When you are walking down a dark, covered, alleyway, what you really want it is to be overtaken by someone wearing a floor-length red cape.
If I wasn't already feeling like I was stepping into some other realm, possibly one with trolls and ogres and villains with fantastic eyeliner, I definitely am now.
At the end of the tunnel, the pathway opens up into a small courtyard, lined with diamond-paned windows.
Above the gothic arches however, is a very modern neon sign, all jumbled letteres spelling out: Toynbee Studios.
It's taken a while to get here.
They don't have much of a theatre programme.
And even when they do, there's no guartentee that it will go ahead.
I had a show booked in months ago. All the way back in May, I think it was.
But it got cancelled. The artist pulled out. There was some controversy going on. I'm not sure exactly what it was. The cancellation email didn't fully explain it. It was all apologetic, but what it was apologising for remained unsaid. From what I could gather, there was a transphobic incident. But whether it was against staff, or artists, or an audience member, I could not tell.
Whatever, the result was the same: the artist pulled out, and I've had to wait five long months to find another show to book into.
And that was not easy.
Not the actual booking. That was fine. All online. Click, click, click, done.
It was the giving up on another venue that made it tricky.
I wasn't planning on being in E1 tonight. I was supposed to be in Edmonton. And quite another theatre. Another hard to book theatre. Another rarely-programmed theatre. And I had to choose between the two of them, knowing either one would result in my failing the marathon.
In the end, I chose Toynbee. Mainly because the show sounded more interesting.
I hope they appreciate that.
l go inside.
And there's a merch desk. Right there by the box office. It has t-shirts. And a crowd of people looking at them.
I stop to have a look.
I hadn't even heard of this guy, Ron Athey, but clearly he's a thing because most merch desks I see on my marathon travels are deserted. No one wants to be spending money at the theatre. But here they are, the fans, all queueing up and having serious discussions about designs and sizing.
I sneak around the queue and join the considerably shorter one at the box office counter.
"The surname's Smiles?" I say to one of the two box officers crowded behind it.
"Yup! Sure," he says, grabbing a clipboard and looking down the list. "Is that Maxine?"
The other box officer fetches something and holds it out. Into my palm she pours a single wooden ball.
I stare at it.
It looks like the kind of thing you put in your sock drawer to keep the moths away.
"If you hand that to the steward on your way in," says the first officer, pointing the way into a bar that is so packed all I can see is a shifting wall of people.
I'm not very good with crowds, so I go in the opposite direction, back through the door and out into the quiet courtyard.
I find a wall to lean against and breath in the cold night air.
Within seconds, I'm trapped by a queue full of people trying to make it into the building. There's no room for them in the box office. So they're pouring at the door. Pinning me to my wall.
Not overly keen on this, but at least it gives me the opportunity to inspect all their outfits from up close. Because these people are serving up looks.
Red cloak lady was only the start.
We've got mohawks and backcombing and leather and eyeliner. So much eyeliner.
The post-punk crowd as come to Toynbee and I am here for it.
Introductions pour out around me as groups of friends collide.
"Do you know...?
"Oh yeah. I think we met a few years back..."
"Have you been to one of his shows before?"
But as the line grows, I begin to feel insecure about my medicore gothiness, so I find somewhere else in the courtyard to stand. Somewhere with an excellent view of the bar. Somewhere we I can get all my fashion inspo while being a creeper in the distance, which, I'm going to be honest, is what I've always wanted.
Except, by the looks of it, the crowd is starting to thin.
They're going in.
I should probably go too.
I squeeze past the line, apologising and hope they don't think I'm just queue barging. I hold my wooden ball like a talisman, ready to show it off to anyone who questions me.
Through the bar, and up towards the door on the opposite side.
There's a sign listing trigger warnings which I skim over. Beneath them is a notice saying there's a quiet room to escape to, and that the pink lanyarded staff can help if we need anything.
That gives me pause.
I go back to the warnings.
BDSM. Violence. Ritual beheadings. Nudity. Blood.
I mean, I don't mind blood. What woman does? But I do have a very particular blood thing that I am super not into, which makes me feel queasy when I see it on TV or whatever. A live demonstration of that very particular thing is going to have me throw up. Or faint. Or quite possibly both.
There's a corridor out here and front of housers are busy handing out branded plastic cups to those bringing in drinks.
"Go ahead if you have your ball," says one of them, spotting my lack of drink.
Something tells me the Toynbee front of housers really enjoy saying that.
Down the hallway and there's another usher by the door to the auditorium. She's carrying a canvas sack.
"Just put your balls in the bag," she says cheerfully.
Yup. The Toynbee staff love their balls.
I drop mine in, and go in.
Okay, so like. I saw the courtyard. I saw the paned windows.
And yet somehow, I didn't see this venue coming.
It's big. And red. With a massive stage. And is doling out some serious music hall vibes. Or perhaps art deco cinema. One of those.
They should have dance performances in here. That stage looks made for it. Wide and deep. Lots of room for jetes.
The nearest block of seats is empty and I make my way over to them.
But the front of houser in here is directing people over to the other side.
"Sorry, did you say the centre or the far side?" I ask him.
"Yes," he says, turning to me. "Otherwise the view is a bit restricted from over here."
I look over at the stage.
It's really deep.
That thing goes back for ever.
And right at the back, on the wall, is a projection. With words. Lots of them. A whole block of text. Only half of which is visible from where I am.
Far side it is then.
All the seats on the aisle are filled up, but I ask some nice girls if I can get past and they stand up to let me through. I leave a seat spare between us. Just to be polite.
But people keep pouring in.
The show is sold out.
A couple are inching their way into our row.
I stand up to let them past.
The guy goes on ahead, but the girl plonks herself into the skipped seat next to me.
"Oh..." I say, confused.
"Nah, it's okay," says the guy.
"Do you want to switch seats," I ask the girl. "So you can sit together?"
"Sure!" says the girl.
I look to the guy, but he isn't moving.
"Which way do you want to go?" I ask, more than happy to move further away from the aisle, well aware that I am the interloper here and I should be giving up my superior seat to true fans.
But the girl isn't having it. "You can have this seat," she says. "They're not assigned."
Well, okay then.
I lean back, and look around, trying to get a sense of this place. It's massive. And yet only has one theatre show in an entire year. What on earth do they do with it the rest of the time?
"Have you seen him before?" someone asks their neighbour in the row in front.
"Yahhhh!" comes the enthusiastic reply.
"Oh, you know him?"
He confirms that he is familiar with Ron Athey's work.
"That's okay then."
Is it? I'm not so sure.
"I hope it's not as dark as last time..."
I eye up the exit. Wherever the quiet room is, it's one hell of a journey from here, involving climbing over four knees and walking right in front of the stage.
"What are you doing for Halloween this weekend?" someone asks.
"Halloween is next week," comes the reply.
If these people are really Goths, then they are terrible at it.
Not that they aren't rocking it all the same. I am digging this person sitting just over there, with eyeliner right up to their hairline. That is a look and I am into it.
As the lights go down, the audience roars. I think they're excited.
Ron Athey appears. I mean, I presume that's him, given how the audience is jumping around excitedly in their chairs and giggling at everything he does. They laugh as he walks. They laugh as he counts. They laugh as he miscounts. As he sips water. Pauses in his speeches. Everything he does sets them off.
Not quite sure I get it myself. I feel I'm missing something. Like the first part in the series that sets up all these jokes.
Between each scene, the projection at the back changes to show what I can only presume is a type of chapter title.
Everyone on my side of the room leans over, craning their necks to read what it says before whispering it to their neighbours with a seriousness that confirms I am definitely not getting whatever they are telling me.
I'm just not high brow enough for all this. It's all big complicated words and I don't understand a thing he's saying.
As for the films... they're uncomfortable making. I'll give them that.
And then the blood letting starts and yup... not into that. Blood leaks down his chest from the slimmest of cuts. His assistant… co-star… whatever he is, applies bandages, pressing them against the wound.
It's... kinda gross.
But it's over now. Time to go.
As we file out past the stage, a young woman walks over to look at the bloody rags, hanging like flags at a tournament. Or laundry day at Sweeney Todd's.
On a wave of excited chatter, I hurry back out into the courtyard. It's freezing out here. Where's the nearest tube station? Aldgate East. Right. Let's go.
"The best thing about that show was the video of the man walking," says a doubtful sounding woman at the traffic lights.
Yeah, that was... something.