I'm in Kingston!
I've only been to Kingston once before. Ooo, must be six or seven years ago now. For a job interview. At the Rose Theatre. Didn't get it. Probably for the best. It's is a trek and a half to get down here.
Anyway, I am back. And not going to the Rose. Not tonight. I am going somewhere my pre-marathon self hadn't even heard of.
RamJam Records. Which sounds well dodge to me, but there's no avoiding it. They have a play on tonight, so here I am. Standing outside The Grey Horse pub, which is a short walk from the station, and is apparently the home of this mysterious theatre.
It looks promising. There's a poster for the play I'm seeing in the window: Clara. And a sign over the gated side-entrance which say The Ram Jam Club. Looks like I'm in the right place.
I duck in between the tables out on the pavement and through the gated entrance, leading into a sort of covered outdoor corridor, filled with comfortable looking booths, each with a pair of newspapers laid out and waiting on them. The Metro. With a single HB pencil sat on top. To do the crosswords, I presume.
Down the other side, is a counter, and at the end, a woman perches, legs crossed as she sits on the bar stool, the paper open on her knees, an ashtray overflowing with cigarette ends by her elbow. She looks very content.
Me on the other hand, I'm confused. This place isn't looking much like a theatre. And while this marathon has taught me that theatres can look like pretty much anything they damn well want, they tend to draw the line at living in corridors. I mean, they could. I guess. But the sightlines would be terrible.
I keep on going, and when I reach the end, turn left, through the doors, and into the building.
This looks much more promising. There's a foyer. It's dark. Theatre loves dark foyers.
There's a door. It's painted black. Theatre loves doors. And black.
And best of all, the Ram Jam logo is painted on this black door.
There's also a massive mirror leaning against the wall. And a motorbike. I'm not sure on theatre's stance on motorbikes, but they sure love mirrors.
I think I might have found it...
Except the door is closed, and there's no one's here.
No box office.
Not even a person with a laptop.
Not sure what I'm meant to do now.
I keep on going. I seem to be at the back of the pub. There's some sort of restaurant action happening, with wait-staff running around prepping for evening service.
Okay. No. Not there.
I go back to the corridor, loop around, and slip through a side door into the pub-proper.
And then I go to the bar.
I didn't want it to come to this. But needs must. I'm going to have to ask.
"Hi," I say, when it's my turn at the bar. "Where do I go for the theatre?"
The girl behind the bar points the way. "Go straight through there," she says. "Through the restaurant and you'll see a big mirror."
"I think..." she checks the clock. "Yes, they should be open now."
I go through the restaurant, and find myself back in the dark foyer. With the mirror. And the motorbike. And the black door with the Ram Jam logo.
The door opens.
A young woman comes out. She rushes off. The door closing behind her.
I guess I'll just wait here then...
Turns out I'm not the only one who's been waiting for this door to open.
Someone emerges from the corridor, and makes a dive for the door.
The young front of houser scoots back, darting after the trespasser. "We'll open any second," she tells them, as she leads them back into the dark foyer.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to storm in!" apologies the trespasser.
She and I smile at each other, and stand around, waiting for the door to open. Officially, this time.
Soon enough it does.
"You can come. The house is now open," says the front of houser, propping open the door.
So I go in.
Or at least, I try to. I only make it three steps inside the door before I'm forced to stop.
"Oh wow," I say. "It's nice in here."
And it is nice in here.
It's like a pub within a pub.
There's a neat bar set into the painted brick wall over on the left. It's laden with glass jars full of snacky things.
The walls are covered with records and album art.
Faerie lights hang from the ceiling.
Small tables are dotted around everywhere. Looks like we're doing cabaret-style tonight.
"It's cute, isn't it?" says the front of houser, grinning over her shoulder as she heads behind the bar.
I manage to stop staring, and meet her over there.
"I have to say, this is not what I expected," I say. It really isn't.
"I like it when it's like this, with the tables on the stage," she agrees. "Have you booked?"
I tell her I have, and give my name.
She ticks me off the list.
"And can I get you anything?" she asks.
I'm so taken in with the atmosphere, I find myself ordering a gin and tonic.
"House gin, or something fancy?" she asks.
"House is fine. I'm not fancy." Well... not when it comes to alcohol anyway.
But she hands me the glass with those fancy cuts crisscrossing themselves all over it, and a bottle of tonic, which I promptly set about spilling all over the bar. I grab some napkins to clean it up.
Hey, I told you. I ain't fancy.
Realising I'm making more of a mess then I'm managing to clean up, I decide to make my escape, and I take myself and my drink off to find a seat.
The front of houser was right, it is nice with the tables on the stage. Even though the stage is so small there's only space for two of them.
Instead, our focus for the evening looks to be the piano. Two long mirrors have been slung up over it, to reflect the pianist's face. But the pianist hasn't taken her seat. She stands, dressed in a long Victorian gown, sighing deeply as she pours a drink from her crystal decanter.
"Don't be shy," she says to a newcomer, as they dither about which seat to pick.
"Is it better to sit close?" asks the newcomer.
"Come close to me," says the pianist, beckoning them forward. "Welcome." And then she sighs again. A sigh laden with despair and agony.
I decide to follow her advice and pick a table near to the front. But also close to the wall. Because while this marathon may have knocked a good deal of my fear of immersive theatre out of me, I'm still not on board with the whole interaction thing.
"Don't be shy, come closer," says the pianist to the next group making their way over from the bar.
Freesheets have been left sitting out on the tables. I pick one up and give it a read. Mainly so I can stop calling the pianist, the pianist. She's Elena Mazzon. And we're here to see her play Clara.
After a list of all the music being performed, we also get a rundown of all the characters. Little two-line biographies of 19th-century musicians and composers, which is a very nice touch. I like that.
The space begins to fill up. With even the two tables on the stage now taken.
The front of houser makes her way between them, taking names from those who haven’t gone up to the bar.
"Is it okay to get two tickets?" one person asks.
"Oh sorry!" says the front of houser. "I missed you. Of course." And they go about settling the business of tickets right there.
Now that is some impressive table service going on here.
It's past the start time now. The front of houser comes up to the table next to me. The one with the woman who asked if it's better to sit close. "Did you say you were holding for two?" asks the front of houser.
The woman says yes. She's still waiting for two friends.
"Hmm," says the front of houser. "Tell you what, I'll hold for a few minutes, and if they turn up after that, they can join you."
But there's no need to hold anything, because here they are, rushing in with a flurry of apologies as they make their way through the tables to the front.
They settle down, and we're ready. Lights dim. Mazzon steps forward. She begins her story. Or rather, the story of Clara Shumann. Famed pianist. And wife of the composer.
She's been asked out on a date. In a letter. Which is a very pleasingly formal way to go about things.
There's some problems though. He's a wee bit younger (eh...) and with a whiff of scandal about him, after living in the same house as our Clara and her not-dead-yet husband.
She asks a guy sitting on stage what he does on dates.
“Kiss?” he suggests.
How very forward, observes our Clara
“What about you?” she asks the last sitting on the next table to me.
“Get a drink first?”
Mazzon nods. Yes, a drink is a good start.
She asks lady sitting at the front to keep hold of the letter.
"Don't read it," she begs. Some things are private. Even when your laying bare your heart.
And then she sits at the piano, and plays.
Now, I'll always be a Baroque girl when it comes to classical music. I prefer the precision of the 18th century, to the Romantic flurries of the 19th. But man, those cascades of melting notes are doing something to me.
Perhaps it's the fact we're sitting so close, or that we've been invited into the musician's life and heart. Or maybe it's just the gin and tonic having its way with my insides. But I am seriously into this right now. To feel the rhythms at odds with the life of their creator, the endless births and demands of being a woman acting to mute the music. To hear how a marriage between equals is impossible when society places you on two different levels. And that education and talent mean nothing to the baby crying out for his mother.
No wonder she had been sighing into her glass.
I'd be sighing too.
Perhaps the best we can hope for, after a lifetime of work, is a nice young man, with long blond hair, sending us a letter, asking us out on a date. Bonus points if its Brahms.
As the play comes to a close, we applaud.
“Okay, I'll say something” says Mazzon as the clapping refuses to end.
She thanks us. And the director, who is sitting there on one if the stage tables.
And then it's time to go.
Except no one wants to leave.
Some people go over to talk to her. One woman carries over a chair to the door to hold it open. “Let’s get some air in here,” she says.
I wouldn’t mind staying. I do like it here. But it's a long way back to Hammersmith. Time to go.