Demon Theatre of Fleet Street

I thought I was well past the point where I was able to shock my coworkers with my theatre-going, but the expression on their faces as I wrap my scarf around my neck and breezily say that I'm just popping out to watch a play tells me that I've hit a new low.

Turns out, slipping into an empty seat at the back to catch the matinee in your own theatre is one thing, but running down to Bridewell Theatre in order to squeeze a short play into your lunch break is quite another.

Oh well. Doesn't matter. I'm already halfway down Farringdon Street and too out of breath to worry about my rapidly deteriorating reputation in the office.

I haven't been to the Bridwell Theatre before, but I've seen the signs for it, so I'm not entirely surprised when I step out of the smog of grey suits on Fleet Street and into a quiet little side-street that looks like it's pitching itself as a location for this Christmas' glossy Dicken's adaptation.

Two ladies chat outside the front door to the theatre, but apart from that, it's entirely deserted.

I'm guessing lunch-time theatre can't really compete with M&S sandwiches in the life of a city worker.

I'm up for it though. A 45-minute play in the middle of the day sounds great. It's just a pity that this place is too far from my work for me to ever justify coming here outside of my marathon. Best make the most of it.

Huh. This place is not nearly as exciting looking inside. After a brief interlude involving floor to ceiling tiling, those old Victorian stones have given way to white walls and grotty floors.

But no matter. There's a good old fashioned hole-in-the-wall box office. It even has a circular speaker thing set into the glass. The metal surround is inscribed with the directive to: SPEAK HERE. I do, giving my surname, and I'm handed a small entrance token in exchange.

They are small. And laminated. There's a picture of a sandwich on the front (cucumber on wholemeal) and a poorly hyphenated set of terms and conditions on the back. I'm disappointed. Somehow I had got into my head that the Bridewell was connected to the printing industry, but I couldn't imagine any proper printer producing this sort of nonsense.

To be fair, that connection may exist nowhere outside of my own fuzzy memories, and no be based on anything even approaching reality. In which case, the tokens are just fine. And cucumber sandwiches are totally ace. But like... not on brown bread. Don't be gross, people. No one wants that shit in their lives. It should be white bread or nothing when it comes to cucumbers. And plenty of butter. The good stuff. Yeo Valley, or Kelly Gold if you must.

"The house will open at five to one," says the man behind the window. "We'll ring a bell."

That's only a couple of minutes away. I better start exploring.

I follow the signs down to the bar.

Oh, blimey. That's not what I expected. There I was, traipsing down the white-walled staircase, never knowing that the basement bar was lurking underneath like the Phantom's lair. Bare brick walls. Metal beams holding up curved arches. And there, squatting between the tables like an old man waiting for someone to buy him a pint is, oh my god, is that a printing press?

I fucking love a printing press. I’m always trying to drop hints to our printers that they should invite me around for a tour, but they are doing the absolute mostest to change the conversation to one of paper stock, or types of fold, which I suppose is also good.

I go over to have a proper look at it.

I suppose it could be a printing press. If what you're printing is shirts and by press you mean, wash out the dirt. They're washing machines. I'm in an old laundry.

Oh.

I'm beginning to think I really did imagine the whole printing thing. Which is worrying.

Still, it is nice down here. I do like old machines, even if their purpose is to remove ink rather than print it. I like that you can see how they work. This wheel turns, that cog rotates, then this plate lowers, yadda, yadda, yadda, and your socks are clean!

It's surprisingly busy down here. All the tables are full.

I'm trying to work out how many of these people are here for a sneaky pint during their lunch hour. But none of these people look like the type to work around here.

There's less in the way of suits than I would expect. And far more anoraks than is reasonable.

I feel like I've somehow stumbled group in their pre-meet for a walking tour of the Lake District, rather than a bunch of city workers taking a short rest-bite from their heady day propping up capitalism.

There's a rustle of Goretex as they all stumble to their feet and make towards the door.

They must have heard something I didn't because the queue to get into the theatre is starting and if I don't hurry up and join it, I'm going to be stuck right at the back.

Back up the stairs, through the door by the box office, and via a small foyer taken up by some rather fetching blue curtains, and we're into the theatre.

It's a standard black box, with raked seating, and a rather fantastical lighting rig - meal bars jutting off at all sorts of wonderful angles. Each side of the space is lined with slim metal columns, the type you'd find on an old factory floor. I rather like it.

It takes a while for everyone to settle.

There are considerably more people here than I could ever have expected. Lunchtime theatre is clearly a thing, and I feel like I've been missing out. Someone needs to tell all the pub-theatres in Islington, because I want to get in on this action.

After five months in marathon-mode, even 90-minutes-no-interval is starting to feel like a chore. With a standard 7.30pm start, you're still not getting out before 9pm. And then there's the journey home, and by the time you've got your coat off, put the kettle on, and shoved all the clothes off of your duvet, accomplishing the coveted In-Bed-By-Ten prize is a bit of a challenge. If you ask me (and I'm sure you are), 45 minutes is the perfect length for a play.

I didn't know anything about this one, but with such a short run time, there wouldn't be much room to go wrong.

Even so, Stanley Grimshaw Has Left The Building manages to pack it in: family tensions, false allegations of violence, missed messages, Elvis impersonations, and not one - but two - twists, before the clock runs out. There's even a reverse of the man-sends-his-inconvenient-female-relative-to-the-madhouse trope, which was very pleasing.

I would credit those involved, but there wasn't a freesheet to be found. Which if the Bridewell really did have a connection to the printing industry would be really fucking embarrassing for them.

Now, I have to know - where did I get that idea from?

As I hurry up Farringdon Street on my way back to work, I quickly Google it.

"Housed in a beautiful Grade II listed Victorian building, St Bride Foundation was originally set up to serve the burgeoning print and publishing trade of nearby Fleet Street, and is now finding a new contemporary audience of designers, printmakers and typographers who come to enjoy a regular programme of design events and workshops."

They even have a library dedicated to printing and its associated arts.

Oh, Bridewell Theatre. Dedicated to the print trade and you can't even put together a freesheet. For shame. For shame!

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You’re in a cult; call your dad

After bidding goodbye to my intrepid theatre-pie tasters, it was time for me to head off to my next show.

Oh, you didn't think I was done for the day, did you? This is a four-show weekend, my friend. Five if you include Friday night's convoluted trip to the Barbican.

I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Not really. 

My next show was only down the road, in the basement of the Travelling Through bookshop.  

This is my first bookshop if the marathon. 

I've done the former library that is The Bush, and the library-library that is the London Library. But no bookshop. 

Unless we count the Samuel French bookshop being based in the Royal Court, but I think we can all agree that we won't be doing that. 

So, there we were. On Lower Marsh Street, about to find out if bring able to purchase the books on the shelves makes a difference to the theatre they surround. 

Travelling Through is a very small shop. Or at least, that's how it feels when you are crammed shoulder to shoulder with the rest if the audience, as you wait for one of the Vault Festival ushers to check you in on their, by now familiar looking, tablets. 

After Helen's comment at the Vaulty Towers, suggesting that waiting around while holding a pie was actually part of the show, I did wonder whether this close proximity to my fellow audience members was an attempt to show us what life was like for a book, tucked up on the shelf next to its brethren. But the house was soon opened and we filed downstairs, and I forgot all about it.

The little basement cafe is a cosy space. Long tables take up most of the room, but they'd managed to fit in enough tall poufs for us all to sit on.  Each one topped with a freesheet, which was a nice touch. You don't see many of those in the Vault Festival, which is such a shame. And not just because I'm a paper freak. Even with the wonders of the internet housed in our hand, its surprisingly tricky to find out the names of people involved in shows without one. Everyone talks big game about programmes having had their day, but I think we've still got a while to go before I'm made redundant. I mean, they're made redundant. They. Not me. I can do other things than producing programmes. I swear. Please don't fire me.

At one end, a woman cradled a mug of tea. Somehow she'd managed to score an entire table to herself. 

It was xxx. Our performer. 

We all pretended not to notice. 

"What's your view like," asked a glamorous looking woman as she took the pouf next to me.

I glanced over at xxx to assess the situation. 

"Limited," I admitted.

She considered this. "I think I'll sit on my leg, " she said, tucking up one leg under her. 

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Pie Squared

"Well, I have no idea what's going on."

I'd just been on a mission to discover where, when, how, and quite possibly, why, that afternoon's show was happening, and I had returned even more confused than when I had left.

Helen, Ellen, and I were at Vaulty Towers. The pub on Lower Marsh Street that looks like it ran away with the circus.

Giant hands, twisted into claws, are mounted over the door, momentarily turning anyone who walks beneath into a puppet. There's a treehouse. And a room that looks like it's just been vacated by a Tarot-toting, crystal ball wielding, fortune teller for being too cliche even for her. And there's a nook primped with yards of pink tulle.

That's where we were. Trust a bunch of dance nerds to find the one spot that makes you feel as if you've got stuck in the laundry pile at The Royal Ballet School.

The Vaulty have a very lax approach to decoration. Anyone can join in. The nook's walls were scrawled with messages, love hearts, and even a few phone numbers. Clearly, the clientele at this pub doesn't like to limit their creative outpourings to the toilets.

It was 4.25, and there was supposed to be a play starting in this place in five minutes. But there was no sign of it.

Nor of the promised pies or pints.

Oh yeah, we were doing the trifecta.

Play Pie Pint is pitched as a lunchtime experience at the Vaulty. For a tenner (excluding booking fee) you turn up, get given a pint, a pie, and a play.

Except there was no sign of any of these things.

I checked my emails, thinking I must have missed something important, but nope. I had nothing beyond the booking confirmation and a pdf of e-tickets. Start time. Address. That was it. We were on our own.

We grabbed our coats and bags and headed to the bar, keeping our eyes out for a sign of... a sign. Something saying "Theatre this way, you dopes," perhaps. Or a little "Box Office" note taped to the bar. Anything to suggest that this pub was not just a pub, but a pub-theatre.

"Shall I just ask at the bar?" said Helen, going off to do just that, as if that was a normal and sensible thing to do in these situations.

A few minutes later, she returned to tell us of the wisdom she had gained.

"It's happening down there," she said, pointing to a door shaped like a zebra.

But of course. We should have guessed. There was even a sign. It said: "no entry."

We stood around awkwardly, checking our phones and the zebra. It was past 4.30, and the zebra was still closed. The play should already have started.

A bell sounded.

"For those here for Play Pie Pint, the pies are at the end of the bar!"

Oh thank the theatre gods, we had not been forsaken.

"Do we just... grab one?" asked Helen.

I didn't know. That seemed to be what was happening. But everyone was holding back.

At last, some brave soul dove in, his hand hovering over the trays of pies.

"What's the name?" asked a woman behind the bar. "Have you booked?"

She ticked us off. Napkins emerged and were plonked down next to the pies. Followed by a box of cutlery. Then a stack of plates. Finally, we were getting somewhere.

"How is it?" asked Ellen as Helen dug in.

Helen shrugged. "It's alright."

"Are we supposed to eat them now, or take them in?" I thought the idea was to have the three ps all together. But the zebra was still very much closed.

"Perhaps this is it," said Helen, indicating the people standing around awkwardly holding pies.

"An immersive experience?" I really hoped not.

"If we were to leave now, I wouldn't be mad," said Ellen. I shot her a pleading look. I did not want to be left there alone.

Thankfully, at that moment, the zebra swung open. It was time to go down. There was no backing out now.

Down a flight of steep, rickety stairs, and into the basement.

Stone walls. Piled up suitcases. Forgotten furniture. And still balancing my pie on its plate.

I was getting flashbacks to that immersive Sweeney Todd in a pie shop.

I could only hope that the worst pies in London were the only thing we had to worry about. If anyone offered me a haircut I was out of there.

The spaces were getting smaller and smaller. A black curtain covered the final entrance. I pulled it open, fully expecting to be greeted by a man wearing a leather apron and covered in blood, but instead, there was a semi-circle of mismatched chairs. We had reached the theatre.

It was tiny. Even by the standards of pub theatres. And the carpet pinned to the ceiling was doing little to insulate us from the pounding music being played in the pub above our heads.

"I like the faerie lights," said Ellen. "I know they're only cheap, but they do brighten a space up."

She wasn't wrong. With the entire ceiling covered in a constellation of tiny twinkling lights, this basement was looking pretty fucking charming.

"You brought your pies with you!" called a woman from the other side of the circle. "I left mine upstairs."

"Oh..." I looked down at my pie. Perhaps we weren't meant to take them with us after all.

"It wasn't cooked," she continued. "I gave it right back. They tried to give me another one, but I wasn't having it."

"Is your's raw?" asked Ellen.

"I don't think so?"

It tasted fine. Not the best pie I've ever had. Not even the best theatre pie I've ever had. But it was alright. I mean, you can't go far wrong with a chicken pie.

Chicken? Good. Pastry? Good. No apparent signs of salmonella? Fucking A.

Finishing the pie did leave me with the small worry of what to do with the plate. I settled on tucking it under my chair and hoping I didn't accidentally end up with gravy on my coat.

"Does anyone know if someone should be here, who isn't?" asked a young lad who turned out to be one of the writers' of the play.

There were still a lot of empty chairs. And there had definitely been more pies upstairs than there were people downstairs. The chairs did eventually fill up, but it occurs to me, that without any form of ticket check other than giving a name in exchange for a pie, there is nothing to stop someone dropping in and seeing a play sans pie. It seems to me that you're paying for the pie and getting the play for free.

Seats filled, pies consumed, and play introduced, we settled down to watch.

Ellen leaned over to me. "Just so you know, this is my nightmare," she said, as the actors took their places.

Oh dear.

Forty minutes later, and my friendship with Ellen hanging in the balance, we applauded.

The company, all composed of Guildhall students were keen to get our feedback. "We'll be upstairs, getting very drunk, because you know.. students, if you want to come and chat." Bless.

"Did you enjoy that?" one of the actors asked the nearest audience member.

"Yes," she replied. "But my pie wasn't cooked at all. I gave it back and they tried to get me to take another one, but I wasn't having it!"

"Right," he said, all blinking earnestness. "Well, we didn't make the pies..."

It was time to make our escape.

Back through the black curtain. Back past the stacks of furniture. Back of the rickety stairs.

As the others made their way outside, I dithered. The tulle-primped nook was empty save for the legions of notes from past patrons. That was my moment. A chance to make a real difference. I would add to the scrawl of notes. A message for the ages. A warning.

"Pies and plays thatta way -> (Bring your own pint)."

I would be a theatre hero. Nay, a theatre god.

But Helen and Ellen were already waiting outside.

And besides, I didn't have a pen.

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Jammy gits

All my many sacrifices to the theater gods have really been paying off recently.

After weeks and weeks (and weeks) of trying to get tickets through the National's Friday Rush, I finally managed to score a spot at not one, but two shows! They not only got me into Home, I'm Darling on Thursday, but also got me a prime central stalls seat for the Saturday matinee of Tartuffe. Now, some might claim it was because everyone in the queue was distracted by a desperate urge to see Follies, but I like to think it was the theatre gods doing me a solid after so two months of solid dedication to their cause.

So when Saturday afternoon rolled around, I was in a pretty good mood, ready to dedicate myself to the gods once more as I made my way for the first of three trips to the Vatican of British theatre this year.

I have to admit, I don't actually like the National. Or at least, not the building that it lives in.

All that concrete.

I'm sure it's an architectural wonder, and I'm just too bourgeoisie in my tastes to truly appreciate its genius, but to me, it just looks heavy and grey. A factory crossed with a graveyard. Both of which feel like the antithesis of what a home to art should look like.

Still, no one ever said serving the theatre gods would be fun. It was time to stop hanging around, gazing at the foundry and go instead and see what they've been manufacturing lately.

Queues by the looks of it.

The ground floor box office, the one that serves the Lyttleton theatre, the first of the National's three venues that I would be checking off on my marathon, had a line stretching all the way across the foyer.

I joined the end.

A moment later, an older couple did the same.

That is, they joined at exactly the same point in the queue as I had. Right next to me.

I glanced at the pair of them, and then at the space behind us. There was plenty of room, but for some reason, they thought the queue needed a right angle, and they were prepared to start that change in direction.

With four desks open at the box office, the queue was moving forward.

The people in front of me step forward. I follow their lead, closing the gap.

The old couple does too, knocking my bag as they keep right beside me instead of dropping in behind.

"Sorry," I said, turning to them. "I think we're getting a little muddled together here." I smile as nicely as I can while still being really rather pissed off.

The woman's eyes widen in innocence. "You're in the queue, and we are behind you," she sounding like a five-year-old who's just been told she can't take her teddy to school.

It takes me every little bit of emotional resource I have left over on a Saturday afternoon not to roll my eyes at this display. Rudeness I can take. The mock-offended tones of someone you can't admit their wrongdoing when called up out on it is too much to bear.

"Fine," I say, ignoring her as continues to pull the big-eyes. But when the queue shifts again I step forward they get in line behind me.

Ergh! People!

Theatres would be so much more pleasing to visit if they didn't exist.

I soothed myself by buying a programme. Surely the best programmes in London (except for mine... obvs) and only £4.50. Though I must admit to a little surprise when the usher gave the price. I remember when they were only £3, Travelex tickets were only £12 and the police force was made up of grownups...

Those were the days... when I was still young enough to sit in the front row. My back couldn't tolerate it now. Those tickets might be cheap, but so are the seats. For reasons that I could never work, except for a sneaking suspicion that whoever designed them thought that poor people should not be indulged which such frivolities as comfort, the backs of the sets in the first four rows are incredibly low. Meaning that you having to sit ramrod straight in them. I was willing to put up with it in my youth. But the combined effects of age and falling down an icy flight of stone steps way-back-when means that I take my cheap-arse up to the back of the circle nowadays.

But those brave souls chancing it on Saturday afternoon were justly rewarded when Denis O'Hare came out and started making his way down, offering them each, in turn, a daffodil.

As with the front row at the Tara Theatre, the first few refused, but they soon got into it, taking the man's flowers. I hope, unlike the invisible cucumber sandwiches, they were properly appreciated and didn't need to be swept away at the end of the show.

Come the interval, I was left in a bit of a quandary.

Sitting right in the middle of the row in the Lyttelton means that leaving the auditorium can be quite the undertaking. Those rows are hella long. And there is no central aisle.

But I had a blog post to finish, and for some reason, I can never get signal within the National's theatres. Not a sniff of a single bar. Now, I'm not saying that the National using mobile phone jammers, because that would be illegal of them, but I'm also not saying that it isn't ever so slightly suspicious that in one of the flagship venues for an industry that dislikes all forms of sensory output caused by phones, they don't feel the need to ever put up warnings or make announcements telling their audiences to switch them off. It's almost like they know that phones won't be going off during their shows...

So back into the foyer I went, where I could use the National's dodgy, but thankfully free, wifi to finish my post before beginning the long traipse back to my seat.

"Sorry," said my seat-neighbour as we did the awkward dance past each other. "I was looking at your t-shirt! It is Firefly! With... the guy!"

She meant Nathan Fillion, who was gazing out from around the edge of my cardigan.

I tried to explain it was technically not a Firefly t-shirt, but Spectrum - a made-up show devised by Alan Tudyk (who's face was lurking underneath the cover of my cardigan) in his semi-autobiographical web-comedy series, Con Man.

That must have been the wrong thing to say.

My seat-neighbour looked at me, nodded, and promptly didn't speak to me again.

Oh well.

It looked like I wouldn't be making any new friends at the National that day.

With a couple of hours before my evening show, I found a spot on one of the large doughnut-shaped stools in the foyer and set up camp, putting pictures into my post and doing a cursory proofread before posting.

"The time is approaching six pm," came an announcement of the tannoy. "Therefore we ask those using the catering facilities who are not seeing a show to kindly vacate their seats. Thank you for your cooperation,"

No, thank you for reminder, NT. It was time for me to leave.

I set off, doing the reverse of a journey that I took most evenings. Through the West End and up to Islington.

I'd been trying to put off visiting Islington venues during my marathon. I work in Islington, so I'd been trying to save these theatres for later on. When I'm worn out my months' worth of intense theatre-going, I thought it might be nice to have a few places left on the list where I need to nothing more than stumble down the road.

But that night I was heading to the Little Angel. The Studios rather than the Theatre. Not that it makes much difference, as they both show puppet productions. Puppet productions aimed at children.

Now, I have nothing against kids' shows. But I don't want to see them. Not by myself. I've already done that this marathon, and it was excruciatingly uncomfortable. So when I saw that the Little Angel had a show coming up, Carbon Copy Kid, aimed at grown-ups... well, I almost broke a key on my laptop in my efforts to book that ticket in fast.

So, there I was. Back in Islington. On a Saturday. I ended up walking past my theatre. To compensate how wrong and unnatural it felt being there on the weekend I popped in and said hello to the ushers on duty... and yeah, no, sorry. That didn't happen. I ducked my head down low and sped past, hoping no one would recognise me.

I think I got away with it.

Fifteen minutes later I was wandering the back streets of Islington, thinking there couldn't possibly be a theatre amongst all these apartment blocks, when I saw a large sign: Little Angel Studios. I had found it.

"Surname's Smiles?" I said to the girl on the desk that was serving as box office. For some reason, I always pitch this as a question, as if I'm not sure about what my name is. For the record, I'm fairly confident my name is actually Smiles. Improbable as that seems.

"Is that M Smiles?" She laughed,. "I mean, is that Maxine?"

It was.

No tickets to be had at the Little Angel, but they do have tasteful blue admission vouchers. Cornflower for adults and baby for, well, babies.

"The house is open, you can head up the stairs," she said.

There wasn't anything for sticking around for downstairs, so up I went.

I have to admit I am a little baffled by this building. On route to the stairs, I passed a large room which appeared completely empty except for a massive trough-like sink. The walls of the hallway are all stark white, with no indication that this place has anything to do with a puppet theatre, until you find the stairwell and suddenly there are old show posters on display.

It's a little creepy.

I didn't end up taking any photos apart from this one in the stairwell, partly because of the creepiness, but also because I worried that in taking a photo of a white corridor, I wouldn't be able to capture that creepiness and then all I get is you saying, "Maxine, it's just a corridor, what's so creepy about that," and I wouldn't be able to explain why it was creepy, and then you'd think I was weird, and we'd both have to live with that. Forever.

"But at least you got a photo of the actual theatre-space, Max?" you say. "Right? Right?"

Well no. I didn't.

But I have a good reason for that.

When I made it up the stairs and into the studio, the... actor? Puppeteer? Dude doing the show, was already on stage. He was all set up behind a sloped desk, holding up pieces of paper to communicate with the audience who'd already made it to their seats.

As I sat down, he held up one with a sketch of a mobile phone. There was a massive X over it.

Ah. No mobile signal jammers here there. I put mine on airplane mode and tucked it away.

I don't think he would have appreciated me taking a snapshot.

Pity though, as I really like the setup.

Around the desk, and framing our illustrator, was a proscenium arch, complete with curtains, made up paper - the swags and folds detailed in marker pen. I tried Googling the show to see if there were any pictures on the interwebs that I could show you, but found nothing. So it's up to your imagination to fill in the gaps on this one. Sorry about that.

The drawing of a phone was followed up by an old-school landline handset (no calls please), a snoring man (no falling asleep), a bomb (no terrorist action during the show please), and a sweet... wait, what? No sweets? I quickly popped a cough sweet into my mouth while he was greeting the next set of arrivals. I mean, come on - they're medicinal!

Through the medium of paper messages, he told us the duration (One hour, twenty minutes), gently berated latecomers (congratulations, you're the last people to arrive...), advised us when we were to begin (2 or 3 more minutes), and prompted us to applaud the man on the laptop who was also in charge of the sound effects via the medium of a loop station and microphone.

Nicely done.

After that, I went straight home, and fell into bed. Only to wake up eleven hours later still wearing my clothes and with a new coating of eyeliner smeared over my pillowcases.

It's been a really hard week.

The theatre gods are hard masters to serve.

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I Done Fucked Up

It's the seventh week of 2019. Which is also, coincidentally, the seventh week of the theatre marathon. And right now, I have more theatres than days checked off on the calendar. I should by rights be feeling pretty proud of myself. I'm doing well. Really well.

I'm about a fifth of the way through my list, and we haven't even got to the end of month two. I'm ahead of schedule.

But I don't.

If anything, I'm dogged by the constant thought that I need to up my game. Fit in more theatres.

Which is ridiculous, I know.

But here's the thing: the marathon keeps on getting longer.

Only last week @weez sent me a tweet with the name of a theatre I had never even heard of before. Which I am incredibly grateful for, don't get me wrong. I'd rather find out now than on 31st December.

But every time I get a new theatre to add to the list, I end up feeling like I am yet another step behind. Or another theatre behind, rather.

I didn't help that the show I had been planning to see on Friday night had gone and cancelled. A one-night performance at a venue that, shall we say, doesn't have the fullest of programmes.

It was a serious blow. 

It was all starting to feel like it was getting away from me.

I had to do something. Knock a whole pile of venues down in one go. Help regain some control of this damn mess.

So, on Saturday, I was going to go full festival mode and head back to the Vaults to hit up four shows in one day.

Because that is how sensible people react when they are only a sixth of the way through a year-long challenge. Especially when they are feeling rougher than an emery board. They panic, choke down enough cough syrup to treat a tuberculosis ward, and prepare to have their emotions pulverised by seven hours of theatre, finishing with a riot.

Yup, I was going to that Belarus Free Theatre immersive thing. Well, it's not actually Belarus Free Theatre. But it has people from Belarus Free Theatre connected to it. And I wouldn't be partaking in the immersive elements. But still. It was my last show of the day. At 9pm. And I'm old. And sick. I should definitely be in bed at 9pm on a Saturday night. Not watching other people mess around pretending to be revolutionaries.

Still, I figured I would worry about that once I got to it.

It was going to be a long day. No point working myself up about these things too early.

When I got to the Vaults, I headed through the main door. I was pretty excited by that. I hadn't as yet managed to see a show at any of the theaters that lay beyond. Unit 9 was all the way down the other end of the tunnel, the Studio was accessed through a small door just to the right of the main one, while Seance was housed in a van parked up on Lower Marsh Steet.

My hopes were soon dashed when an usher, no doubt sensing my pre-paid anxiety plan, asked what show I was going to see.

"Ah," he said, grabbing a small map from the box office counter. "You need to go back outside, all the way to the end of the tunnel, turn left and then left again. You'll be there in thirty seconds. And there's a Greggs right on the corner."

I'm not entirely sure whether he mentioned that last bit as a landmark, or if he thought I was in need of a good vegan sausage roll. Both, quite possibly.

I did what he said. Walked through the tunnel to the end of Leake Street, turned left, and turned left again, and ended up in Granby Place. No sign of a theatre, and more importantly, no sign of a Greggs either. That wasn't right. I turned around and headed back. Leake Street. Turn left. Ignore Granby Place. Walk on, keeping an eye on any openings on the left and... yup, there it was. Greggs on the corner of Launcelot Street. My knight in pasty armour.

And further down there was a metal gate, small queue, and the now familiar sight of the pink-jacketed usher.

I'd made it.

I joined the queue.

"Can you open your bag," the pink-jacket on queue duty asked the man at the head of it.  Hey duly unzipped it and pink-jacket rummaged around inside. "You can't take that in," she said, pulling out a bottle of water. "You can tip it out and fill it again inside."

Goddammit.

I watched in horror as the man poured out his water onto the pavement. Oh no. I definitely didn't want to empty out my own water bottle. Not with my nice cold water from the fridge at home. Who knew what the water at the Vaults was like. Or if it was even properly cold.

I unzipped my bag and checked to see that my own bottle was well hidden.

I had done good work that morning. My bottle was utterly invisible, under cover of my umbrella, book, makeup bag, purse, and all the rest of it.

As I reached the front of the line, I presented my own bag for inspection.

Pink-jacket, reached into my bag and pulled aside the book. I held my breath.

"That's fine," she said, waving me through.

I breathed again, and with the smug smugness of a smug person who has never yet had a bottle confiscated at the theatre, I headed in.

"Name?" asked the woman on box office.

I gave it.

She checked it against the list, and nodded to herself. "You've got a restricted view ticket, but I'm just going to upgrade you so that you're an Observer now."

I stared at her.

That wasn't right. What did she mean Observer ticket? There were only Observer tickets for the riot show. Not this one. Unless this was the riot show. Wait. No. That was this show? The one I was at now? I thought I'd be doing that in the middle in the night.

"I need to stamp your hand," she said slowly, holding the stamp out ready.

Shit. I wasn't prepared.

"Oh, right," I managed at last, presenting her with my hand.

Too late I realised that I should probably have thanked her for the upgrade.

Shit. It was too late. I'd already found myself into another queue. My third one of the afternoon.

An usher stepped out and raised his voice over the din of people chatting and drinking. "If you are an Observer with a green stamp, you can go straight in and take your drink, bag, and coats. If you are a Protester or a Front Line Protester with a blue or purple stamp you cannot take anything in."

I clutched my bag, with its secret water bottle.

I had made the right decision.

The Forge, like all the other Vault venues, is housed within a railway tunnel. For Counting Sheep two banks of seating had been set up at both end. And in the middle - a long table with bench seats either side. If you squinted, you could almost make pretend that it was the Grand Hall at Hogwarts.

I ignored the benches. They were for the Protesters (Front Line and... Rear Protesters, I guess). As an Observer, I had access to the real seating at the ends, protected from the action going on in the middle by a metal barrier.

The show began with a short speech, and a bowl of borsht.

Enamel crockery was piled up at one end of the table alongside a matching jug of spoons, with instructions to take one of each and pass them down.

Next came steaming pots of the red soup and tiny cups of a white topping.

"This is sour cream," explained one of the cast members as he started handing out the cups.

Wooden trays of bread followed, then bottles of vodka.

The smell of the borst made its way to the Observer's carrel.

My stomach gurgled in anticipation of a meal not meant for me.

Only Protesters get to eat.

But then, someone came over with a tray. And then another.

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Bread with some sort of eggy topping. And pickles.

Perhaps because it was a matinee and not sold out, and they had leftover food, the trays kept on coming.

I greedily took everything on offer.

It was delicious.

But as the food supply died down, my cough decided to make an appearance.

All that bread had dried out my throat.

I needed a drink.

I reached under my seat and pulled out my bag, using the loud music as cover for unzipping it. I reached in, digging past the umbrella, the book, my makeup bag, purse and all the rest of it. Huh. I turned my bag around so that I could try from another direction. Still nothing.

Oh no.

I tried again, more frantic this time. But it was no good. I already knew the truth.

I had forgotten my water bottle. It was still at home. In the fridge.

Shit.

It was too late anyway, the cough had started. I swapped my bag for my scarf and did my best to smother it, but the pumping music did more to cover the noise than my scarf ever could.

One of the cast came over and started clapping his hands to the beat. Once, twice, then three times on the knees. He leaned in, encouraging us to follow him.

One, two, then three on the knees. One, two, then three on the knees.

There was no escape.

We had taken the bread, and now we had to clap for our supper.

I tried. I really did. But I'm never going to be a rhythmic clapper. As soon as the cast member disappeared back into the scrum of Protesters, I lost the beat.

After that, every time a cast member reappeared, I got out my phone and started taking photos. With photography of the show sanctioned, nay encouraged, it was the perfect cover.

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Eventually, the riot died. The noise quietened. The emotions intensified. And then the show ended.

As the Protesters went to pick up their coats, we were directed towards the exit, found in the opposite end of the tunnel to the one we had gone in by.

I wound my way around the seating, round the corner, through a door, and found myself in the Vaults' bar.

That was... odd. Why had they sent us out to roam the streets of Vauxhall if the space could be accessed through the bar? Yet more proof that us mere mortals are not meant to understand the workings of Vault Festival management.

But I had no time to ponder such matters as there were only ten minutes until my next show.

I fought my way out of the bar and into the main corridor of the Vaults. It was the first time I'd made it that far without being directed back outside. I could finally see what the Vaults actually looked like. And the answer is: really fucking dark. Black walls are topped by a black ceiling, and punctuated by black doors. Painted with white circles. Just so you can make them out in all the blackness.

The doors each led to a different theatre space: Brick Hall, Cavern, Pit, and so on. You can tell which is which from the glittering signs above their doors, and the lightboxes posted on the wall next to them. Lightboxes that I would later find out turned red when there was a show going on inside.

On the floor (black), were painted white lines - guiding our feet as to where to stand as we queued to get into our shows.

After fighting my way through the thoroughfare, I found my way to the door marked Pit and joined the line.

"Name?" asked the usher on the door.

I gave it.

She scrolled through the list of bookings on her tablet.

"Did you just book your ticket?" she asked.

"No?"

She continued scrolling, down to the bottom of the page and then back up again. It didn't take long. These venues are pretty small.

"Hang on," I said. "Let me bring up my e-ticket."

She glanced at it on my phone. "Can you open it?" she asked. I had only opened the email, with its preview of the attachments.

I tried. But there was no signal.

Okay, no need to panic, I told myself. But I wasn't listening. I was too busy panicking.

She radioed through to box office.

As she did that, I noticed something. The name of the show, written on the board. It was not the show I was expecting to see.

Had I got them in completely the wrong order? Was I living my day backwards? Starting with the last show and ending with the first?

I showed her the ticket again, pointing out the discrepancy.

"You came a month early," she said.

Oh.

"Oh."

She was right. The ticket was for March. Not February.

"Dammit. Thank you. Shit. Thanks."

A minute later I found myself disgorged back onto Leake Street.

If I had any sense I would have turned around and quickly bought a ticket for the show just about to start in the Pit. But I hadn't researched the show. I didn't know what it was about. I didn't know if it was... and I shudder to say the word... immersive. I was already at peak levels of anxiety. There was no way I could put myself through that. It was too big a risk.

Instead, I was going to do something utterly safe. Something I had done before. Something I knew to be good, and true, and pure. I was going to go to Caffe Nero and get myself a hot chocolate and toasted teacake. With marshmallows.

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A little more than an hour later, I was back. In the black of the tunnel. But standing outside a different theatre. This time was the turn of Brick Hall.

"Are you here for Birthright?" asked the usher on the door.

"Yes," I said hopefully. I had checked the e-ticket on my phone every ten minutes since last leaving the Vaults. I really hoped I was there to see Birthright.

She brought out the dreaded tablet and checked the list.

Thank the theatre gods. This time my name was on it.

Finally, I could relax. I was at the right venue. At the correct time. In the proper month, even. I was back on track. Almost. I mean, sure, I had messed up my four-show day. But a three-show day was still pretty impressive. And I could pick up that fourth show easily enough. I already had the ticket. Everything was fine.

I leant against the wall and lazily watched the people drift back and forth from the bar.

But then I noticed something. Something terrifying.

One word. Written in lights above the door of the venue opposite.

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Glasshouse.

Did I have that venue on my list? I couldn't remember.

I got out my phone and checked my spreadsheets.

Nope. No entry for Glasshouse.

Shit.

I looked at the board, where all the upcoming shows that day would be written down, hoping to only find a list of music or comedy shows. Shows that would discount it from the marathon.

The board was empty.

Was that good or bad? I couldn't tell.

Good if it never had another show for the rest of the year.

Bad if I had already missed the only shows it planned on holding within its walls.

Shit.

This would never have happened if the Vault Festival had set over a list of all their shows categorised by venue as I'd very politely asked them if they could. I mean... not to be all "the theatre festival ate my homework," but doing data entry for hundreds and hundreds of shows by hand is bound to lead to errors. Which is what I'd had to do when working out my marathon plan for the Vaults, as the festival webpage doesn't allow searching by venue. I had literally clicked on every theatre and performance show, one by one, in order to build my spreadsheets. And now I find I'd left out a whole goddamn theatre.

"Is this your first show?" asked a front of houser, interrupting my panic attack.

I didn't know how to answer that. "It's my second," I said. "Of the day." I couldn't admit that it should have been my third.

The door to the theatre opened. "The house is now open, if you'd like to step inside."

Thank the gods.

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Despite the name, the Pit is set out as a more conventional fringe-theatre space. With the trains rumbling overhead I could have been at the Union Theatre. Raised banks of seating overlooked the flat floor of the stage. It looked almost exactly like the Studio, except for the black curtain hiding what looked like an impressive section of tunnel behind it. And the two actors from Birthright. They emerged all youthful and full of energy, and I was able to giggle along with their antics for an hour before I was released back into the black once more.

What now? It was ten past seven. My final show of the day wasn't until nine.

And Caffe Nero shut at eight.

I considered the bar. I'd been asked by someone who is aware of my marathon, but didn't read the blog, whether I had drinks at the theatres I visited. "You're reviewing the experience, aren't you?"

Well, yes, I am. But firstly, I'm not much of a drinker. So, my theatre experience doesn't tend to include alcohol unless my theatre companion is after one (or rather, needs one, after spending the evening with me...). And secondly, can we take a moment to consider the cost? I mean... blimey. If you think programmes are expensive, have you seen the cost of a G&T in a theatre bar? Lastly, and most importantly - I'm going to the theatre seven or eight times a week at the moment. That's a lot of alcohol to be consuming. I'm already worried about my mental health in relation to this challenge. Let's not add concern for my liver to my list of woes.

So, not the bar then.

There was only one thing for it.

I was going to Pret.

By the looks of it, most people were going for the other option.

When I arrived back for my final show, ushers were blocking the corridor, trying to shut people up with the use of laminated signs are hard glares.

But it was no use.

The screen advertising "menus inspired by the EU," was causing much hilarity in the people walking past, clutching Vault Festival branded cups.

I found my final theatre of the evening and hugged the wall.

The corridor was packed. Drinkers and theatre-goers pushing past each other in both directions.

The Cavern turned out to be appropriately named. The largest Vaults venue I had seen thus far, I seemed to be walking through the long tunnel for an age before reaching the seats.

Even these were different. Spindly wooden benches, they looked like the corrupt offspring of a church pew and the stile in a fence.

"Two?" asked the usher.

"One," I said putting up a single finger.

He directed me towards the front row.

The benches were even more ungodly then they looked. The seat portion too narrow to rest on comfortably.  The show hadn't even started before I was wriggling around, trying to find a better position. But there was no better position. Leaning forward or back, sacrificing either your bottom or your thighs in order to save the other from torment.

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I tried to turn my attention on other things: the winklepickers being worn by the beautiful goth couple sitting next to me, the pretty birdcages hung on the wall, the black arch sunk into the back wall that looked like it was a portal to the underworld.

Then I tried to focus on Molly Beth Morossa's beautiful words, but it's hard to concentrate on a gothic tale of murder and intrigue when every vile deed she describes with macabre detail is matched by a equally macabre pain attacking your bum.

When my inevitable coughing fit arrived, I lost my balance, almost throwing myself off the poor excuse for a seat, as I fought to hold both them, and myself, back.

Shame. 

Loved the Carnival of Crows. The thematic carnival seating, however, can go burn in hell.

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Science fiction, double feature

Is there anything more hedonistic than taking a half-day off work to watch ballet?

No, my friend. There isn’t.

And I can’t even blame the marathon for such an extravagant use of my time.

I’d had this outing planned for months. There was no way I was going to miss ballet-god Rupert Pennefather’s glorious return to the London stage.

Sadly, we all know what they say about god and plans.

But I wasn’t going to let the little matter of an injury and the resulting cast changes get in the way of my self-indulgent afternoon. So, after a quick lunch at my desk, I sauntered down to the London Coliseum. Or rather, the Coli. Everyone calls it the Coli. Or at least, I think everyone does. I certainly do. Perhaps just the pretentious twats who frequent it on the regular use that name. Of which, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, I am very much one.

Which leads me to this question… how do I write about a venue that I am this bloody familiar with? One that I even have a charming nickname for? I can’t describe walking around in wide-eyed wonder as I’m sure I would have done if I’d been a newbie. The Coli really is the most extraordinary venue. Over-the-top in almost every aspect. It’s not just the gilt, and the velvet, and the massive stage. These are merely the base layer onto which Frank Matcham built his monument to excess. There are domes. Multiple ones. With stained glass. And stone gargoyles guarding the staircase. Marble balustrades. Mosaic covered ceilings (with umbrella’s to match). Carved wooden doors. Roman iconography. Golden horses. And then topping it all, a spinning globe lit up with the name of the theatre.

It has so much bling, even Elizabeth Taylor would think it a bit gaudy.

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At least there was cake...

There aren’t many people out and about this early on a Saturday morning.

Most sensible people are still tucked up in bed, or perhaps if they are real go-getters, they’ve managed to stagger downstairs in search of tea, and perhaps toast.

They’re not sitting on a tube on their way to the opposite end of London.

They’re not like me.

But hey, sensible people don’t go in for theatre marathons. They’re missing out.

I mean, not on sleep. Or hot dinners. Or that James Graham Brexit show that I still haven’t seen. Or spending time with people that love them.

They’re not missing out on any of those things.

But they are missing out on that super-charged feeling that comes from seeing too much theatre crammed into a very short space of time, with all your emotions fizzing away just under your skin so strongly that you almost crackle as you walk.

Believe me, it’s worth it.

And I’m not just saying that to make you feel jealous. I’m saying it in order to convince myself.

It’s not working.

I miss sleep.

At least I had the carriage to myself. And a chance to read. Which is almost as good as sleep.

That was, until two young lads hopped on. I call them lads because that’s what they were. A bit lary. Still obviously drunk from the night before. And very loud.

“Oof, fuck man,” said one as he collapsed into a seat.

“Fuck man,” agreed the other.

“Fucking Stockwell,” continued the first.

“Where the fucking fuck is fucking Stockwell?”

I sympathised. I’ve had similar feelings about West Norwood recently.

“Excuse me, Miss,” said one, leaning so far forward that his shadow fell over my book. He was talking to me.

I looked up.

“Do you know where Stockwell is?”

Now I don’t react well to geography quizzes. We all know that the whole knowing-where-places-are isn’t exactly my forte. Especially early on a Saturday morning. I do however know that Stockwell is on the Northern Line, and we were rapidly approaching it.

“Sorry,” I said, not risking my small amount of Stockwell-knowledge lest it lead to more complex questioning.

“Fuck me,” was the lad’s sad reply. “We’re from Margate,” he added, as if that explained everything. “And we’re trying to get back.”

“I think you need a train station for that,” I offered, as helpfully as I could.

“Yeah, but which one?”

You see? Never offer knowledge. It always leads to more questions.

“Sorry,” I said again.

“We’ve been going around for four hours.”

“That’s not what you want on a Saturday morning,” I said in lieu of anything useful to add.

“Fuck. It’s Saturday? Did you hear that? Fuck.”

“At least it’s not Sunday morning,” said his friend.

“Right. At least it’s not Sunday,” he said, just as the lady on the tannoy announced that Stockwell would be the next station.

They stumbled out onto the platform and disappeared.

I hope they got home okay.

I however, had a long day ahead of me.

First stop: Wimbledon. At the Polka Theatre for the morning show. Hence the early start.

I’m going to take a moment here to thank everyone out there who has been helping me on my mission. From those who have been linking me to theatres that I’ve missed (I swear I’ll do a recount soon, I just… can’t face upping the number of theatres I need to get to quite yet), to warning me about closures.

Today’s shout out goes to the lovely @RhianBWatts, who gave me the heads up that the famous children’s theatre, the Polka, is shutting its doors for refurbishment soon.

With day-time shows, and only a few weekends left before they went dark, I had to get there fast.

Thankfully I have a friend who lives down there who offered to meet me for pre-theatre tea and cake to help prepare me for the horrors that were sure to follow.

Pre-theatre for me, that is. Not my friend.

While Ellen is supportive of my whole marathon thing, she’s not so supportive that she was prepared to go to a kids’ show on a Saturday morning. She is one of those sensible people.

And anyway, Ellen had been to the Polka before. As a child. So was able to give me all those charming details you get from people who have a proper connection to a place. Like the tale of how she got fired from a face-painting job there when she was 12 years old.

Oh, ummm… Okay.

That was slightly less charming that I had expected.

There was also one about the sea-monster coat hooks.

“Terrifying.”

Ah.

It didn’t put her off walking me to the theatre though (told you she was a good friend. I rather like being walked places. Although, perhaps given my recent propensity to get lost, she felt the need to do so as some sort of civic duty. Still, I liked it. Theatres should start offering it as a service.)

While I waited at box office to pick up my ticket, Ellen went off to investigate the state of the sea-monster.

“One ticket?” asked the woman at box office, holding the single ticket with a concerned look on her face.

“Yes, just the one,” I apologised. I know how it looks. Being there. By myself. At a kids' show. On a Saturday morning.

I had thought about borrowing a child to take with me, but 1) I don't know any that are of the right age, and 2) I believe it's frowned upon to borrow children you don’t know.

And anyway, there has to be hundreds of blogs out there from people taking children to the Polka Theatre. I doubt I can offer any interesting insight beyond what is already out there. But a fully grown-adult going to a see a show made for five year olds all by herself? Now that's a blog post worth writing.

So, I’m not even going to apologise for being the creepy lady at the show.

Okay… I’m sorry for being the creepy lady at the show.

“They’ve repainted the sea-monster,” Ellen announced when we re-found each other. “It’s not as scary anymore,” she added, sounding a little annoyed by this. I can understand that. I don’t see why kids today don’t have to suffer through the nightmare fodder that we did back in the day.

After an inspection of the courtyard to see if the giant climbable cat was still there (it wasn’t) Ellen and I parted ways. From here on in, I was on my own. To watch The Wind in the Willows. By myself. In a theatre full of happy toddlers and their associated adults.

So, what is it like watching a show at the Polka, by yourself, as a grown up?

Weird. Like… super weird.

But not unpleasant.

I actually really enjoyed the show. There were puppets and singing and jokes. And the programmes are only three quid, and packed with fun activities (how to make a water bottle flower!) and facts after animals (did you know that moles are actually super arsey twats with poisonous spit? I love them).

But I would say there are two things I don’t like about the Polka. Number one - it was really fucking cold. Like seriously, freezing. And number two - the rake is terrible. I noticed this because of how low I had to slink in my seat in order to hide my shame at being an unaccompanied adult. So low I was almost child size. I don’t think the theatre designers thought this one through…

But perhaps that will be fixed in the refurbishment.

Oh, and I was handed a prop during the show. The battery to Mr Toad’s car. I had to pass it along the line so that poor Mr Toad couldn’t get it. So mean.

That’s three things I don’t like about the Polka.

Following the show, there was a chance to take a tour of the theatre. Which was something I was tempted to do. For ghost-hunting reasons.

12 days into my marathon, and I still hadn’t seen a theatre ghost. Surely, lucky theatre number 13 would be the one!

Now I know what you’re thinking: Maxine, you’re at the Polka. Not the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. You’re going about this all wrong. You’re not going to find a ghost in the playroom.

But it is you who is wrong, my friend.

The Polka does have a ghost. And I have it on no greater authority that the Polka’s twitter feed.

But once again, the ghosts failed to introduce themselves to me. I was left spurned, and alone, once again.

Four things. Four things I dislike about the Polka.

Rude ghosts.

Well, I didn’t want to see them anyway. Besides, I had somewhere else to be. A matinee in east London.

“Another theatre?” I hear you cry. “But this blog post is already far too long!”

I know. I’m sorry. But we can do this. Together. Just stick with me for a few more words. I swear I’ll keep it as short as I can.

Right, so instead of spending my afternoon ghost-hunting, I was on the DLR. Which I think we can all agree is also pretty good. Riding the DLR a rare pleasure for me, even if the rollercoaster movement of the trains make me feel a bit sick. What with the ground sinking down below you as you pass between skyscrapers. Makes my stomach go all funny.

After the trauma of trying to find The Yard yesterday, I made sure to read The Space’s ‘how to get here’ instructions very carefully. And I know I promised, not three paragraphs ago, that I was going to be brief, but let’s just press pause on this post for one second while I rhapsodise about their directions because they are brilliant. Well written. Clear. Concise (unlike me). Just perfect.

They carried me through right from the train (not just the station, the actual effin’ train), along the platform, up the stairs, down the wall, around the corner and right to the door of the theatre (opposite the Rose Food and Wine, donchaknow). To whoever wrote them, I give my heartfelt thanks. There was not a single moment in my journey where I felt lost or anxious or was in any doubt that I was heading in the right direction. Whoever you are, you are perfect and I appreciate you.

Right, where was I? Apart from not getting lost I mean.

The Space. Okay.

The Space is in a converted church, with the tiniest foyer in the world. I had to step in and step out more than once as people tried to get past from inside the theatre in order to head up the stairs. There’s really only space for one person to stand in front of the box office hatch (it really is a hatch, a tiny slither in the wall where you can just about catch a glimpse of the person sitting on the other side) and nothing else.

Once you collect your ticket, you really have to head back outside, or else spend your time sucking in your tummy and hugging the walls as everyone trying to get through instantly forms a long and powerful hatred of you.

There’s a bar round the side of the building, but I was more interested in the loos. There was no way I was using the ones on offer at the Polka, marked “Girls” and “Boys.” Ew.

Okay, there are six things I don’t like about the Polka. But that’s it.

“There’s only one toilet,” said a woman also waiting to use the facilities. “And that’s the men’s,” she added as I pushed tentatively on a door.

“Oh, right.”

It was so dark in that corridor, it was impossible to make out the signs.

We waited a few minutes. And then a few more.

Eventually the ladies freed up and I was the only one left in the queue.

Blimey, The Stage should do an expose on the loos at this place.

As matters became a little more… err… pressing, I debated using the men’s. But just as I was about to go for it I noticed there was a disabled loo just around the corner. It was empty. Thank the theatre gods.

After my trans-London journey and epic loo saga, there was no time to check out the bar. i headed straight into The Space to face my nemesis: unreserved seating.

With few options left to choose from, I was left in the worse possible option: the second row. Or one of the second rows anyway, as there were two. With seating either side of the aisle. Sat directly behind the front row - without a rake - the second row doesn’t allow much in the way of a view. But at least everyone in the audience was a grownup.

Good thing too, as the play I was seeing - Laundry - featured a sex scene and the bloody aftermath of an abortion. In an old church. Not that I’m religious. Or even Christian for that matter. But still. It certainly adds an extra frisson to the experience.

The scene where all the women are washing blood stains out of their clothes, and the lighting turns red, and the music rocks out - you could almost convince yourself that hell had risen up to claim us all.

And, I’m not sure the scene where they’re all cleaning the dead body was meant to trigger my ASMR. But it really did. It was all that hair-stroking. So relaxing.

I probably shouldn’t have admitted that. I mean, there’s wearing all black and listening to Without Temptation’s greatest hits on repeat, and then there’s being the creepy goth gal sitting in a children’s theatre all by herself… oh.

Oh well.

It was a strange day.

But at least it’s not Sunday.

The sisters of Litchfield Street

We’re off! Hail to the new year that is 2019 and good riddance to the piss-pot collection of putrid days that was 2018.

I don’t know about you, but I woke up with a deep awareness of my own mortality that I suspect was caused by the crashing realisation that I still hadn’t bought any theatre tickets. Not a single one. Not even for the matinee that I planned to attend mere hours later.

Usually I would never leave it so late to buy tickets. I’m the type of person who leaps into the box office queue as soon as they go on sale (and by that I mean the online queue. I don’t actually go to the box office. That would involve a level of human interaction that I simply can not deal with on such high-stakes days). So, I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be any room for little old me by the time that I got there.

But here’s the thing: I’d convinced myself that I wanted to day seat my first day of the marathon. And I wasn’t going to be put off by the mere fact that it was already afternoon-time and I was still in my pyjamas.

Some frantic activity involving eyeliner, washing a weird stain out of my shirt and a race across London later and I made it to Litchfield Street by 2pm.

First call: St Martins Theatre. Home of The Mousetrap. A choice I was rather pleased with. There’s something rather neat about having the first theatre in my year-long tour of London theatres be the longest-running show  around.St Martins Theatre from Litchfield Street“Are there any day tickets left by any chance?” I asked with an air of calm that impressed even myself.

You bet there were. Because no one wants to go to a matinee on new years day.

Even if you do get to overhear the cast warm up on stage as you wait at box office.

Ten minutes later, I had secured a front row seat and stepped back out into the biting cold of the West End wondering how on earth I had managed to be swindled out of £29.50 for a ticket to a show that has been running for more than double my life-span. Twenty-nine British pounds! And fifty pee! For a day seat to a weekday matinee? With tickets still available an hour before the curtains goes up? Are they serious? I still can’t get over that. That’s monstrously ruinous. I don’t think I have ever, in my life, spent so much for a theatre ticket that wasn’t… well, Hamilton, or something that provided equal bragging rights. And no offence to The Mousetrap… but, I’m was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be stepping out of the theatre with a song in my heart and an ache in my belly as I suppress the urge to rap the entire text at once.

Feeling rather woozy I stumbled down the street to my next stop. The Ambassadors Theatre. Thankfully located right next door.

“Any day seats left? By any chance?” I asked, feeling rather less certain of myself by this point.

There were. And for the considerably less heart-attack inducing £19.50.The Ambassadors Theatre from Litchfield Street until it was time to return to St Martins Theatre, lest I wander away and spend even more money.Instagram StoriesWith my ticket purchases for the day sorted, I busied myself making

It did give me the opportunity to admire all the signage around St Martins though. Did you know that The Mousetrap is the “world’s longest ever run”? Nor did I. I feel it should be talked about more.

(Incidentally, what does “world’s longest ever run” even mean? It sounds like something Eddie Izzard would do for charity. That’s an over-workshopped tag line if ever I heard one.)

I have to admit, for all my hours of prep, I went off to my first theatre trip of the year still not knowing exactly how I was going to write it up. Would I count the loos and inspect the access-friendliness of the entrance? Analyse the ease of navigating their website? Rant about the extortionate rates of booking fees nowadays? Am I supposed to have drink at the bar? Comment on their wine list? Rank the attractiveness of the ushers?

All these possibilities were considered and dismissed with rapid succession.

Instead, I headed straight over to the merch stand.

I fucking love merch. And there looked like there was some lush looking tea-towel action going on over there.

What I don’t love however, is merch queues. And the already cramped foyer at St Martins Lane was almost all queue. By my reckoning, there were at least three: the box office, the merch stand, and for the ladies’ loo. But which was which was impossible to make out, so tangled up were they.

My anxiety levels already dangerously high, I opted out of the entire ordeal and bought a programme from a conveniently located usher, who was very chipper considering it was the early afternoon post-the-new-year’s-eve before (he had a chill evening, involving cigars and had no hangover to speak of, as it turned out).

Now, kudos to The Mousetrap - programmes are only £4 and are filled with lots of tasty articles and a minimum about of ads. Speaking as a professional (no, seriously… I produce programmes for a living), I was impressed. Well worth the monies.

But even the programme wasn’t enough to distract me from the nagging thought that I should probably be doing something.

Like… taking photos maybe…?

You can probably already tell, but I’m not much of a photographer. I spent far too long trying to work out how to take pictures of the auditorium, but in the end gave up and just snapped the ceiling.

Then I realised I should probably prove I was there. So attempted some selfies which was equally unsatisying.

Note to self: remove glasses first.The domed ceiling at St Martins Theatre. What’s up there? I want to know!Now how to I get this here thingamyjig to take photos?You’ll be pleased to note that the show started shortly thereafter, saving you from any more of my attempts.

Which I suppose is my segue to telling you about the show itself.

But really… what can I say about The Mousetrap that hasn’t already been said a million times since it opened? It’s funny, and dark, and comforting in the way that all Agatha Christie’s always are. You just want to snuggle down in your seat and get cosy, knowing that you are safe while the characters battle with blizzards and each other. If you haven’t been, you definitely should. If only for the eavesdropping potential during the interval as everyone tries to work out whodunnit (the two women sitting on my right figured it out). I’d already seen it, so I was denied the pleasure of joining in, but who doesn’t love a rewatch of a murder mystery, when you can spot all the clues?

Anyway, back down the street and off to Switzerland!

The Ambassadors Theatre is actually St Martins’ sister venue, designed by the same architect. And pleasingly currently features a new play by another female playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith. Not only that, the play itself is about a female crime writer, the magnificent Patricia Highsmith. There’s more Sister, Sister action going on here than in a 90’s Nickeloden sitcom. It’s almost like I planned it… almost.

More ceiling photography followed. And more selfies. (Sorry, I swear I’ll do my best to figure this out).The royal icing ceiling at the Ambassadors TheatreCan’t take selfies. Send help.The Ambassadors is a titchy-tiny theatre. Intimate. But without the black-boxiness that usually goes along with that descriptor. It only has the one circle. With an ornate ceiling and painted a pale cream, it felt like I was sitting inside a wedding cake. Which was not an unenjoyable experience. Despite the grim look on my face (at least I remembered to remove the glasses).

I actually liked it so much I started getting angry at the idea of long running shows hogging the pretty (sorry The Mousetrap). I’d never made it to The Ambassadors before. Mainly because Stomp lived here for 15 years. I think there needs to be a limit. A show should get a maximum of two years before it’s out. I’m not saying end long runs, just keep them moving. Like a massive game of musical chairs.

That’s the platform I’m running on.

Max for Theatre President, 2020.

And I don’t want to hear any nonsense about “practicalities.”

Errr, apologies for that strange turn… on to the play - I need to insert a chef’s kiss gif here. I don’t know why, but something about a bitchy, misanthropic, hermit writer really speaks to me. The programme (another £4 wonder) is filled with fascinating facts about her and I’m totally into it. I’m not saying I want to be Patricia Highsmith when I grow up, but I wouldn’t be angry about it if I did. Except for the racism. That’s like… so not cool. And living off cans of soup. Not into that either.

A++ work to everyone involved. And at 90 mins, no interval, it really can’t be beat.

Closes on Saturday. I’m glad I caught it. You should go too.

Phew. That’s it. I’m spent.

I can’t believe I have to do this all again tomorrow. And every day. For a year.

It’s fine. It’s all perfectly fine.

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