Hoxton Hall, Apparently

Huh. This place... does not look how I expected. That's a bit embarrassing. I worked just round the corner from this place for a good 18 months. I've probably even walked past without even noticing. And why would I notice? This is not the type of place the name insinuated.

I mean, Hoxton Hall. I was expecting something a bit, well, grander. Or at least, grandeur. Not like a country house or whatever. I wasn't picturing Longleat here. But wasn't this place a music hall back in the day? Perhaps Wilton's has set up unachievable standards in my head. But this narrow slip of a building, with its sliding glass doors and taupe painted fronted really wasn't what I had in mind. Somehow music hall and subtly don't strike me as two terms that should ever be placed within the same sentence. But Hoxton Hall, if this is indeed Hoxton Hall, which I'm still doubting despite the multiple signs stating that this is exacting what it is, looks like nothing more than a tasteful townhouse next to the rackety family butchers next door.

If this place really is a former music hall, it must be the smallest music hall in London. I can't imagine more than three people, a pair of contortionists, and their dog, ever fitting in here. You'd think they' made more of a thing of it.

Inside it's bright and clean and modern, all creams and blond wood. There's a wide box office desk. The sort you'd see gracing the reception of an up-market dentist, except here, tiny display cases are set into the surface, housing artefacts of the buildings former glory days. Back when sawdust coated the floor instead of all these gleaming floorboards.

There's someone in the queue ahead of me. "I'm collecting tickets?" she says. Something tells me that this is not a transaction she does all that often.

"Yes? What the name?"

She gives it. "Oh, wait. Do you mean first name?" She gives that too.

"Right that's..." she opens up the ream of tickets and counts them. "Five tickets. If you could just make your way down to the bar area," she says, indicating the way.

It's my turn now.

"The surname is Smiles?"

The lady on box office reopens the small ticket box and digs out mine. "First name?"

"Max," I say, before remembering I never use that version when buying tickets. "Maxine."

The box office lady opens up the ream. It's a lot shorter than my predecessors.

"Just the one ticket?" she asks.

"Yeah..." Alright, love. Do you know how many friends I would need to have a companion at every show I saw? There aren't enough theatre-fans in the world to keep up with the likes of me.

She offers me a sympathetic smile. "If you could make your way down to the bar area as well..."

I walk in the direction she's pointing, down a long corridor. Very long. This building may be narrow, but it goes on forever. Past a display covered in headshots and CVs, past the dark wood doors to the auditorium, guarded by sentinels at every door, past stairs, past a lift, and into the bar.

Finally, things are beginning to look more music hally. The walls are red, and covered with framed portraits and old letters and whatnot. The blue-tiled fireplace is stuffed with show flyers. There are jam jars lined up on the mantlepiece. A box of PG tips is waiting at the end of the bar.

When I come in, people look around, but only for a second. They're already beaming and beckoning at the people behind me.

Hands wave, empty spaces on the sofa are patted. This truly is a bar where everyone knows your name.

None mine though. I'm not part of the gang.

A group of people are all being introduced to each other as they queue at the bar.

"Are you here to see someone?"

"Yes, Charlotte!"

"Charlotteeee!"

"Oh, this is Erin's mum."

"Hello!"

The chatter grows in volume as everyone tries to work out their connections to one another. It's like a giant game of Six Degrees of Separation. Except no one here needs more than two rounds.

Young people reel off their resumes to the parents of their friends, while the grown-ups talk about their brilliant kids while staring into their drinks in order to hide their proud smiles.

If you haven't already guessed, this is one of those drama school gigs. I'm branching out from the RADA and LAMDA diptych. I'm in Rose Bruford country now.

And, it turns out, Rose Bruford family country.

You don't get that at RADA, I can tell you.

I find an empty bit of wall to lean against and try to avoid getting swapped by a reunion.

I've already written up my last theatre trip so I'm left starting at the signage in lieu of something to do. To be fair, it's impressive signage.

"Lost?" it asks, with what I can only imagine is the same sympathetic tones of the box office lady when she handed me my single loner ticket. That smug question is followed up by a floor by floor breakdown of everything in the building. Want to know where the reading room is? This sign will tell you. The kitchen? Yup, it's got that one covered too.

Music studio. Art studio. Design studio.

This place has a lot of studios.

And a courtyard.

A courtyard? Now that's exciting. I do like a courtyard.

Basement level.

I mean, I could go. I have time.

There are windows in the stairwell, overlooking a grim little patio with a corrugated metal roof.

But there's also a plant and a table and I'm still fairly upbeat about the while courtyard thing.

There's another sign at the bottom if the stairs, and yet another when I turn left.

Hoxton Hall doesn't stint on the signage.

Except, I'm not sure where I'm meant to go now. The sign says right, but all that's right is the art studio and the loos. After that, nothing but brick wall. Unless this is some Platform 9 3/4 situation, I think I've gone wrong somewhere.

Unless it's through the art studio? It should be somewhere to the left of me. I have a peek through the art studio door, only to come face to face with someone coming the other way.

Not wanting to explain what I'm doing attempting to break into an art studio, I noe out of the whole situation and go back upstairs, my courtyard dreams dashed.

The house still isn't open and the bar is rammed. But my wall spot is still going spare, so I reclaim it.

"Sorry!" calls the man behind the bar over the sound of a hundred parental hearts popping with pride. "Hello, hello! Can I have your attention?

"Anyone who's been given a brochure, or one of these, " he says, flapping about a free drinks voucher between his fingers. "Will be admitted first."

No one moves. We aren't the lucky few. No free drinks vouchers here.

Talk resumes.

"Do you come to these things often?"

"Oh, I see everything. Ever since my daughter joined."

Her smile is so broad I can see all her back teeth. She is absolutely busting with pride.

The man behind the bar tries again. "Anyone been given a brochure or one of these?" he asks, giving the pink voucher another wave. "Now's the time. Anyone else?"

Nope. No one else.

I get out my programme. Always a bonus of these drama school shows, the free programme.

I try to remember which show I booked for.

It's Life, Apparently. Apparently.

A new musical created by two of the cast members.

This is either going to be brilliant, or excruciating.

I'm putting money on the later. For no other reason than the presence of that comma: Life, Apparently.

I don't think I can trust a title with a comma in it.

Although, I'm trying hard to think of other titles with commas in it, and I'm coming up short. There's Girl, Interrupted of course. But that comma was integral to the flow of the title. An interruption, if one will.

I can't think of any others.

It could be worse, I suppose. It could be an exclamation mark: Life! Apparently. That really would spell the end of days.

From my spot on the wall, I seem to have found myself in the queue to get in. A queue that is now moving.

"The toilets are an even worse stare than yesterday, if you can believe it," tuts a woman as she joins the queue after me.

I think I must be the only one who hasn't seen this show before. Who hasn't even been to this theatre before? I hope there isn't a test. Unless, there was a test and I've already failed it. They're probably all giggling about the woman who couldn't even find the courtyard back in the bar.

"That's not a ticket, that's just your address, " an usher says gently to the person in front of me.

I breath a sigh of relief. I'm clearly not the only one failing at tonight.

They retreat back from the queue as they attempt to find their ticket, and now it's my turn.

"The seats are unreserved except for the two back rows," says the ticket checker, checking my ticket.

There must have been a lot of people with free drinks vouchers because there is not a lot of room left.

I scan the stalls, looking for spare seats.

"Don't go too far," said a bloke as his companion rising a few inches from her seat. "We don't want to lose these spots."

Another guy is hovering at the end of his row, also clearly concerned about seat pillaging. He sees me eyeing up the empty seats further in.

"Do you want the three seats in the middle?" he asks.

I'm not sure I'll need all three sears, but I accept the offer anyway, and he steps out into the aisle so that I can get through.

"Hang on," says the woman he's with. "Let me get out too." She too inches her way out into the aisle.

Route cleared, I squeeze myself in. It really us a squeeze. The seats knock my knees as I shuffle my way in, and there's no room to turn around when I do get in. I have to kneel on my chosen seat, just to find the wriggle room to get my jacket off.

The chairs, thin and delicate, belonging more in a dining room than a theatre, and pressed in right next to each other.

"There's someone very tall this side, can we go that way," says someone in the row behind as the seat negotiations begin.

"Yeah, I can't see a thing."

"Granny can't see a thing!"

It doesn't look like there's anything to see quite yet. The high stage is empty except for a smattering of instruments tucked up amongst the ladders that seem to be serving as our set.

"If you want to report back that the chairs at not comfortable," says a woman in the row in front.

The reporter nods sagely. He will be having words.

I have to agree with them the chairs are not comfortable.

It's a good thing I'm got these three seats to myself. If I turn my body just so, I might be able to stretch my legs out a bit.

"Excuse me, are you expecting anyone?" asks a young man, indicating the spare seats. I have to admit that I am not, and we are soon all crammed in close to one another. Close enough that I can smell the vile coffee breath of the man sitting on my left, and hear the wet chew as he applies his teeth to his nails. Close enough that I can feel every time the man on my right attempts to shift his muscles as the ache sets in.

I look longingly at the two empty balconies surrounding the hall. Oh, to be sitting up there, looking down on the poor creatures below.

The show starts. The cast come on, performing stange unnatural arm movements that should be left in the artier end of contemporary choreography scale.

I try to sink into my seat, but I'm stuck.

I should have known that a drama school musical was a bad idea.

But the echoed arm movements still, and the music takes over and we are flung into the New York of the eighties, into the AIDS crisis, and the activist group ACT UP. And, you know, it's good. Like, really good. Yes, it's really bizarre how these supposed Americans are talking about waistcoats and swearing with two fingers, but there is a character called Maxine and she's blonde and cool and wears the hell out of red lipstick and within minutes I'm positive that I will die for her.

Unfortunately, it might come to that.

All around there is a creaking of old wood as everyone attempts to relieve the agony of sitting still too long, but there is nowhere to go. Not an inch of free space to move into.

Pain shoots up the back of my legs, but I am cemented in place, my arms traped to my sides, my legs cooped in by the seat in front.

I can't even hear the music anymore. All I can think of is escape. Counting down the minutes of an unknown run time. How long have I been sat here? An hour? Two? I can't tell. Time is an illusion. All I know is pain.

As the last notes fade, the audience leaps to their feet, but I can't move. My knees have fused solid.

I curl my shoulders around and try to stretch out my back, but I have to wait until my row neighbours have vacated their seats before I am able to test out my legs.

They're still working. Just about. A bit wobbly, a bit stiff, but we'll survive.

The corridor is clogged with people all raving about how good everyone was, how excellent the show was.

I push my way through, unable to wait for the way to clear. I have to get outside.

I stumble out of the sliding doors and almost fall onto the pavement.

The sun is still shining. I'm surprised. I thought I might have been in there for an eternity. I thought the world would have burnt itself out by now.

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Agitfop

It’s Saturday morning and I’m scrolling up and down the events page for the Platform Theatre. The theatre belongs to UAL, and today it’s the last day in their MA Directors’ Showcase run. There are four plays on offer. One of which is Tom Wells’ Jumpers for Goalposts. I should really book it. Even after last night’s cry-athon at Curious Case, I’m still in the mood for big snotty tears, and this play sounds like the one most likely to deliver. it’s also not on until 7.30pm, which means I get to spend at least the next six hours in my pyjamas, which I think we can all agree is the best way to spend a Saturday. Jumpers is the right choice. The sensible choice. The only choice, really.

I scroll back down, chewing on my lip, because here’s the thing. I never claimed to be sensible.

And there’s a play down here called The Fop Reformed, which I know nothing about except it has the word fop in the title, and I am totally into fops. If it weren’t for the tragedy of being born in the wrong time, and to the wrong gender, and, quite possibly, the wrong class, I like to think that I would have been in a fop. Or more specifically: a Macaroni, as it’s the fashion, rather than the foolishness, that I envy so much. The queued hair, the velvet coats, the satin britches. I was born to live that foppish-life. Honestly, the universe should be ashamed of itself for making me alive in this dismal time, lacking so badly in powdered wigs and lace cravats.

I book it before I have the chance to reconsider, and quickly run towards the shower. It starts at 1.30pm and I need to get all the way to King’s Cross.

There isn’t much time to pick an outfit, but in a concession to my foppish forbearers, I dig out my antique quizzing glass necklace and wind the long chain around my neck. There. With my floaty black dress this is very almost a look.

The Platform Theatre turns out to be in that fancy new part of King’s Cross. Or, at least, on a road that feels as if it’s kind of behind the fancy new part of King’s Cross. It is completely deserted back here. No shops. No bars. No people. I wander down this desolated street feeling like I’ve just wandered into a 28 Days Later re-enactment.

A window sign points me in the right direction, but as I reach it, I have to double check because this place doesn’t look like a theatre. It doesn’t look like much of anything. The great big windows that face the street are tinted dark, and inside I can just about make out a few tables and chairs, and beyond them, a great void of nothing.

In the entrance foyers there are twin a-frames displaying what has to be the most bleak set of messages I’ve ever seen in a place purporting to be a bar. “The prosecco party is over. Try our sparkling wines instead,” reads one, while the other kindly informs me that the place closes at 10.30pm on a Friday night. I know everyone jokes that Generation Z are all sober and in bed by 9pm, but I don’t think I’ve ever been so disheartened by a pair of blackboards in my life.

Thankfully, that seems to be it in the way of signage. I can only guess that the large counter on the other side of this bleak bar is the box office.

Someone else is there. He’s buying a ticket. Looks like I’m in the right place after all.

“The surname’s Smiles?” I say, wondering why I always say this as if it were a question.

“Oh, sorry,” says the woman behind the counter. “I’m just shadowing today. I’m new.” She indicates the man by her side. The box officer she is shadowing, I presume.

I wait, and when the ticket buyer moves on, I side-step into his spot.

“Smiles?” I say, spelling it out, just to make it extra clear.

He peers at his laptop, and a second later the ticket machine by his side splutters out a ticket.

Well, that’s something. They may have a vendetta against joy, signage, and atmosphere. But you can still get a freshly printed ticket at the box office.

That done, I wander towards the only bit of colour in the room - a small display of headshots and production posters for the plays (and film) that form the showcase.

There’s a little table below the display. With programmes. Fuck yeah. I’d forgotten this was a thing at uni productions. Free programmes. I fucking love a free programme.

I grab one and settle into one of the low purple sofas in the corners.

“Have you seen these,” says a young woman, flapping around a programme to show her friend. “They are gorgeous. They never used to be. Just look at it!”

I take her and look at it.

It isn’t bad.

Nice double page spread for each show, and a full page biography for each director. My director, by which I mean the young lad directly The Fop Reformed, seems to be a big fan of the 18th century. I think we’d get along marvellously. Or end up stabbing each other in an argument over an enamelled snuff box.

“The house is now open!” comes a deep voice from the entrance of the theatre.

No one moves.

If anything, the small gathering sinks even further into their seats.

I busy myself, slipping my programme into my bag.

When I look up, everyone has gone. They’ve formed themselves into a queue. Beeps follow them as they get their tickets scanned.

There’s lots of chatter and “how are yous?” as the queue progresses. No doubt they’ve all been in a Rattigan production together at some point.

I try to look like I belong, but the whole business of being at least ten years older than this lot and wearing a quizzing glass around my neck isn’t really helping my cause.

I make it through the scanner without my presence being questioned. Not out loud, anyway. And I head through the doors.

The Platform is a black box theatre. It looks like the seating is changeable. It’s only chairs, and not even the fixed kind, but there is a rake, which is always good. There are also programmes set out on the seats. That’s some quality audience-care right there. I mean, okay. They want to make sure that all the producers and casting directors whatnot in the in audience know who’s involved, but still. I haven’t see that at LAMDA or RADA.

There’s lots of “I haven’t seen you in a while,” “what projects are you working on at the moment?” “it’s all go-go-go round my way,” type chatter as people find their oldest-friends-that-they-can’t-quiet-remember-the-name-of on the way to their seats.

I put myself in the third row, towards the side. I don’t want to take a prime spot from somehow who actually has some potential work on offer.

There’s classical music playing from the speakers. I recognise it, but can’t identify it, much to my shame. It sounds Baroque though, so I’m very happy. Even if it is being played on a loop.

I’d been worried that this might be a modern dress production. All Ancien Régime Parisian manners without the outfits to match, but no. We’re safe. It’s all there. Emerald coloured suits, heeled shoes rosettes on the toes, stomachers, satin, and side hoops. And for the next hour I’m in utter fop-heaven as our fop-hero wields his foppish-umbrella like a sword, flicks his foppish-hair around, wers the hell out of his velvet suit, and absolutely, positively, refuses to do anything as gauche as admit he has feelings for his fiancé.

Well, that is until his lady love and clever lady’s maid sorts him out.

Fucking fop-tastic.

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Xxx

Oh, LAMDA. I'll be sad to see you go. But part we must because I only have one of your theatres left and then it's goodbye forever... or at least, until next year.

Last up is the Linbury Studio. No, not that Linbury Studio. I was confused about that as well, but apparently, this city is big enough for two of them. Of course, there's the one you're thinking of. The one that lives underneath the Royal Opera House, terrorising the ballet girls with mask-wearing antics, and then there's the other one. At LAMDA. Where I am currently off to for a performance of Pomona.

Now, I've seen Pomona before, back when it was at The Shed (requiescat in pace). No, I didn't catch the original run at the Orange Tree. This was back in those happy days when I thought Richmond was way too far away to travel to just to see a play. I don't remember much about the play, other it being very dark, very complex, and being good enough to send me to Alistair McDowall's follow-up play at the Royal Court: X (the playtext of which still features as my absolute favourite of all time, but the ten or so pages in the middle that are filled with nothing but the letter X. Yes, it was performed. And yes, it was astonishing). And oh, it featured Cthulhu in some way that I really can't recall but there was some definite tentacle action going on.

Anyway, back off to Barons Court I go. I'm an old hand at this now. I'm not getting lost. I even know that the Linbury has a separate entrance to the other LAMDA theatres. Has its own little foyer and box office too. Well, I say box office. But it's really just a bar with a laptop. But, eh. It does the job.

I grab a free programme, and as soon as the house opens, head inside.

The Linbury is a bit of a strange shape for a theatre. Long and thin, with only two rows of chairs running up each side. The rows closest to us are already beginning to fill up, but there doesn't seem to be a way of getting to the other side without crossing the stage.

A small group of us dither, unsure of what to do. The beginning of a small pile up is beginning to form. The queue clogging up behind us. Where is the usher to shout at us for stepping on the stage? Apparently, that's not against the rules. Some brave soul decides to strike out, weaving their way through the huge concrete blocks that make up the ruinous set, leading us like Moses through the parted Red Sea, to the promised seats on the other side.

The front row has those shortened benches so beloved of drama schools. I ignore these. I don't want to be one of these people that say "people over thirty shouldn't..." but seriously, people over thirty shouldn't sit with their arses only two inches off the ground. It's murder on the knees. I leave that nonsense to the students. And there are plenty of those in tonight.

"Oh my god!" says a young girl pointing at the platform at the far end of the stage. "It's Chloe!" She waves. Chloe does not wave back. She sits, cross-legged, staring into the distance. Wearing a Cthulhu mask. The tentacles hanging down the front of her pretty white dress like one of the more outré Coachella outfits.

It's only then I notice that the stage is full of actors, slumped against the concrete blocks, lost in their own thoughts and agonies.

It certainly makes taking my photos a lot harder. What are the rules of taking pictures of students? I'm not a big fan of even capturing the professionals when they're on stage, and do my best to avoid them, angling the camera elsewhere as best I can, but sometimes there's no avoiding it, and well... I need photos, so there we are. But with students, it feels downright wrong.

Someone in my row gets out his phone, opens the camera app and aims it at Cthulu, zooming in so that she fills the entire screen.

Right then. That answers that question. Clearly the moral quandaries that I struggle with aren't universal.

Nor, apparently, is feeling the need to cross a stage. As our side of the theatre began to fill up, I notice that the newcomers hadn't come through the same door I had. They are coming through quite another door. A door that's on the same side of the stage as the one I'm sitting in.

Fuck's sake.

Bloody students, with their knowledge about where the doors are, and their youth, and their talent. Err, I'd hate them if they weren't so damn great. Look at how supportive they are, coming out to see their friends' plays on a Thursday night. I don't know about you, but I never go anywhere for anyone on a Thursday night. Or any night for that matter. At the moment I'm blaming it on the marathon - sorry love, can't go to your party, I'm theatre-ing until 2020 - but let's be real: I'm just a terrible, terrible friend. The warmth in this room is melting my heart and I don't like it.

Thankfully the play starts before I get any gooier, and we're thrust into a world of stolen people, hard underworlds, and RPGs. And oh, Pomona was so clearly written half a decade ago - riding high on the tsunami of dystopian fiction that threatened to engulf us in a thousand Hunger Games rip-offs, but that doesn't stop it being bloody excellent. I'd remembered the big reveal from the first time around, but I'd forgotten about the time loops, and how all the sub-plots fitted so neatly together, and, well... just how damn good the writing was. Dystopian story-lines may have had their day, but good writing never dates.

As the lights blink out and the cast come out for their applause, the front row leap to their feet in a standing ovation for their friends.

And why shouldn't they? If you can't rely on the people you love to cheerlead for you... what's the damn point of them. Be like LAMDA students. Give your peeps the standing ovations they deserve. For putting up with your nonsense, if nothing else.

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Feet of Klee

We've known each other a while now. I would say that we've grown pretty close over the last three months or so, wouldn't you? I've admitted some pretty shameful stuff to you, and you've... well, you've read it. I think we've built up a relationship of sorts. One based on mutual respect and affection. A bond of trust has formed between the two of us.

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RADA me than you

Not sure I have a lot to say about this one. I’ve been to RADA before after all and don’t really fancy repeating myself. So let’s do ourselves a favour and keep this one short.

Monday night and I’m back at the RADA building on Malet Street. I was off to the see some new writing at the Jerwood Vanbrugh Theatre, which was all rather exciting. The play was Gig. I did have some concerns about the appropriateness of asking a pile of graduating drama students to play the roles of newly graduated, out of work actors, but hey - they’re keeping it real, I suppose. Living their art. Or at least, their future. I mean potential future. And a very small potential at that. They’re all talented kids. They’ll do just fine, I’m sure.

On this marathon of mine, the most frequent question I get asked is “what’s been your favourite so far?” to which I can honestly answer - the drama schools. I’m hit up but RADA and LAMDA so far (with a few more trips to both still to go) and they have all been absolutely fantastic.

I mean, yes - the queues at box office are so slow moving I do wonder whether the staff are busy making sandwiches under the desk which they are looking for our tickets. And yes - I do frequently get lost in these places despite the fact that they really are doing the absolute most when it comes to signage.

But seriously, those kids.

I really shouldn’t call them kids.

They are all grown-ups, graduating from some of the most prestigious acting schools in the world.

But man… those kids.

I love generation z, I really do. It’s less, the children are our future, let them lead the way. But more, the future’s only hope is the children, and then are going to smash it. We just better be prepared to get out the way.

Even with this half-awed, half-terrified view of the youth of today, I don’t think I could ever love them more than when watching RADA and LAMDA graduation shows.

So talented. So enthusiastic. So damn earnest.

They really are the greatest generation.

Anyway, where was I?

Right, RADA.

“Which show is this for?” asks the lady on box office when I eventually make it to the front of the queue.

Err, that question again. I don’t know. I never know.

“Anyone here for The Philosophy Shop,” asks a front of houser. We all shake our heads. “That’s it,” he says, in his radio before wandering off.

“Woman and Scarecrow?” suggests the lady on box office.

No, it wasn’t that one either.

We finally land on Gig as being the play I’m seeing that night.

It was a full house at RADA. All the theatres pumping out performances at full steam as they process their graduating class.

Ticket acquired, I wondered off into the main foyer. Some sort of event was happening there, as there was a table with wine and nibbles, surrounded by important looking people.

At the other end, there was queue composed of decidedly less important looking people.

I join the queue.

A few minutes later, the doors open and we start shuffling in.

“Oh, umm,” said the ticket checker as I reach the front of the queue. “Gig, sorry, no.” He pointed away from the queue. “Can you wait there?”

I do as I’m told. Waiting there as the queue disappeared and then a new queue formed in its place.

Was I supposed to join it? In the end I decide that I should, and as I walk down to the end I creep on the tickets of those waiting. “Gig.”

Good. I was in the right queue.

Doors open and I make my way past the ticket checker.

This time he lets me pass.

Up the stairs. Ticket torn. And in I go.

In a first, not just for the marathon, but for life, I’m in a theatre with multiple levels and unreserved seating. I’d never thought such a thing possible. But there RADA is, breaking down boundaries once more.

I plump for the stalls. Well… you would. Wouldn’t you?

The Jerwood Vanbrugh is a funny space. At first glance it looks like a scaled down Royal Opera House. I mean, it doesn’t have two-and-a-half tonnes worth of red velvet curtains, and is lacking a bit in the gilt department, but the shape is the same. The seating is arranged in a horseshoe shape. But instead of having stalls seating in the gap, they have an extended stage-space. Like a thrust stage, I suppose. But softer. With all the hard edges sloughed off.

RADA (or should I say, designer James Cotterill) made full use of this extra space by sticking an entire living room in the extra space, while the more traditional stage area took up the role of kitchen (with an extra surprise lurking behind a screen just above it).

Very nice.

Even nicer, there was a programme seller right there on the stage. An improvement on my last visit to RADA when there wasn’t one to be found anywhere except when I was leaving, and even there I had to hang around like a friggin numpty for minutes on end before I was able to snatch her attention away from the person she was chatting shop with.

And even nicer still, by 9.15pm I was out of there and on my way home, so I had time to get a few hours on my other gig (err, this blog) before crashing face first into my pillow.

Right, how long was that?

940 words.

Crap.

So much for a short post.

Oh well. What can I say? I write a lot of words. I’m sorry.

Best sign off before I think up any more of them.

Oh wait… if you’re wondering what my second most asked marathon-question is, it’s “what has been the worst so far?” My peeps love them some drama. My answer has been static at Thriller Live at the Lyric for a long arse time now. But I think I may have a new winner. Yes, I’m still salty about the whole thing.

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Damn lies and run times

Ah, Southgate. I used to live there, many years ago. And work there, come to think of it. Back when I first moved to London to do my post-grad degree.

But despite going full ham on Southgate, I never made it up to the Chickenshed Theatre.

Probably because this was well down before I started working in theatre. Before I even started watching theatre. That’s how far back we’re talking here. A fresh-faced twenty-one year old, embarking on an MSc, with no time for things like art, or culture, or... Christ, what did I do back then? I seem to recall crying in the university library a lot…

Anyway, the Chickenshed.

My one and only encounter with the place actually happened last week, when a bunch of teenagers tried to blag a free bus ride by telling the driver that they were Chickenshed students and… nope. That was their sole reason. The driver waved them on. Mainly because it was nearly 11 o’clock at night and he probably didn’t want the murder of five teenage girls on his conscious. That, and they were Chickenshed students.

Good for him, I say.

As I walked down memory lane, or as it appears on the maps: Chase Side, I couldn’t help but stop to peer into half-forgotten shops along my way. Oh, look - there was the bank where some bloke tried to ask me out and got mad when I couldn’t remember his name. And over there, the supermarket where a guy followed me down all the aisles only to tell me I had nice shoes.

It was almost a relief when the street extended beyond the reach of shops and I was plunged into a dark road bordered either side by even darker games pitches. Remembering things is exhausting.

Eventually, even the darkness grew tired and I emerged blinking into the bright lights of the Chickenshed car park.

A very busy Chickenshed car park.

Children swarmed everywhere.

“Did you get the part?” asked one parent, slinging their child’s satchel up over their shoulder.

“Yes, but not the main part.”

I waited for them to clear so that I could grab a shot of the front of the building without risking any child protection laws.

Inside was another matter altogether. They were everywhere. Tables full of them as they sat eating their post-class suppers. I lurked to one side, editing my Time and Leisure blog post, and trying not to feeling like the creeper in the room, writing about an 18+ show while surrounded by the under eights.

"Would you like a programme?" came a voice from just behind my elbow. I jumped, hiding my phone and hoping very hard that the owner of the voice hadn't seen my extended description of excited moaning.

"Absolutely," I said, tucking my phone away in my pocket. "I clearly have the look about me of someone who is in need of a programme. And I totally am. Good spot. I love me a programme." I was speaking way too fast.

The programme seller looked at me nervously. "It's my last one," she said, holding it out so that I could see there was only one. "I've been asking everyone..."

"Oh..." I handed over the two pounds fifty and slunk away.

The house had opened, but there didn't appear to be any moves made from either parents or children towards the doors.

"Are you going to see the show?"

"The one tonight? Nah."

"What about you?"

"Nu-uh."

That was worrying. A room packed with theatre kids and not one of them wanted to see the show that evening. What else is the purpose of a 7pm start if not to make it accessible to those with bed-time before in still single digits?

I went over to the blue door, as directed by my ticket. No left or right at the Chickenshed. It's all red or blue over here.

One person on the door the check tickets, another inside to point you in the direction of your seat. The staffing was enough to serve the 300 seater auditorium. It's a pity that there wasn't an audience to match.

I looked around. The first four rows of the theatre were fairly few, but as soon as I turned around, nothing but banks of empty seats rose up behind me.

And not a single child.

Had a really risked both panic and heart attacks getting across London to be there before 7 o'clock, only to spend the evening with a bunch of grownups? Apparently so.

Still, it was a short show. 90 minutes, no interval. The bestest words you can ever hear in a theatre.

With a 20 minute walk back to Southgate station and a 30-minute bus home, I might make it back in time more my own single digit bedtime.

The massive stage, way bigger than any 300-seater theatre should have a right to, was flooded with performers. It was as if the director was inspired by those clown car clips from old TV shows. More and more people squeezed themselves on to dance, sing and tell us about their depression, in wave after wave of scenes.

90 minutes later, the stage emptied and the house lights rose.

No one clapped.

No curtain call.

"Is that the interval?" someone asked.

Interval? The theatre gods wouldn't do that to me. Would they?

Turns out they would, because: yes, it was the interval. The programme had lied to me. The show wasn't 90 minutes.

Like the ever-growing cast, more and more minutes were added.

When we were finally released, it was past nine o'clock. All hopes of being in bed before ten dashed.

I settled on napping on the bus instead.

It was empty.

All the Chickenshed students had left hours ago.

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Staging an intervention

“… is this an intervention?”

I thought it best to ask. I’d never had one before and I’d expected there to be more passive-aggressive daubing of the eyes with Kleenex.

The reply from Helen came quickly: “Max, you’re loved and valued…”

So it was an intervention then.

If the handkerchiefs were out, they weren’t coming through over the digital messaging system.

I took a grubby tissue out of my pocket and blew my nose before typing my reply. Just to show willing.

“The ‘me’ in my blog is just an exaggerated version of me,” I explained. “Not actual me.”

This is true.

Sort of true.

Everything I write in my blog is real. We don’t do fiction here at the London Theatre Marathon. If I started allowing myself to make things up, even small things, it wouldn’t take me long to embrace the click-bait and go full hog on a SEO-friendly spiral of lies.

There would probably also be listicles.

“How I learnt to embrace sitting in the front row”

“10 ways theatre improves your relationships”

“The cats of London theatre, ranked by snobbishness. You’ll be shocked by who’s at number 3!”

Wait, hang on. That’s a really good idea, actually…

Err, where was I? Right, lying.

I don’t do it. Everything you read has happened. I really did almost faint at the Sam Wanamaker. If I say I turned up to a show a month early, well - I am exactly as stupid as that makes me sound. Any dialogue that you encounter here is as close to an accurate transcription as what my memory can manage.

And I really do have anxiety.

Unfortunately. 

But while I may have put out more than 60,000 words since starting this blog, it might surprise you to find out that I’m fairly selective in what I chose to write about.

“Selective? Max, you spent half a blog post telling us how you turned up to one of your chemistry A-levels drunk the other day,” I hear you moan.

Yeah, and didn’t you enjoy that? Look, I could have done this marathon without ever starting this blog. A few photos and a two line review for Instagram would have served just as well. But, hey - I’m a writer. Of sorts. So that’s what I do. I write. And if I’m writing, I may as well attempt to be entertaining. Which means picking out the most interesting parts of my outings and making a pretty post out of them. Parts which very often touch on my anxiety as they are the cause of so much of my embarrassing fumbling.

And does it not work? Are you not entertained?

My name is Maximus Scaena Riseum, Runner of the London Theatre Marathon, General of the legion of theatre ghosts, loyal servant of the Theatre Gods.

Ah, yes. The theatre ghosts. What started as a silly story soon turned into a running joke and then...

“I’m not going to kill myself by jumping into an orchestra pit,” I messaged, just to be clear.

“I’m not worried about a dramatic suicide so much as wearing yourself out to a point where you are ill and miserable,” rejoined Ellen. “You know you best tho obviously,” she added, ever the diplomat.

Glad we’d got that sorted.

For the time being.

“I can’t believe I’m delivering Crosstown doughnuts while wearing a Greggs t-shirt,” I said, as I turned up at Helen’s flat that evening with Crosstown doughnuts and wearing a Greggs t-shirt.

I was at LAMDA that night, and a trip to Hammersmith is an excuse to buy doughnuts and visit Helen.

We had important matters to discuss.

Like my burgeoning writer-crush on David Ireland.

“He’s got a new play opening in Belfast,” Helen told me setting down a big mug of tea in front of me. She’d just spent the past five minutes dropping a load of intellectual chat about intertextuality and the use of language in Cyprus Avenue on me, which is the type of quality chat I’m after with my doughnuts.

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Damn and blasted

After venturing to LAMDA on Friday night, I was off to RADA on Saturday. Comparison wasn't my intention, but hitting up two major drama schools back-to-back, within a single weekend does rather beg for it.

And if there was a race between the two mighty institutions, it was RADA who got their running spikes on first - sending out a booking confirmation email that detailed the entrances to use for each of their venues, followed up a few days later by a reminder email packed full of access information, content warnings, bus routes, tubes stops with step-free access, and basically everything else a visitor could possibly need.

There was even a rehearsal shot featuring all the actors looking relaxed and happy - which was, if anything, an anti-trigger warning considering the play they were rehearsing was Sarah Kane's Blasted. 

"See?" their sweet, smiling faces seemed to say. "It's all fine. We're fine. You'll be fine."

I wasn't so easily taken it.

Still, that didn't stop RADA from trying to hold my hand. Metaphorically, of course.

Everywhere I looked were signs giving detailed instructions on where to go. Not just arrows vaguely pointing the way, but step-by-step instructions. Turn here, go past one staircase, take another staircase, right, than left.

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They really didn't want strangers wandering around and getting lost in their warren of a building.

I can't blame them.

Knowing my predilection for getting lost. they'd have probably found me, three years later, dazed, confused, clutching a diploma and muttering about the Stanislavski technique if it weren't for their signage.

So it was rather a relief to make it to the GBS Theatre and discover that I had indeed taken the right staircase (which is to say: not the main one, but the next one) and wouldn't have to make a life for myself in the RADA basements after all.

There were plenty of ushers down there. No doubt for when they inevitably needed to send out a search party to track down any missing audience members. Two on the door. One inside. Another busy making up the bed that composed the sole piece of stage furniture. I watched as he plumped a pillow case, rearranged the cushions, smoothed down the sheets and tucked everything in neatly. He made a much better effort than I can ever manage of a morning.

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But what the front of house team had in numbers, they lacked in programmes. There wasn't a single one to be had.

Ah. I had neglected to buy one while upstairs because the one person I'd spotted selling them had been busy talking to someone who sounded very important.

I looked back at the door, debating whether I dare risk the return journey up the stairs to get one, but I decided against it. While yesterday I may have been all for becoming a theatre ghost, starting a second career as the Phantom of the RADA hadn't been exacting what I was going for.

Programmes would have to wait.

I had a seat to select.

At LAMDA, I'd noticed that the bench seats varied in height so that the floor didn't need to. Here at RADA, they did have a raised dais for the seats to sit on, but still found the need to utilise the same multi-height trick. I'm beginning to think this must be a drama school thing, because I haven't seen it in action anywhere else. 

The first row of seats had legs as short and stubby as those of a Corgi. While four rows back we had their Great Dane cousins.

I made the Goldilocks choice of the third row (what would that be? The Labrador row?). Not very adventurous of me, but I've always been the sort to keep both feet on the ground.

And I have say, I got through the play easily enough. 

Perhaps it was those cherubic rehearsal shots sent out in advance, or the anxiety-reduction of the intensely detailed signage, but I made it through to the other side of Blasted with only a minimal amount of trauma.

Feeling pretty pleased with this personal success story of mine, I found my way back upstairs and went in search of a programme.

The programme seller was busy. Talking to someone who sounded even more important than the very important person of earlier on.

I waited, checking my emails.

He was still talking about his next project.

I moved closer, put on my best I-would-like-to-buy-a-programme-please face and waited a bit more.

Nothing. Not even a nod of acknowledgement from the programme seller.

The very important theatre person wasn't running out of steam. He was still talking about his project.

Would it be rude to cut him short? And if so, is it more or less rude than monopolising the time of someone at work?

Fuck it.

"Sorry to interrupt," I said, interrupting. "Can I just... quickly buy a programme?"

It turned out I could and that they were a pound.

I decided not to comment on how they are free at LAMDA. But, like, they are totally free at LAMDA.

I left them then. The programme seller and the important person. I wonder if they are still there. Talking about his project. With a line of people queuing up behind him. Unnoticed, unseen, and without a programme to occupy their time.

As for me. I had plans.

I was going to head home, bash out a blog post, squirrel under my duvet, and snooze.

I managed the first two.

And got half way through the third.

But then I started thinking about Blasted.

And those sweet faces from the rehearsal room, screwed up and tortured on the stage.  

And I cried, and I cried, and I cried.

Getting ready to meet the theatre gods

Wouldn't it be hilarious if I died on this marathon? Calm down, there's no need to panic. I have no intention of not seeing out this thing to the bitter end, but it would be quite funny, wouldn't it?

I don't mean getting hit by a car or anything so mundane. It would have to be a marathon related death. Tripping down some steps on my way to my seat perhaps. Or being murdered by a disgruntled duty manager. All excellent ways to go.

Death by theatre.

It certainly has a ring to it.

And if I did die in pursuit of this marathon, I could come back as a theatre ghost. And hang out with all the other theatre ghosts. They wouldn't be able to ignore me then. Not when I was one of them.

Anyway, all this is my way of saying that I have a cold.

A really bad cold.   

Scratchy of throat and runny of nose, I headed of to Barons Court, to see what the shiny talented folk of LAMDA were up to.

That was, if I could find the theatre.

LAMDA has three (as far as I'm aware) and neither their website nor their confirmation email contained any instructions on how to get to any one of them.

I was fairly certain I was on the right street though.

I paused, digging out a cough sweet out of my bag as I squinted through the darkness, trying to make out the buildings.

A car chose that moment to splash past, sending a wave of ditch water from the side of the road in my direction.

I tried to jump away, but it managed to catch me mid leap, coating my leg from my knee down.

Scratchy throat, runny nose, I then had a wet leg to add to my list of ills.

Things are going super well for me right now, as I'm sure you can tell.

It did help focus the mind though somehow, or perhaps merely the eyes, as I spotted a long, modern building up ahead.

It was LAMDA! There was even a brightly lit foyer, with a queue at the box office and a sign reading: The Linbury Studio. 

Oh.

That wasn't the one I was after.

I carried on.

Past the main door.

Past the entrance to the Sainsbury Theatre.

On and on until the lights dimmed and I was left on a dark patch of road surrounded by construction hoarding.

It seemed I had run out of building.

Where on earth was the damn Carne Studio then? 

I turned around and headed back. It had to be there somewhere. 

I've joked that theatres are making up venues just to torment me, but I didn't think they were actually doing it.

 

Until then.

I looked back over my shoulder, just in case I had missed it, and stepped right into a puddle.

Great. A wet boot to match my wet legs.

This was not the theatre-death I was after.

There was nothing for it, I would have to ask.

I squelched my back to the Linbury and asked an purple lanyarded usher who was tearing tickets. I hoped that she didn't notice the wet footprints I'd left in my wake.

She frowned, but whether at my question or my dirtying of the nice clean floor, I couldn't tell. "Hmm. I'm not sure the best way. I don't want to send you I'm the wrong direction. Hang on... Excuse me," she said, holding the door open with one foot as she leant out to flag down a nearby gentleman wearing a matching lanyard. "Where is the Carne?"

He sprung to attention. "Ah, it's very close - just head back outside, walk down the building and the foyer is right there."

I was fairly certain I had already walked down the building and the foyer had very much not been right there.

Seeing the panic in my eyes, he led me back out and pointed down the street. The very street I had just walked. Twice.

"Oh," I said, still unsure. "I've been all the way down, but didn't see it."

He looked surprised. 

"I did see the Sainsbury though," I added hurriedly, as if to prove both to myself and to him that I wasn't utterly unobservant.

He smiled, his face clearing. "That's the same foyer."

"Ah." 

That made sense. I guess.

"Start time is at 7.45," he added.

It was 7.25.

"Plenty of time."

"Oh yes, plenty of time," he agreed in one of those smooth, highly cultivated voices.

It's only when you meet a properly trained actor with a properly trained voice that you realise how scratchy and messy your own bleating attempts at communication are.

I popped another cough sweet in my mouth and set out.

Back through the dark. Back towards the Sainsbury.

"Am I the right place for the Carne?" I asked the lady at box office. Somehow I still doubted it. There weren't any signs.

She frowned at me. I was starting to get used to that look.

Was I pronouncing it wrong or something? That would explain the looks.

Or maybe it really was all just some super elaborate joke on the part of LAMDA.

A performance piece in its own right. I wasn’t there for as Schiller play. There would be no Don Carlos. Instead I would be taking part in The Search for the Carne Studio. An immersive promenade performance in one act.

I hate immersive performances. Especially the promenade ones.

I looked down. There, fanned across the counter were a series of sheets - featuring the fresh-faced headshots of the cast and their biographical information. One for each actor in the play.

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"Yes, you're in the right place," said the box officer at last, before asking my name and handing me a ticket.

Right then. I'd made it. Time to relax.

I found a table. And a programme. They have them out on display with a request to take one. "FREE," they proclaim from their covers. "Take one." I took one. 

"The bar has closed," came the sound of a plaintive voice behind me. "Why has the bar closed so early?" 

It was only 7.30. A full fifteen minutes before curtain up.

With the bar closed, we all gathered around the door to the studio.

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I began to suspect that might have been the cause of the closed-bar. The people of LAMDA were ganging up on us, with the express purpose of ensuring that we weren't late.

By the time the doors were ready to open, there was quite the queue waiting to be let in.

But for once there wasn't a rush for the front row. If anything, my fellow audience members were actively avoiding it.

It didn't take me long to figure out why.

The floor in the Carne Studio is totally level. No rake. No dais. 

Instead, it was the seats themselves that varied in height. With each row increasingly taller than the one in front of it, so that those who did chose to sit in the front row had a choice - half sprawl across the floor so that they looked like an awkward tourist in a harem, or crouch with knees up by their ears in the style of a squatting frog.

Neither appealed to me. 

I went for the second row. A reasonable height for my short legs.

Such important decisions made and seat committed to, I had the chance to take in my surroundings.

We were in a church. Or at least, that's what I took the set design to mean - with huge stone doors on either side and a large altar in the middle. The two sets of bench seating positioned either side of the aisle-like stage only added to the ecclesiastical vibes.

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As did the dense, smoke-filled air.

I unwrapped another cough sweet. The thought of coughing during a graduation show was nauseating. Which was then another worrying ailment I had to contend with.

I vowed to eat a fruit at some point this week. For the vitamins.

Thankfully, coughing didn't turn out to be a problem as I was too busy risking asphyxiation by holding my breath every time there was a fight scene. 

And there were a lot of fight scenes. Bodies flying all over the place. Blood pouring. Heads smashing against chairs.

Brilliant.

Who knew Don Carlos was so exciting?

Anyway, I'm going to have a little lie down now. Don't cry too hard if I don't wake up. I'm in a better place - hanging out with the Nudger, above the dome at the Royal Opera House - watching ballerinas chaîné into eternity.

 Good byeeeeee