Four o'clock and I get a notification on my phone.
"Dear Valued Customer," it starts. My heart sinks. Being valued as a customer is never a good sign. "We regret to inform you that, due to an unexpected emergency, the theatre company have had to cancel the event 'The Hound of the Baskervilles' for this evening."
Blah blah blah. "Apologies." Blah blah blah. "Refund." Blah blah blah. "Don't hesitate to call."
This is so not what I need right now.
It's taken me nine months to find a theatre show in the Elliot Hall of Harrow Arts Centre. Nine months. And they don't have any other ones listed on their website. That's... a big problem. A big big problem.
A problem so big I can't even think about it right now.
I have to deal with the smaller issue right now. Smaller, but more urgent.
Which is, what the hell am I going to do with myself tonight?
I could give myself the evening off. Go back to Hammersmith. Wash my hair. Get myself some quality cat cuddles. But did I just mention that we're nine months into this marathon? Yeah. Now, I don't know what your maths skills are. But I, having a friggin' GCSE in it, so I can tell you that there are only three months left of this challenge. And I still have around 70 theatres to get to. I can't afford to be spending my Wednesday nights on self-care.
With an outpouring of more swearwords than my poor coworkers should ever have to listen to, I bring up my spreadsheet and start rearranging. Moving Saturday's theatre trip to Friday, I free up Saturday for a theatre I wasn't meant to hit until November. Which means, if I've worked this all out right, if I go to Sunday tonight, I can actually give myself a day off. A real one. During the weekend.
Whoa. It's been a while since I had one of those.
Right. Looks like I'm going to Fairfields Halls tonight. I better get that booked in.
I go onto their website, find the show, curse at the popup, scroll around desperatly trying to find the book button, select my ticket (front row for fifteen quid? Yes please) and then go to check out, get rid of another popup (pre-show dining? Fuck offfff).
I'm feeling more than a little pleased with myself, right up until the website decides to give me the spinning circle of death as I attempt to lookup my address.
I leave it a few minutes. Get on with some work. And then go back.
It's still spinning.
Okay then. Close the window and start again.
Select ticket (front row, fifteen quid), put it in my basket, type in address... nope. It's not having it.
I scroll down the page and click the Continue button.
Right, now it's looking for an address.
I select it.
And then there's nothing to click.
It's just me, staring at a broken website, asking it to sell me a ticket.
I think I now know why they still have fifteen quid, front row seats, available less than four hours before curtain up.
I can't give up though. There's a free Sunday at stake here.
I try again.
Nope. Not happening.
Two-hundred-and-thirty theatres in and I think I can safely say I've found the absolute worst theatre website.
Okay. Don't panic.
Worst comes to worst, I can call them. Box office people are lovely. That is totally a thing I can do.
If it were not for my crippling social anxiety.
I try again. But this time I'm sneaky. I make an account first, then double back to pick up the contents of my basket. Ha! It works. Success. You won't get one over me, you stupid website. I'm going to see your show and you can't stop me.
Two hours later, and I'm off to Croydon.
At least I know where I'm going now.
And, now that trams aren't a surprise to me anymore, I'm not even a little bit scared of them.
Well, maybe a little bit.
Okay, I pelt it across the road even when there isn't a mechanical monster in sight.
But I'm here now. At Fairfield Halls.
It's a lot bigger than I expected, looming over the road. Towering over building works.
Long windows running along the front give the place the air of a car showroom. We are on Park Lane after all. Just, you know, the other one.
I find myself in a narrow lobby. There's more doors up ahead, through which I can see the main foyer. All high ceilings and bright lights. There's a queue going on through there, for what looks like the press desk.
That's not me.
Over on the other side there's a reception desk. That looks more my speed. I head over.
A man stops me.
"Are you here for the Ashcroft?" he asks, and I wonder if that's the new Bentley model.
"Yes?" I reply, having absoletly no idea what he's talking about but feeling that is probably the right answer all the same.
"You can pick up your tickets just through there," he says, pointing through the next set of doors to the press desk.
I mean... okay.
I thank him and make my way over to the doors.
"Are you here for the play?" asks the woman standing on duty there.
"Can I see your ticket?" she asks.
"I'm collecting." Or at least, I'm trying to.
"Are you a guest?"
Honestly, people like to talk about gatekeeping in the arts, but I never knew they meant it so literally.
"Ah, well, you'll need to go over there," she says, pointing back the way I had come. To the reception.
"That's the box office?" I ask, just to double-check.
Yup. That's the box office.
Right then. Back I go. To the fucking reception desk.
Honestly, I'm about two seconds away from declaring Croydon part of Yorkshire so I can get the hell out of here.
"You're picking up from over here?" asks the guy from before as he sees me coming back.
"Yeah, I'm not swish enough for the press desk," I tell him.
"Ah! Well, you never know," he says, sounding embarrassed. "You can never be sure."
"Hi," I say to one of the ladies on reception, trying very hard to keep the exasperation out of my voice. "The surname's Smiles?"
She looks at me blankely.
"I'm collecting a ticket?" I press on, really not wanting to be sent somewhere else again.
"Is it a guest ticket?" she asks, sounding confused.
No, it's not a fucking guest ticket. Oh my gawwwd…
"No," I say, doing my best to keep the growing annoyance from my voice. "I bought it. With money."
"Excellent!" she says. "Do you have your confirmation email?”
I almost laugh. I'm literally the only person in this building who is a legitimate paying customer, and yet I still need to dredge out the confirmation email. I bring it up on my phone and hand it to her.
"Can you fetch it?" she asks the other lady on the desk.
I watch as the other box officer goes through the doors... and towards the press desk.
I am not a violent person, but seriously, I am about to slap everyone within a twenty-metre radius soon if... holy shit. I recognise that person. Over there. By the press desk. Picking up their tickets. Someone who used to work at my work. I now works here. At Fairfied.
As soon as I get my ticket, I rush over.
"I spied you!" I say as our eyes meet.
I shouldn't be so surprised to see her. But somehow it's always weird bumping into old coworkers.
We stand around, getting in everyone's way as I give all the gossip from the office.
"Are you here for your blog?" she asks.
"Yeah," I admit. "I wasn't supposed to be, but the show I was supposed to be seeing was cancelled and..." Yeah, I did it. I vented. All about the gawd-awful website.
"Oh dear," she says sympathetically. "Do you want to get a drink?"
I don't, but I keep her company as she gets one and waits for her friend to arrive and tells me all about the refurbishment.
And then it's time to go in.
Two ushers stand by the doors to the theatre wearing matching green polo necks. They smile at everyone passing through. It's opening night and everyone looks super excited about it.
I slip through and go up to the programme seller.
"Do you have change for ten pounds?" I ask.
"I'll have to give you coins though," he said, bringing out a plastic bag stuffed full of pound coins.
"That's fine," I say, trying not to show my excitement.
I'm not going to go on again about how much I love pound coins, but, you know I love pound coins.
The programme he hands me is massive. Almost as big as the ones at BIG.
Oversized programmes must be a thing at show-adaptations that no one asked for, because tonight we're seeing Angela's Ashes. The musical. Which, I don't mind admitting to you, I'm a little concerned about.
But I've got my programme, there's no turning back now. Not after everything I've been through to get here. Oh wait, wrong door. I turn back and hurry further down the corridor until I find door two. There we go. I'm in.
Front row here I come.
Except, it's not quite the front row. There are two rows ahead, but there's no one sitting in them, so they don't count.
The auditorium is large. The stage big. But it's not nearly as shiny and grand as the foyer spaces.
There's a sort of dinginess and worn-in feeling which I think is better suited to a theatre than glossy newness.
There's an announcement welcoming us all to the performance. "Please identify your nearest exit," it advises us, which is not the most comforting thing to be told to do before a show.
The stage lights go up.
The cast starts to sing.
I don't know what the first song is called, but I'm willing to bet that it’s ‘Angela's Ashes.’
I'm wincing so hard I think I might dislocate something.
But it doesn't last long, because after the initial cringe-fest, it's actually rather good.
I'm enjoying myself.
Well, 'enjoying' is probably the wrong word to talk about a misery memoir, but you get what I mean.
In the interval, I head back out. The usher on the door grins. "See you in twenty minutes!" he says.
I find a convenient pillar to lean against and edit my Red Hedgehog blogpost. I am like, stupidly behind at the moment. Four show weekends are not my friend.
"Ice cream, madam?" asks the usher on the door as I go back in.
"No, thanks." It's not really an ice cream kind of show. It wouldn't feel appropriate to be digging into a mint choc chip while there are babies howling for a bottle of milk.
But it's okay. I know our Frank is going to make it out okay. After all, he wrote the memoir. And the sequel (which is excellent by the way, although I'd bet you already know that because literally everyone in the world has read it).
But then we have to end with that Angela's Ashes song, so, when it time came for the standing ovation, I could not participate.
As I leave, everyone peels off to one side.
Looks like there's some sort of afterparty going on.
I leave them too it and head out into the tram-filled streets, thanking the theatre gods that that's me done with Croydon for the year.