There's a paper bag lying, discarded, on the ground in Douglas Way. It must have had something very tasty in it not that long ago because three pigeons are now circling it, pecking at it, like overworked nurses attempting to impose hospital corners on a beanbag.
One of them, the one I've been thinking of as the leader of this trio, manages to get its head inside. A second later, its back out again, bringing a half-eaten cookie with it.
The other pigeons stare at this manna from carb heaven in wonder. No manky crumbs for them this evening. They be feasting like kings.
But the dinner party don't last long, because across the road, three dogs have just finished their run around the park and are barrelling through.
One runs on ahead, scattering pigeons in his wake.
It's owner calls after it. "Don't forget, the only reason I have you is because no one else wanted you."
And with that grade A guide to parenting left hanging in the air, they disappear.
It's probably time for me to go to. I've been hanging around for fifteen minutes now. It's not that I'm avoiding going inside. It's just that I don't want to, and I'm putting it off.
I mean, it's not like I don't already know what the Albany is like. I've been here before. Fucking hell, I worked here. This is where I got my first real job in theatre. Well, the first one that didn't have 'intern' in the title. It's where I met Allison, who is now a marathon-semi-regular, so, you know, that's a lasting friendship if ever there was one. And it's all because of this place. This low, long, building, sat squat on the edge of the square that once a week houses Deptford Market. That was probably a great idea at the time. Placing the arts right in the middle of the community and all that. But the bars now criss-crossing all the ground-floor windows doesn't really scream neighbourhood integration.
I head through the automatic doors and into the foyer, trying to get a sense of what’s changed in all the years that have passed since I was last here.
The truth is, not a lot.
The tables and chairs in the cafe look like they’ve been upgraded, but other than that, everything looks exactly the same as I left it. The box office is still taking up that same corner. The counter top as pink as ever. I would even swear that bunting hasn’t shifted since 2013.
It’s all rather comforting really.
I join the queue, and when I get to the front, give my name to the box officer.
“Maxine? That’s one,” she says, using a ruler to draw a very straight line through my name. She flips open the lid to a large ink pad, and inks up a small stamp.
“There you go,” she says, applying it to the back of my hand. “It’ll be there in the Studio. Doors will open in about five minutes.”
Plenty of time for me to inspect my new artwork.
It’s a planet. Or at least I think it’s a planet. One with rings, so that’s Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, or Uranus, if my GCSE Double Science Award serves me well. I can’t narrow it down any further. I flunked out of A-level Physics.
Someone hands me a brochure. It’s for a festival of aging. Not a subject I try to think of all that often. I have a flick through though, checking the venue names to see if there’s anything I missed.
I skip over the page advertising the 48-hour durational work set in an old people’s home. I am absolutely not doing that. No way. Not even for the marathon. I have logged it as an experience, not theatre, and I will not hear another word about it.
A queue starts to build over by the door. Lots of young, cool, looking people with oversized clothing and pastel hair. It’s all very Deptford.
I hang back. I’m not all that fussed about being first through the door. The Studio is a small space. And with a one-man show about dementia, I’m not sure I actually want to be all that close to the front.
Some keen sort rattles the door. It’s locked.
A passing front of houser spins on his heel “Oh! Hang on!” he says, rushing back towards the door. “We’ll open in about five minutes!”
True to his word, about five minutes later, the doors are opened and we begin to file ourselves in.
We all twist our hands round to show him the planets stamped on the back, looking like we’re all throwing the mimsiest gang-sign going.
It gets us in though, and we make our way down the long, dark, corridor which winds its way around the back of the main theatre space, towards the far end of the building.
A sign on the door reminds us that this show is a Pay-What-Makes-You-Happy. “Please donate what you can into the buckets,” it tells us. “We also accept card payments. Suggested amount £10 (or £5 concessions) but feel free to donate less or more!”
Buckets. That’s interesting. I’ve only seen it done with envelopes before.
I go in.
It’s dark in here. Really dark.
The brick walls are painted black and the windows are hidden behind black-out curtains. The only speck of colour are the iron beams painted red.
Chairs have been set up in right-angled banks, fencing off a corner for the stage.
I slip into the end of the third row. There’s no rake, of course. But I can just about catch a glimpse of our performer, sat behind a drum kit.
There has to be a rule, worked out in secret meetings between artists and programmers, that spaces with bad-sightlines should only be filled with sitting-down performers. You don’t catch actors sitting down on big stages with raked seating. Oh no. But as soon as you’re in a titchy studio space, there they are, getting to grips with their floor-work skills.
At least Antosh Wojcik has the excuse of an instrument that needs playing.
The doors close.
The lights dim
Drumming away, Wojcik tells us a story. He was in a band. A metal band. He was the drummer. Or one of the drummers. There were two drummers. And that’s it. That was the whole band. Two boys on drums.
He imagines the two of them, in a home together, old and grey, remembering nothing but the music. The pounding of the drum solos.
And he thinks of his own grandfather. Lost in a maze of missing connections as dementia takes hold.
As he plays, ratting out that beat, Wojcik’s fluffy hair bounces in time with the music. He pushes back his long fringe in between sections. Which, I don’t mind telling you, is all very pleasing and troubling in equal measure. As he talks about a deep and personal grief, I want nothing more than to plate up some freshly made biscuits, pinch his cheek, and tell him it will all be alright.
You know, some women out there, they go all maternal in the face of troubled young men. Me? I’ve leapt straight into grandmothering.
Just as I’m about to start searching in my bag for a hairbrush to offer him, a man sitting two rows ahead leans across, lifting his arm over the seat next to him, and blocking my view.
Now I can only hear the words as they tumble over the beat, without the distraction of floppy hair and sad eyes.
Honestly, it’s a relief.
We make it through to the end, with no further issues other than a few broken hearts.
Wojcik leaves us behind in the studio, not returning despite our applause going on without him.
Eventually, the lights come back on and we struggle to our feet.
Everyone is very quiet as we make for the door, and back down the corridor.
At the end, a front of houser stands waiting for us, bucket in hand.
I pull out a note, and slip it into the slim gap at the top.
Not too sure about this method, to be honest. I think I prefer envelopes. Although I imagine this public payment does more to extract funds from audiences. No one wants to be seen to only give a few coins or a half-eaten cookie…