I'm not sure whether I should be grateful to the Camden Fringe for getting me into all these tricksy venues that don't really do the whole theatre thing, or whether I should be blaming them for getting me into all these tricksy venues that don't really do the whole theatre thing.
I'm at Cecil Sharp House tonight. The folk music slash dance... place. I'm not really sure what they do. They have quite a busy programming calendar, but it's music for the most part. Or workshops. Events that would not qualify it for the marathon. Except now it has two shows there as part of Camden Fringe, one dance, one theatre, so here I am, with another theatre to get checked off.
It's not what I expected. I've been saying that a lot on this marathon. I'm sorry. But it really isn't. It never is.
It's a red brick building. A large red brick building. With lots of steps leading up to the main door. Enough steps that you could make a fair job of recreating that iconic bit from Rocky on them if you had a mind to.
My knee is still clunky from yesterday, so I decide to forgo the training-montage scene.
I think I might be the only one though.
There's a lot of young people coming in the other direction, trotting down the steps in that way that only the truly young and properly fit ever do. Is this the type of person folk dancing attracts? Again, I'm left surprised. I thought it would be all old blokes with big beards and a standing appointment with their wife's nose clippers.
Inside, it's all very National Trust-property-in-waiting. There's a checkboard floor, and stone panels with a motif of jesters, complete with belled hats and star-pointed collars.
What I can only presume are lyrics have been written across the glass doors in frosted script: I sowed the seeds of love And I sowed them in the Spring.
Inside there's a great big reception desk.
Two people are waiting, looking over the leaflets on display.
"Do you want to try Morris dancing?" one asks the other with a giggle.
I don't hear her reply.
The receptionist arrives and as the leaflet-readers are still engrossed in their leaflet, she turns to me.
"Box office?" I try.
I stare at her. "...no."
"Oh," she says, looking worried.
"Um. I've already booked actually. I just don't know where I'm going."
Her face clears. We're on surer ground now. "What's the name?”
She looks down a handwritten list. "Maxine?"
"Yes." That's me.
She places a pencil-tick next to my name. "Okay," she says, looking up. "First floor and to the end of the corridor."
"First floor. End of corridor," I repeat and she nods. I've got it.
The stairs are lined with wrought iron railings, from which hangs a red sign warning us not to climb them. Pity. With all those circles and neat scrolls, you could get a really good foot-hold in there.
I obey the sign though, and start climbing in the more conventional fashion - using the stone steps - pausing along the way to look at the black and white photographs that run of the walls, and the massive quilt that meets me on the landing.
Okay. Left or right.
I go right. No corridor worth speaking of that way. It must be left then.
Down to the end and I find a bright, but small, room.
There are chairs set up in rows, facing a piano and it’s pianist. And there's someone on the floor. Warming up.
The pianist looks up as I go in.
There's only one other audience member. Sitting on the chairs.
Although, perhaps he isn't an audience member. It's so hard to tell at these things. He could be a techie. Or a piano tuner. Or a cameraman. Or an intern. Or a butterfly collector. It's impossible to say.
"Is it okay to come in?" I ask, worried that I might have just walked into their rehearsal or something.
"Yes, of course," says the pianist.
So I do, taking a seat in the second row.
It's a nice room in here, but it's very much a room. There's no lighting rigs or tech desks or anything like that. We're lit entirely from the sunlight flooding through the two large windows.
The walls are cream, and undecorated save for four creatures hung up in a row. Something between a hobby-horse and a pop-up tent.
There's the piano, of course, parts of which are now sitting on the floor behind it, revealing all the inner workings within.
You already know that I have less than no musical talent. No rhythm. It's a problem. My lack of an inner metronome means I can't even clap out the simplest of beats. But that didn't stop me from undergoing years of painful piano lessons as a child. I hated every single second of it. Along with the enforced practise at home. Everyone always tried to convince me that if I just sat and did the work, every day, I would get better. But I knew better. Instead of banging out my scales, I would lift the lid to my piano, reach inside, and place my palm behind the hammers, pressing the keys so that the velvet drumsticks would hit my hand. I was always far more interested in how pianos works than how to play one. So I appreciate this glimpse into the instrument's innards.
More people turn up. They all know each other. And the cast. Which is something I'm really going to have to get used to with all these fringe things I'm going to.
"We're trying to leave this space free for the filming," says the dancer, clearing a path through the chairs.
"Mind the gap please," says the pianist in the same cadence as the Tube-voice.
But I'm not paying attention to what they're saying, because I'm listening to their voices. They both have an accent. A very familiar sounding accent. So familiar, I instantly reminded that I need to call my mum.
We've been playing phone-tag for days, and now she's sent the Israelis to remind me that I still need to speak to her.
Strangers this time.
They come sit in front of me, in what I'm now thinking of as the strangers' corner.
Oh, wait. Maybe I'm wrong.
The pianist comes over to them. "If you want to open the window..." she says. "They move all the time and I didn't want to bang anyone on the head."
One of the newcomers says it's okay. She has a fan, and besides, she probably didn't fancy getting hit over the head anyway.
The pianist and the dancer look at each other. It's a very significant look.
"Shall we wait to see if anyone else comes up? We could start, and if anyone arrives they can just join us."
As one, we all glance down the corridor. It's empty.
Time to start.
The pianist introduces the act. They're D&DF&P. She's Danielle Friedman. He's Doron Perk. Together they create improvised pieces. Her on the piano. Him dancing. Fresh and new, every time.
She spins round on her stool... and begins to play.
At first he doesn't move. He stands there, close by, watching her.
And then his shoulder drops, his head tilting with it, his arm extending down, and he begins to dance.
Their eyes remain fixed on each other, as they follow and lead and follow again.
The movement style is contemporary for sure. I want to say it's a little bit Hofesh Shechter, but I think it's just those accents confusing me. It's definitely not Sharon Eyal. Although there might be a little Jasmin Vardimon. A dash of Itzik Galili. Maybe even some Emanuel Gat in there. Or none of those things. Perhaps I'm just listing a load of Israeli choreographers because I like showing off.
As for the music, I have no references for you. I told you about the lack of musical skill, right? It's pretty though, and I'm enjoying it.
With another significant look between them, they stop. The end of the piece. Perk takes off his glasses and puts them to one side. That's a shame. You never really see dancers wearing glasses during a performance. Unless they wearing them for comedy value. I mean... there's probably a reason for that. Glasses are a right old pain. But still. More glasses on dancers please!
They're ready to start again.
Friedman begins to play, Perk watches and listens until the music takes hold and he dances once more.
Each piece is short. Ten minutes or so. Themes are built up and dismissed. Movements merge and develop.
Perk changes his look for each one. Glasses off. Hair down. Trousers rolled up, then smoothed back down. Ponytail. Man-bun.
The eye-contact between them loosens, the gaps between the glances lengthening before Perk starts turning his back on Friedman, so into the direction of the music that he no longer needs to keep his eyes on her.
After a few pieces, Perk sits on the floor as Friedman plays, allowing him to catch his breath.
I lean back in my chair, lazily letting my gaze drift from those velvet hammers up to the open window where the view is almost entirely taken up by a large tree, the leaves being gently rustled by the breeze.
"It's very hot in here," he says.
"Hotter for you," rejoins a man sitting in the front row.
That certainly looks true. Perk is soaked. He's really working hard up there, and there isn't much of that breeze coming through the window.
Perk checks the time.
"It's three minutes to six, so one short one I think?" he says in answer to another significant look from Friedman. "Then drinks."
So, we have one more short one. And at the end, Friedman and Perk grin at each other. Job well done.
"Stay for drinks, stay for talk," they encourage us. "Or don't."
I'm going to go with the 'don't' option. Nothing against this pair. They are young and talented and adorable. But I think that pile of Budweiser on the table at the back should be for them to enjoy with their friends. Not randoms who turn up just to get a theatre checked off their challenge.
As I traipse my way back down the stairs, my fellow inmates from stangers' corner are a few steps behind.
"I mean, the music was good," says one. "But the other element was dance, and how do you talk about that?"
Oh man. You said it. As someone who has to deal in the business of dance-words to pay the bills... I have never felt so seen. It's hard.
As Perk said himself during the performance - music and language are their own languages. And they don't always translate. The whole point of dance, to me at least, is saying what words cannot. So not being able to find them... shouldn't be considered a failure. And if you could tell my boss that the next time I have to explain why our season brochure hasn't gone to print yet, that would be super.
But even without the words, he seems content enough. "It's an experience, which is why I went for it."
Yeah. That's the philosophy behind the marathon. The experiences that theatres give us.
I'm about to turn around and make a new friend with this guy, but I've just taken my phone off airplane mode and a whatsapp message pops up. It's from my sister-in-law. "Could you please call your mum?"
Yeah, yeah. As if I needed another reminder.