On my last visit to the Park Theatre I promised myself I’d be back before the end of the summer in order to soak up that sweet, sweet air conditioning.
It’s now September, and while we haven’t quite completed the descent into fall, it’s definitely on the way, so I better get a shift on.
I make my way over to Finsbury Park, stopping just long enough on Clifton Terrace to take a photo of the outside of the theatre and almost get run over by a double decker.
Inside it’s bright and buzzing and the woman on the box office gives me a great big smile as I go over and give me name.
“Huh, that’s strange,” she says, rummaging around in the ticket box and clearly not finding anything.
I begin to panic, worrying that I booked the matinee or something equally stupid.
Seitching to the evening won’t be easy. It’s all sold out.
“Shall I get my confirmation email up?” I ask, pulling out my phone. The email is already loaded behind my lock screen, because you know, I like to be prepared. It’s the anxious person in me.
“These items can be picked up from Box Office. Warheads on Saturday 07 September 2019 at 19.45 in Park90.”
It is Saturday 7 September. I didn’t make a mistake. For once.
The box officer looks at her computer screen and frowns. “It says it’s already printed,” she says, sounding a mite confused. I can’t blame her. I’m a mite confused too. I’m pretty sure I didn’t do a print-at-home thingy, for one because I hate that shit, but also because I don’t have a printer.
“Ah ha!” says the box officer. “Here you go. It’s with a programme!”
Oh yeah! I’d forgotten I’d preordered one of those. She hands me the programme with the ticket slotted over the top.
“The one time I try and be efficient,” I sigh.
“That’s all on me,” the box officer says.
“I just knew I wouldn’t have change!” I try and explain. “Never again. I promise you.”
“I really appreciate you preordering a programme,” she assures me, and I realise that my attempts to good-naturedly take the blame on this issue are making me sound like an arse.
I better get out of here.
I scuttle off up the stairs and follow the signs to Park90, the smaller of the two Park spaces.
Up onto the landing, through a door, and down a long, red, corridor.
A front of houser rushes the other way.
“There you go,” he calls at me as we pass. “That way. Ushers will sort you out.”
Well, alright then.
At the end of the corridor, a ticket checker stands guard on the door. I show my ticket. She stares at it. The seconds tick past. I wonder if I’m supposed to do something at this point. Provide some sort of supplementary information. Perhaps I should get out the programme to show her. But whatever she was looking for, she seems to find it, and waves me through.
The Park90 is a black box space, set up in traverse for tonight’s performance. I look around, trying to work out where I want to sit. Now usually in unreserved seating, I like to go for the end of the third row, but here there are two third rows and I need to decide what view of the stage I want. Throw in the fact that the third row is actually the back row (on both sides) and I’ve got all kinds of thinking to do before I sit down. As I try and process all this, I spot something large and fluffy down by my feet.
It’s a dog.
A very beautiful dog.
Or at least, I think it’s an Alsatian. It’s hard to tell. It’s really dark in here.
Whatever breed, it’s definitely a dog, and they are lying down quite contentedly next to the end of the front row, beside their master.
Well, that throws all my cogs back into a whirr because now I have to add in the extra dog-based element into my thought-processes. Do I want to sit near the dog? I do, of course, want that. But I also want to be able to see the dog, which would mean selecting a seat on the opposite side.
I look back down at the dog.
They are wearing a service dog harness.
That settles it.
I pick my way over to the other side of the stage.
I don’t want to be near the dog, because being near the dog will mean I’ll be tempted to pet the dog, and I’m fairly certain you’re not meant to pet service dogs while they’re on duty. So I’m going to find a place where I can stare at them adoringly every time the play gets dull.
Third row. At the end.
No, wait. That’s too far away.
Third row. In the middle.
I get out my programme, but it’s far too dark to read in here.
So dark that people have to lift their hands to wave as friends come through the door, lest these newcomers end up sitting next to a stranger.
The front of houser I’d met in the corridor directs people around, helping them locate their plus ones, and filling in the gaps. It mat be a sold out show, but by the looks if it, some audience members must have got stuck in the bar, as there’s a big chunk of empty seats still going spare when the doors are closed.
The blokes next to me sure spent a good deal of time there.
They came in carrying beers, but I don’t think it’s their first round of the night.
They are very actively not watching the play.
One gets out his phone, flicking between apps while this tale of men broken by combat plays out mere feet away from us.
He shifts seats, moving away from me to whisper something very loudly to his mates before sliding back again. I wonder if he too is trying to get a good view of the dog.
I look over. The dog is sitting up. They don’t look overly keen about the whole combat thing either. As our soldiers shout and throw themselves across the tiny stage, the dog sits up, backing away towards the door.
The usher leans down to stroke the top of the dog’s head.
The owner looks back, but doesn’t say anything.
Unlike my drunk friends in the back row who are only pausing in their conversation long enough to loudly exclaim at every plot point. Well, two of the friends. The third one buries his head in his hands, clearly hoping one of the explosives will blow a sink-hole into the earth for him to crawl into. Occasionally he lifts his head long enough to attempt to shush them, but these two lads are way too far gone to notice.
And way too gone for anyone else not to notice.
Even the actors.
Taz Skylar rounds on them as Craig Fairbrass’ Captain flashes his torch in their direction.
“If you fuckers don’t stop talking,” shouts Skylar, fully in character as a soldier in the depths of a PTSD-caused breakdown.
They try to say something but Skylar isn’t having it. “You fat fuck, shut up!”
There’s a cheer from the other side.
The lads lapse into silence.
For a few seconds.
My neighbour leans over to his mate to say something.
Joseph Connolly, playing the flatmate, and looking for all the world like he’s just found dishes in the sink for the third day running, gets up, leaning right into our row and narrowing his eyes at the talkers. “You’d better leave,” he says.
The third friend sinks low, hands covering the top of his head as if the actors’ words were live ammunition.
I look over at the usher. She’s over on the other side, grinning at the dog and rubbing his ears. They both look very happy.
But we all make it through to the end of the play.
A front of houser hands us leaflets on our way out. They have stats about the links between military service and homelessness on them. It’s shocking and depressing and I don’t know what to do with it other than shove it in my pocket to think about later.
“I have never been so embarrassed in all my life,” says someone as we file out down the red corridor.
“I’m going to have words with them,” a young woman says darkly. Because that’s the thing. They all knew each other. The cast. And half the audience. It was the last performance in the run. And all those threats of this-is-your-last-chance-to-see-me had paid off.
At least they turned up.
If those empty seats were any indication, at least one contingent never made it out of the bar.