"If you don't understand it then I sure as hell don't understand it."
That's Helen after I try to explain the mystery that is Theatro Technis to her.
It's not often that I'm left stumped by a theatre, and I have never been as stumped by a theatre as I am by Teatro Technis.
It started early. Right from the moment I first go on the Theatro's website, I'm inflicted with the huge image of a Greek mask, rendered in black and white, and staring out of my screen. I quickly scroll down. That's far too terrifying an image for my innocent eyes. I only went there to find out what shows they had, not test my bladder control.
Further down there's some text about the theatre. Always helpful. "Independent theatre in Camden," it says. Nice. I like it. To the point. Helpful even.
I carry on, greedy for more intel about this new-to-me theatre. "'Teatro' speaks for itself," it starts. I'm not so sure about that, but let's press on. "'Technis' is an ancient Greek word. It come from a time when people made no distinction between art, work and craft. People didn't make theatre for money, they had to live, yes -but the work itself was rewarded enough. It was important then to have passion for what you were doing and to believe that your work benefited others too. That is Theatro Technis."
Right. Well, ignoring the typos, which I swear to god are not mine, that's a whole lot of words adding up to not a lot.
I decide not to dwell on it and keep scrolling. And keep scrolling. God damn. Does this theatre have any shows, or does it just specialise in the production of grammatically suspect manifestos?
I'm beginning to think there must be more to it. With every "Learn More" link leading me to ever more obtusely written pages, and no sign of a show to book, I am growing ever more suspicious. A number of conspiracy theories peek out from behind the Greek masks. "Perhaps it's a front," one of them suggests. "Who could ever suspect a small fringe venue as a location for shady drug deals?" The second one shakes her head. "Nope," she says. "You just can't translate Theatro. It's actually a corruption of the word thearchy, meaning ruled by the gods." She looks very smug about this theory. "It's a cult," she adds, just to make sure we all got it. The third one doesn't look impressed. "It's a hipster cafe," he says. "Tro is short for trophy. They only serve award-winning teas. Tea-tro. Get it? The Technis just means they won't kick you out for using plugging into your charger to the wall-socket."
Well, that's enough of them. I always find it pays not to listen to the voices in your head.
I eventually found a show and booked myself in. Despite all their best efforts to put me off, I was going. I have a marathon to complete and no amount of menacing mask images are going to put me off.
Besides, I had my own, slightly more mundane, conspiracy theory. That the website was part of the experience. Like when Punchdrunk has a new show. It sets the mood. Provides an atmosphere. Gets you in the right frame of mind for your visit. And if a certain queasiness in the stomach area was what they wanted to provoke in their audiences, well... they have certainly achieved that with me.
So, off I went, negotiating the crowds in Camden until I found myself on a quiet road, with a tall townhouse marked Teatro Technis half way down it. It's an interesting looking building. There's some sort of religious statue action going on over the front door. And the black wall down the side makes me think it used to have a neighbour that has since been disposed of.
There's also a sign. "THEATRE ENTRANCE," it says, in all caps, with an arrow pointing metal railing, behind which there is a wide alleyway with a door at the end of it.
Well, okay then. We weren't going through the statue-guarded front door. Down the creepy alleyway it is, then.
Inside, there's a small table, which I can only presume is the box office. But it's empty of both people and paper. Not the box office then. On the opposite end, there's a bar.
"Hello!" calls the lady behind it.
I go over and give my surname.
"Maxine, is it?" she asks.
I'm taken aback. I mean, yes, I have an interesting surname. But my first name isn't usually ready to go at the front of strangers' memories.
I soon find out the reason for this immediate recognition. There's a print-out of the online bookers. There's me, at the bottom, being ticked off as I watch. Above me, there's only one other name. Two advance bookers. Oh dear.
Forget the masks and the alleyway. That's my worst fear: being in an audience with only one other person. Or even worse. Just me.
Thankfully, we are not there. Not quite yet. There are a few people more hanging out in this foyer.
I look around, trying to work this place out.
The door to the theatre is to the right of the bar. There's a door to the loos on the left.
Which begs the question - where's the townhouse? I'll admit, my geography isn't that great. But even I can't be this badly turned around. The saintly townhouse should be on the left as well, but unless those are some exceedingly luxuriously proportioned toilets, it can't be. Which means the two buildings are separate. Which in turn means... well, I don't know.
A couple push their way through the loo doors. They're each holding a glass of wine.
My pet conspiracy theorists each shrug. This is a mystery too big even for them.
The house opens. It's time to go in.
The room is large. And old. The ceiling is vaulted and there are two blocked off fireplaces behind the main bank of seats. It looks like an old village schoolroom, although given the statue on the main building, I presume it must be church related in origin.
I find a spot in the second row.
There aren't two of us watching the show. Or even four.
Nine people make it in before the lights dim.
The door is left open.
Light from the corridor floods in, as does the sound of glasses and chatter from the bar. By the sounds of it, there are more people out there than in here.
A woman sitting in my row stands up and tries to wave to the person in the tech booth, set high in the wall, but there's not much the tech person can do.
A latecomer arrives. The woman waves and points frantically at the door. He doesn't understand. He ducks his head and hurries into a seat.
The woman looks around, clearly ready to storm across the stage and close the door herself. But she is blocked in on either side. She sits down again and we spend the next few minutes listening to the talk over at the bar while the actors hold some kind of meditation circle.
The play is about a religious group. A cult.
I shift uncomfortably in my chair. My pet conspiracy theorists are nodding knowingly. It was all a test. A series of challenges designed to ensure that only the most dedicated would come here. The cryptic website with its unnerving masks. The impossible floorplan. And now this play. It was like those people hawking personality tests outside the Scientology Centre on Tottenham Court Road. "Come, watch a play. Perhaps you might discover something about yourself."
The thing that I was fast discovering about myself is that I wanted to get out of there. Right now.
I try and concentrate on the play. The cult on stage is falling apart but the one in the audience is growing ever stronger.
More people come in. A large group. Halfway through the play and suddenly the audience has doubled in numbers.
I look over. They're all young and shiny-faced, glowing with some inner contentment.
The perfect example of a cult member.
I can't look for long. The lighting cues are all over the place. One part of the room is illuminated for a scene, then another joins in to greet the arrival of more actors to the same scene. Too often we're plunged into darkness, left alone to stare unseeing at an empty stage. I am convinced they are trying to break my will.
When the play ends, my instinct is to make a burst for the exit. But I hold back, waiting for the young people to gather their things and leave.
Eventually, the path is clear and I get up, walking straight towards the exit, pushing them open without a backwards glance.
I don't turn back. Not until I'm safely in Mornington Crescent tube station. I jump onto the first train to arrive, not caring what branch it's travelling on. I just want to get as far away as possible.Read More