Rain! Oh, glorious, beautiful, cooling rain. I am completely soaked after legging it from Edgeware Road station and I don’t even care. I may have flashed several drivers as a very insistent gust of wind worked its way under my skirt, and I’m not even slightly embarrassed. The studs are coming unstuck from my boots after traipsing through a puddle and… okay, that bothers me slightly. But it’s not hot anymore, and this fact alone is enough to send me skipping off to the next theatre on my list: The Cockpit.
When I saw this place was in Marylebone, somehow I didn’t picture what looks like an office-block left over from the seventies as my destination. But here we are, and there the Cockpit is in all its long rectangular windowed glory.
Still, I’m feeling very positive about tonight. That Salome I saw at the Brunel Museum, the one with Sexy John the Baptist? Yup, that was a Cockpit production. And they sent a really super confirmation email. I don’t talk about confirmation emails nearly enough. Mainly because most of them are super boring and follow similar formats: directions, start times, all that guff. Usually, the only time I even think about confirmation emails is when I am getting annoyed at them for not including the postcode of the bloody fucking venue in them… but it’s fine. All fine.
Anyway, what I’m saying is that theatres rarely use the confirmation email as an opportunity for creativity. Oh yeah, they might make the background yellow, or include an image if they’re feeling frisky, but there’s a traditional format for these things, and they tend not to go off book.
Not so the Cockpit. At first glance it might look exactly the same as every confirmation email that you’ve ever received after booking theatre tickets online, but that only makes the reward of actually reading it all the sweeter. Categories are subdivided into “the ticket collection bit” and “the access bit,” clearly taking their cues from the Friends episode naming conventions. The tone is friendly. The advice clear. And at the bottom, they sign off with a bonus section “Treat-for-reading-to-the-bottom-bit,” which admittedly is only a pile of restaurant suggestions, but is written so charmingly that I almost do want to use the 10% discount for Cockpit patrons that’s on offer.
Anyway, best go inside now.
There’s a small, square, foyer, with the box office on the right, set behind a glass window.
I give my name to the young woman sitting behind it.
“Here you go,” she says, sliding the ticket under the glass without further question.
Well, that was easy.
From here, I guess I suppose I’m supposed to go through the doors.
There’s another foyer through here, although it’s the strangest theatre foyer I’ve even been in. Tucked away on the left is the bar. Straight ahead are the doors leading to the auditorium. And everywhere else…
I begin to think I must have got turn around somewhere and accidentally walked into a dentists’ waiting room. There’s a painting on the wall which seems to be of a hamster helping two showgirls wind up some pink wool. Benches, a table, and a counter running across one wall are made of something that looks a cow gave birth to a block of marble. There are plants. And macramé potholders. There are fish tanks. Two of them. With handwritten instructions not to tap the glass. And most terrifying of all, there’s a mannequin lurking in the corner, wearing a scarf and a beanie and advertising a Jazz in the Round t-shirt, which apparently costs fifteen pounds.
Whoever writes the confirmation emails is clearly also in charge of the signage, as a laminated sign indicating that drinks can be taken into the auditorium is followed up by a bracketed note that “if you bring them back to the bar at the end of the show, we’ll love you for it.”
The one pinned to what looks like a broken chair, and leant against the barrier closing off the theatre doors, has less in the way of amusing brackets, but does at least promise the ringing of a bell when the doors open.
There are also sofas. Covered with red sheets. I try not to contemplate what the sheets may be covering as I sink into an armchair. And sink. And continue to sink.
I don’t think I have ever been hugged so completely as I have by this chair.
It’s too much. I can’t cope with this level of intimacy. I get up again and go to stand over by the cow-print counter.
From my new position, I watch as a woman examines the armchair and then, putting down her bag on the ground, goes to sit down. I watch, fascinated, as she sinks further and further into its red embrace. A second later, she’s up again, looking at the chair. I can feel her having the same thought processes as me. The cogs spin, and then clunk into place, decision made, she comes to stand next to me at the dairy counter. The refuge of the chair-hugged.
The sofas however, they seem to be safe. A couple sitting over by the wall are having a great time on theirs. Chatting away, either not noticing or not caring that every minute sees them slipping further into the upholstered innards.
Just as I’m beginning to suspect that this might all be a fever dream caused by the dramatic change in weather, there’s a very loud clang of a theatre bell.
“Ladies and gents, the house is now open.”
The couple pull themselves up from the sofa, and the people sitting over in the bar section make their way over to the theatre doors.
I join the queue.
“Just down the stairs and on the right,” says the ticket checker as he tears my ticket. Before adding a dark warning about not talking photos.
Through the door, down the stairs, and on the right, and gosh – the Cockpit is a lot bigger than I expected.
Perhaps it was the macramé that threw me off, but I was thinking this place was going to be a pocky studio. But it’s nothing of the sort. There’s fixed seating on three sides, long benches that stack up in raked rows. The stage is floor level. A glass tech box hangs high overhead on one wall.
There are freesheets sat waiting for us on the seats. Always a sign of a quality theatre in my experience. They’ve neglected to place any on the front row, which to me demonstrates a clear understanding of their audiences.
There’s already actors on stage, which may go someone to explain the no photography rule. It certainly can’t be the set, as that seems to be entirely composed of the contents of a rubbish bin, strewn across the floor.
I pick my way around the edge of the stage, to get to the other side. And find a spot in the second row.
The bench cushion slips out of place as I sit down. I shift my weight in an attempt to bring it back into line, but that only sends the other side flying off the edge of the bench.
I resolve to sit very still.
The show’s only an hour. It’s another Camden Fringer. So I won’t have to be here long.
I’m watching Earthbound, which from the show description all sounds a bit surreal with a dash of sci-fi.
The sound design is entirely in support of that, with a series of ethereal beeps making the parts of my brain that definitely believe in aliens stand up and point and say: “I told you so!”
Just as my legs decide that they too want to get in on the action, and start preparing for the journey to Nevada to join in with the mission to storm Area 51 that has taken over Facebook, the play begins.
Four characters all come to an abandoned mine in order to getting some thinking done. As we all do when we have stuff on our minds, I’m sure. All driven by loneliness and the need for answers, they come to perhaps the loneliest place of all. And there they find: Violet. A girl in a silly hat, who only speaks in echoes, leaving confusion and attraction in her wake. They bring her gifts, offer her cake, and flowers, and to take her away from this place. But she is as apprehensive as she is enigmatic.
An hour later, I still don’t understand what’s going on. But I’ve found out the words to Where have all the flowers gone, and got a hankering for some dungarees, so that’s something.
On the way out, I snap a picture of the theatre.
I’m a rebel, you see.
Especially after the front of house staff have gone out.