I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions lately. Like, why am I dragging myself out of bed early on a Sunday morning to watch a show? (Answer: marathon reasons). Or, why did I book myself a second show to go to, on this same exact Sunday? (Answer: marathon reasons). And the ever constant: is this place even a theatre, Maxine? (Answer:… still working on this one).
After making it back to Hammersmith, I spent the afternoon eating too many carbs and clutching the cat for comfort. But now it’s time to go back out. Theatre 239 waits for no blogger.
Thankfully I don’t have far to go. Just around the corner, actually. I can walk it. Heck, I can probably sit down and sail there on a slide made of my own tears of exhaustion.
I just really hope it is an actual theatre.
It’s so hard to tell.
Everywhere’s a theatre these days. Buses, boats, gardens and squares. And yet, also no where. I struggle to find a single play to book in spaces to claim to have that title.
Well, there’s only one way to find out sometimes.
I’m off to the Polish Social and Cultural Association to see what they’ve got for me and my marathon needs.
I bundle myself inside my jacket and wander off down to King Street.
The letters P. O. S. K. shine dully against the grey walls that look by rights as if they should belong to the local council.
I head up the stairs and through the glass doors.
There’s a reception just opposite, but there’s no one standing behind the desk.
I look around, wondering what to do.
Not for long though. Because there’s a queue on the other side of the lobby, and it’s lined up infront of a window marked “Kasa.” Which, if you don’t speak Polish, which I do not, is helpfully translated underneath. “Box Office.”
I join the queue.
It moves fast. Most people seem to be in ticket purchasing mode rather than picking up, transactions happening in rapid Polish as cash is slipped across the counter.
“Hi!” I say when I reach the front. “The surname’s Smiles?”
“Smiles.” I think I’ve just outed myself as a non-Pole here. “I booked online?” I say, turning around my phone so that she can see the Eventbrite confirmation on my screen.
She looks through the ticket box. And then looks through again. Her fingers deftly move between letters as she searches all the possible spelling combinations.
She beckons with her hand. “Can I see?” she asks, motioning to my phone.
“Hang on,” I tell her as I hurriedly unlock it for her and hand it over.
She prods at the screen, zooming in to read the information.
Once she has confirmed that I did indeed purchase my ticket in advance, she slides my phone back over the counter.
“How much was the ticket?” she asks.
“22.15?” I say, reading the numbers on the screen doubtfully. Twenty-two fifteen. Hard to believe there was a time in my life where I would have baulked at paying that. The marathon does weird things to a person.
“Two tickets?” she asks, holding up two fingers to indicate the number of the tickets.
“No. One,” I say, holding up a single finger and thus demonstrating the other side-effect of this marathon – being a lonely loser on a Sunday evening.
She nods, opens a small booklet, and tears out a ticket for me. A proper ticket. With a seat number and everything.
In 238 theatres I haven’t seen the like.
Tickets torn from a little booklet.
“How much are the programmes?” I ask, spotting a pile of them on the desk.
The two fingers go up again. “Two pounds,” she says.
“Great!” I find two pounds coins and give them to her, and she slips a programme under the window in exchange.
That done, I walk around the lobby, trying to get a sense of where I am.
It’s a bit fancy in here. Not at all like a council building.
There’s a water feature in the middle of the foyer, surrounded by chairs. The walls are lined with lists of names, which I admit, I originally thought we’re there for depressing war reasons, but no. They are all names of people who contributed to the funding of this building, and that is the exact opposite of depressing.
A pillar is being used as a noticeboard, advertising various events coming up, in Polish and English.
A very small child runs in, banging into a roller banner with a smack of her chubby palms.
“Posk!” she shouts out, clearly very pleased with her ability to read.
Her dad runs up after her, removing the chubby palms from the banner before sounding out the letters for her, with the correct Polish pronunciation.
At the back, there’s a gallery. I walk around the exhibition. The paintings are nice. Bright and brilliant and full of life. There’s even one of ballet students, wearing matching floating skirts. Obviously, I like that one best.
Back in the foyer and people are starting the make their way through the doors on the far side.
There’s no signage, but I trust they know where they’re going, so I follow them.
Corridors lead off in all directions, but the stairs looks like the popular option. So I take them too.
A pretty blonde woman says something to me in Polish. I shrug apologetically, and she moves away without another glance.
Up the stairs and everywhere is heading through a door marked as “Teatr.” I’m fairly confident that’s the theatre.
People turn around, their faces lighting up as a man in a suit approaches.
“Hiiiiiii,” they all say in that very particular way people do when they know someone involved in a show. “We’re so excitedddddd.”
I manage to make it through the fangirls, and I show my ticket to the woman on the door.
“Ah,” she says. Followed by a string of Polish.
“Err, sorry?” I say, embarrassed by my lack of language skills.
She smiles at that. “You are upstairs in the balcony,” she translates, pointing behind me to the staircase.
“One level up?” I ask.
“Yes, up the stairs.”
So off I go, up the stairs.
There is no sign Teatr sign up here. But there is a man, who smiles welcomingly as I dither on the landing.
I show him my ticket and he waves me in.
And will you look at that. It’s a proper little theatre. The existence of a balcony should have been a clue, but still, it properness of it all takes me by surprise. It has proper raked seating. And a proper red curtain. And proper lighting running on rigs down the wall.
What it doesn’t have, is very good numbers on the seats. Only a few of the original plaques remain, the rest are a collage of stickers and scrawls.
“Sorry, I’m looking for thirteen?” I ask a man in the front row.
He points further in. “That way.”
“Sorry,” I say again. “I can’t count.”
I inch my way past him, squinting at the underside of all the flip seats, trying to make out the numbers until a reach a woman sitting further in.
“Sorry, what number are you?”
She’s twelve. Finally. Found it,
Turns out, none of this matters that much because no one else joins us in our row. The two of us sit next to each other, bookended either side by multiple empty seats.
I can see why. The front row isn’t all that great.
The barrier in front of us is high. As soon as I attempt to lean back, or even slouch, the entirety of the stage disappears behind it.
I’m going to have to do something I never allow myself to do in a theatre.
I’m going to have to lean forward.
May the theatre gods forgive me, because the people sitting behind me certainly won’t.
I try to find the right angle. Not far enough forward that I can see the very small orchestra down in front of the stalls, but just enough so that I can see the stage.
Perching here, on the edge of my seat, I can just about see the screen off to one side. It says Jawnuta on it. That’s the name of the opera I’m seeing tonight. An opera I know nothing about other than it’s in Polish. I think.
I hope the presence of the screen means there are going to be surtitles, because, as I’ve just found out, I don’t actually speak Polish.
Everyone starts clapping.
The man in the suit comes in. He waves at the audience. Looks like he’s conducting tonight.
A moment later, the very small orchestra are playing.
The curtain rises.
And we’re off.
We’re in a Gypsy camp. Or a Traveller camp, I should probably say. In Poland. Jawnuta’s daughter is in love with the mayor’s son. There’s lots of songs about not wanting to work, stealing animals from the locals, and being starving but free.
With plenty of references to ‘Jews,’ which is never worrisome at all.
The music is nice though. Very jolly.
In the interval, we’re joined by someone new in the front row. Probably got sick of staring at the backs of our heads and upgraded himself.
Some more applause for the conductor later and we’re into act two. The mayor totally does not approve of his darling son going off with a Traveller, but it’s totes cool, bro, because it turns out the girl and her brother were actually taken in by Jawnuta after their bona fide Polish mum was found dead. So, that’s all fine. And the two definitely-Polish-and-not-Traveller-kids can get married now.
Art before political correctness was wild.
The cast assemble for the curtain call. There’s millions of them, on that teeny stage. I try to count them, but get muddled somewhere in the forties.
The orchestra come up to, squishing themselves in, and the singers stomp their feet in approval.
As the curtain lowers, a whoop emerges from the stage, and more foot stomping.
Sounds like there is going to be one hell of a cast party tonight.
As for me, my pyjamas await. It’s been a long day.