I'm off to court. And by court I mean a council chamber. And by council chamber I mean that I'm going to be watching that site-specific, immersive, Agatha Christie play over in London County Hall. Witness for the Prosecution.
I'm a little worried about that. The immersive bit.
I had a look at the website for the production and found, buried deep in the FAQ, the very question that I always want to ask: Will there by any audience participation?
And you know what, they manage to write an entire answer without either confirming or denying it. I bet they had a lawyer draft it for them.
They state that its an immersive production. They admit that actors will be in the aisles. And then they assure the reader that the audience remains seated throughout the performance, But at no point do they answer their own question.
And that worries me even more.
As does the recommendation that we should arrive forty-five minutes before the start time.
Especially as I'm reading this while on route, barely an hour before the matinee kicks off.
They best have their speediest bag checkers on duty this afternoon because there is no way I'm going to make it.
As it happens, I'm sideling down Belvedere Road by 2pm, and the lobby at London County Hall is next to empty when I arrive.
"Are you here for the play?" someone asks as I go in, blinking against the gloom after all that dazzling sunlight going on outside.
"Yeah," I say, managing to make out the very smartly dressed young man who's talking to me. "I just need to pick up my ticket." I point towards the box office lurking behind him at the other end of the foyer.
"Can I just check your bag first?"
Of course he can. I open it for him and he prods around at the top layer before giving the bottom a good squeeze. Honestly, the indignities my bag suffers through in order to support me on this marathon.
The smartly dressed young man doesn't find anything suspicious, so he lets me go off to collect my ticket.
I give my name, and one of the two box officers behind the counter digs it out for me. There's a display of programmes, with a sign. Four pounds. Cash only.
Four pounds is fair enough, but what's this 'cash only' nonsense? Surely the whole point of buying one at the counter rather than off one of the front of housers in the auditorium is so that you can use a card. Do they not have a card machine back there? How on earth do they manage to deal with walk-ups without one? Perhaps this is a more immersive experience that I had anticipated. We really are being sent back to 1953, and I need to find myself some shillings quick because decimalisation hasn't hit yet and the box officer is going to look at my fiver as if I just handed him a membership card to crazy town.
But the box officer takes my note and gives me change without fuss.
I'm almost disappointed. All of that build up and I managed to get through the doors within three minutes. What am I supposed to do with the other twenty-seven? I hang around in the lobby. It's very impressive. Mosaic tiled flooring with some sort of crest action going on. A fireplace. Stone carvings. It is just like being in an episode of Poirot. I full expect to see David Suchet strolling though one of those glass-paned doors muttering about 'the little grey cells.'
I take a few photos. But after that, I soon run out of things to do.
It's time to go in.
Two ushers flag the very grand looking staircase. Behind them looks a high iron fence which I presume they use to lock us all in once we've been found guilty.
I show my ticket to the closest one.
"Central Gallery," she says, reading it. "Up the stairs and to the left."
Signs pointing out directions to all the different doors are wrapped around the massive marble pillars, as thick as tree trunks.
I check my ticket.
I'm after door number seven.
The nearest pillar says that doors four to nine are on the left.
A front of houser catches me looking at the pillar, and he gives a here-to-help kinda smile.
"Is door seven this way?" I ask, pointing in the direction of the arrow on the sign.
"It's just through here," he says, indicating a doorway behind him. The exact opposite direction of the arrow.
Good thing he's there, I guess. Having a front of houser on duty by the door is definitely a lot more efficient than accurate signage.
I go through the door. There's a stairwell in here. Considerably less grand than the marble monstrosity behind me.
Up I go. And up. And up. Everything becomes that bit less stately the higher I go.
These are clearly the town hall version of theatre's povvo stairs.
I'm not after a drink though. I'm still trying to locate door seven.
The signs send me off to the right.
Down a corridor with windows overlooking a grim looking courtyard.
And there, on the left, are a few steps leading up to a door.
Door seven, according to the sign. There's even a crest on it. The Royal coat of arms that is used by government departments. Dieu et mon droit and all that.
Inside, I find the gallery. Long leather covered benches with an impossibly steep rake.
But I don't even have the chance to contemplate those dangerous-looking steps because my attention is entirely focussed on the other side. The view.
Not like any courtroom that I've seen before. Even on TV.
Concentric circles of leather chairs surrounding a raised stage.
The judges' bench looks over it, and the figure of Justice presides over the entire thing. Sword in hand. It's enough to make me feel like I've done something very very wrong. Justice may be blind, but Guilt has frickin' laser vision.
I should probably go find my seat.
I wobble my way up the very narrow steps up to the back row.
I presume that's where I'm sitting. Row D. That's the onetwothree - fourth row back.
I peer at the benches. I don't see any seat numbers. Or any indication of what row it is.
Oh wait. There's something. On the ground. I can't make it out. It's so gloomy up here.
I get out my phone and light up my screen, directing it towards the floor.
Ah, there we go. Tiny seat numbers on tiny plaques.
I shuffle my way into the row.
It's really high up here.
Like, really high.
At least the rake is good though. At least, I think it is. There's no one sitting in the row in front just yet. There's no one in this entire gallery. I'm sitting up here all by myself. I'm starting to think that I'm the only one who actually read the FAQs on the website.
Eventually, someone else turns up. He stares at the rows for a long minute, bending over and squinting at the ground before he too gets out his phone to help light the way.
"The seat numbers are on the floor," I say, feeling helpful.
"I was just checking I was in row C," he replies.
This becomes a pattern. New people coming in. Them blinking in confusion at the floor. The emergence of their phone. And then one or other of us passing on a vital piece of information.
"That's row B."
"The one at the end is seat 30."
"No, you've come through the wrong door."
"Seriously, there's no seat number 10 here."
"What door number does it say on your ticket?"
"Well, then perhaps that's the door you should have taken."
"Don't get pissy with me."
I didn't say any of that.
I sure thought it though.
I got quite worked up. I'm really warm now. There are fans blasting up here, but they are pointed up, and cooling nothing but the ceiling. I need a drink.
I make my way back down the very steep steps, holding onto the balustrade very tightly as I go. People wander round the corridors looking lost, holding tickets in front of their faces and muttering door numbers to themselves.
I leave them to fend for themselves and wind my way back to the bar.
The queue stretches all the way across the little foyer and out into the opposite corridor.
That is... way too much effort for a gin and tonic.
Thankfully, there are a couple of jugs of water on the table behind, with a stack of cups nearby.
"Can I help myself to water?" I ask. Just in case it was special legal water or something.
"Yeah, go for it," says the woman behind the bar with a wave of her hand.
Armed with my cup of water, I stumble my way back to my seat.
More people are in now. But I still have my entire bench to myself. That's rather pleasing. I quite fancy the idea of sprawling around up here with my cup of water in my hand, and my fan in the other, lording it over all those fools below who spent real money on their tickets just to be cooped up in chairs. With armrests.
Hang on. What is that?
The group of old ladies sitting in the front row have put something on the stage and are pushing it around between them.
I dig my glasses out of my bag to get a better look.
It's a box of Maltesers.
They're treating the stage as if it were the conveyer belt in YO! Sushi, sliding their snacks around between them.
Hell maybe other people, but they save a special layer of it saved for weekday matinee audiences.
A front of houser closes the door, sealing us all in together in our sweltering inferno,
At least I got my whole row to myself.
As soon as I think it, I regret it. The theatre gods, they be listening, and they be cruel. And just as I am cursing myself internally, the door opens once more, and two men come in, heading straight for my row.
They probably don't deserve the death glare I sent shooting their way, but it's too late now, the show is starting.
Or at least, the pre-show is.
An actor, who according to the programme is Karlina Grace-Paseda, and is playing the role of Stenographer comes out when a rather nice suit, to swear in the jury.
I hadn't noticed them before. Two rows of seats, tucked up next to the judges' bench.
She hands them a bible and a piece of card, and each one in turn holds up the book in one and reads from the card in the other.
There's two seats still unoccupied. Ten members of the jury. I'm not sure this is a fair trial.
I wonder what they do in these situations. Bring in some more people from the stalls?
But as their lights dim, those two seats remain unoccupied. Making a mockery of this entire process.
Still, no time to think of that. A man is being dragged on stage and is about to be hanged and I have never been so glad to be sitting high up in the gallery before that is alarming as fuck.
It really doesn't look good for him.
Not even when, fifteen minutes in, the doors open once more and the two missing jury members are slipped in.
I keep a close eye on them, but they're more interested in the business of folding up their coats and getting comfy then what is happening on stage.
I think Lewis Cope's Leonard Vole should demand a retrial.
Although, I'm not sure I could handle that.
The fans are off, and while they weren't doing much, at least I knew they were trying.
"It's so warm!" says a lady as we all make our escape in the interval.
She's not wrong.
I head for the corridor and hang out next to an open window overlooking a grey courtyard, and try to cool off.
My little perch turns out to be rather popular and I'm soon surrounded by a bunch of ice cream eaters discussing the case.
Well, I say ice cream eaters but...
"I think one of the lawyers did it," says one, as she stares blankly at her tub.
"Really? I think it's a double jeopardy situation," says another as he watches her struggle. "It's under the lid."
"Double jeopardy? I don't understand how that works. What do you mean under the lid?"
"So, he can't be tried again. Here, the spoon's under that card."
"Oh, I see!" she says, retrieving the little spoon. "Nah. I still think it was the lawyer."
"That's... an interesting theory."
It is an interesting theory. But not one that I can weigh in on. Because I already know the ending. I say the TV adaptation a couple of years ago, and I remember the general gist of it.
Then again, the play might be different. We don't know which way that jury is going to go. Those two latecomers may be the key to overturning everything.
As I go back in, the Stenographer is swearing them in. Better late then never I suppose.
There seems to be something else going on now.
The members of the jury are being asked to write something.
They tear pages out of their notebooks.
Two pages each.
I think we can guess what they're writing.
Guilty on one.
Not guilty on the other.
Looks like we're having a Blue Peter trial.
Here's a verdict I made earlier!
It's not looking good though.
When the judge, Michael Cochrane, comes out, he lays down a pair of white gloves and a black cloth in front of him.
No explanation is needed. We all know what that means. The black cloth is still in the public consciousness even if it's not on our judges' heads anymore.
Although, with Priti Patel as home secretary, there'll probably be handing them out at every county court in the country by the end of the year.
When the time comes, the stenographer goes over to the jury, and they hand over their pieces of paper.
A jury member stands. And she reads out the verdict.
Very well done. A lovely clear voice. Although she should probably have put down her coat beforehand.
During the bows, the actors all point to her, and she gets her own round of applause. And a spotlight.
Time to go.
At the bottom of the stairs, there's a A-board.
"Remember you are #SwornToSecrecy but share your pictures of the chamber with us."
I stop to take a photo.
Someone asks an usher where the toilets are. She points out to a door. A door leading to the courtyard.
Now, I'm not a theatre loo-goer. I tend to avoid that whole... situation. It's fine. I have a bladder of steel.
But this intrigues me.
I follow the directions, out through the door, and do indeed end up in that grey courtyard I'd seen from the corridor window,
There's a little cabin out here. Wooden. With two doors.
One has a queue stretching out of it.
I don't need to read the signs to know which is the ladies.
A woman standing behind me tuts. "Always the way, isn't it?"
I join the queue.
Inside there are two stalls and two sinks. The counter is flooded with water. The floor of the stalls is a mess of loo roll.
There's nowhere to hang your bag. I stare at the filthy floor and contemplate my options before managing to balance the strap over the door lock.
There's a no touch flush, but when I go to wash my hands I can't figure out the tap.
"Am I being dim?" I ask the queue, waving my hands under the spout thinking the no touch technology must extend to the clean up.
The lady next in line pushes a slim button and a shoot of water spurts out. It lasts all of two seconds.
By the time I get out, the queue has grown. It stretches across the courtyard, and all the way through the doors and back into the lobby.
The men's is, of course, empty.
Honestly, this is why I don't pee at the theatre.
This is not what I want from my theatrical excursions, or indeed, from life.