I’m still ill.
But no longer dying. Which is nice.
Which means that I can make the long journey towards Walthamstow without worrying that I might collapse on the way, only to be found six years later, half-eaten by tube mice.
Feeling slightly sniffy and very sorry for myself, I make my way to the Mirth, Marvel and Maud. On Hoe Street.
No need to look at me like that. It’s not my fault that Walthamstow was doing a roaring trade in farm implements back in the day.
Anyway, if we’re talking names, then the alliterative triptych of Mirth, Marvel and Maud is much more worthy of contemplation.
One thing that’s been on my mind a lot, usually when I’m walking in circles in an unfamiliar area, trying to find one of these blasted theatres, is what the locals call a place.
Do the residents of Stockwell call the Stockwell Playhouse the Stockwell Playhouse? Or is it just the Playhouse?
Is the Bromley Little Theatre the Bromley Little Theatre to the people of Brommers? Or merely the Little Theatre? Or perhaps the BLT? Or maybe the Sandwich? These are the questions I want answers to, but am too embarrassed to actually ask.
And it’s no different tonight. I don’t believe for a second anyone around here calls the Mirth, Marvel and Maud the Mirth, Marvel and Maud. For one, it’s ridiculous. And for two, it’s way too long. So, what do they call it? Is it the Mirth, as the towering letters on the outside of the building suggest? Or maybe it’s the Triple M. Or…
“It’s the old cinema,” says a man as he holds the door open for his companion.
Well, okay then.
I follow them in.
The box office is just inside the door, with a fat letter M resting on the counter, glowing in the ambient (dark) lighting scheme they’ve got going on.
“Sorry,” says the box officer. “I also need to stamp her.”
The lady in front of me goes off in search of her friend and brings her back for a good stamping.
That done, it’s my turn.
“Hi,” I tell the box officer. “I have an e-ticket? Do I also need to sign in?”
Ah yes. The e-ticket.
Now, that had been a bit of work to acquire.
The Marvellous Mrs Maud have left their ticket providing services to Dice. Which is not theatre ticketing software. It’s an app. For gigs. An app that I did not have, and did not want, but was forced to download anyway.
Now, you know, I get it. Some theatres run music events. Some theatres are predominantly music venues. So, like, fine. But also, it doesn’t work and I hate it.
Case in bloody point. Door time. We all know what that means in gig-world. But in theatre? Is that when the house opens, or the show starts? Who knows? Dice certainly ain’t telling me.
And this e-ticket? Is someone going to scan it, or do I have to report into the box office, like I am now. There’s no way to know until I ask. And I hate asking.
Then there’s the whole having-reception thing. Dice won’t let you see the QR codes more than two hours before door time. Nor will they let you screenshot the page once you do have the code.
“Yeah,” says the box officer. “What’s the name?”
With a sigh, I realise the whole app thing was pointless. I drop my phone back into my pocket and give my name.
“Just you?” asks the box officer.
“Just me,” I say, now resigned to my fate of always having to admit my lonesome state at box offices across this city of ours.
She stamps me up high on the wrist, which is apparently a thing now. Backs of hands are no longer in vogue when it comes to stamping.
“Can I get a programme?” I ask, spotting the display on the counter.
“That’s two pounds.”
“In the cup?” I ask. There’s a plastic cup with a scrappy bit of paper stuffed in it. “Programmes,” it says.
I drop my pound coins in it.
One question still remains.
“Where am I going?” I ask her.
She blinks at me. This is clearly not a question she gets often.
“Err, down the stairs?”
It’s ten minutes until door time. Whatever that means. So I go for a look around.
It’s a beautiful building this. Impossibly high ceilings. Panels. Chandeliers. The works.
There seems to be a trend at the moment with theatres. About making the foyer spaces accessible to non-theatre goers. They want people coming in off the street to have a drink and then not see a show.
Mostly I think that’s a nonsense. Not because of the ambition. You do you, theatres. It’s just that there aren’t many theatre bars I’d willingly spend time in without having to be there for theatre purposes. Too big. Too loud. Nowhere to sit. Nowhere to hide.
But this place? This place is nice. A wooden carnival stall of a cocktail bar in the middle breaks up the space. Huddles of chairs and tables hug the walls. There are sofas.
It’s quiet, but not echoey.
Ornate, but not intimidating.
Large, but not overwhelming.
I could see myself coming here for a drink.
I mean, if it wasn’t in Walthamstow.
Bit of a trek for a G&T.
I lean against the back of the cocktail stall and have a look at my newly-acquired stamp. It says Marvel.
So, we’ve got Mirth. And Marvel. Where on earth is Maud?
This place may be nice to look at, but it seems to have picked looks over books.
There is a horrendous lack of signage.
Apart from the solitary chalkboard proclaiming the existence of toilets, I can’t see a single notice to direct me anywhere. Let alone the theatre. Which, I would have thought, would be an important element of the M&M&M experience.
I put my glasses on, just in case I’m missing on signs in the general blur, but nope. Nothing. Not unless I’m in serious need of a new prescription, my poor eyesight is not the problem here.
But the box office lady said to go downstairs. So I go downstairs. To the bar. And what do you know. There it is, a sign pointing towards the Maud. Between the water station and the loos.
I follow where it's pointing, into a corrdior that smells like a lavatory, and right opposite the door to the ladies', is a bloke. He's standing next to a posing table covered with plastic cups. I think he must be the ticket checker. Or he would be the ticket checker, if this place had tickets.
"Got a stamp?" he asks as I approach.
I pull at my sleeve to show him the back of my wrist. "Yup," I say, and he nods me through.
Inside it's red.
I mean, last night I was in a red theatre, so it shouldn't be that shocking. But if anything, the Hilariously Amazing Maud is even redder than the BLT.
The walls are red. The ceiling is red. The decorative mouldings are red. Even the chairs are of a reddish hue.
I stand and stare at the chairs.
They are weird. And it's not the reddness that is bothering me. It's that they're evil.
And no, they're not evil because they're red.
I mean, they might be evil because they're red.
I don't know why they are evil. I just know that they are.
Because the powers that be at the Mirthiless Maud have banished them off to the sides of the room.
The rest of the space is given over to long wooden benches.
Clearly, the puritans are in charge in Walthamstow.
So as not to anger them, I take a pew.
Everyone else in here has decided to face the forces of evil arse-on, and sit on the sides.
The same conversation is played out over and over as people file in.
"Where do you want to sit?" a newcomer asks. "Shall we sit in the middle?"
"I might go for a softer seat..." comes the tentative reply.
Eventually, the chairs fill up and people are forced to turn to the benches.
A couple of women join me on mine.
A few minutes later, their friend arrives, and insists that I stand up to let her pass so that she doesn't have to go about the indignaty of walking around and entering via the other side.
Honestly. What is it with people? This is the second night in a row this has happened. Stop making strangers get up when you can ask your friends to get up instead. They presumably want you to sit with them. Me on the other hand, would rather not have to exert myself for that honour.
I'm beginning to think it's the curse of red theatres.
I knew those chairs were evil.
"It's warm in here," says the woman who can't walk round.
There's a pause, and I realise she's talking to me. I quickly hit the power button on my phone, sending the screen black. I hope she hasn't seen me typing all that shit about her.
"It is," I agree. Very warm. They have got the heating on blast.
"Why?" she asks, and I'm left stumped by this question.
"I do approve of heating in October," I say. "But this is a bit much."
She seems satisfied by that statement and she goes back to talking to her friends, and I go back to typing up smack about her in my notes.
Right, now that I have established myself as evil a character as those chairs, I check the time.
It's ten past eight.
Door time or start time, that question remains unanswered. Are we waiting for the clock to run down or has something gone wrong? Who can tell?
Across the way, I can hear the hand dryers rumbling away in the loos.
Sixteen minutes past.
I'm getting kind of bored now.
I twist round in my seat.
Someone is sitting themselves down at the tech desk. That's a good sign.
The stamp checkers closes the door.
The house lights dim.
The cast emerge. Eleanor Bryne, Niamh Finlay, and Sara Hosford. They move around a stage cluttered with lamps, shifting things around and doing the sort of busywork that is probably supposed to set the mood but has me wiggling my foot and willing them all to get on with it.
But then we're on the line in a fish factory. Guts are flying everywhere and the talk is pouring out too. Life is hard in 1980's Dublin, even if the music is banging. Tainted Love is on the lips of all three girls, and although I'm a Manson Girl (Marilyn, obviously) I am not unappreciative of the Soft Cell version.
Our cast shimmy and sprint through the lives of an endless procession of characters. Less slipping into them and more running full tilt until they crash right in: bosses and boys and friends, so many friends, and babysitters, and first loves.
And I love them all.
The girls I mean.
The men in their life are terrible. The absolute worst of the worst.
And as we return to the fish factory, and see them on the line, dragging their knives against the firm flesh of those fishy bellies, I can't be the only one thinking those knives might have served a greater purpose.
Applause done. House lights up.
I try to stand but sharp pains run up and down the backs of my thighs.
I winch as I haul myself up to my feet and turn around to glare at the bench responsible.
I knew I should have embraced the dark side and taken one of the cursed chairs.
Being virtuous is a young person's game.