"Can I check your bag?" asks the bag checker.
You sure can, my good man.
I open the zip to expose my fresh haul of cough sweets and hayfever tablets. Let me tell you, I am having a swell time this summer. With the itchy eyes and runny nose to add to that neverending cough of mine, I sure am the ideal theatre-goer at the moment. And I'm carrying it off so well. Really, I've never looked better. I've always though watery eyes were a hard look to pull off but I think I'm making it work.
He doesn't flinch.
Perhaps three bags of bright yellow cough sweets aren't the weirdest thing he's come across lately.
Search complete, he steps back and lets me through.
The foyer in the Leicester Square Theatre is tiny. A metre square, if that. With a proper hole-in-the-wall box office. My favourite kind.
There are already two people ahead of me in the queue. So I hang back, lest we end up getting a touch too cosy for so early in the evening.
"What's the name?" the lady behind the window asks.
"Err," he says, with a pause that goes on way too long for that kind of question. "The initials are KJ? I don't really want to say."
Blimey. Either he has a really dodgy name, or there's a new papering club that I haven't heard of.
Oh, yeah. I should probably say. I don't use any of those theatre ticket clubs for my marathon. Not because I don't want to, you understand. But because I'm not allowed to. Nothing to do with the blog. It's my job, you see. Can't become a member if you work in the industry. I mean, I suppose I could lie. But I'm kinda on record of working for a venue, so, yeah, that's out.
Anyway, good luck to this man and his ticket acquisition skills. And no shade meant to any venue or show that needs to fill a few seats. We've all done it. Trust me.
Mr KJ gets his tickets and moves on. My turn.
Now, I have a perfectly normal surname, so I just give that, and after confirming my first name, get my ticket.
After that, I go down the stairs. The walls are a deep, dark red. Which seems to me to be entirely the wrong colour to paint the walls of a stairwell that takes you down into a basement. But perhaps that's just because I'm watching Stranger Things at the moment. I’m primed to see monsters lurking behind every corner.
And it's not that scary down here. Yes, the walls are still red. But there's a massive concession counter taking up one wall. And things can't be scary when there are sweets on sale. I mean yes, Hansel and Gretel. But that witch wasn't selling and those kids were just little arseholes.
Anyway, there's a ticket checker on the door here.
"You're through this door," he says, pointing at the one just next to us. "There are bars inside."
"You're welcome," he says, handing my ticket back.
Aww. So polite. Bet he never stole gingerbread from an old lady.
Down a few more steps and I'm in the theatre. It's larger than I expected. All on one level. With a high stage. Which is a good thing, as when I sit down I discover that the rake is really terrible.
Without the benefit of anything happening on stage, all I have is a bloody good view of the backs of all the heads of the people sitting in front of me. Bent down as they read their programmes.
Hang on. Why don't I have a programme?
I look around. There aren't any programme sellers anywhere.
Perhaps I missed them at the concessions desk.
There are bars though. Two of them. One either side of the auditorium.
And both of them are branded up. With the name of the show emblazoned on the wall, and the merch covering every surface.
"Hi, is there a programme?" I ask the bloke behind the bar.
He looks at me with confusion. Behind his head, draped across the back shelves are Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare t-shirts. Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare tote bags. And Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare hoodies. Surely it isn't too much to ask for a Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare programme?
"Err," he says. "They should be on the seats?"
"Are they not?"
I turned around to look back at my row. If there are programmes, they must be Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare invisible. "No?"
He reaches under the bar and pulls one out.
Honestly. Good thing I asked.
As I return to my seat I notice that all the front rows have the things balanced on the armrests but my row? Nothing. Programme-less and empty.
We're being denied programmes just because we sit at the back of the theatre. As if we don't enjoy a good programme just because we are last-minute ticket buyers. Which is very untrue. There is no one in the world who loves programmes more than me.
To tell you the truth, I'm a little offended.
Especially because these are like, super nice programmes. They’re shiny. Very shiny. So shiny the words “wipe clean” pop up in my head and refuses to go away.
I decide very firmly not to think about the significance of that.
Instead I turn to the contents. My favourite thing in the whole world is when programmes reflect the show they're made for. And if this programme is anything to go by, Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare is going to be full of drunk humour and dirty uncle jokes.
They even have the grown-up equivalent of when you add “Earth, The Milky Way, The UNIVERSE” to the end of your address when you're a kid - providing carrier pigeons coordinates to their contact us details. Coordiantes which, according to Google, are in a wind farm off Herne Bay... I may have typed it in wrong.
Let's try again.
Okay, that sounds much more likely. Drunk Shakespeare. Yup, sounds like Oxford to me.
Shame though. Rather liked the idea of them all getting pissed in an off-shore wind farm.
"Hello! Are you looking forward to this evening?"
I look around. There is a woman with the most extraordinary glittery eyeshadow standing in the row behind me. She's wearing a top hat and tails. Oh my...
"Oh, yeah," I say, as the only appropriate answer when asked this question by someone wearing sequins on their eyelids.
"Is this your first time here?"
I admit it is. As someone who likes neither Shakespeare, nor drunk people, Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare is not a show that I would naturally gravitate towards.
"How did you hear about it, if you don't mind me asking?"
Oh… Am I doing this? Fuck it, yes I am.
"It's a bit of a strange one," I say. "I'm doing this challenge..."
And I tell her, all about this fucking marathon of mine.
Her eyes widen and her expression turns into what I like to think of as The Marathon Face. Slightly shocked, but mainly fighting between the twin emotions of horror and amusement. A kind of: oh god, who is this crazy person, and how can I get away from them, but also, can I get that URL?
"How did you think of that?" she asks, leaning back against the chairs as she tries to take this information in.
I give her my potted answer. Had the idea a few years back... yadda yadda yadda. You've heard it.
"So, how many have you done?"
"160. Ish." The truth is I've forgotten. It's somewhere around there.
"And how many are there?"
"About 300." Yeah. About. I don't know the answer to that one either. In my defence though, it keeps on changing. Do you remember back when I started, and my original count was 231 theatres? Those were good times.
"Are you getting deals? Because that must cost a lot!"
"Yeah..." I sigh and tell her about press tickets and all that shit. I may not have access to papering clubs, but I have contacts... Not that I even have time to use any of them anymore. It takes... so long. Like seriously. It's so much effort. All that back and forth and negotiating dates and ergh... I don't... I just can't...
Still slightly baffled she heads off, probably feeling a lot more content with the way her own life is going. My marathon tends to have that effect on people.
I go back to the programme. And yup. There she is. Natalie Boakye. Favourite drink: Processo Rose apparently. And the worst thing she's done while drunk? "Thrown up in my hands, in a club, before midnight on NYE."
I try to think what's the worst thing I've ever done while drunk. Sitting my Chemistry A-level was always my go-to answer on this one. But I think we have a new winner now: going to Magic Mike Live.
I won't be forgetting that in a hurry.
"Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. This evening’s performance will commence in two minutes," comes a voice over the sound system. I don't think I need to tell you who that voice belongs to. "May I remind you that any recording if this performance is strictly prohibited. Anyone caught going this may be asked to leave the building."
Wow, intense. I'm glad I've got all my auditorium photos done already. I don't want another Mountview situation.
Two minutes later, my top-hatted friend is up on stage, her sparkly eyes flashing as she whips up the audience.
"Cheer if it's your a first time," she shouts. The newbies duly cheer. Yes, including me. I can't let my new friend down now, can I?
"And if you've been here before..." She puts her hands up in twin claws and the Sh!t-faced Sycophants growl in response.
She explains the concept. One actor in the company has spent the past four hours getting drunk. With the finesse of a magician's assistant, she whips back a cloth and shows us what they've had.
A bottle of vodka.
I mean, okay. That's a lot. But sitting there, alone on the little trolley, it doesn't look all that impressive.
But never fear. There's more.
She brings out a bugle. "Who wants to have a go blowing on my horn?"
Someone in the front row volunteers. He isn't very good at it.
"Don't worry, you've got an hour to practice," she says.
Hopefully it won't take an hour, because that horn needs to get blown as soon as our drunk actor starts to sober up. On the sound of the horn, they get given another drink to down.
Next up, a gong. That goes to an audience member down the other end. Same rules.
Then there’s the bucket. A very large bucket. The sort they'd use for laundry in a bleak drama set in a mining town.
I don’t want to think about the bucket.
Not the wipe-cleaness of the programmes.
But just in case, our host has her own weapons. Which she'll bring out if the actor is either too sober, or... too far gone.
She runs off, giving way to the cast and... is that... is that Imagine Dragons? A... a slightly medieval sounding version of Imagine Dragons? It is! It's Believer! And the reason I know this (and I swear, if you tell anyone this, it'll be the end of you) is because I actually really like Imagine Dragons. Yeah, yeah. I know. They don't really mesh with the whole... whatever I've got going on, But look, some days I just need more from my tunes than Amaranthe can deliver. And Imagine Dragons does the business. Now you, shut up or I'll start commenting on what you have on your Spotify playlist.
Anyway, those banging beats done, we're off. Hamlet. With Hamlet himself played by David Ellis in a post a bottle of vodka capacity.
It doesn't take long for that bottle of vodka to make itself known, and Ellis is soon sucking Saul Marron's finger and making incest jokes with Claudius.
"We need a Polonius!"
Oh yeah. They don't have one of those. Turns out even when you cut down Hamlet to an hour and change, you still need a Polonius.
The audience is called open to provide, and a brave soul is brought on stage and given a hat to wear.
"Can you remind us what your first name is?" they ask him, in possibly the cruellest move that has ever happened on stage.
"Err, yes?" says the newly hatted Polonius, probably having GCSE English Lit flashbacks right now.
"Yes? Ah! The old Dutch name, Yaass," says Madeleine Schofield's Gertrude.
He's soon dismissed back to his seat, to enjoy an evening of Hamlet newly set in Broad City.
A few minutes later, the bugle sounds. Or at least, there's a spluttering whisper which I can only take to be an attempt on the instrument.
"You thought this was going too smoothly?" Ellis asks the bugle-player, and Boakye comes back onstage to pour out a bottle of beer and hand the pint to our Hamlet.
Ellis takes a break in drinking to tell us that when he's not being an actor, he works in a restaurant, and he just got fired tired.
Someone awws in the audience and he points in their general direction. "Someone went there. Thank you."
When we get to that speech, you know the one. The speech. The soliloquy. It's taken as a run-up and collapses into laughter halfway through the first line. We all hold our breaths as Ellis attempts to force the rest out in a single stream, and the relief when he gets to the end is released in a massive cheer.
The gong goes.
Ellis wanders on and off stage, the pint glass in hand. Even when he's in the wings he manages to distract his fellow actors, as they react to his off-stage antics.
Boakye keeps a close eye on him. Replacing his dagger with a stuffed snake ("Nagini!") so he can't hurt himself, or anyone else. Although to be fair, he does his best. Even chucking the poor creature in the direction of the front row.
As for Yorrick, Ellis picks something out of the skulls eyesocket. "Sorry," he tells Beth-Louise Priestley's Horatia. "I stuck some chewing gum in there earlier."
But no amount of picking can save the ill-fated Ophelia. Or what's left of her anyway.
When her shrouded body is carried out on stage, Ellis makes a grab for it. "She's light as a feather," he announces. "But not stiff as a board." And with that, he lobs the corpse into the audience.
"No!" says Boakye. "No throwing things."
Ellis looks suitably contrite.
He still can't be trusted with a sword though. As Ellis and Matthew Seager's Laertes prepare to fight, Boakye runs on stage to grab the weapons, returning a second later with a pair of inflatables.
"I've got a stiff banana," yells Ellis as he attacks Seager with it.
After that, it's only a matter of time before everyone is dead.
And as the cast all stick their middle fingers up at the audience, we get some more Imagine Dragons to play us out.
Ah, fuck yeah. It's Warrior. Yasss. I mean, yes!
What a fucking tune.
... Just don't fucking quote me on that.