I've had a sandwich and a mango smoothie, and I am really to get back on the double-show day train. I'm also really to go back on the trail of the Camden Fringe after taking a little break to check out the off-West End transfer of The Barbershop Chronicles at the Roundhouse this afternoon.
I'm actually not going that far. From Chalk Farm to Camden Square. Meaning I have plenty of time to write in between. Almost a whole blog post, handwritten in my notebook because I'm old, and can't type fast enough on a touchscreen to keep up with my thoughts. Just need to type it up when I get home and finish it off. I'm feeling very virtuous right now. Although that could just be the mango smoothie kicking in.
Whatever it is, I'm feeling pretty good standing here outside my second venue of the day: the London Irish Centre.
Yeah, yeah. I can hear what you're saying. "Maxine! That really isn't a theatre..."
And yes, you're right. It isn't. It's an Irish centre. In London.
But where Camden Fringe goes, I must follow. So here I am.
It looks nice enough. One of those great big stucco-fronted houses. It's opposite a park. It's the kind of place Russian billionaires buy as a fifteenth home.
I walk slowly up the steps towards the entrance. There's a stepladder taking up most of the doorway, with just a pair of legs visible against the gloom of the interior.
As I approach, the legs descend, and I manage to squeeze past.
There's a doormat with the words "Tá fáilte romhat" printed on it in black. Google translate tells me this means "You are welcome."
I do like a friendly doormat.
Inside it's all leather-upholstered chesterfield sofas and dark wood furniture. There's a piano. And twin Irish flags. One either side of the room.
What there doesn't seem to be though, is any form of box office.
I head towards the bar. Helpfully signposted with THE BAR writ large over the doorway in massive letters. Inside there are a few blokes standing around having a drink, but no box office.
Okay then. I try the other doorway, this one leading to a corridor. There are signs for various events, but not the one I'm going to. I make it all the way down the corridor before realising I'm now just randomly wandering around a cultural institute that I have no business wandering around in.
On my way back, I spot a young man wearing a logoed up polo-shirt.
"Hi," I say, catching his eye. "I'm looking for I Know It Was The Blood?"
He looks alarmed, and I'm not surprised. That's one hell of a title.
"Is that..." he starts.
"Camden Fringe," I say, as if that explains everything.
His face clear, so it presumably does.
"Camden Fringe is just along the corridor there, but I'm not sure it's open. There should be a man doing the box office."
Well, as long as there should be a man...
I thank him and head back to the sofa-filled foyer.
And there is a man. With a clipboard.
"Are you for...?" he starts.
I try out the magic words once more: "Camden Fringe."
"That's me! What's the name?”
"I'll take everyone though at half past," he says, before moving on to the next person.
He asks a few more people if they're there for Camden Fringe. They're not. There's another event tonight and sure enough, a table is set up next to the entrance and we've got a rival box office going.
As newcomers are sent away from the table, Camden Fringers are left wandering around, not knowing what to do.
A divide forms.
Camden Fringers congregating in the corridor. Rival eventers on the chesterfields.
"Are you here for the event tonight?" says the rival box officer, coming over to the sofas to collect her brood. "Do you want to come over to the desk so I can get you signed in?"
There's something very different about the two groups. I don't want to say that it's race, but... it's race.
And although my Karen-like appearance would make it seem like I should be hanging out with the sofa-society, I'm actually with the corridor-collective this evening.
The man with the clipboard reappears. "You can go in and take your seat now," he tells me before touring the sofas with a call of "Fringe? Camden Fringe?"
Down a side corridor, and the door to our theatre for this evening is being held open by a young woman. "Welcome!" she says to each of us in turn as we go in. "Apologies, we had some technical difficulties," she says. explaining the late start. "Welcome. Thank you for being so patient."
And in we go.
The room kind of reminds me of the one at Cecil Sharp House. White walls. Windows. Very much a room and not a theatre.
Although there is a stage. A little one.
There are free sheets on the seats. I always appreciate a show which puts freesheets out on the seats.
I take my favourite place, end of the third row. But that's more of an awareness of this show really not being meant for me, and not wanting to take the best seats away from the target audience here.
Turns out however, the third row is much in demand. Over on the right-hand side, the third row fills up almost instantly.
On the left side, where I am, a lady sits down in the second row before bouncing back up from her seat. "Too close," she announces, before moving back a row, a few seats down from me.
The young woman who greeted us takes up a spot in the front row, ready with a camera to film the show.
Once we're all settled, the room fills with music. Singing.
I turn around in my seat. It's Tara Lake. And she has got a voice on her.
She walks down the aisle, carrying a big tote bag, which she sets down at the front.
She shows us the book she's holding. A bible for the Newfangled Woman. She reads a few verses.
And then she takes on a journey, through her family and personal history. From the members who just refuse to stop living, to her parents who won't stay divorced, and her own stubborn refusal to not take a job that is clearly not suitable for a teenage girl. We hear how she lost her music, and found it again, and all the while are treated to that voice.
Every-so-often she pauses to explain an Americanism that we don't understand.
But there's one that left us puzzled.
"Whether you like it or not, you're all my cousins now," says Lake, giving her closing speech after the applause has died down, thanking us all, Camden Fringe, and most especially the young woman in the front row, Day Alaba.
My neighbour on the third row leans over to me. "Yes, but do we get yeast rolls?"
"Now that's a question!"
Yeast rolls played an important role in Lake's narrative. They were there on the table when her parents had their divorce dinner. They were there when she came out to them.
I don't know what they are, but they sound delicious.
And emotionally troubling.
Lake takes up post by the side of the door to see us off.
A line builds to give her their email addresses ("I promise I won't spam you!").
"So, yeast rolls," says my neighbour. "What are they?"
Lake laughs. "Puffed. Greasy..."
"Fattening!" pipes up Alaba from the front row.
In other words: delicious.
I thank Lake on my way out. "That was wonderful." It really was.
Outside on the steps, a pretty cat sits and watches as we leave.
We each in turn pause to give her a pat on the head.
She doesn't seem to mind.
I rather think that's what she's there for.
On the way home I Google yeast rolls. Looks like they are an enriched loaf. Like brioche. Or challah.
Definitely delicious then.
I really love challah.
Like... really love it...