty, anyway.
Two front of housers flank the double doors, each with a pile of freesheets that they hand out to everyone walking through. That's what I like. Make sure everyone gets one.
Through the doors and onto the mezzanine that lines the sunken bar. I dump my bag on the counter and have a look at the sheet of paper I've been given. Little intro to the play, cast list, creative credits, bit of info about the company, and all the social handles. And it all fits on a single side of A4. The perfect freesheet.
Except for the lack of a quotation mark right at the beginning. There's one at the end of the sentence. But not at the beginning. But no matter. I can't judge. If you follow me on Twitter (do you follow me on Twitter, by the way? I can't remember...) you'll know I made a serious fuck-up in a programme I made recently. So fucked-up was it that I had to print programme slips, which not only served to correct the mistake, but also to highlight it to anyone who hadn't already noticed it. So like, seriously, while I may point out a typo in these things, I will never, ever think badly of the person who put them together because of it. I know how hard this shit it to make happen. And typos are just a thing that exists. No matter how many times you proofread something.
I'm very much intrigued by one role. Buried half-way down the list of creatives, as if it wasn't the most fascinating thing in the word, is a Fossil Designer. I don't know what that involves, but Hannah Snaith, I salute you for your work. Whatever that is.
I don't need to tell you that I loved dinosaurs as a kid. Firstly, because every kid in the world loves dinosaurs. It's a phase they all go through. Like the Terrible Twos. The Dreadful Dinos. And secondly, because I did most of my growing up in the nineties. And the nineties were at peak-dinosaur fandom. While Howard Carter's discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun meant that the twenties were flooded with ankh-necklaces and thrillers set in the shadows of the pyramids. The nineties had dinomania.
There was Jurrasic Park, of course. But also The Land Before Time. The puppet-led Dinosaurs sit-com. The cartoon Dink, the Little Dinosaur. And not forgetting the greatest of them all: Theodore Rex. The seminal Whoppi Goldberg vehicle which sees her non-nonsense cop paired with a new partner, who just happens to be a Converse wearing dinosaur.
The nineties really were the golden age of creativity, ending in the early 2000s with... Dinotopia. A strange tale of a pair of brothers and their dad, who crash land on an island where they discover dinosaurs and humans coexisting quite happily. Dino-riding and love-triangles insue. It wasn't very good. And the love of dinosaurs soon died out.
But of course, like choker necklaces and bucket hats, they're now back.
All those kids who grew up reading dinosaur magazines, collecting dinosaur figurines, and convincing themselves they were going to uncover a pterosaur every time they went on a school trip to Lyme Regis, are now grown up. And they're writing plays. And I'm watching one of them tonight.
I look around, trying to work out where the play will actually be. The doors to the main theatre are on the left and the right. There are no signs of the studio.
And then, from the other side of the bar area, one of the wall panels opens up, and a head sticks out. It's a door. And that's the studio. I'm baffled. I try to work out the geography of it all. I can't quite remember where everything is from my trip here half a year ago, but I think that the studio might, in fact, be right underneath the main house.
"Ladies and gentlemen," comes a voice. "The house is now open."
From the bar, there's a great scraping back of chairs as everyone makes the mad dash towards the doors. Seating is unallocated and no one wants to be stuck at the back.
I go down the steps and join the scrum, but soon find myself having to hold back to avoid being trampled by the bar folk.
There's a young man tearing tickets on the door, but he can't keep up with the number of people pressing forward.
A woman joins him, her hands working to tear tickets as fast as possible.
"The show is sold out," she tells us. "So please sit right next to people."
"No gaps?" someone asks.
"That's right. And if they don't move, you can tell them that I told you not to leave any gaps."
Something tells me that Greenwich audiences are... tricky.
Eventually, I make it through the door, and into the theatre.
It's small, but not tiny. Not by studio standards anyway. The stage is floor level. And there's a platform on one end. The platform, however, is the only concession to rake in this space. With half the seating on it. And half at stage level. I decide to go for the front row on the platform, moving down as far as I can in the row, and sitting right next to the person on the end. As instructed.
As soon as I get settled, I realise that the platform is next to useless when there are three rows right in front of it. If any of the actors decide to sit down, they will be swallowed up behind the wall of bobbing heads.
Oh, wait. Two people are sitting on stage. I can see them now. They're doing air steward movements with their hands, helping direct traffic as people come in.
"Please don't leave any gaps!" a front of houser shouts across the room. "We are completely sold out, so please move right down to the end of the rows."
Alright, love. We'll figure it out. That's the thing about theatre-goers. We like sitting down. And we'll find those empty seats. You don't need to worry about us.
But, she does worry. And the shouting continues until the last person is sat.
It's close in here. And not just because it's completely sold out. The low ceiling and dark walls aren't helping.
I get out my fan. The killer heatwave may be over, but it's still not exactly comfortable.
"That's a good idea," says my neighbour, indicating the fan.
"Yeah, I take it with me everywhere. An umbrella and a fan. Two essentials for British summers."
"I really need to get one," she says and I agree. Fans are great. Everyone should have one.
I shift slightly in my chair and jolt as I realise I'm pinned in place.
"Sorry!" says my neighbour, lifting her leg to free my skirts.
"No, it's my fault," I tell her. "This skirt is really big."
It's not actually that big. I'm not in one of my circle skirts today. But given half a chance, any skirt I'm wearing tends to floof all over the place. It's like they're trying to escape from me. Perhaps I don't treat my clothes well enough. Maybe I'll start using the delicate cycle on the washing machine.
It looks like we're starting. The two people sitting on stage, Emma MacLennan and Charlie Merriman, are getting up. They're starting a lecture. About Mary Anning.
And, no... wait. Someone's interupting. Someone coming from the back of the studio. Someone wearing a long, 19th-century gown.
It's Mary Anning. She's not having all this nonsense being said about her. She's taking over.
And so she does. And she has no intention of indulging us in words. Words lie. Words are used to twist and trick.
I’m in full agreement. Words are bullshit. I may earn my crust by crushing words into a semblance of sense-making, but I still won’t trust them as far as I can typo them.
For Mary though, it's numbers that she cares about. Numbers of bones in her first major find. The number of coins she was paid for them. And the number made in profit as it was sold on.
Pulling in the other two to play all the characters in her story, she takes us from a childhood spent picking up curios to sell to tourists on the beach at Lyme Regis, to her discovery of the ichthyosaur, to teaching herself French so that she might read the work of Cuvier, to being rejected by the establishment for the terrible crime of not being a man.
As someone who is, shall we say, feeling a wee bit raw at the moment about not getting proper recognition for my own work, I am boiling inside at the treatment our Mary got. Taken advantage of because she lacked connections, and money, and breeding, and a penis. Slogging away in the rain and the cold and the winds, so that others found glory from her work.
From her bag, she brings out tiny examples of her curios. "I think we can trust them," she says, as her ensemble try to hold her back. She hands them out to the audience, instructing us to pass them along to the end of the rows. They work themselves along, getting turned over and peered at in the dim light.
Smooth on one side. Rough on the other.
I rub my thumb along the marble-like sheen of the shiny side when its my turn. Are these real? Or are these the work of our Hannah Snaith, the fossil designer? I can't say. They're fun to hold all the same. I don't want to pass mine along, but I also don't want to disappoint Mary Anning. So I hand it along to the next person.
At the end, we're given more numbers.
Number of people in the audience tonight, sixty. Number of people who will know about Mary Anning tomorrow if everyone in the audience tells five people down the pub tonight, 300. Number of people who will know about Mary Anning by Wednesday if all those people tell five people... oh something ridiculous like 90,000.
Well, as someone who was educated in a proto-feminist girls' school in Dorset, there was no way I was getting away without learning about Mary Anning. I can't claim my blog will reach 90,000 people, but you at least now know about her. So, that's one down.
Numbers done, we're invited to stay for a Q&A with Antonia Weir, who brought the spirit of Mary into our midst, and some other people that I'm sure are very interesting, but I'm not sticking around to get even more sticky.
It's a long-arse way home from Greenwich. Even longer than a plesiosaur's neck, I'd venture to say.
I wonder how many vertebraes long the DLR is... I bet Mary Anning would know.