Not my Sherlock

After months and months (and months) of monitoring the Rudolf Steiner House website, they’ve only gone and programmed a play. I thought I could get away with not visiting the theatre that lives in this building. I thought it was wall to wall lectures about strange esoteric and spiritual things that I don’t understand. But no. They’ve gone all commercial. They’ve got Sherlock Holmes in for the summer.

I’m a little bit annoyed, to be honest.

But it’s fine. I’m sure the Rudolf Steiner House is very calming.

All pale walls and the smiles of the spiriually enlightened. That’s how I’m picturing it.

Full disclosure, I have no idea who Rudolf Steiner was (or quite possibly, is…) but given the titles of the things that they usually programme “Exploring Your Intuitive Self,” “Inner Light and Strength - Nurturing Seeds of Spiritual Renewal,” “How to Protect Yourself from the Demonic attacks of Electromagnetic radiation and Vaccines”) I’m thinking he must have been some proto-Scientology dude.

Hope it doesn’t turn out like when I was offered a personality test in Totteham Court Road…

The House is just off Baker Street. Close to Regent’s Park. It looks quite nice from the outside. There’s a window filled with books down one end, and an a-frame advertising the play down the other.

Inside it is all pale walls and spiritually enlightened smiling people. There’s a counter at one end. That must be the box office. And a sort of foyer space lined with blue upholstered chairs down the other. All very hospital waiting room, except for the massive roller banner with the show artwork next to the doors to the auditorium, which I think is supposed to serve as a backdrop to any Instagrammers that float through, and dozens of show posters stuck to every available surface.

“Are you picking up tickets?” asks the man behind the counter.


“What's the name?

I give my surname, spelling it out letter by letter.

He looks down for a second. “Maxine?”

That’s me!

“Great,” he says, handing me a receipt-paper ticket. The same style of ticket they have at Above the Stag. “You're in I12.”

Well, okay then. I look around, decideding what my next course of action should be. The doors are open but it’s far too early to be going in.

I decide to risk it, and sit on one of the blue chairs.


There aren’t many people here. They’re all outside, hanging out on the pavement.

I get out my phone and start editing my Jackson’s Lane post.

I hope no one tries to indoctrinate me. There’s a bit I wanted to rewrite and that’s always tricky on my phone’s touchscreen.

The man sitting closest to me says something.

I ignore him, turning to Google to double-check something.

He says something again.

I look over.

He’s staring at his phone.

He’s still talking. Or rather muttering. To himself.

He swears. He’s annoyed.

He must be editing a blog post too. I get that way sometimes.

“That’s four tickets,” says the man behind the box office, as a family waits at the counter.

Oh yeah. I’d forgotten kids loved Sherlock Holmes. I certainly did. I had all the books on tape. I used to listen to them on my way to school. Clive Merrison and Michael Williams pretty much narrated my childhood.

“Now,” says the mum, pausing dramatically. “Do you have such a thing as ice cream?”

They don’t.

Crisps? Yes. KitKat Chunkies? Yes. But not ice cream.

Oh dear. Not sure how they are going to make it through a month-long summer run of a kid-bait play without the cold stuff.

That gets me thinking about the other important theatre purchase… programmes.

There don’t seem to be any on sale. There aren’t any on display on the counter, and the ticket checker on the door doesn’t have any either.

Either there’s a programme seller inside the theatre, or programmes are against some Rudolf Steiner principal. I hope not. While I admit to being the least spiritual person in the world, composed of one part anxiety and two parts cynicism, I don’t like to think that my programme addiction is putting me in harms way of demonic attack.

Perhaps that’s why the theatre ghosts avoid me. Somehow they’ve found out about the six 35 litre boxes I’ve got filled with the things at home.

And before you say it, no, my desire to meet a theatre ghost is not a symptom of some latent spirituality. I don’t actually believe in ghosts. I grew up next to a 12th-century graveyard and never heard the slightest whisper of a WooOooOo in the night. I just want to chat to one at some point. Without the burden of belief.

I should probably go in.

I show the ticket checker my receipt.

She leans in, peering at the teeny text.


“It is very small,” I say.

She laughs. “Is that an I or an L?”

“It’s an I.”

She points at the door on the right. “You’re on the right,” she says.

So I turn right.

And this is it. The Rudolf Steiner Theatre in Rudolf Steiner House.


It’s a proper little theatre. There’s a stage, with a full-on proscenium arch. And raked seating set in three blocks, divided by two aisles.

I find row I and stare at the seats, trying to work out which is mine.

All the other rows seem to have their seat numbers marked by little badges applied to the bottom of the flip seat. But not row I. They must have fallen off or something.

“Do you know what number you are?” I ask a lady in my row.

She grabs the seat next to her and points to a previously unnoticed number.

“I’m 11,” she says.

I lean in, squinting at the number. “12,” it says, very faintly.

“I would never have spotted that,” I laugh. “It looks like I’m next to you then!”

From the foyer I hear the tiniest little tinkling of a faerie bell.

“Have you read any reviews of this?” asks my neighbour.

“I don’t think they’ve had press night yet,” I tell her. I know that they haven’t had press night yet. They haven’t been shy about telling us when press night is. It’s 25 July. It’s on the Rudolf Steiner website. It’s on the play’s dedicated mini-site. It’s probably on the flyers. I don’t know, I haven’t checked. But press night is 25 July.

“Yes, it’s the second performance,” says my neighbour.

“We’re going in blind.”

“Oh yeah,” she says. “That’s the risk you take, I suppose.”

Yeah, I mean. Sure. Can’t say I read reviews before a show all that much. Even in my pre-marathon days. I was usually booked in long before the critics submitted their verdicts.

Looks like I'm in the minority though, as the audience tonight is a bit thin. Small groups are scattered about the middle bank of seats. The rows all half empty due to a price banding which discourages sitting forward. Now, I'm not a fan of flat-pricing unless that flat price is somewhere in the region of fifteen quid, but I think the Sherlock-gang were a bit ambitious with their premium seats here. But hey, maybe the reviews will have this place sold out come 26 July.

Although, I'm really not sure what the press are going to make of it. It’s a strange play. We've got a Holmes and Watson, but that’s about as close to Conan Doyle as we’re getting.

There’s ghostly goings-on as a man is murdered by… an invisible thing. The only witness, a bluestocking with a penchant for whiskey, and getting one over on Holmes.

Leaves shake, pictures lose their grip on the wall, and telescopes spin on their tripods.

I keep on waiting for the Hound of the Baskervilles-twist, but no, it looks like we're really going down the whole invisible route.

It's like Mousetrap and The Woman in Black snuck into the writers' room and locked everyone else out. Add to that a sprinkle of biodegradable woke-glitter, and you have Sherlock Holmes and the Invisible Thing.

The family next to me are having a hard time coming to terms with the invisibleness of the thing too.

The keep on leaning into their mum to ask what's going on with childish whispers, and then returning to their sweets when the answer they get placates, if not entirely satisfies, them.

In the interval, I go back out into the foyer.


The pair behind the counter warn any drink-buyers that they can't take their new purchases into the auditorium.

An old lady comes in, asking about the show. "It started at 7.30pm," they tell her. "But it's on for the next month."

And there it is again. The tinkling tiny bell.

I look over. The ticket checker is ringing a brass bell. Going over to the main doors to call back into everyone hanging out on the pavement. They're not paying attention. It's not what I would call a classic theatre bell. The bells at the Royal Opera House would laugh if they saw it, before chomping it down in a single bite. It really is small. The kind of bell an infirm Victorian lady would have used to summon her dependent niece to bring thin broth and a bottle of gin in the morning.

She changes her grip, whipping the bell up and down. "I think if I do it like a town crier..." she says, showing the guy behind the box office.

"I don't think it's working," he says kindly, as exactly no one comes through the door.

She sighs. "I don't think it's working either."

"I think we need to figure out another way to do it."

Yup. I agree. You can't be using piddly little bells on theatre audiences. The thing about theatre-goers, you see, is that we all hate sitting in theatres. We will postpone the torture for as long as physically possible. Until every usher is on the brink of getting a heart attack. Think of it like letting children out of class for their morning break. They're all hopped up on custard creams and Ribena now. There's no getting them to settle down for double chemistry. Not even if you promise to show them some cool colour-change reactions. It's too late. This is why all plays should be done in 90 minutes. No interval. No bells. No-fuss. Just good clean theatre fun. And we won't even complain too much if nothing blows up.

But we do all make it back in.

I grab my jacket from where I left it on the seat and shift down to the other end of the row. It was a bit awkward sitting right there next to that family, when there is so much space going spare.

Turns out, now that i’m sitting behind someone, the Rudolf Steiner Theatre really isn't meant to be a theatre. The rake is awful.

Maybe I really should have gone for those premium seats.

I try hard to focus. There's a lot of talking going on as Sherlock explains the mystery of the invisible thing. I was so sure they were going to do a Sussex Vampire, I'm left baffled by the revelation. I mean... okay then. I guess... Fine. Whatever. It's been a long week. And like, I get that Conan Doyle wasn't available to make notes on the script. He might have told them that The Adventure of the Creeping Man wasn't his best story. But at least the narrative decisions he made in that tied into the popular perceptions of science at the time.

It was fun though.

And no one tried to recruit me into a meditation circle.

Plus I get to use Baker Street tube to get home. And that's cool.

James McArdle though…

Three hours twenty minutes. THREE hours twenty minutes. Three HOURS and TWENTY minutes.

That’s way too long for a play.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’ve done the whole endurance theatre thing. I’ve seen Angels in America (8 hours 45 minutes). I did most the Almeida’s Iliad (15 hours, but I gave up around 11pm because I didn’t want to nightbus it home). The Cursed Child (5 hours 15 minutes). Twice. And Gatz (8 hours). Twice.

So, you know - I can take a long running time.

But three hours and twenty minutes? That’s too fucking much. Way too long to be convinced that the playwright has a tight while on the narrative. And yet, not long enough to feel like you’re going on an epic journey with the peformers. Plus, a 7pm start time means I’m rushing from work, so I’m already exhausted before I’ve even stepped into the building.

Which is the National in this case, because, well, you’ve already guessed it, haven’t you? I’m seeing Peter Gynt.

Almost exclusively for James McArdle reasons.

I love James McArdle. And his Scottish accent.

I saw him, sans-Scottish accent, in Angels, and Platonov, and he was… just heavenly.

If anything can keep me awake until twenty past ten tonight, it’s James McArdle.

I decide to avoid the main entrance and slip in via the external walkways. Anything to avoid all those staircases going up to the Olivier.

The main terrace jutting out of the side of the National is filled up with people communing with the flowerbeds. High above, I can see people leaning over the concrete sides of the balconies, dark shadows against the pale concrete, like birds hanging out on power lines.

I don’t hang out with them. I’ve got a ticket to collect.

I aim myself at the glass doors that will take me into the Olivier foyer. I pass two girls rehearsing a  dance routine, using the dark windows as a mirror.

There’s a bit of a queue at the Olivier box office. There always is. No matter how early you turn up.


But it moves quickly, and soon its my turn.

I give my surname.

The box officer types it into her computer as I spell it out. Her eyes narrow. She’s not finding anything.

“I bought it through TodayTix if that makes a difference,” I say, suddenly realising that I might not even be in the system.

“Ah! Yes it does,” she says, moving away from the computer and grabbing a pile of tickets from the counter. “Maxine?”


“One ticket?”

“… yes.”

She tears my ticket away from its TodayTix friends. “You’re in the circle,” she says as she hands it to me. “One level up.”


So up I go. It’s actually two levels to the circle. Or at least, two sets of staircases.

I’m really not fit enough for this nonsense.

I huff and puff my way up to the Olivier circle foyer, pausing at the top of the stairs as I get my breath back.

“Hello!” calls out the programme seller from behind her little trolley.

The programme trollies at the National always confuse me. They’re grey and industrial looking, and their ubiquitous presence in every foyer make me sad to look at them. But they’re full of ice cream, so… they’ve git that going for them.

The programme seller is slipping her stack of programmes. Inserting a small piece of paper into each one. There must be a cast change tonight.

“Can I get a programme?” I ask.

“That’s four pounds fifty.”

Blimey. Do you remember when National Theatre programmes were only three quid? I remember when National Theatre programmes were only three quid. I know some people mark their aging souls by the increasing youthfulness of policemen, but for me, it’s the price of programmes. They go up every damn year.

Still smarting from the cost, I get out my purse. Ah. Bit short on the whole change thing right now.

“Do you have change for a twenty?” I ask apologetically.

“Yes, I think so,” she says, checking her drawer. “But you’ll need to take a lot of pound coins. I hope that’s okay.”

Of course it’s okay. Pound coins are brilliant. They feel like proper money. Not like those measly five pence pieces which I lose as soon as I look at them. Pound coins are the best coins. Better than two pound coins even. I can never get enough of them.

“That’s fifteen pounds fifty in change,” she says, giving my two whole fivers and five pound coins alongside the fifty pee. This is literally the best change day I’ve ever had in my life. Fivers! Two of them! “You might want to count that,” she advises. But I trust her.

“And here’s your programme,” she says as I put my purse away. She touches the small white tongue of paper sticking out of the top of my programme. “There’s an indisposition tonight.”

Indisposition. What a quaint word. I don’t think I’ve ever heard it in this context. It’s usually ‘an injury’ in the dance world. And ‘cast illness’ in theatre. Indisposition makes it sound like some louche actor has been partaking of a touch too much opium and cannot remove himself from the chaise longue in time to get to the theatre.

With my programme in hand, I decide I need to head out onto the terrace to nurse my own tired head.

It’s nice out here. Not as nice as the grand terrace below. No flowerbeds to get friendly with, and no chairs either, unless you like perching on the low windowsills. But we’re high enough to get a breeze coming off the river and that’s pretty much all I want right now.

I’m enjoying it so much out here that I don’t even notice the bell that must have gone off inside, because the next time I turn around to look through the windows, the bar has cleared out and everyone has gone in.

I grab my bag and sling it over my shoulder, hurrying inside.

The note on my ticket says I need to go to aisle four, which is on the left.

I show my ticket to the ticket checker on the door, but she’s not interested in that. Her eyes are pinned to my rucksack.

Shit. I’d forgotten about that. The National are super strict about the sizes of bags that go into the auditorium.

I’ve been carrying this bag for years, and it seems to be the exact right size to confuse the ticket checkers. Most of the time I get it in, but I have had more than one hurried sprint to the cloakroom when my pleading failed to melt the ticker checker’s heart.

She reaches out and grabs it, giving it a good feel. “Hmm, it’s quite empty, isn’t it? Furtherest aisle!” And with that, she lets me through.

I walk into the shadow-filled corridor, turning left and heading to the furthest door, as directed, patting my bag back into shape and trying not to feel violated.

I pull the heavy doors open and go in, taking a moment to stand up there, right at the back of the circle, to appreciate this aeroplane hangar of a space.

The Olivier is huge. Vast. If the National ever needed to raise funds, they could rent this space to Amazon to use as a central London warehouse.

I trot down the steps towards row D, peering as the seat numbers as I try to find the one that belongs to be.

A woman grabs her bag and jacket, removing it from the seat next to her and stuffing them behind her knees.

“Don’t worry, I’m here,” I say, pointing to the next seat along.

“No worries!” she says.

Even being so high off, and frankly, a little too far off to the side, the view is great. I can see all of that massive round stage, apart from a tiny clip in the corner. Plus, from here I can spy on what the band are up to.

Oh yes, there’s a band. A live band. For a play.

No expense spared here.

There’s a school group sitting behind me. or at least, I think they’re a school group. There’s defiantly a teacher amongst them “Now, the curtain is about to go up, so turn off your phones. Not on vibrate. Off. All the way off. And snacks away. I don’t want to hear your rustling.”

“The curtains are already up though,” comes the plaintive reply.

“There aren’t even curtains.”

That’s true. There aren’t even curtains.

“How do you know it’s about to start?” says one student

“It’s past 7pm. It was supposed to start at 7pm,” counters another.

The lights dim.

The band starts.

“Off,” orders the teacher over the sound of the music. “Now. Off, I said.”

May the theatre gods protect us from overzealous educators.

Just as the lovely James McArdle appears, someone starts making his way down our row.

“Sorry, excuse me,” he says he squeezes past someone.

He plonks himself in the seat next to me, and then leans in to whisper: “sorry, what seat number are you?”

“Err, sixty…?” Honestly I can’t remember. It’s a high number.


“Hang on,” I reach down to my bag to check, but it’s no good. I’d never be able to read my ticket in this low lighting. “I don’t think it matters,” I tell him. “No one’s going to move you.”

That seems to make sense to him. “I think I’ll just stay here.”

So he does. And thus settled we watch all one hour twenty minutes of the first act.

Peter Gynt is a weird play, isn’t it?

I didn’t really know the story. But I do know the Grieg music. Back when I was all of ten years old, I badgered my mum for weeks to by me a cassette tape of Peer Gynt. Which, now I say it, is probably the most revealing thing I’ve ever told you. Yes, I am that old. I yes, I was that much of a pretentious wank when I was ten years old. You thought that was a recent acquisition? Oh honey… no. If anything, I’ve mellowed.

Anyway, because of that, I knew there would be a hall. And a mountain king. But this is pure loopy-loo.

Logic was not issued with a staff pass when this production went into rehearsal.

As the house lights go up for the interval, my new neighbour leans over again. “Sorry to disturb you,” he apologises.

“Don’t worry,” I tell him.

“I think I’m actually meant to be in the seat on the other side of you.”

The seat on the other side of me is indeed empty, now that bag and jacket has been removed from it.

“There’s so many empty seats, I think you can sit anywhere.”

We look around the auditorium. There are a lot of empty seats. A lot of empty seats.

With one last glimpse, I go back out to the terrace for the interval. I need to stretch my legs. There’s a long way to go.

“It didn’t feel like one hour and twenty minutes,” says one of the students behind me when I return.

“It’s so good!”

“Everything is happening!”

“Yeah! It’s so good.”

So good.”

Bless. I love young people. So enthusiastic.


I’m not sure the rest of the audience agrees. An already thin house is noticeably thinner. We’ve lost the entire row B down at this end. And there are patches all over the circle.

My neighbour with the coat and jacket hasn’t come back.

Things don’t get better after the second interval. My friend who couldn’t find his seat? Yeah, either he’s upgraded himself to the stalls, or he’s gone to catch a train home.

There’s only a few people left in my row, and we are all spread out like buttons on a shirt.

So we all take the only reasonable course of action. We lean back and lounge around, lolling over the arm rests in a way that we don’t have the opportunity to do all that often in the theatre, and we are making full use of the opportunity.

“That was brilliant!” says one of the students as the cast disappear after the applause. Presumably for a good lie down.

“Literally the best thing I’ve ever seen.”

“So good.”

So good.”

Not sure I can quite agree. Don’t think it’s even the best thing I’ve seen this week. Which is saying a lot as it’s only Monday.

Still, James McArdle though…

Shawly not

I’m on my way to the Shaw Theatre right now. And for once, I actually know where this theatre is. When the Northern Line crapped out last week, I had to get out at Euston and walk the rest of the way to work. A walk that took me down Euston Road as I headed into Islington. And as the red behemoth of the British Library loomed across my vision, I spotted something dangling in the way. It was a sign. For the Shaw Theatre.


Do you know about the Shaw Theatre? I didn’t know about the Shaw Theatre. It seems to be one of those theatres that is connected to a hotel. Like the Savoy but less… just less. Less glamourous. Less well known. And less programming. It’s taken me over six months to find a marathon-qualifying show for me to go to.

The Shaw seems to be the type of place that those regional music acts tour to. You know the kind of thing. Tribute acts and theme acts and cabaret acts and showcase acts. The type of acts that only seem to exist in these type of theatres.

They also have that Tape Face bloke, but I wasn’t altogether convinced that his stuff counted as theatre. So I took a pass.

But not tonight. Oh no. Tonight, I’m going to be seeing Rent.

Which I am rather excited about because I’ve never seen Rent before. I’m actually not all that familiar with it. I know that one song. You know, the one with all the numbers that every musical theatre fan seems to be able to reel off with only the slightest provocation.

Anyway, it looks nice enough. Modern. Glass. There’s some sort of massive sculpture action going on outside. A wire cage hanging above the carpark. Not sure what that’s meant to be but if it were being used as a prison to contain some supervillain or other, I would not be surprised.


I pick my way through the cars and head towards the main entrance.

As I approach, the door opens, held by a young woman in Shaw Theatre livery.

Gosh, I don’t think I’ve had the door held open for me at the theatre before. Not by a dedicated door person anyway. Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps this place really is as swanky as the Savoy.

“Hello!” says the young woman, all bright smile and welcoming.

I thank her, still slightly surprised by all these gentility.

She makes use of my disorientation to hold out a pile of stickers.

They have rainbows on them. And the name of the theatre.

That’s how to do Pride. With multi-coloured stickers. I approve.


I thank her again, already feeling very positive about this trip. Getting the door held open for me and a free sticker? The Shaw is gunning for a top ten position in my end of year rankings, I can tell you that right now.

From there, I join the queue for the box office. It’s a rather long queue. And is moving very slowly.

Another young woman, this one wearing a smart blue jacket, makes her way down the line asking if we booked ourselves e-tickets.

The bloke behind me shows her a print out.

“Yup, that’s fine,” she confirms.

“So I don’t have to queue?” he asks, amazed at this revelation.

“No, you can use that.”

He trots off with his print out, very pleased.

“Ooo! Stickers!” comes a cry from behind me.

Heads turn, and soon the young woman on the door is besieged by people who missed out on the sticker action on their way in.

“Can I have a sticker please?”

“Can you get me one too, mum?”

Such is the power of a rainbow sticker.

From my position in the queue, I have a great view of the bar. It’s exactly the sort of bar you would imagine there to be in a hotel’s theatre. All dramatic hanging lights and stacks of mini-bar sized snacks hanging out alongside the bottles of more serious stuff.

A girl goes up to the bar and holds up a paper bag full of some sort of takeaway.

She asks the barman something, and after a moment’s thought, he takes it from her.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she calls after him as he disappears through the back door. “Thank you, thank you, thank you!” she repeats when he remerges a few seconds later.

I think he was putting it in the fridge for her, which I have to say, is not something I’ve ever considered asking bar staff to help with, at the theatre or anywhere else, but my god, what a good idea. Especially in this weather.

“Have you got an e-ticket?” asks the woman in the blue jacket, doing another trawl of the queue.

“I think I’m picking up,” I tell her.

“What’s the surname?”

I tell her, and she goes off to the front to double check.

I do the same, but on my phone, and bringing up the confirmation email remember that I paid an extra two quid for this privilege. Fucking hell. No wonder she’s asking about e-tickets so much. What kind of idiot would pay two quid for the pleasure of a paper ticket? Apart from me, but we all know I have issues.

A few minutes later, I’m at the front of the queue.

“Is that Maxine?” asks the lady on box office when she checks her computer for my booking.

I tell her that it is and a second later the printer behind the desk buzzes into action. She checks the ticket, folds up the ream, and hands it to me.

Right then. Time to explore.

Apart from the bar and the box office, there’s a seating area over by the entrance to the theatre. All red walls and old theatre posters and low settees. There’s also the most extraordinary carpeting going on. I mean, if I didn’t know this place had a hotel connection before, this carpet would tell me everything I need to know. It’s all floral and swirly, with another pattern going on underneath that I can’t quite make out. It’s like one of those Magic Eye posters from the nineties. I couldn’t make them out either.

The entrance to the theatre itself is closed off by a red velvet curtain. That combined with the old posters gives this place a very strange vibe. The modern hotel combined with the old school theatre. I’m not sure even the Shaw knows what this place is.

“Good evening,” comes a voice over the sound system. “Welcome to the Shaw Theatre. The house is now open. The house is now open.”

Now, you may say that I’ve been marathoning far too long (and I won’t disagree with you on that), but that message surprises me. I think that might be the first time I’ve heard a house open announcement that doesn’t mention the name of the show. You know: “Welcome to the Shaw Theatre for tonight’s performance of Rent…”

I wonder if the message has been pre-recorded. It would certainly make it easier for everyone with all those one-night shows that they have going on.

No one else appears bothered by this. They all crowd themselves towards the doors, heaving in close to each other until them become unmanageable mass of people.

I hang back and let them get on with it.

Seating is allocated. There’s no rush.

Eventually the queue clears, and I make my way in.

The first ticket checker barely looks as me as I pass through the curtain. She has no interest whatsoever in whether I have a ticket, or what it says on it if I do.

So I continue on, making my way through a dark corridor, with George Bernard Shaw quotes hung up on the walls, in what must be an attempt to justify the name of the theatre.

“Life isn’t about finding yourself, life is about creating yourself,” one states. “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing,” says another. I don’t know about you, but this makes me think that old Shawie-boy was a bit repetitive in his choice of sentence structure.

That makes me suspicious. I can’t for the life of me think what play either of these are from. Neither strike me as something the writer of Man and Superman would come out with. But then, I’m not a massive GBS fan, so, who knows?

I get out my phone and Google the first one and immediately find a page asking “Wait, did George Bernard Shaw really say this?”

The answers seem to suggest that no, he didn’t. But I don’t have time to research any further, because I’ve reached the other end of the corridor and there’s a ticket checker waiting for me on the other side.

“D23?” I ask, showing her the ticket.

“D23. You will be…” her finger traces the horizon of seats, wavering between the middle and final block of seats. “Hang on, let me show you.”

And with that she leads me down to the second aisle.

“Twenty-three did you say?”

“Err, yes,” I say, double checking my ticket.

She hops up a few steps to the fourth row. “You’re just in here,” she says.

“Lovely! Thank you!”

Whatever their questionable use of George Bernard Shaw quotes, you can’t fault the service.

Nor the seating. It’s very plush. Wide, squashy seats, covered in fuzzy velvet. Pretty lush.

Someone in the row in front turns around. “Do you know how long this is?” he asks.

My neighbour shakes her head. “Sorry, I just know its two acts.”

Yeah, no freesheets tonight. And no programmes.

Still, we got rainbow stickers.

I settle back in my seat and get comfortable.

The people sitting behind me are having some great theatre chat. By the sounds of it they are both musical theatre professionals and the gossip is flying. Lots of talk of “Cameron,” the joys of auditioning on a proper West End stage, and the perils of being second cover.


As the lights dim, there’s a scurrying of movement as people move down to better seats.

A couple slowly make their way down from the back, clinging onto the rail as they go down the stairs, move across the front of the stage, and then sink into a pair of seats in the front row.

Thus settled, they start to enjoy the show. Really enjoy the show. The woman sways from side to side, waving her arms as she feels the music.

It’s rather beautiful.

As for me, I’ve just realised what Rent is. It’s La Boehme, isn’t it? That whole candle scene. I recognise that! That’s good. I feel on firmer ground now. Except I’m now worrying about what a potential wank I am that I’m more familiar with La Boehme then Rent.

As our Mimi (again, no freesheet, I have no idea who she is) gets down on her knees and Arghhh Oooos into the night, it’s simply too move for the lady in the front row. She just has to dance. She gets up from her seat and boogies her way into the corner, where she bows her head, puts up her arms, and moves to the beat, truly embodying the ‘dance like no-one’s watching’ mandate more fully than I’ve ever seen anyone do it before.

The man she’s with watches her for a moment, checks behind him to see how we’re talking it, beckons her back to her seat and then goes to speak to the usher.

They whisper to each other feverously, the usher and the man, with lots of pointing around the auditorium.

He doesn’t want his lady to stop dancing. Oh no. He wants to find her a place where she can get her groove on without disturbing anyone else.

The usher nods. She understands. And he returns to his seat.

A few songs later she sneaks into the front row, crouching down next to the pair.

She’s sorted something. She’s taking them somewhere.

So they go. Leaving their prime spots, our lady dances her way out of the theatre.

It feels strangely quiet now that we’ve lost our alternate cast member. But the performers up on stage don’t let us relax for long.

“Moo!” orders our Maureen. “Everyone this side: Moo!”

Everyone duly moos as ordered. Well, almost everyone.

I do not partake. I have audience participation intolerance.

But as our Mark jumps up onto a table, and the table tips, throwing him forward, oh, I gasp. I gasp along with everyone else. He recovers his balance just in time, throwing out his hand to show us he’s okay. And we applaud. How could we not after such a feat of daring do?

“Did you moo?” someone asks in the row in front once the interval hits.

“No!” comes the reply.

Okay, so I wasn’t the only one then.

The person from the row in front is outraged. “No? But you have to!”

“Can you believe they only had a week to do all that?” counters the non-mooer, clearly wanting to change the subject. “Aren’t they amazing!”

They are. But I still don’t know who they are.

Interval over and there’s a strangled squeal from the audience as the cast comes out. They know what’s coming. And I can guess. Yes, it’s the number song! 525,600 apparently. That’s a big number. How do people remember that? I never even managed pi to five decimals.

But it’s proper good.

And it’s sad.

And I might be sniffing a bit. A hint of watery eye. No, it’s okay. I’m not going to cry.

Oh poor Angel.

And poor Mimi.

Shit, I’ve gone. The first tear has fallen and there’s no stopping me now.

As the final notes ring out, we all burst from our seats into a standing ovation. I can’t believe it was only on Friday I was saying I rarely ovate. Only when a performance hits me in the gut, was my justification. Well, gut fucking hit. Full on bullseye right in the intestines.

I turn around, taking in the audience.

There, at the back, in the far corner, is our dancing lady. She’s still moving to the sound of the band as they play us out. Hands above her head, hips swinging. And the man she’s with watching her.

And I start crying again, because that’s love, isn’t it? Finding someone the space to be themselves and letting them go for it, to the fullest.

Fuck yeah.



Credit where it's due

It feels kinda weird getting off the tube at Angel on a Saturday. This is the station I use for work. And now I'm here. During the weekend. This is all levels of wrong and I don't like it. I'm turning right out of the station though. Going up Upper Street. Because tonight, I'm at the Almeida.

I do like the Almeida. I haven't been in a while though. For Robert Icke reasons. I just... can't with his stuff. We've talked about this before. I know you think he's a genius. Everyone thinks he's a genius. Perhaps he is. I just don't get it. And I've given up trying. So, yeah. I haven't been to the Almeida in a hot minute, as the YouTubers used to say.

But tonight, I make my return. And as far as I'm aware, this play has nothing to do with Robert Icke. Which is one hell of a selling point for me.

Better still, it has Tobias Menzies in it. And I adore Tobias Menzies.

I even have a Tobias Menzies story. And that story is that I once ordered him a taxi. And he was very nice.

Hey, I never said it was a good story.

But still, isn't it lovely to find out that talented people are also nice?

I was an intern at the Donmar when he was in The Recruiting Officer, and I was trying to arrange all the cast to get to some patrons' shindig, which I'm sure none of them wanted to go to. So like, he did not even have to be slightly polite to me. And yet he was. So, he made a life-long fan in me.

Anyhoo, enough of that. We're here. As ever, when the weather is good, half the audience seems to be hanging out on the pavement. The Almeida is on a little side street. Almeida Street. Hence the name. So there isn't much in the way of traffic. There's pretty much only the theatre on one side, and a restaurant on the other.

Still, they have some security person standing guard in the middle of the road.

He watches me as I stroll across to get my photo of the exterior. There are too many cars parked on either side, so I'm forced to stand in the middle of the road to take it. The security person does not look impressed with my blatant disregard of all the traffic that is very much not driving down the road, and he keeps an eye until I make my way back to safety.

I go over to the box office that's right inside the door. There's usually a queue for tickets, but I'm early, and as I said, everyone is outside soaking up those rays.

I give my name to one of the box officers sitting behind the counter and she pulls out the chunk of tickets living behind the 's' tab in the ticket box, and finds mine.

"Can you confirm the postcode?" she asks.

I want to tell her that gurl, I am six months and 169 theatres into a marathon right now, and there is no way I can remember my postcode, but some synapse or other snaps into action just in time and I manage to get it out.

"Perfect. That's one ticket in the stalls," she says, and hands it over.

Right then. What now? Programme purchasing time, I think.

There are two programme sellers positioned near the front door, all primed and holding playtexts and programme in their arms like a bouquet of papery flowers, but they are busy talking to someone, so I bypass them and head right to the back, where there's a merch desk.

You might be asking yourself why a producing house theatre in Islington has a merch desk, and that would be a good question. The Royal Court doesn't have a merch desk. The Young Vic doesn't have one either. But the Almeida go hard on stuff. Posters and playtext and programmes and everything to make my little publications officer heart sing.

"Would you like a deal?" asks the lady behind the counter when I ask for a programme.

"What's the deal?" I say, getting excited

"It's a script, programme, and tote bag," she says, pointing to each item in turn. "For fifteen pounds,"

Fifteen pounds? I mean, I love merch, but... fifteen pounds! "Ah, no," I tell her feeling a bit guilty after all my previous enthusiasm. "That's too much. I can't cope with all of that."

So I just get the programme. Which is four pounds. Much more my level.

Although... I wonder if I can come back for the deal after seeing the play. Might be more willing to invest on the playtext side of things once I know if it's actually any good.

Right. Let's find somewhere to sit down and read this thing.


Everyone's outside, so I get a prime spot on the end of the long benches that line the pit-like foyer.

The Almeida foyer is a strange place. With its white walls and glass ceiling, and wipe-clean upholstery, it's kinda like sitting in a fancy sanatorium. An expensive one in the mountains, where handsome young porters wheel you around in bathchairs as you take in the clean air.

Except there's a bar all down one end and everyone here has wine-breath. Which somehow I don't think is part of the hospital's regime.


Then there's the show artwork taking up the big wall overlooking the foyer. Which is usually cool. A photo opportunity. Instagram bait.

Bit quite so much for this show. It’s a massive blown-up picture of Tobias Menzies' face, which is lending the space a slight Orwellian-vibe,

There's a great big close up of Tobias Menzies on the front cover of the programme too, which now that I have my back to the ten-foot version of the picture, is very pleasing. But even though I love me some Tobias Menzies, he's not the thing I'm most excited for tonight.

I am actually here for the movement. I page through the programme until I get to the biographies and yup, there he is. Botis Seva. Movement Director. I'm actually currently producing the programme for his show at my work... which I notice his biography doesn't mention. Hmm. There's his Olivier Award win. That's nice. And a few other projects. But not the one that's opening next week at my theatre. Huh. That's rude. I mean, fucking hell - the Almeida is just down the road from us. A fifteen-minute walk, if that. Where's the Islington loyalty? I ask you...

It is mentioned in the Movement Assistant's biog though. Which is something. I suppose.

Enough about that. What else have they got? Three articles. Which is generous. Although with really inconsistent formatting, that makes me think they just dropped in the copy direct from the writers without any attempt to enforce a house style on them. Now, usually, I wouldn't even mention this. But like, this is the Almeida... not some struggling fringe venue, or a money grabbing West End venue who just want to flog programmes without going to the bother of making them. Do they not have a style guide? Someone over there really needs to get a grip on what their quotation marks are even for.

From the corner of my eye, I spot something. Something pink. And wriggling.

I look over.

My bench neighbour has taken off her shoes. Her toenails are painted the colour of a strawberry milkshake and she's swinging her legs like a child in a high chair.

I lift up my programme, using it as a shield between the sight of her naked feet and my eyes.

This is not acceptable behaviour. I think theatres need to start adding that to their pre-show announcements. Switch off your phones. No re-entry after the show has started. And keep your bloody shoes on you nasty people.

Gawd, I fucking hate summer.

Speaking of pre-show announcements, there's one now...

"The house is now open," says a voice over the sound system. I get out my phone to note down what she says, but the rest is lost over the noise of audience chatter. I can't make out a single word other than something about plastic cups.

Oh well.

I should probably go in.

There's a massive queue of people coming in from outside, all trying to get up the very narrow steps to the theatre, so I nip along the long ramp to avoid all that nonsense.


"Show your tickets to my colleague," says the bloke on the door. "Enjoy the show!"

I show my tickets to the next person. And she points me in the direction of my seat. Right at the back. Behind a pillar. Or, two pillars, as I find out when I sit down.

Now, you probably already know this, but the pillars in the Almeida are so not a big deal, and their presence is actually amazing, because the seats that are supposedly restricted by their presence are super cheap. I paid a tenner for where I'm sitting now. Which is a hella bargain. I would always, always, take a pillar seat in the stalls over an unrestricted one in the circle. I've been in the Almeida circle. It's rubbish up there.

I mean, yes - from back here I'm missing the top of the set. What looks like a greenhouse or something. And I don't get the full effect of that amazing brick back wall that makes you feel like you're watching theatre in a monastery, but...

"It's nice having a signature back wall," says my neighbour. I look over at him, slightly worried that he's been reading my thoughts. "It's a good thing to have," he continues. "Other theatres don't have it."

That's not quite true. The Donmar has a great wall. So does the Royal Court, although we don't get to see it all that often. The Globe's is pretty spectacular. And the Rose's is spectacular in it’s absence. I don't tell him this. He's not talking to me and I'm sure he doesn't care about my list of pleasing theatre walls.

A woman comes on stage. She's making an announcement. Is a cast member sick? Has the stage broken?


Nope, the house lights are going down. It's part of the play. Okay then.

And there's Tobias Menzies with his lovely deep voice. And the movement, we’ll it's very Botis Seva.

And... what is this play? I mean, I'd kinda heard people talking about it. But are we really doing this? In the year of someone or other's lord 2019? Is this what we want from our theatre in a post-#metoo world?


And I know, I just know, if we were to ask, we'd get some statement prepared by the press team to the effect of "oh, it's starting important conversations," but like, we all know that's code for "our Artistic Director wanted to do the play and we had to come up with a reason to justify it." And it's so frickin' tedious. Art is not viewed in a vacuum. You cannot hide behind the security blanket of provocation. Not unless you are going to put in the work and guide those conversations yourself. Don't just place a bomb on the table and then run away, leaving the rest of us to work out how to diffuse the damn thing all by ourselves.

Just as I'm getting all riled up, a dog comes out! And all my brain can thing of is doggie-cuddles. Oh, gosh, he's cute. Look at his curly tail! And his snubbed little snout! He's so fluffy. He must have had one hell of a brush down before coming on stage. Aww. What a good boy he is.

There's a crash from the upper circle as someone drops something, and the dog's head snaps up. But he manages to recover his character and is soon back lolling around on the stage, yawning and being adorable.

What was I talking about? I can't remember. It's the interval now anyway.

I get stuck in the queue to leave the auditorium. There's only one door, and it ain't very wide.

"It's every man's worst nightmare," says an old guy in the line in front of me.

Oh, fuck you, old dude.


If that's the conversation this play is provoking, we should burn the whole thing down right now.

I go outside. I need to get away from all this... stuff.

There's a group out here talking about Tobias Menzies.

"I recognise him," says one woman.

"Oh yeah, he's definitely been in stuff," says a bloke.

"Like on TV?" says another woman.

The bloke gets out his phone. "Ah, here we are. Err. Casino Royale? He was definitely in Game of Thrones. He was, err, he was a lord. One of the lords. But, yeah. He was definitely in Game of Thrones."

Now, this is a perfect example of why up-to-date biographies are important.

As we go back in, something occurs to me and I pull the programme out of my bag.

I scan the cast list. Then the production team. Then the creative team.


Huh. That's weird.

I go to the biographies and check there, just in case.


The dog isn't credited. His handler is. But there's no mention of who is playing Max.

What kind of bullfuckery is this? What kind of person doesn't credit a dog given half a chance?

We've got Dying and Breakdown, Chaperones, Masks, Tech week buyer (I have no idea what this is...), Masks, a Safeguarding Consultant (I really don't envy the person doing this role), and, yes, Dog Handler. But no dog.

He's out there. Every night. Doing some spectacular work. And we don't even know his name?

I am outraged and offended and...

The plays starting again.

I sit and seethe until Max reappears. Aww. He really is lovely. I adore big dogs. Especially ones as handsome as this.

Stuart Campbell's character gives him a treat and kisses him on the snout.

What a darling.

The dog I mean.

I swear if anything happens to him...

Oh, you absolute fucking fuckers.

Who let the dogs out?

I’m back at the Young Vic tonight.

And no, we’re not talking about all that stuff going on. I’m not getting involved. I don’t know what’s going on and I refuse to have an opinion on the matter.

Not that I haven’t been thinking about it. A lot. And talking about it. A lot. It doesn’t help that one of the upcoming shows at my work features a dancer in… that show. I mean, how do you credit that in a biography without sounding like you are taking sides?

No. We’re not talking about it. Not here.

The controversy doesn’t seem to have damaged attendance figures though. The Cut is absolutely thronging with people having a last drink and a cigarette before going in. That Death of a Salesman is a juggernaut, and nothing can get in its way.

I’m not here to see that though.

“The surname’s Smiles,” I say to the lady behind the box office. “It’s for Ivan and the Dogs,” I add hurriedly as her hands reach for the larger of the two ticket boxes on the counter. I allow myself a smug smile. It isn’t often I manage to remember the name of a play in these situations.

She nods and digs out my ticket. “Maxine? You’re in the far corner,” she says, pointing off to the other side of the bar.

Ticket in hand, I launch myself into the crowded bar and head in the direction she was pointing. And find myself back in the exact same place I queued for Bronx Gothic on my last visit. The signage, stencilled onto the brickwork, is on the same patch of wall. And the arrow is pointing towards the same door.

I begin to panic.

Don’t tell me that I booked into the same venue twice. Please don’t tell me that.

I check my ticket.

Nope. It’s the Clare. Not the Maria.

Okay then. We’re alright.

There’s an usher on the door. Sorry, scrap that. There’s a member of the Welcome Team on the door. But no one else. It’s too early for the queue to start forming. And I’m not about to start it.

I turn around and go outside, finding a spare patch of wall to prop myself against and check my emails.

I seem to be leaning against some posters. I look over my shoulder to see what they are advertising.


It’s Tree.

Because of course it is.

“Are you watching the show tonight?”

I look up. It’s a Welcome Teamer.


“Death of a Salesman?”

Ah. I see. “No. No. No,” I assure here. “I’m here for the other one.” Which I’ve already forgotten the name of.

“That’s alright then,” says the Welcome Teamer, and she’s soon off rounding up any other wall-hangers.  “Are you watching Death of a Salesman? Are you watching Death of a Salesman?”

I wait a few more minutes, until the start time of the main house show has safely passed, then I go back in.

The bar is empty.

Well, relatively. Can the bar at the Young Vic ever be said to be truly empty?

At the far end, there’s a queue under the Ivan and the Dogs sign.


Not a big one. But then, it’s not a big venue. I hurry over and join the end of it.

A Welcome Teamer makes his way down the line. “I’m going to tear the tickets now,” he explains. “Make it nice and easy when you go in. The show is an hour and five minutes, and no interval.”

I give him my ticket, and he rips off the stub. And a large chunk of the actual ticket. But no matter. I may be precious about getting paper tickets, but what happens to them afterwards doesn’t bother me. I probably don’t need to tell you that I am the sort of person who cracks the spines of her paperbacks and folds down pages to mark my space. Adds character, you know.

The line is growing, almost reaching the box office now.

We wriggle and flow, breaking apart and shivering back into place, as people squeeze past us.

“Beep, beep!” says a staff members pushing a flat trolley. “Sorry! Sorry!”

The queue goes into Red Sea mode, parting for him and then splashing back into place as soon as the Deliverer of Trollies has passed through.

I jump aside for people going to the loo. For a waitress returning plates to the kitchen. For Welcome Teamers. More piss-takers. And more bar staff.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” says a waitress as she moves nimbly through the queue up towards the bar.

Honestly, the Young Vic really need to get this queue situation sorted. It’s impossible. I hope it’s next on the list after… well… you know.

I use the time to massage my hands. Work is really doing a number on me at the moment. I thought it would be the marathon that would kill me, but now I think my job might get in there first. Eleven pages of programme amends typed up before 10am this morning, and my hands are cramped the fuck up.

“Hi guys!” says the Welcome Teamer on ticket duty. “If we could make a little room for my colleague here,” he says, leading the way for the trolley pusher, now with his vehicle laden with two huge bins full to the brim with empty wine bottles.

We all shuffle out of their way, reforming the queue in their wake.

“Have I ripped you?” asks the Welcome Teamer as the trolley pusher disappears through the doors. We all nod. All ripped round here.

As one, the two Welcome Teamers open up the double doors with such ceremony I almost expect there to be a trumpet player on the other side ready to launch into a fanfare.

Instead the cry of “Has everyone been ripped?” reigns out as we walk through.

“Just remember to turn off your phone,” comes the voice of a Welcome Teamer as we make our way down the hall. “Straight down and to the right.”

I try to work out were we are in relation to the Maria, but it’s dark and this place is a labyrinth. I just focus on following everyone else and not getting lost.

Straight down. Turn right.

And there we are. The Clare. Bright and shining after so long in the dark.

A Welcome Teamer in a red polo shirt is handing out freesheets. “Wherever you like,” he says, indicating the multitude of options there are with seating.

The stage is a small square, set in the middle of the room at an angle. Around in, on four sides, are four matching banks of seats. Two rows. Seats set into wooden fortresses. The same colour as the walls, which look like someone has been having a lot of fun with panels of plywood and a nail gun.

I pick a seat in the second row, on the end, so that I’m forming a point of the diamond.

The seats begin to fill up.

“If you’re holding drinks,” announces the Welcome Teamer, “keep hold of them and don’t put them on the floor.”

“What did he say?” asks my neighbour.

“Don’t put your drinks on the floor,” her friend replies, with an audible roll of the eyes.

I say fair enough though. There isn’t much legroom and cups are liable to get kicked down there. And with all this pale wood… well, I wouldn’t envy the poor sod attempting to scrub red wine out of it.

My neighbour gets out her freesheet and starts inspecting it. “This doesn’t tell you what it’s about,” she says. “It’s just who’s in it.”

I open up my own to have a look for myself. She’s not wrong. There’s a cast list. And two biogs. One for the writer. One for the director. Nothing about the actor… which seems like a strange decision to make when there’s only one of them.

No dogs I notice. I do enjoy a dog on stage. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the top things I enjoy seeing. I’ve even been known to book a show on the strength of its canine casting. I would say the same about cats, but I think I’ve only seen a cat once on stage. In an opera. She was called Girlie and she was very talented. Really captured the essence of ‘cat’ by sleeping and then running off stage.

“They’ve added in these seats,” my neighbour continues. “I wonder if they had complaints.”

Yes, I was wondering about that. Not the late addition of them, I’ve never been in this space before. But their arrangement. Actual chairs, sunk into wooden structures. Their legs hidden in the box below. “Before you just sat on it,” she explains.

That doesn’t sound all that comfy. This arrangement is much better. Even if it is a little bit odd-looking.


The actor, Alex Austin comes out and perches on the edge of the stage. He looks sad. I’m not surprised. Probably got a look at those freesheets.

The Welcome Teamer is hanging out the door, peering down the dark corridor, on the lookout for latecomers.

Someone does come in.

She takes one of the reserved seats, just across from me. She gets out a notebook and positions it on her lap.

Time for another round of Blogger or Director? Nah. I recognise her. No missing that fabulous hair. So shiny. Straight out of a Pantene ad. She used to work at my work. And now look at her! A fancy director.

The lights dim.

Austin gets up. He’s ready to tell us a story. A story of fists and fear and running away. A story of hunger and hiding. A story of dogs.

He pauses, grinning as he looks around the audience, after telling us about how the white dog ate his potato.

We all aww in response. A couple sitting across from me look at each other and smile.

We are all utterly charmed.

The lights flash back on. I’m left squinting against the brightness. Austin turns around, holding our stares, not allowing us to blink.

I curl round my shoulders and try to hold his gaze against the onslaught of the light, suddenly feeling very vulnerable.

Just as my poor eyes grow used to this blazing light, the theatre dims once more.

Austin finishes his story. A few snuffles make their way around the audience.

He’s moved on. Started a new life.

And at the end, it is the empty stage that gets the spotlight.

Our applause brings him back though. He bows in one direction, and then the other, before bouncing off the stage and out the door in a gigantic leap that he must have learnt from the dogs.

Know your Onions

It’s the Park Theatre today!

I am very excited. Can you tell?

Not that I give a crap about the Park Theatre you understand. I mean, I’m sure it’s just swell. I’ve never been, so I can’t comment.

No, what I’m excited about is the theatre’s Getting Here page on their website.

A strangely specific thing to get worked up about, you may think. And I’ll grant you there is some truth in that. It is both strange, and specific. But I have my reasons. And those reasons are dog related.

After providing (very good and detailed) instructions on how to get to the theatre from the tube station, they go on to provide a video of the route. Featuring a dog. Called Hazel. It is super cute, and Hazel is adorable. And whoever came up with this idea is an excellent person and I approve of the entire endeavour.

My only criticism, and I’m not sure they are even taking notes at this stage, is that they say the walk takes four minutes, and yet the video is all of thirty seconds. If I had a touch more time on my hands, I’d be campaigning for real-time Hazel walkies. But as it is, I’m a bit busy. So off to the Park I go. Taking the suggested route, from the tube station. It takes about four minutes.

When I get there, the big glass windows at the front of the building are all open, and people are making full use of the the evening sun, sitting outside and doing the mostest to bring some European cafe culture to Finsbury Park.

There’s no sign of Hazel, but I’m sure she’s inside lolling around on a cool floor somewhere.


I go in, have a quick look around for any potential dog action, and with no wagging tails in sight, head over to the box office.

I give my surname, and the box officer pulls the ticket out of the box and hands it to me.

I look at it and start laughing.

“Mr Today Tix?” I ask. “I like that.”

You see, when you buy tickets through the TodayTix app, as I did for this trip, theatres usually process the company as the buyer, and then handwrite the audience member’s name on each one in time for collection. I think almost all theatres that use the app do this. With the Southbank Centre as the notable exception. They actually went and keyed in my information so that the ticket printed with my actual name on it. But the Southbank Centre are some swish bastards. They’ve got the resources for that kind of service.

Saying that, I don’t think I’ve come across a theatre to offer the app a title so far.

It's nice.

There’s a small display of programmes on the counter. Three quid. Not bad.

“Can I get a programme?”

I can, and we go about the business of my handing over cash and him sorting out my change.

Now what?

There doesn’t seem to be much seating here. And it’s too early to go in.

I wander outside and find a bollard to lean against, and start sorting out all my stuff.

I make to slip the ticket in my pocket, but give it one final look.

Mr Today Tix.

How silly.

Out of interest, I get out my phone, go to the Park’s website, and try to set up an account. They’re running the standard Spektrix system to handle their bookings, and the Title field is freetext. Not a dropdown. Meaning that whoever set up TodayTix as Mr Today Tix has some thoughts on the matter of titling inanimate software.

I’m not sure how appropriate it is to be gendering apps, but still… I got a giggle out of it.

Right, ticket analysed, it’s time to turn my attention to the…


I trot back to box office.

“Sorry! I didn’t actually take a programme,” I say, feeling like a right idiot. I’m really getting old. I can’t deal with late nights and alcohol. Despite all the shenanigans last night, I woke up feeling quite fresh this morning. Tired, yes. But not furry of tongue and sticky of eye. I was fine. It was only when the headache hit after lunch that I realised that the reason I didn’t wake up with a hangover, is because I woke up still drunk.

Honestly, once this marathon is over, I’m fully committing to a 10pm bedtime.

“Oh, did you not?” says the box officer, having the grace to sound surprised.

I take one and go back outside.

It’s a nice little programme. There are interviews and things. I’d pay three quid for it. I mean, I did actually pay three quid for it. But even outside the confines of the marathon, and research, and whatever else I’m using to justify my programme buying habit, I would pay three quid for it. It’s worth the coin.

From inside there’s an announcement. The house for Napoli, Brooklyn is now open.

I suddenly realise that I've come across has a comma in the title.

That's unusual. We had Life, Apparently at Hoxton Hall. And I'd made a big fuss about the comma then.

I hope this isn't becoming a trend. Punctuation confuses me.

People start to make their way back inside. But slowly. No one wants to give up the sun quite yet.

I wait a few minutes. I’ve still got time.

But then I remember I hate being in the sun, so I follow everyone back in.

Back across the foyer, past the box office and bar, down a short flight of steps and then…


Getting out my ticket again because there are two different doors and I need to check my seat number to find out which one I need.

Funny. There’s no one out here. Both doors are free of ticket checkers.

I’m on my own.

Which is fine.

I know what I’m doing. I know my seat number and can work out which door I need like the big girl I am, but still. There’s usually someone directing traffic at these junctions.

For a brief moment I wonder if time has slipped away from me, that I stepped into a faerie ring on my way in, and without knowing, took hours to get to the other side. Perhaps the show has already started, and that’s why there’s no one out here.

I go through the nearest door, into a small antechamber, and emerge on the other side at the back of the stalls.

And there’s a ticket checker waiting.

Oh. Right.

That’s okay then.

“C43?” I ask as she comes over to me. The door I took had said seat numbers up to 43, so that must mean… “Am I on the end here?” I say, pointing towards the furthest seat on the back row, right down by the back corner of the thrust stage.

“Err. Yes,” she agrees and off I go.

The view… isn’t great.

Okay, it’s not bad. I’m sure I won’t miss anything of importance. But there seems to be a kitchen in my sightline.


Well, I suppose that’s what you get if you shudder at the thought of paying more than fifteen pounds for anything.

Looks like quite a few people were shuddering. The theatre has been filling up, but the side rows are still on the sparse side and it looks like the balcony has been closed off.

As for my ticket, what fifteen pounds gets you is a spot on a bench right next to the wall. Wait, is it a wall. It seems to be moving… Just as I begin to wonder whether I’m hallucinating, or possibly still drunk from last night, the wall that isn’t a wall moves again. Like a curtain with the window open behind it. And then I hear voices. People are talking on the other side.

A second later, the house lights are down and an actor is emerging from behind the wall and placing a halved onion under each of her eyes in turn, trying to make herself cry.

My row is still half empty. While Madeleine Worrall’s matriarch Luda tries to get her cry on, I slide down the bench to get a better view.

The onions can’t get the job done. She must be all cried out. I would be too, if I had a daughter sent to a convent, with a broken nose after facing the wrath of my husband. Or a second daughter who refuses to eat. Or a third who had to be pulled out of school in order to help bring money in, and has cuts all over her hands as the result of hard labour.

That’s a well that even an onion can’t fill.

But oh, they try.

While one onion can barely make a space, a wagon-full may bring up the water level.

By the end of the first act, the stage is covered in the things. Hundreds of them. A few have bounced off the edge, despite the presence of the guard rail, presumably put there to keep the pesky things in.

Audience members in the front row pick them up as they retrieve their bags from under their seats. A few of them send their bulbs ricocheting across the stage like air hockey pucks, and they bounce into the set with a small thud.

But it was all in vain, as stage managers come out to reset for the second act, and they bring the big brooms with them, sliding the onions off into the various corners. Out of the way, but still very much present.

One of them starts to read off a check list of items why another confirms their presence.

“Six forks on the left.”


“Six knives in the middle.”


“Six plates with napkins on top.”

“Err. Three, fourfive. Yup.”

“Tea towels?”


And on they go, detailing out this well stocked dinner service.

As the family settle down to eat, I wonder why I’m not feeling hungry, as I usually do when actors are munching away on stage. They keep on talking about what a great cook Luda is (and she herself agrees with that assessment), but all we’ve seen her do is pick at a few green beans. There’s no onstage cookery going on here. No working hob. No warm and hearty smells swirling around the auditorium.

I could do with something warm and hearty right now.

It’s not warm at all in here.

I put on my jacket and cross my arms, shivering in my seat.

Across the way I see a woman bring out her scarf and wrap it around her shoulders.

It’s freezing in here.

I can’t stop shaking.

Even when I emerge into what’s left of the sunshine, I have to keep on rubbing at my arms until the warmth manages to eke its way under my skin.

As I retrace my steps back to the station, I make a mental note to save my trip to their studio space for when it’s really hot. That air con is top notch after all.

When August hits, I might ask to move in.


I Got Played

I’ve broken the pattern. I’m not on the Southbank. I’m north of the river, which is rather exciting. It's been a while. I'm in Hammersmith! Usually this would mean a quick stop off at the Crosstown concession in the tube station, but it’s a 7pm start so I better get myself shifted. Thankfully the theatre is just down the road. You can see it from the station, the massive logo peeking around the side of the pub like a friend winking at you in a crowded party.

And it is a friend now, because I’ve already done the main house. But I’m back to tackle the studio. Something that’s been a bit tricky getting myself into as the good people at the Lyric seem to mainly programme kids’ shows in that space. Thankfully I was saved from that fate by the Lyric Ensemble. Some sort of youth group. With new writing. I don’t know. I'm sure I’ll find out soon enough.

There are three box officers behind the counter tonight. They all grin wildly as I step in the door.

“Hello!” calls over the middle one in what must be the friendliest welcome I’ve had in a theatre so far.

The main house is dark at the moment. Noises Off doesn’t open until tomorrow. For now, the studio is ruling the joint. So it’s nice and quiet. And the box office team seem to be enjoying it.

I do the whole business of giving my name and middle bloke digs out my ticket from the box.

“That’s the second floor,” he says. “In the studio.”

I go upstairs, but I have no intention of going to the studio quite yet. The sun is shining, and there’s a terrace I need to become reacquainted with. I mean, you know how much I love a terrace. And the Lyric has gone a pretty mega one.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one to have had this idea. There are a lot of people out here. A lot of young people.

A bench near the entrance is covered from one end to the other with stacks of pizza boxes and the general vibe seems to be sitting around cross-legged, holding slices of pizza, and laughing.

Not wanting to be the spectre at the feast, I head over to the wall overlooking Lyric Square and make friends with the pigeons instead.

Some people might consider this a bit of a low point in my life. Communing with pigeons while surrounded by teenagers having a pizza party, but to them I say… you’re probably right, let’s move on.

I do, heading back inside and making my way to the studio, which is conveniently all of ten steps away. I flash my ticket at the door and the ticket checker waves me through.

The studio is bright, with white walls and a wooden floor. No black box nonsense here.

“Just to let you know, there’s no readmission,” says a front of houser.

“Right thanks.”

Another front of houser comes over. “Would you like a free programme?”

I absolutely would. She pulls a freesheet out of the pile in her arms and hands it to me.

Right then. Time to choose where to sit.

It looks like the seating that is usually in here has been folded up and pushed back against the wall. Instead, chairs have been brought in, placed on three sides around a stage that looks like a box of earth. Each side has two rows.

I decide I’m not really feeling the front row today, so I put myself in the second. That seems to be the popular choice. Only one person has dared the front row so far.

“No readmission?” says a newcomer on hearing the party line. “So once we’re out, we’re out?” He laughs as the front of houser confirms that, yes, that is the way things are going tonight.

Slowly, the rest of the audiences filters in. The front of housers chat quietly as we all wait for the rows to fill up. One of them fetches a pile of reserved signs and starts laying them done. On the chairs near the entrance, as standard, but also half way down a row on the left, and the furthest seat in that row. All very strange.

I begin to get worried. Reserved seats in the middle of rows. That sounds like the cast might… sit amongst us. And I’m not liking the look of these pieces of paper slipped beneath the chairs. I’m tempted to get mine out and have a look at it, but I’m not sure I want to know.

“There’s no readmission, so if you need the toilet, you need to go now,” says one of the front of housers to a new group just coming in.

We’re nearly full now.

My neighbour gets out her freesheet and starts reading. “It doesn’t say much about the show,” she says.

I’d just been thinking the same thing. It’s a nice freesheet, don’t get me wrong. Has the title treatment of the show at the top, a blood splattered Mob Reformer, which looks very exciting. There’s a cast list. Creative credits. A note from the director. A nice group photo of the ensemble, and a bit about what that is exactly. And the thanks. Obvs. I spot Conrad Murray’s name in there. That’s cool. I wonder if we’re going to get any beatboxing out of this evening.

A woman in a fabulous satin skirt comes in and takes the reserved seat at the end of the row. She’s holding a notebook and wearing a lanyard, marking for what is quite possibly the shortest round of my Blogger or Director game to date. Director. For sure.

The satin skirt gave it away.

Bloggers can't dress for shit.

The front of housers start directing the stragglers to the few empty seats left going.

“Sorry,” says one usher to the front row. “Can you all move up one, so we have one on the end.” One by one they all shift up to close the gap. “Sorry, do you mind?” she asks the last person to move. They don’t mind, and the end chair on the row is freed up.

But it’s not enough, and soon a front of houser is bringing in a spare seat for the last person standing.

Right. I think we’re done.

The cast certainly think so. Someone comes out, in full medieval garb, and an Amazon box in their arms. “I’m Niamh,” Niamh introduces herself all bright and full of cheer. Her smile only wavers when a newcomer arrives, in jeans. This is Ele. She’s late. Oops.

No matter. There’s a show to be getting on with. Niamh gets out a helmet from her box. It’s made of paper, and very impressive. There’s a grill that covers the lower half of the face, space for the eyes, coverage for the whole, you know, head area. It really is excellent.

And she wants us to make one.

“You’ll find pieces of A3 paper under your chairs,” she says. And with no further guidance, we are left to it.

I get out my piece of paper, and stare at it. It’s exactly what she says it was, a blank piece of A3, and nothing more.

“Remember the eye-holes,” she says encouragingly before handing out some masking tape.

Ah, well. Now we’re talking. There’s a lot that I can do with tape.

I wait for the tape to come around, but the front row are having way too much fun with it, wrapping it around their heads and under their chins as they create elaborate constructions.

“Three minutes!” shouts Ele.

Three minutes. Shit. Okay.

I fold the paper in half. Unfold, and then refold. But the other way. I then tear it in two.

“Two minutes!”

With my thumb, I pock through two eye holes.

“One minute!”

I look up, trying to see if any tape as made it to the second row. Nope. I’m on my own here.

Right then. I lay one side of paper over the other, and concertina the short edges together so that they just about hold together. That’ll do. Not exactly a helmet. It’s lacking the head covering element that the word helmet suggests. It’s more of a mask really. But without tape…

I look around to see what others have done.

Someone has created a sort of 18th century bonnet construction that looks rather dapper. While her friend has curved the paper right over her head, leaving a hole for her bun. That one is rather good too. Both of them used tape though.

Niamh and Ele come around to inspect our work.

“That’s really rather impressive,” says Ele to the bonnet girl. “Have you done this before?”

Bonnet girl nods. She has.

“I can tell… Would you mind coming on stage?”

Turns out bonnet girl would love to go on stage. Which is a good thing, as Ele and Niamh have more in mind for her than a mere fashion parade. They’re going to teach her how to do a battle cry.

Niamh sucks in all the air in the room and lets out a roar.

Eel prepares herself. She cracks her neck and loosens up her shoulders.

We wait.

She cracks her neck and loosens her shoulders again.

And again.

Then she stops.

She’s done.

Okay, it’s bonnet girl’s turn.

Bonnet girl pauses, considering her options. She’s just witnessed two masters at work. She’s got to make it good.

With a flutter of her fingers, she lets out a tiny sigh.


Battle cry done, it’s time to ride off.

“We’ve got a recorder over here,” says Niamh.

Someone in the audience shoots up there hand. “I can play!” she announces.

“Can you? Can you really?” asks Niamh.

The hand shooter confirms that yes, she can. But only the one tune.

“You do you,” says Niamh, handing over the instrument.

And to the sounds of Three Blind Mice, the three of them trot around the stage, depositing bonnet girl back in her seat.

Introduction now over. It’s time for the actual play.

It’s about the peasant revolt of 1381.

Everyone’s angry about taxes. Wat Tyler is going to lead the rebels to London.

And… something’s going on. The front of housers are whispering in the corner.

The director gets up from her seat and rushes over.

There’s a police officer. Standing by the entrance. Talking to the ushers.

The cast press on. I try my best to concentrate, but I can’t help but look over. The police officer looks intense. She’s not letting up.

The director turns to us. “Sorry, sorry,” she says. The cast stumble into silence. “We’re just going to stop the show for a few minutes. If you could all stay in your seats. Actors, you stay on stage please.”

Oh. Oh dear. This does not sound good. Has something happened? In the theatre? Has there been a bomb threat. I bet there’s been a bomb threat. Or perhaps there’s a fire outside. No, they’d be evacuating us if that were the case. Or would they? I mean… fuck. I don’t know.

We all sit quietly, and I can’t help but think of that experiment where psychologists pumped a white gas into a room of people and waited to see what happened. Nothing, it turns out. The people in the room just sat there. All of them waiting for someone else to raise the alarm.

The director looks over to the cast and lowers her voice. “Romario?” She beckons to the actor playing Wat.

He looks back at her, his face reflecting the bafflement in all of ours.

She beckons again.

He steps forward cautiously, off the stage, his arms lifted either side of him, the very picture of confusion. He goes with the police officer.

The director’s lanyard bounces as she rushes to the other side of the room and whispers to someone sitting in the corner.

A second later, she’s by the stage, calling the actors in a huddle.

They nod.

A decision has been made.

“This is Adebayo,” she announces, indicating a young man in a red tracksuit. The person she’d been whispering to in the corner. “He’s our assistant director. He will be stepping in. This is a huge challenge for him, and the rest of the cast, so I hope you will be very supportive.”

We all applaud. But I can’t help but think of Romario.

I hope he’s okay.

I hope his family is okay.

A police officer knocking on the door is never good news. But stopping a play? Fucking hell.

My mind can’t help but go to the car crash my mum was in when I was a kid. And the police having to find my dad to tell him that his wife was in hospital. Fuck. I really hope Romario’s mum is okay. And all the rest of his family members for that matter.

Adebayo steps onto the stage, clutching a script. The cast sing around him, and he keeps his head lowered, his eyes on wodge of papers in his hands, his lips moving as he feverishly reads it.

But all those hours in the rehearsal room must be paying off, because soon he is merely glancing at the lines, and then he’s leaving the script on a stool while he joins in with the action. When it comes time to leave the stage, he takes the stool, and leaves the script.

He’s really going for it. Leading his rebels in a choreographed march around the stage, joining in with the perfectly timed chants, and then delivering a perfect rap performance…

Hang on.

What the fuck? Did I hear that right? Did he really just say “Red Power Ranger”? Like the red tracksuit he’s wearing…

Those fuckers. It’s staged. They staged it.

Did they?


They couldn’t have.

Could they?

Oh fuck. I can’t tell.

Adebayo is back, clutching his abdomen. His hoodie’s unzipped. There’s blood on his t-shirt. Blood on his white t-shirt. Blood that would not have shown up on Romario’s dark robes.

A film appears, projected on the white sail hanging over the stage.

It’s the ensemble. Lolling around on the floor, tapping away on their laptops. It’s a documentary. The making of the very play we’re seeing. And there’s Romario, grinning away with the group.

They’re going on the hunt for the Lord Mayor of London. The present one. Not the 1381 one. That one's dead.

They go on a field trip. Into the City. City with a capital C.

Romario tries to get past a security guard. He’s quickly rebuffed.

He tries again.

This time he gets pushed.

After some more failed attempts by the ensemble, the film ends.

There’s a closing note. They never did get a reply from the Lord Mayor.

And something else: “Romario was issued a police caution.”

Bonnet girl gasps. “It was a set up!”

When the cast return for the curtain call, Romario is amongst them.

The police officer, however, is not.

We file out slowly. All of us turning around, looking back, as if expecting someone to come out and announce it was all a charade.

“I don’t think it was pretend,” says a bloke walking behind me. “I think he really did have to get taken out.”

I don’t know, man.

And I don't like not knowing. It makes me feel itchy and uncomfortable.

Either way, I hope his mum is okay.

Read More

Sing a Song of Level Five

“I love that t-shirt.”

That’s my co-worker. We’re waiting for the lift, trying to get out of the office at the end of the day.

“I love this t-shirt too!”

I’m wearing my Greggs t-shirt. The one that is made up to look like those Gucci t-shirts that were super popular a couple of years ago, except instead of Gucci, it says, well, Greggs. It’s very cool. It always gets a lot of attention. Especially from men in white vans. And contemporary dance proponents, apparently. Must be the vegan sausage rolls.

It’s so cool, in fact, that I literally cannot go outside without getting at least three comments about it… hang on. That sounds like a challenge.

Okay. I’m heading to the Southbank again today. That’s a couple of miles away. About an hour’s walk if I don’t go above a gentle stroll. Which I have no intention of doing. I swear, I’m still recovering from that Midnight Matinee at the Globe (you’re killing me, Shakespeare). Let’s see what kind of attention we can get!

Jacket very firmly looped over arm (I don’t want anything to get in the way on my compliment hunting trip), I set off.

“Love your t-shirt,” a woman calls after me in Holborn.

“Thank you!” I call back.

The bloke she’s with turns to look. “What did it say?”

I straighten out the fabric so he can see. “Greggs!”

“It says Greggs!” says the woman.

“Greggs? Ha. I’ll have a sandwich.”

One down. And I’m not even out of the West End yet.

I nip through Embankment station and go over the bridge.

A woman, a different one, obviously, shakes her head as she passes me. “Greggs. Greggs. Greggs. Greggs. Greggs,” she mutters. She doesn’t sound entirely approving but I’m counting it all that same. Perhaps she just had a dodgy steak bake or something. You can’t blame that on the t-shirt.

I’m on the Southbank now. Right in front of the Royal Festival Hall.

I pause to take a photo.

A few people glance over, but no one stops to comment on the t-shirtage.

I consider taking a turn around the building, give the t-shirt some more exposure amongst all the milling crowds. But it’s starting to rain. And I’ve walked a long way. I kind of want to sit down.

I’m on the ground floor. Next to Foyles. I don’t think I’ve ever been in this way. Probably because it’s dark. And empty. And I’ve always been distracted by the books. But I follow the signs up the stairs, and immediately find the box office, all gleaming wood, made even gleamier by the bright yellow light pouring down on it from above.

I give my name and the box officer dives into that huge wooden chest of tickets that I’d admired at the Queen Elizabeth Hall. These are clearly a thing at the Southbank Centre and I very much approve.

“What’s the first name please?” he asks, as if there could possibly be anyone else with my surname here tonight.


“Lovely,” he says, flipping over the ticket to see where I’ll be sitting. “You will be on the blue side,” he says, pointing behind him. “That’s the other side of the building. And level five.”

I have to quell the urge to sing “level five” back to him. For reasons. I’ll explain later. Or even right now, because I am heading straight for the Singing Lift.

Do I have to explain the Singing Lift? You know about that, right? I thought everyone knew about the Singing Lift at the Southbank Centre. It even has its own Twitter account.

No? Okay, well, it’s a lift. That sings.

Don’t worry, I’m on my way there now and I can tell you all about it once I get inside.

It’s just round here, on the left, past the sunken ballroom with the neon sign hanging over it. Conveniently on the blue side of the bu8lding. It’s almost like it’s mean to…

Oh. There seems to be a lot of people round here. All wearing Southbank Centre logoed tops. One of them is talking into a radio, and another is sticking something to the glass door of the lift.

I hang back to watch until they’re gone and then go over to have a look what the sign says.




Oh no.


I was really looking forward to that. To hearing the dulcet tones of the lift grow progressively higher until I reach my floor. “Level Fivvveeeeeee.”

I’m really sad now.

Oh well.

No use crying over a broken lift.

There’s an empty table right by the massive windows overlooking the Queen Elizabeth Hall, so I go plonk my stuff on it and sit down. It’s a nice view. I can see the fountain from here. And the car park. It’s very soothing.

“Sorry, can we?” asks a young woman, touching the back of one of the free chairs on the other side of my table.

“Please do!” I say, waving my hand magnanimously at the seats.

She sits down, and is soon joined by the person she’s with. They turn their chairs to face each other and we all promptly stark looking at our phones. They to plan their diaries, me to edit my Turbine Hall blog post. I delete a good deal of it. Not sure I should really say that. Or that. Hmmm.

When I look up, they’re gone.

“Scuse me, is anyone joining you?”

Another person wanting my seats. That’s the price you pay for not having any friends, I suppose.

“No, please go for it!” I assure them.

Anyway, it’s probably time I got moving. I had no intentions of taking an inferior lift up to the fifth floor, so up the stairs it is. I need to give myself plenty of time to acclimatise to the low oxygen levels up there. Otherwise known as wheezing gently as I get puffed out after three flights or so.

There’s a programme seller at the top of the first flight. I stop. As much for a rest as the programme buying potential.

“Can I get one?” I ask.

“That’s five pounds please.”

I get out my purse. Or try to get out my purse. “Sorry,” I say, as I rummage around in my rucksack. “Perils of a large bag.”

“That’s alright,” he says, waiting patiently.

After a painfully long moment, I pull out my purse and see what cash I have on me. “Do you have change for a tenner?” I ask, pulling out a note, and sending my debit card flying to the ground. “Ah! Sorry. I’ll get that.”

But it’s too late. He’s already crouching down to retrieve my wayward plastic.

“Oh, I do have five pounds,” I mumble embarrassed, suddenly spotting the familiar green note poking out from behind a pile of receipts.

I manage to hand over the cash, retrieve my card, and claim a programme, apologise sixteen more times, and all without shaming myself any further. Result. I guess.

Right, there’s no putting it off any longer. Time to tackle those stairs.

I huff and puff my way up the stairs, and let myself be suffused by the smug feeling of satisfaction as I see the sign for level five looming.

“Where are you sitting?”

“Oh, umm. Door D?” I say, showing her my ticket.

“Just up those stairs there and on the left,” she says.

“Stairs?” I manage.

“Just the little ones over there.”

I look over. There’s only four or five of them. I can do this. It’s fine.

There’s a bar up here. I stagger the full length, my knees protesting with every step, until I reach the water jugs at the end. They are frosted with condensation. The water inside blissfully cold. I pour a cup and chug it down in one. Then pour myself another.

Oof. I feel better now.

I can actually look around and see where I am.

There are a few table and chairs dotted around, but the real action seems to be going on outside. On the terrace. I fucking love a terrace.

I go out, and allow the fifth-floor breeze to buffet me.

It's pretty nice out here. You can see Big Ben, resplendent in all its cladding. And... what's that? Written on the side of the bridge?


Huh. Good advice, bridge. Well done.

Now that's sorted, I better go back inside.

I find door D, and show my ticket to one of the ticket checks on the door.

"Just on the left there," she says.

I head off to the left.

"Hi! Hello!"

I turn around. It's the other ticket checker. She's chased after me. My hand reflectively lowers to my bag. I really hope she doesn't tell me to take it to the cloakroom. Usually, if I wear my rucksack on my shoulder, it hands low enough to evade the ticket checkers and their whiling ways, but it looks like today I'm not so lucky.

"I love your t-shirt!" she says. "Where's it from?"

Well now! Third compliment. There we go. Yeah, it came a little late. I'm not technically outside anymore. But we are definitely counting this.

I thank her, and tell her where I got it. "Bristol Street Wear? It's this guy who mixes up logos with stuff. Like, he has one which is the Aldi logo, but underneath it says Acid."

"Where's it from again?"

"Bristol Street Wear?" She frowns. "Shall I write it down?"

"Yes please!"

I reach for my bag again. I know there's a pen in there somewhere. The problem will be finding it without lobbing my debit cards all over the place. "Do you have a pen?"

She reaches into a pocket and pulls out a pen. "I have a pen!"

"And paper?"

She pats her pockets. No paper. "Hang on," she says, disappearing back into the bar. A second later, she's back, holding a book. Inside there's a folded piece of paper that looks like it's probably important.

"Shall I write on this?" I ask, doubtfully.

"Yeah, yeah."

I scrawl BRISTOL STREET WEAR across the top in my best capital letters.

"Yeah, he's quite pissy about some of the designers. Doesn't want you to buy them if you live in London. He doesn't want to see hipsters wearing them."

She pulls a face, but gratefully takes the book and paperback and thanks me again.

That done, I skip off to find my seat.

You might have guessed by now, what with the level five action, I'm in the cheap seats tonight. Right at the back. Definitely in a different post code to the stage.

As the seats fill up around me, I realise two things. One - the slips and boxes on the sides are completely empty. And two, this place was really not designed with any appreciation of sightlines. Where previously I'd had a nice, if distant view of a statue's bottom, and half-formed falls of an Italian villa, or something like that, now I was looking straight at the back of someone's head.

I have to sit really straight in my seat in order to look over her. This is going to be a fun night.

I have to admit, I don't know anything about The Light in the Piazza. Other than it's a musical. I think. Possibly an opera. They definitely cast opera royalty in it. So maybe it is an opera.

And nope. It's started now and it's a musical. For sure.

A really quite silly musical.

What the fuck is this?

A girl and her mother go to Italy. The girl falls in love. Sweet, I guess. But the mother keeps on telling us that there's something wrong. But won't reveal what it is until is. To the point that by the time it is revealed, I've stopped caring.

I've even stopped trying to sit straight. I've settled back, slumped, allowing my eyes to rest on whichever performer happens drift into the small slither of stage that I can see.

My stupor is interrupted by the interval.

I decide to use the time to have a look at the programme.

Oh, hey. Turns out the girl is famous. 25 million followers on Instagram. That's quite something.

There's a theory than in order to live off your art, you need 1,000 true fans. Turns out you only need three to sell a t-shirt. I wonder how many you need to sell out the Royal Festival Hall. I look at all the empty seats. A lot more than 25 million, it seems.

"Oh, sorry," I say, as a woman stands next to me.

"Don't worry, I'm here, next to you. I'm just trying to balance these drinks."

She does seem to be rather laden down with them. I can't blame her.

"I'm trying to work out how to make myself taller," she says, as she eventually manages to sort out the drink situation and sit down.

"The rake here is terrible," I agree.

"And the sears are directly in front of each other," she says, fixing a straight line between her seat and the one in front.

"It's so stupid."

"It's not very well designed."

"It's clearly made just for concerts."

She nods. "Yes, it's a concert hall! You're not meant to see anything usually."

On cue, a tall man settles down in the seat directly in front of me, his head completely blocking the stage.

He bobs and weaves, reacting to the person in front of him. Who in turn is moving in tandem with the person in front of her. And, so it goes, all the way down to the front row.

There was a time, when for the nominal fee, you could buy listening seats at the Royal Opera House. So-called because their positioning meant you won't be able to see anything on stage. All you could do was sit back and listen.

I would say that the Royal Festival Hall should institute this policy for the back rows. Classify them all as listening seats. But really, if this is what they have to listen to, better to put a couple of quid towards your next t-shirt purchase. I know a great designer, if you're interested.

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Into the Witching Hour

It's 10pm and I'm at home! This is very exciting. Being at home at 10pm is the holy frickin' grail for me right now. Being at home at 10pm means being in my pyjamas, it means cup of tea in bed, with... and I don't want to go crazy here, but what the hell, it's 10pm and I'm at home... biscuits.

At least, that's what it would usually mean.

Tonight however, things aren't going that way.

It's 10pm and I'm at home, and I'm staring at my clothes wondering whether it's socially acceptable to leave the house in pyjamas when you're not a student anymore. Because I've got a show to see this evening. Night, even.

What does one even wear to a midnight matinee? I need to be comfy. That is high on my list of priorities. And warm. Or possibly cool. I don't understand what's happening with the weather at the moment.

So I pick the only outfit that makes any sense to me: a sheer black, ankle length skirt, and a t-shirt that thinks the Hanson brothers were in Nirvana. In my bag I stuff a cardigan (in case it gets cold), a waterproof jacket (in case it rains), and my sunglasses (in case I need to have a nap).

That works.

Right, let's Robert Frost this bitch. I may not have promises to keep, but I sure as fuck have miles to go before I sleep.

I get to London Bridge just after 11. It's Friday night and the streets are thrumming with people not entirely able to walk in straight lines. I'm having a bit of trouble with that myself, the sheer force of my yawns is sending me off course. I am so bloody tired.

Eventually I fall into step behind a couple heading for the Globe. I know they are heading for the Globe because of their shoes. They are both wearing very sensible, and very comfortable-looking shoes. Now usually I'd say they were tourists, and the shoe-choice was a result of all the pavement-trekking they were intent on doing, but they don't stop to gaze in wonder at the ship, apparently docked in the middle of a backstreet, nor do they pause to take a photo of the glittering silhouettes reflected in the Thames. They've seen it all before. The only explanation for these damn ugly shoes, is that they are intent on standing on a hard concrete floor for the next three hours or so. They are Groundlings. I can feel it.

And sure enough, they turn onto New Globe Walk and step below the huge red O hanging overhead.

Stopped at the door to get my bag checked, I lose sight of them as they got lost in the bustle of excited looking people.

No matter. I'm done stalking them.

"Nope!" says the bag checker, spotting someone trying to sneak in a bike. "You're not bringing that in!"

"It folds up!" protests the bike owner, but he's not having it.

"Well, take it back outside and fold it up then. You're not bringing it in like that."

I leave them too it. I need to go pick up my ticket.

There's a bit of a queue, with three people darting about behind the long counter, rushing from the ticket box to the computer to get through everyone as quickly as possible.

Soon enough I've got my ticket and I'm left to find out what is happening with the programme situation.

You see, I don't know what play is being performed tonight.

And for once it's not my dodgy memory to blame.

I don't know what play it'll be, because no one else does either. And no one will, until it comes time to actually start the damn thing.

So, that's the question isn't it: how do you sell a programme for a show that hasn't been decided on yet?

I get in line at the concession desk to find out.

Looks like I'm not the only one intrigued by this puzzle.

The bloke in front of me has got hold of a copy and is paging through the programme with great interest.

I wait.

The programme seller waits.

But the bloke in front is still reading, apparently unaware that a queue has formed behind him.

The programme seller catches my eye and I side-step this avid reader, hand over a fiver, and walk away with my prize.

No time to celebrate quite yet though. I've got another queue that needs joining.

I go upstairs and make my way over to the doors that lead outside, and show my ticket. "Stand wherever you like," says the ticket checker, nodding me through.

It's busy out here. People buying wine and renting cushions from the concession stalls around the outer wall of the theatre. I don't have any time for that nonsense though.

I make my way around the curved wall and towards the door marked Yard & Lower Gallery.

Yup, I'm a Groundling too tonight. I mean, you've got to, haven't you? If you're doing to Globe, might as well do it proper like.

The queue starts here, hugs close around the white walls, back towards the brick building behind. Stops. And then restarts.

I look at the two woman standing several feet from the end of the queue.

"Is this a gap in the queue?" I ask, wagging my hand between the two points.

"Yes, they asked us to leave a break," says one, pointing towards the glass doors that lead to the loos.

"That makes sense," I say, falling into line behind them.

There's not much to do now but wait. I get out the programme to see what I've bought myself.

Turns out, it's programme covering all three play options for tonight. Ah, ha. I see. The show, whatever it is, is being performed by the Globe's touring company. So all that had to do was put the touring programme on sale. Makes sense.

The queue grows and grows, snaking back on itself.

And then the doors open.

I mean...

As first impressions go, Shakespeare's Globe has got it down.

That painted canopy of stars, glowing against the inky black of the midnight sky.

It's a little bit magical.

The first people in line race to take up the prime spots, right in front of the stage. That's what they waited for. And that's their reward.

The front edge of the thrust is all taken up by the time I get in. A second row is already beginning to form.

I have a choice: good view, or leaning space.

It's nearly midnight and if I'm to have any chance of getting through this, I need something to lean on.

I walk to the far end of the stage. There's no one down here. Except one of the red tabarded stewards.

"Is it okay to stand around here?" I ask her.

"Go for it!" she says.

"I just never like being the first..."

"It's always good to be first."

Well, she's not wrong. Being first means that I can tuck myself in next to the stairs that branch off the side of the stage. Not a great view. There's a bloody huge pillar taking up a huge amount of the sight-line, but it does mean that I can wedge myself in between the stage and the steps.

The yard fills up. The seats in the surrounding balconies too, but not nearly as much. You have to be a hardcore fan to want to do Shakespeare in the middle of the night. Those people like to be close to the action. Even if it means they get owie feet in exchange.

A group of girls arrive and take up position next to me. They've wearing glitter on their faces.

"What happens if someone does a speech right there?" asks one of them, pointing at the pillar.

"So what? Get over it," her friend replies.

Music starts. Coming through the Groundlings as the performers make their way to the stage.

They're all wearing variations on the same outfit. Blue and greys, with what looks like a cross between Tudor hose and a pinafore dress, making the lot of them look as if they just escaped from the prep school assembly.

Everyone giggles as Mark Desebrock twangs a strange vibrating instrument, and cheers as Andrius Gaucas does the splits.

Their tune ends, and it's time to pick a play.

How are they going to do it? Well, they're not. We are. The audience.

Oh god. There's going to be shouting, isn't there?

We have a test run.

"I'm going to say a play, and you pretend you really want to see it..." says one of the performers who has introduced himself as Eric.

Everyone cheers and claps.

"Come on," says Beau Holland. "Let's wake up the neighbours: Cinderella!"

More cheering and clapping. A few people pound on the stage to really show their enthusiasm.

But who will be analysing the data? Well, the team have a solution for that.

A beach ball appears.

"The first person to catch it will throw it to the second person. The second person will throw it to the third. The third person will be our independent adjudicator."

Sounds simple enough.

The beach ball is lobbed into the yard. Someone grabs it and bats it onwards. Again it's caught and passed on. And then promptly disappears. Sinking below the line of the crowd.

We all groan.

But no, someone's got it.

"What's your name?" asks Eric (or Eric Sirakian to give him his full name).


"A round of applause for Tash!"

And then it began. The choosing of the play.

"Who wants to see Comedy of Errors?"

The girls next to me scream. They really want to fucking see Comedy of Errors.

I stay silent. I really fucking don't. Fucking hate that play.

Next up...

"Twelfth Night!"

Palms pound on the stage and the night air is filled with hollering.

I join in with the clapping. I do like Twelfth Night. I mean, I've already seen it once this week. But it's a good play. And frankly, anything is better than Comedy of Errors.

"And Pericles!"

You can almost hear the tumbleweed blow through over the sound of polite clapping.

"Come on guys!" says a bloke near me. "Pericles is really good."

Yeah, whatever mate.

A few more people join in. Getting louder and louder as they realise it's all up to them whether they win this thing. The Pericles contingent may be small, but they have some lungs on them.

It's over to Tash now.

"Per-i-cles! Per-i-cles! Per-i-cles! Per-i-cles!"

"I think some people want to see Pericles?" she says, doubtfully.

A round of boos is turned on Tash.

Eric and Beau are pressing her for an answer.

"Twelfth Night?"

The girls next to me groan.

"Cinderella!" shouts the Pericles guy.

Someone rushes on stage with an orange robe and holds it out for Evelyn Miller. She's to be our Orsino.

"If music be the food of love, play on..."

And so we're off. My second Twelfth Night of the week.

Actors start to reappear on the stage, now wearing costumes over their pinafores. Andrius' Olivia in a jewelled veil. Mark Desebrock’s Malvolio in a smartly tailored coat. Beau's Sir Andrew in a plush green doublet that I just want to rub my cheek against, it looks so soft.

The characters begin the business of getting themselves all in a tangle.

I'm really glad I've seen this play before. I'm even more glad that I saw it four days ago... or is it five? I can't work it out. Either way, I'm glad. Because my brain is starting to slow down as the cool night air drifts down through the open roof.

I am so fucking tired. I cross my arms on top of the stage and rest my chin on them, allowing the actors' voices to lull me to... nope. Got to stay awake. I haven't fallen asleep in a theatre yet and I'm not about to start now.

I push myself away from the stage, swaying slightly on my feet before I fall against the sturdy side of the steps, and there I stay, sometimes leaning my back against, it, sometimes just my hip. But always in constant contact. May the theatre gods bless and preserve those steps from woodworm for ever more.

"To be up after midnight and to go to bed then, is early," says Colin Campbell as Sir Toby Belch, staggering up those same steps before throwing a beer over my head and into the yard. Natasha Magigi's Feste follows on behind, belting out a note that blasts my ears.

In the interval, people sink to the ground, putting their knees at risk for the sake of their feet.

I'm about to join them but someone has plonked themselves down on my steps, and if anyone should be sitting on those steps its me.

I go sit next to her.

A steward comes over.

"Sorry ladies, you're not allowed on the stage."

I heave myself back up and find a spare patch of ground to sit on.

I'm worried about what the rough floor will do to my sheer skirt, so I lay down my jacket first, feeling very Walter Raleigh as I do so, and sit on that.

"You need to keep an eye on those stairs," one steward whispers to another, as if we're a litter of naughty puppies who have to be kept away from the Sunday roast.

The young girls next to me seem to have got over their Comedy of Errors loss and are now eating sandwiches.

A steward comes. "Hi ladies," she says to the young girls. "Are you enjoying the show? It's time to get up now."

Shakespeare, it seems, cannot be taken sitting down.

We all struggle to our feet. And it is a struggle. 

It's cold now. Properly cold. I put on my jacket.

My feet aren't too happy about being called on again so soon. I am not wearing ugly-comfy-sensible shoes tonight. They'd be alright, my feet, in my stompy boots, I think. But after 150 theatres they finally gave out on me. A huge crack has split the left soul. So I'm wearing inferior boots. And they're fine. But they are letting me know there's a good possibility that they won't be find in the near to immediate future.

As Cesario gets caught in a scrape after the reappearance of Sebastian, I shift my weight foot to foot, and cross my arms to keep my jacket close.

On stage the characters all work it out. True love reigns. And the company do their closing gig.

But we're not done yet. Mogali Masuku steps forward.

"Thank you, you wonderfully insane people," she says. This gets a cheer. Everyone likes being thought of as slightly insane, don't they? Or at least vaguely eccentric. That is surely most of the appeal of midnight matinee - the ability to shock your friends when you tell them about it afterwards.

"Thank you for playing with us this evening." She pauses. "This morning...?  I don't want to keep you much longer, but this year is the centenary, one hundred years since the birth of Sam Wanamaker." She pauses again for the audience to react. "By the sound of that cheer you haven't heard of him, but he created this beautiful place." She sweeps her arm around to encompass the circular beauty of the Globe. "Without government funding. And it's still like that now. No funding from the government, and we're trying to raise a hundred thousand pounds. The stewards, who are all volunteers by the way, will be standing with buckets. We hope you might throw in a few pennies... or a few pounds, of if you're really tired, perhaps some paper notes too.

"Thanks so much for playing with us tonight and good MORNING!"

And with one final cheer from the audience to chase the actors backstage, they're gone.

And it's time for us to leave too. 

Struggling to stay awake on the night-tube, I finally emerge back in Finchley just as the sky is beginning to lighten. I walk the rest of the way home to the sounds of the dawn chorus, and crash into my pillow face first.

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I blame Natalia

Way back in the midsts of time, when Cadbury sold out to Kraft, the coalition government was first coalilating, and everyone was freaking out about a dust cloud, little Maxine, fresh-faced and filled with hope, went to the ballet. She had been to the ballet before, but had never really got what the fuss was about. All a bit pink and silly, she thought. She was working a corporate job in the city. Dedicating her life to making even more money for people who were already far richer than she would ever be. She didn't exactly enjoy it, but she had graduated straight into the recession and was told by pretty much everyone she should be grateful for what she could get. In the mornings, she used to take the tube to Leicester Square and walk to her office from there, right through the West End. After a while, all the bright posters with their promises of excellent night outs got to her, and she started to see a few shows. They were okay. Then the Bolshoi came to town. She'd heard of the Bolshoi. They were that famous Russian ballet group, weren't they? She decided that as a sophisticated young lady, she should probably take in some proper culture and go see them. If only to say that she had, in fact, seen them. So she did. She booked a performance pretty much at random, and off she went. And there she saw Natalia Osipova.

And that, to quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, is the beginning and end of everything

She saw a lot of ballet after that. A lot of ballet.

She also started talking about herself in third person.

Eighteen months later, she quit her corporate job that she was really and truly, very grateful for, and got an unpaid internship in the arts, leading her on the path that would one day result in her declaring that she was going to see a show in every theatre in London within a single year.

Frankly, I blame Natalia.

As the dancer who really did start it all for me, the catalyst to the person you know and... know, today, I couldn't not include Osipova's show in the marathon.

So I'm going to the Queen Elizabeth Hall to see it, and get the first of the Southbank Centre venues checked off the list.

The Southbank Centre always manages to confuse me. It's so big and sprawling. With entrances and staircases and terraces all over the place. I can't remember exactly where the QEH is. I've been there before. But only once. And that was a fair number of years ago. But thankfully, someone on team Southbank Centre has realised the problematic scale of their, well, scale, and the entrance I need it marked out in huge letters. QUEEN ELIZABETH HALL. With a handy reminder of one of the other venues that I need to go to listed underneath: PURCELL ROOM.

No good getting ahead of myself there. I try and find a spot on on this terrace to take a photo of the building. It's tricky, as there's a bloody great fountain in the middle of it. And while the weather is pretty good, I'm not overly keen on getting soaked right at this minute. Not that other people have any qualms about that. There's someone standing stock still in the middle of all the spurting water. He's wearing a suit. With a buttonhole. And looks quite content in there

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It's a damn cold night

It’s Monday and I’ve decided to be nice to myself today. Got a new top which I’m rather pleased with, and I’m wearing my favourite boots and my big gold hoops, and I’m feeling rather swish. I even put a massive satin bow in my hair, which is making strangers on the tube smile at me. I never thought I’d be the kind of person who enjoys being smiled at on the tube, but here we are. I must be getting soppy in my old age.

I’m taking this rather nifty outfit and me to the theatre tonight. Of course. I take myself to the theatre every night. But tonight is special because we’re going to one of my favourites: the Young Vic.

Now I’m not saying it’s my favourite because I love the work there, although I totally do. Or at least, I did. It’s hard to say now as they have a new AD and I’ve haven’t had the chance to check out what Kwame Kwei-Armah has been up to yet. Anyway, what I’m trying to say, rather cack-handedly, is that I really love the theatre. The building. The staff. The location. Everything.

You always get the feeling that they are looking after you there. That they have the audiences’ back. They call the front of housers the Welcome Team, which is the type of theatre wankery that I don’t personally have a lot of patience for, but I also recognise that this title was not created with people like me in mind, and that it probably does go a long way to welcoming the type of people that require a team called the Welcome Team.

Whatever they’re called, they’re great.

Always lovely and helpful to the above and beyond level of loveliness and helpfulness. Like, ridiculously so. I was once, many years ago, handed a pair of cupcakes when picking up my tickets because I’d been chatting with one of the box office team on Twitter forever and he’d fancied getting his bake on that day.

As loveliness and helpfulness go, home baked cupcakes are hard to beat.

Do you remember when Twitter was like that? When you could have a proper natter with the theatre social media accounts? Back before content teams were a thing, and you still knew the names of every person tweeting behind the official handle. And the not so official handles. Back in those days, the Young Vic had an unofficial account run by one of the box office team: @YVTeaBitch. Actually, thinking about it, it was the Tea Bitch who baked those cupcakes. It’s all coming back to me now. Carrot cake. With lots of cream cheese icing. They were bloody good.

The account is gone now. Properly gone. Not just dormant. Pity.

It would never happen today. If you were handed cupcakes by box office, there’d be someone with a smartphone standing by to capture the #theatremagic. And there is no way in hell an unofficial, and slightly sweary, theatre account could be allowed to bumble along without interference from the office-bods for so long.

2013 really was a heady year.

Anyway, enough about the past. We’ve moved on, haven’t we? It’s 2019, and I’ve got a theatre to get checked off the list.

“Sorry,” says a lady, stepping in front of me to stop me just as I’m rushing to cross the road. “Where’s the Aldwych Theatre?”

I point in the direction of the nearest theatre. “It’s that one,” I say before hurrying off. The countdown clicking its way to the lights changing.

Behind me I just hear her say, “They’re showing The Lion King!”

Shit. I just pointed at the Lyceum.

Which is, in case you haven’t noticed, not the Aldwych.

And it’s not like I don’t know where the Aldwych is. I went there last week. It’s in the friggin’ Aldwych. Clue is in the name and all that.

I really need a fucking holiday, I can tell you that.

Oh well. She’s gone now. Disappeared into the crowds. She’ll be okay. The good people at the Lyceum will see her right, I’m sure.

Failing that, she can watch the Lion King. It certainly can’t be worse than Tina - The Tina Turner Musical. I might have actually done her a favour.

I sprint across the road, the lights shifting to amber before I’m even half way across, the guilt chasing me safely to the other side before the cyclists run me over.

I cross my arms to keep my jacket close to me as I brave Waterloo Bridge. It’s really windy, and freezing. How did it get so cold so fast? My hands are completely numb. I’m beginning to regret wearing my new top today. It’s not exactly insulating. It’s made of mesh. The wind is going right through me. As for my ridiculously large ribbon, let’s just say that hair ribbons and windy bridges don’t mix. And that even soft satin can be a bit owie when it gets whipped in your face at fifteen miles per hours.

The strong breeze blows me half the way to The Cut, and I stumble the rest of the road by myself. There’s a lot of people out here, standing around in front of the theatre. There always are at the Young Vic. I can never tell why. The bar at the Young Vic is pretty famous. I can’t imagine wanting to stand around in the cold when there’s somewhere nice to sit down inside. But what do I know. Perhaps standing outside in the cold is the new hip thing to do.

There’s a bit of a queue at the box office, but they are zipping through it. I barely have a chance to snap a photo of the mirrored ceiling and the old tiled walls (left over from the building’s former life as a butcher shop, which is a fact which I’m fairly confident that I am not making up).

“Are you collecting,” asks the bloke behind the box office.

I tell him that I am.

“Is it for Death of a Salesman?”

Unfortunately not. “No, the other one,” I say, the name of the show completely evading me. “The one in the studio?” I can’t remember the name of the studio either. It’s not even a studio, really. It’s a whole ‘nother theatre.

No matter, he gets what I mean, jumping over to the smaller of the two ticket boxes.

“What’s the surname?”

I give it.

“And your postcode?”

I pause a fraction too long before my postcode decides to make an appearance in my brain. Blimey, that was scary. Not remembering the name of a show I can deal with. I was never much good at that. Pointing at the wrong theatre could just be classed as tourist-based-arseiness. But my own postcode? I should definitely be able to recall that. This marathon, man… It’s getting to me. It really is.

He nods. I got that one right. Phew.

“Just head through there,” he said, indicating the direction, “and it’s on the left. The doors should be opening in about fifteen minutes.”

There’s already a bit of a queue by the doors to the second theatre space. (The Maria, I remember that now that the high-pressure stakes of ticket negotiation are now over). Seating is unallocated, so it pays to get in line early. Seems everyone else got the memo too, because within minutes that queue is stretching right across the bar and all the way back to the box office.

It’s also blocking the loos. I’m conflicted about the loos. There’s a sign stating that visitors are free to use whichever loo the they feel most comfortable with (with the added bonus of gender neutral toilets upstairs), but annoyingly, they are really inconveniently located, right next to the doors to The Maria.

“Excuse me.”

“Excuse me.”

“Excuse me.”

It’s only been a few minutes, and I already feel like I’ve excused half of London as I jump forward and back to let people through to the facilities.

A front of houser in a red polo shirt comes through. Sorry, I mean: a member of the welcome team in a red polo shirt comes through.

“Just wave your ticket at me at the door,” she says, taking my ticket and ripping off the stub. “Goldfish brain.” She hands back my ticket. “It's an hour and twenty straight through.”


“Excuse me please,” says an old man.

I step back as far as I can go without trampling the person behind me.

He stands there, looking at me.

I stand there, looking at him.

“Well, go on then,” I say, rather rudely, and wave my hands to indicate that he should pass.

He bows his head and scuttles through.

I mean, really.

The lights above the bar are flashing. Death of a Salesman is going in. The bar begins to clear out as audience members head to their seats.

The Welcome Teamer returns. “I've done all your tickets, right?” she asks the queue in general. We all nod. Our tickets have all been shorn of their stubs.

Another old man appears. This one holding his hands in a prayer gesture, begging to get through.

I’m rather fed up with being the gatekeeper to the loos, and I sigh as I step back for him.

A second later, he returns, pushing through the queue in the other direction.

“Fucking idiot,” says a man standing behind me. “Realised the show was about to go in and that he didn’t need to go all that much after all.” He pauses. “Twat.”

The doors are opening.

As instructed, I flash my ticket at the Welcome Teamer. She nods. “Down to the bottom and turn left,” she says.

I follow the line through the brown corridor, down to the bottom, and then turn left.

The space has been sealed up with high white curtains. There’s a small gap and we each make our way through and into the theatre.

There’s another Welcome Teamer in here. “It's unreserved seating,” he says, handing me a freesheet. “Move down the rows please, as we’re sold out tonight.”

I don’t even have to think about it anymore. Third row, right at the end. It’s my spot now.

I take off my jacket and settle down, looking around to take in the space. You never know what you’re going to get in The Maria.

For Bronx Gothic, it looks like we’re getting a floor level stage, with raked seating on two sides, so that the stage forms the last quarter in this square space. All surrounded by those high white curtains, sealing us off from the world.

Carrier bags hang limply from the lighting rig above our heads, and lamps are strewn across the floor, as green shoots spurt out from underneath their shades. There’s even a small knot of grass working its way up from beside the front row, as if we have found ourselves in a forgotten ruin, given over to the unstoppable plant life.

And in the furthest corner, Okwui Okpokwasili.

She stands, shimmering and shimmering, facing away from us.

Body shuddering, shaking, as her hands twist elegantly with controlled rotations, she’s in her own world. One far away from the audience taking their seats behind her.

People are still coming in, through two different entrances.

The Welcome Teamers rush about as they try to keep their streams separate.

“How many of you are there?” the Welcome Teamer on my side asks a young girl as she leads in a big group.

The benches are filling up fast. And they don’t want to be split up.

He looks around and points. “There’s a whole row over there,” he says, and they traipse up towards it happily.

The lights are gradually fading. The darkness creeping in minute by minute.

I’m also happy with my choice of seat. The rake really is marvellous here. I can see clear over the tops of the heads of the people sitting in the row in front, with plenty of room to spare. The tallest person in the world could sit in front of me and I’d still have a great few.

This is what I mean about the Young Vic looking after their audiences. Ignore the loos. The location of the loos were a mistake. But here, in the theatre, someone, at some point, thought about how people would sit on these benches and would need a clear view of the stage. A surprisingly rare stop on the journey to show creation, judging from the seats I’ve been sat in this year.

The lights have dimmed to extinction.

The show has begun.

But the audience isn’t. One person pops through the white curtain. The Welcome Teamer closest to me jumps from his seat and motions for the newcomer to walk around the stage and join him in the front row. A second later another person appears, and he is also manoeuvred deftly into the front row.

Okpokwasili turns round. After ignoring us for so long, we are now the subjects of her gaze.

She shimmers and shakes, her head tipped back, her eyes fixed, still and then roving.

With a jolt I realise she is looking straight at me. She holds my gaze. The seconds stretch on into an uncomfortable eternity, before she moves onto someone else. I follow where the path of her eyes. She’s getting all of us, one by one, drawing us in.

And then she stops. The shimmering shakes stilling. Her muscles slackening.

She has a story to tell.

Two girls. Passing notes. One teacher, the other pupil. One beautiful, the other ugly. One ignorant, the other wordly.

Okpokwasili prowls around her corner square, explaining her choice of words. “You know what they mean when they say they’ll slap the black right off you?” She pauses, examining the line of white people sitting in the front row. “Well, maybe you don't,” she says.

The lights switch back on, blazing white. Then crash us back into darkness.

A Booming sound grows in pitch and volume until it becomes painfully loud. I want to cover my ears. Just as it becomes unbearable, the stop. The silence rings throbs through my body.

Okpokwasili’s tale skins in circles, doubling back on itself and picking up threads as it goes.

And then we are released.

“Just go straight on past the crowd,” says a Welcome Teamer as we make our way back down the brown corridor. “It's the interval for the other show, so it’s very busy.”

It is. So is the pavement outside. I rush down The Cut, catching my breath in the square opposite the Old Vic.

So much for a gentle start to the week.

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Stag Party

It's June! It's Pride month! And I'm off to the self-styled "home of the UK’s LGBT+ Theatre."

Yup, I'm off to Above the Stag.

It's almost like I planned it,

Now, if I were a decent blogger (or even a decent liar), I'd tell you that's exactly what I did. But I'm not, and I didn't. I was actually intending to get this one checked off the list in May, but a last-minute diary reshuffle had me bumping the home of the UK's LGBT+ Theatre over a couple of weeks. And it's only while I'm walking through Vauxhall, and seeing all the rainbow-tinged goodness everywhere, that I connect the brightly-flashing dots, and apologise to the theatre gods for spending so long bitching them out for messing with my calendar. I should have known they had this shit covered. I mean, someone has to. And I certainly don't.

It's a warm evening, and it looks like there's more people hanging out, drinks in hand, on the small square of grass outside the entrance, then there are gathered within.

I lean against a tree and try and get a photo of the theatre, but it's completely impossible. I can barely even see the entrance through the absolute party that seems to be going on our here. All I'm getting is a hazy purple light, glowing from within the curved glass frontage. A halo hanging over the heads of my fellow theatre-goers. It's all rather magical.

Despite the image conjured by the name, the Above the Stag is not actually above the Stag. It's not above anything, let alone a pub. If anything, it lies underneath. Tucked within one of the railway arches that live near Vauxhall station.

I decide it's time to go in.

It's pretty busy in here too. There's a massive queue at the bar, and every day is filled. No wonder the people are spilling out onto the street.

One end of the bar has been assigned to box office duties. There's a big sign screaming TICKETS up on the wall behind. The queue is significantly shorter on this end. There's only one person in front of me.

Not that anyone's serving. There are two people behind the bar and they are rushing back and forth, measuring spirits, pouring glasses of wine, and taking payments, all at the same time, as they fight to get through this queue of thirsty theatre-goers before the doors open.

But with our queue now composed of two, we manage to attract the attention of one of the bar people and she comes over to deal with the business of ticketage.

When it's my turn, I give my surname and the bar person taps away at my name on the touchscreen behind the counter. A second later a small printer buzzes, and my ticket emerges, printed on thin receipt paper. All very fancy.

The doors still aren't open, so I suppose I should find somewhere to stand. At least, I think they're not open. I don't actually know where they are. None of the doors around the edge of the room looks likely. And there's no THEATRE sign to match the TICKETS one above the bar.

But the bar is full, and there's still a healthy queue of people intent on getting their drinks, and no one looks overly concerned about going anywhere quite yet, so I find myself just hanging around, waiting for instruction.

I find myself darting back and forth as I try and get out of people's way. It really is very busy in here. All my darting and side-stepping gradually moves me from one side of the bar to the other, and I find myself standing amongst a small group, all clutching receipt-paper printed tickets in their hands. There's a set of double doors down here. Unmarked. Unlike the loos right next door. Through the small windows set into the doors I can see show posters. This must be it. And these people must be all the keen-bean theatre crowd, just bursting to get into the space. Or possibly, given our location busting for the loo. I can't quite tell. Bursting for something or other, for sure, though.

A voice comes over the tannoy. "Ladies and gentleman, the house is now open for Fanny and Stella. Please take your seats."

We look at the doors, and then at each other.

"Are we...are we just supposed to open the doors ourselves?" someone asks.

We all look back at the doors.

They are still closed. And don't look likely to open of their own accord any time soon.

This is getting ridiculous. What we need is a hero. Someone to step forward and liberate us from this bar, guiding us through the parted doors towards the promised land of the theatre.

Just as I am debating with myself whether that person could, or indeed should, be me, I am saved from such brave actions by a woman who pushes her way through the group, places her hand on the door, and pulls it open.

We all follow on meekly behind, passing the weight of the door between us as we go through.

We turn right. The light of the theatre almost blinding with its brightness. It's probably not a good idea to follow a guide towards a bright light, not unless you're prepared to never come back, but it looks so inviting I can't stop myself.

The posters on the wall shift from colour-filled sweet-wrappers, with the saturation turned up to max, to the text filled advertisements of the old music halls.

"Know where you're sitting?" asks a man dressed in a dandified top hat and tails.

He chats away, making bants with everyone coming through the door.

I find my seat without assistance, but I can't stop looking over at the dandy by the door.

He looks really rather familiar. If only I had a freesheet...

Except, hang on. Someone sitting in the row in front of me is flicking through something. A booklet. The kind of booklet, that if I didn't know better, would say looks exactly like a programme.

He stops mid-flick, turns back a page, and starts reading.

There are pictures interspersed with the text. Photos. Headshots.

That's a fucking programme.

He has a programme.

Where on earth did he get that? I want to lean forward and ask, but he's just a couple of seats too far along the row for that to be reasonable.

I sit back, and prepare myself for the long wait until the interval.

It's alright, I tell myself. At least I know there are programmes. They exist. Out there. Somewhere. And I'll find them, buy one, and damn well look this actor's name up before I combust.

I distract myself by looking around. It's nice in here. Wide seats. Allocated. And a magnificent rake. I can see right over the heads of the two tall blokes sitting in front of me.

"Oo. Lots of room here," says my neighbour, kicking our their legs to demonstrate the amount of room there is.

This is fringe theatre to the lux.

Every now in, and the doors closed, our dandy friend, whoever he may be, steps onto the stage. He's going to be our compere for the evening, in this tale of Fanny and Stella, the OG drag-queens of Victorian London.

And they're signing? Like properly. Not just a music hall ditty to illustrate what they're all about. But like, an opening number about sodomy. On the Strand. The cast's voices and the single piano fight against echo of trains rumbling overhead.

How did I not realise this was a musical? Oh well. I'm sold, bought, and paid for. Three times over. This is hilarious.

Too soon it's the interval, and still giggling, I make my way back to the bar.

I'm on a mission after all. Gotta get that programme.

I walk over to the bar. If they're anywhere, they must be here. And yes, there's one. In a display on-top of a glass case of confectionary. That was easy.

Buying one however, now that's where it gets tricky.

I'm already surrounded on all sides as everyone tries to place their drinks order at once.

A woman elbows me out of the way to get to the bar, and flags down a passing staff member to serve her.

"Sorry, sorry," she says, just as her wine is being poured. "I ordered sauvingnon blanc."

The server looks from the bottle in her hand, to the two glasses of red wine she just poured. "Yes, yes you did," she says, covering each glass with a napkin and going to fetch the right bottle.

The other server behind the bar comes up. He sees me. And another woman. He dithers between the two of his, finger-gunning as he decides who's up next.

"Sorry," I say to the other lady. "I just want a programme. Can I get a programme?"

"For which show?" he asks.

I'm stumped.

"Umm," I say, pointing vaguely in the direction of the theatre.

"Fanny and Stella," steps in the other lady, demonstrating more grace than I could ever be capable of.

"Yes. Thank you," I say, nodding to her. "That one."

He goes off to fetch a programme. They're £2.50, which isn't bad. Not bad at all.

Programme now acquired, I decide that I should probably get out of the way.

I flick through the pages until I get to the biographies. Ah, there he is. Mark Pearce. I scan his credits. I don't have to go far. Fourth line down: Maggie May. That's where I've seen him. At the Finborough Theatre.

Isn't that something.

I flip forward to the credits. Bit of a habit of mine. I like seeing who works on shows. And for the first time in a good long while, I see someone credited for the programmes. That's lovely. I like that. I'm certainly not mentioned as the producer of my programmes anywhere. Perhaps I should start sneaking my name in there... anyway, good on you Jon Bradfield. You've done a great job. Love the interview with the writer, Glenn Chandler. Very nice.

The bar's getting crowded again. Really crowded. Without taking a single set I seem to have been swept along, away from my little corner, into the middle of the room. And people are still pouring in from the theatre doors. I didn't think that small space could even hold this many people.

"Please take your seats in the main house for Fanny and Stella," says the man over the tannoy.

The main house.

The. Main. House.

That's why there are so many people.

That's why I got asked which programme I wanted.

Above the Stag isn't one theatre. It's two.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuckity fuck, with bells on top.

We're skirting dangerously close to 300 theatres now. Finding a new studio that add to my list is really not what I need right now.

No time to think on that now, I'm going back in, ready for the trial of William Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, otherwise known as Fanny and Stella.

But, hang on. There's someone crossing the stage. Someone very much not wearing Victorian dress. She's holding a wine glass and shuffling along.

The cast stop to stare at her in wonder.

"She's going through a stage," says Mark Pearce.

The audience groans in response and the woman throws up her arms in a shrugging apology as she heads towards her seat.

"Oy!" he rejoins. "That's the best joke in the whole show."

The pianist pulls a face.

Pearce points a finger at him. "Don't you start!"

It doesn't look like anyone's starting. They've all forgotten their lines.

Tobias Charles' Fanny taps Pearce on the chest. "I know where we are," he says. And after a few false starts, we're back up and running.

And oh, this is bliss. Silly and sordid, with all the sad bits delivered with high kicks and jazz hands, and Kieran Parrott's impossible Stella-pout.


I'm not even mad that I have to come back for that studio space now.

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Under My Roof

This is it. This is the big one. The theatre I've been most excited for, but also really dreading.

I'm only going to Sadler's fucking Wells tonight.

The theatre I'm most familiar with. The home team. My pad. The place I'm been spending the majority of my days for the past three years.

The place I haven't seen a show now for over five months. That's been a fucking nightmare, let me tell you.

I've spent the whole day feeling a little queasy. Five months in the making and I still don't know how I'm going to write about this one. Like, how am I supposed to talk about the place I work? Without getting fired I mean...

It's almost a relief to be spending my afternoon hiding in the photocopier room printing out castsheets for the weekend performances. Oh gosh, am I supposed to review these? I pick one up and give it a critical once-over. They look good to me. They should do, after the amount of back and forth needed to put them together. I only just got off the phone with the company - talking through the final changes before I fired up the printer.

Okay, perhaps they are a little too overstuffed on the content side of things. There are a lot of words packed into these two-sides of A4. But San Francisco Ballet is a big company, with lots of dancers, sponsors, and egos, that all need to be mentioned. There's even a line about one of the violins in there which is a first for me. But then, it's not every day that we have a Stradivari in the Sadler's orchestra pit. I'm really rather excited about that.

I start piling up the stacks of paper, one for each of the four performances that will be taking place over the weekend, ready to be picked up by front of house and distributed throughout the building and handed out to the audience. Of which I'm going to be one. Oh, god. I feel really fucking nervous now.

I keep an eye on the printer. We had to get an engineer out this morning. The pages were coming out yellow. And that would never do. No one wants yellow castsheets. Diseased, that's how they looked. But now they are pristine white. Perfect.

Right, those are printing. And I've ordered the reprint for the programmes.

Wait, have I? I double check my emails. Yes. Thank goodness. That was scary. We sold a fuck-tonne on the first night. I'm not surprised. They look luscious. Our designers did a really good job on this one. And they sure had there work cut out for them. I gave them the longest brief I've ever written. Over ten thousand words. Excluding the article. That came later. But it was worth it. They are seriously swanky. And heavy. Poor front of house. They're never going to forgive me for all this, are they?

Oh well. No time to think on that. I'm meeting Helen for a pre-show dinner. We're going to Kipferl. An Austrian cafe in Camden Passage. The type of place where they serve hot drinks with a small glass of water on the side. I'm not sure what the purpose the small glass of water is. But it looks very sophisticated with its small spoon balanced on top.

We order schnitzels. My favourite food in the whole world. With potato salad. My second favourite food. And some sort of shredded pancake thing for afters, which I have yet to rank in the food-stakes, but I'm suspecting will come out very high. It comes to the table in a large metal pan, served with a dish of the thickest and sweetest apple sauce I've ever seen. For dipping. Helen and I fish out the leftover crunchy bites from the pan with our fingertips.

"We've got time," I say as we pay the bill and get ready to leave. I check my phone. "We just have to walk fast. Very fast."

We walk fast. Or at least we try to. Walking quickly with a belly full of veal and multiple forms of carbs is tricky.

We stumble our way down Upper Street, catch our breath at the traffic lights, then plunge our way down St John Street, from where you can already spot the massive sign for Sadler's Wells peering out from behind the rooftops. Round the corner, onto Rosebery Avenue., past the stage door, and here we are.

"Where are the loos?" asks Helen.

A perfectly reasonable question to ask someone who has worked here almost three years, and yet I still have to double-check the signage before answering.

I try to cover this embarrassing gaff by grabbing a couple of castsheets from the nearest concession desk. Can't go wrong with a castsheet.

We're sitting in the first circle this evening. Prime celeb-spotting ground if your idea of a celebrity is Royal Ballet dancers and the odd choreographer. Which it totally is for me. And, thank goodness, for Helen too. We give each other significant glances as people we recognise take their seats.

Within minutes we're waving across the circle at our favourite dance critic who is sitting on the other side.

The lights dim.

Out comes the conductor. We all clap. I have to try hard not to bounce around in my seat with excitement.

Nope. Can't help it. "There's the Strad," I say.


"In the middle," I say, referring to the orchestra pit. "She's standing up."

"That's the Strad?"

"That's the Strad!"

I am definitely bouncing in my seat now. I've never heard a Stradivarius being played before. Not live anyway. I can't wait.

An orange sun hangs low over the stage. The dancers flit around in iridescent outfits, covered in glittering veins like an insect's wings. Across the Infinite Ocean. That's the name of the piece. A title that feels incredibly distant. The divide between the living and the dead. But it doesn't feel that way. The Strad sounds so sweet, so yearning, I can almost feel it reaching up from the pit towards me.

And I'm crying.

I don't know why I'm crying. If I did I might be able to stop. But there is no way these tears are ending before the ballet does. They're proper tears. Snotty and fat and utterly unstoppable.

Is it the music? Probably. The effortless grace of the dancers? Most definitely. The achingly lovely choreography? For sure. But also, perhaps, the tiny little scrap of knowledge that I was a part of this. The tiniest cog in the mighty machine that is Sadler's Wells.

"So beautiful," sighs a person sitting in the row behind us as the first pas de deux comes to a close.

Did they book after reading the copy I wrote about the show for the season brochure? They might have done. They may have even bought a programme. Lots of people have. I can see the orange covers sitting on people's laps all around us. I want to turn around and offer this person my castsheet, just in case they didn't pick one up. But I stop myself. That would be weird. A crying woman turning around in a dark theatre to offer you a piece of paper. They can pick one up in the interval, if they really want one.

"Do I have mascara on my face?" I ask Helen as the lights come back up.

She frowns at me. "Why?"

"I was crying, so hard."

She frowns even harder. "From that?"

"Yes, from that. Didn't you like it?"

She pulls a face. "No!"

That's alright. We never agree about anything. Well, except for ponies, Sexy John the Baptist, and Emily Carding. Gives us something to talk about, I suppose. Although it is rather tiresome having a friend who is wrong all the time.

In the interval, we gatecrash the press drinks. I probably shouldn't be telling you this. But I'm trusting you not to blab your mouth here. Anyway, it's nice being able to catch up with all the writers I spend my days emailing.

Plus, it gives Helen the chance to show off about a principal dancer saying thank you to her.

"He said 'thank you' to me," she tells everyone who will listen.

"Such a gentleman," I agree, as witness to the fact that he did indeed thank her.

Next up is a Cathy Marston narrative work. Always a cause for celebration around these parts. Except, I'm not at all familiar with the story, and within minutes I'm totally lost.

"I loved that," says Helen after the applause has died down.

"I... did not understand any of that."


"Were they dead? I thought they were dead. But then they got up... Were they not dead?"

"Have you read Ethan Frome?"



"But I shouldn't have to!" This is the one thing we always agree on. No one should have to read the synopsis in order to understand a ballet. Ballet isn't school. You can't assign the audience homework. Everything should be there, on the stage. Not in the castsheet.

"No. Of course but..." Helen goes on to explain what happens in the story. It all makes a lot more sense now.

Back to the mezzanine bar and we're scoffing a dance critic's birthday chocolates. It looks like I'm in the minority on the Marston. Everyone is gabbling excitedly about it and I'm just nodding along as if I have any idea what they are talking about. I really should read that book...

The bells are ringing. We need to get back to our seats.

Helen and I rush towards the stairs. A front of houser gives me an exasperated look. I should really know better than to leave it so late.

We make our way back to our seats, apologising to the poor folks sitting at the end of our row who have to get up once again to let us past.

Next up is the Arthur Pita. I adore Arthur Pita. And this Arthur Pita is the reason I picked this show to attend for my marathon, out of an entire year's worth of programming at Sadler's.

As we go back to our seats, I look around to check he isn't sitting near us. That might sound like an odd thing to be doing to you, but believe me, I have my reasons. I love Arthur Pita's work so much, that it is hard for me not to talk about Arthur Pita's work when I am attending an Arthur Pita work. Once I get started, I can go on hugely long screeds about the man, his quirky wit, his surreal manner of storytelling, his use of music, his... well, you get the idea. So passionate do I get, that I wouldn't even notice if Arthur Pita himself had been sitting behind me the whole time that I've been gabbing. And I'd be left to sink into my seat in shame, praying that he had gone temporarily deaf for the duration. And if this all sounds like something that has happened, then I am delighted to tell you that it has. Three times. Three times I've gone off on one of my Arthur Pita lectures, only to discover that the Arthur Pita has been sitting just behind me.

Three. Bloody. Times.

And if you're thinking, Max - so what? At least you were saying nice things. It's not like you were slagging him off. I mean, wouldn't you enjoy overhearing someone else saying how marvellous you are?

Well, yes. That would be fine. Embarrassing. But fine.

But you may have noticed over the past five months, that when I love someone, I really fucking love them. Like: intensely. I say things that no artist should ever have to hear. You may roll your eyes, but like... When I tell people the things I've said, the general consensus is that I really need to start checking to see who is sitting behind me before I start talking.

So, that's what I'm doing.

He's not there.

Thank god.

"I'm really looking forward to this one," says Helen.

"Me too."

"I love Bjork."

"Oh." Okay. "Yeah, me too." That's true. I do. But Bjork's music isn't the reason I'm here.

The curtain turns blue.

"What colour is the curtain here?" asks Helen.

"Grey?" I chance. "I think it's the lights that make it look red. Or... blue." The curtain isn't usually down during the day. I haven't had the chance to inspect it without the lights on.

The blue, or possibly grey, curtain lifts. The orchestra starts playing.

I sink back into my seat and enjoy the pretty.

Everything is so shiny. The stage is mirrorlike. Tiny metallic palm trees gleam from the ceiling. The dancers look like they have rummaged in the Christmas decoration box to put their costumes together.

There's an electronic crash. Helen jumps. Her body expanding at the noise. Her elbow connecting with my ribs.

A shock of laughter pours over the audience at the startling sound and then retreats, pulling back like a wave leaving silence in its wake.

Bjork's voice fills the void.

A ballerina is carried in on a palanquin. It tips up, and she slides off into a dancer's arms before being whirled away.

A masked dancer carrying a rod sits on the end of the stage, he casts his line into the dark orchestra pit and fishes out another mask for him to wear.

The corps flutter around like exotic birds. Shimmer like fish. Scamper like insets. Anything, everything, other than human.

Helen is hugging her knees, curled up in her seat and she holds herself tight with the huge effort of not exploding.

I feel the same. Everything is glitter and magic and fantasy. I don't know where to look. I want to see everything at once. A thousand times over.

"I could watch that all over again," Helen says, still clapping. The curtain has long fallen. The dancers have left the stage. But we're all still applauding. No one is ready to stop quite yet.

But eventually, we have to stop. It was getting a bit weird.

"I thought it was going to be orchestral all the way through. I jumped!" exclaims Helen.

"I noticed!" I exclaim back.

"I'm a jumpy person."

"I'm glad I didn't take you to The Woman in Black..." I stop. "Hang on, that's pretty." I go over to the windows to take a photo of the faerie-lights strung around the trees on Rosebery Avenue. I realise I haven't been taking any photos. It's hard to see what's interesting about a building you see every day.

I consider taking Helen up to the second circle, where there is currently a mural of a cat painted on the wall. And the portrait of Edmund Keen dressed as Richard III, up in the Demons' Corridor. But the stairs are packed. There's no easy way up there. Likewise, the well on the ground floor is out. Besides, she's probably already seen it.

We chatter all the way to the tube station. It isn't often we both love a show. But when we do, there's no shutting us up.

"Have you decided how you're going to write this up?" she asks.

Nope. I've no idea.

We part at King's Cross, and I sink back against the tube seats.

Seven months. There are seven months left of the year. Seven months before I can justifiably see another show at Sadler's.

That's... not good.

I've been thinking a lot about what's missing in my marathon. I've gone in search of things to make me cry, things to make me feel. But I wonder if what's missing, isn't the emotion, so much as the connection.

I work in the arts because I want to be part of it. To be part of the machine.

And, while I don't create the art, I do go some way to creating the experience. Perhaps that's why my blog is the way it is. There are a thousand people out there writing about the art. I might as well be the one to critic the castsheets.

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Feeling salty

I’m on my way to Sloane Square. I’m walking because I never learn my lesson on this matter, and I’m now in that strange and exotic hinterland between The Mall and Eaton Square, where all the buildings look like they are being kept as doll’s houses for a series of life-size, and creepily realistic, mannequins. They’re all too large and ornate to real.

I cross a road, and behind me I hear a whistle.

As in an actual whistle. The type blown by the games teachers in my nightmares.

It chirrups. Like a bird that only knows two notes. Once. And then again. Followed a few seconds later by a repeat performance.

I turn around just as a police motorcycle squeezes out from between the traffic, twisting around, and stopping right in the middle of the crossing. The officer puts out his hands, stopping the traffic.

We all wait, me and the cars, to see what happens.

A truck emerges, pulling a car behind it.

In the distance, I hear sirens.

Oof. That must have been one hell of an accident.

The truck and its tow pass through.

Another motorbike emerges from the other side of the road. A civilian one.

The police officer blows on his whistle with an angry chirrup, and raises his gloved hand to point accusingly at the motorbike.

The motorbike slows to a stop. I can almost see the rider’s embarrassment as he receives his telling off through the medium of hand gestures.

They’re not letting anyone go. We’re stuck, as surely as if the road had been covered in treacle. Waiting for the chirrupy whistle to release us.

Just as I decide that if I don’t get a move on I’m going to be late for my play, another bike putters into the crossing. Followed by a car. A very fancy car. A car with a flag on the bonnet. A diplomatic flag. Wait, no. Not diplomatic flags. Those are royal flags. I’m not a fan enough of the monarchy to be able to tell you which one, but it had a lot of yellow and there was definitely an HRH-type in that vehicle. It’s followed closely by a rather more pedestrian looking minivan, with a small crest on the door, and a panda car.

I turn around to leave.

To my right, I hear a strange clank. I look over. The bus driver is opening his window.

“That’s the closest we’ll ever get to that,” he calls over to me.

I laugh, and he wrestles the window closed again before moving on.

I head in the other direction. Towards the Royal Court.

The irony isn't lost on me.

The show in the main house has already gone in. The box office is empty.

I give my name to one of the ladies sitting behind the counter.

“Is this for salt.?” she asks.

It is.

“We're trialling e-tickets today,” she continues breezily, as if this statement were not an attack on everything I stand for. “So they'll be waiting for you upstairs to be swiped in.”

I stare at her, unable to formulate a response that isn’t laden with either swearwords or desperate, tear-filled pleas.

“Right,” I manage at last.

“It’s on the fourth floor. Up the stairs.”

Four floors. That’s a long time to mull things over. I make my way up them slowly, unsure what to make of this whole thing. The Royal Court, the Royal fucking Court, has fallen victim to this plague of e-tickets. If even the Royal fucking Court cannot withstand this onslaught, what hope is there of getting a proper ticket at a fringe venue?

Is this it? Is this the end of the printed ticket?

2019. The year I attempted the London Theatre Marathon. The year of the Ticketpocolapse

By the time I hit the balcony level, I’m feeling a little wobbly. You might think that this is due to climbing three flights of stairs after a three mile walk across the city, but I know better.

This is the end.

Once printed tickets have gone, it’s only a matter of time before programmes go the same way.

Result: unemployment, hardship, debt, penury, and death.

The Royal Court is literally killing me here

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The Curious Case of Currywurst and Cold Chips

A few days ago I was debating whether I would tell you if I ever got stood up. Turns out I absoluetly would, because it's happened. Your gurl has been stood up. Although I'm not sure it counts as a true standing up if you get advance notice. Okay, I got cancelled on. Surely that is bad enough?

Anyway, cue me contacting every single person I have ever met in my entire life to dangle the offer of a free ticket to a new musical in front of them and it is Allison who takes the bait. We haven't had a theatre outing together since Valentine's day, when she ditched her husband to come to the Donmar with me, and I think we can all agree three months is far too long to wait for a second date. But I can't complain. Not when Allison is stepping in the rescue me from embarrassing solitude once more. That's true friendship, that is.

We meet outside the theatre, pop in to pick up our tickets, and then head out for the really important part of the evening: dinner.

"Where do you wanna go?" asks Allison.

I'd suggested Borough Market and leftover cupcakes from my work's bake sale in my tempting messages that afternoon, but the situation has since developed and I have my eye on the Mercato Metropolitano marketplace on the other side of the road.

"Wow, that looks intense," says Allison as we look through the open doors at the long queue getting searched by multiple security guards.

"Let's try the next door," I suggest. In my earlier recognisance walk-by, I'd spotted that the last door seemed to be the most lax on the whole security-thing.

We try the next door, and get our bags checked.

It’s Friday night and the place is packed.

Every chair, table, and possible flat surface, is occupied. But curiously, each of the stalls is utterly devoid of queues.

The two of us walk around, trying to decide what we want to eat.

“Turkish German?” says Allison. “That’s a weird combination.”

“That is a weird combination… but oh, look! They have currywurst! I love currywurst!”

Allison has never had currywurst before, so it becomes my personal mission to educate her on the joys of sausage in curry sauce, and I order to.

“I’ll buy you a drink,” offers Allison as I shove my card in to pay.

“We have drinks vouchers,” I say, pulling them out of my pocket to show her.

“It’s just like a real date,” she laughs.

“I have cupcakes too, remember. I know how to show a girl a good time.”

We’re handed one of those buzzer things, which I immediately pass off to Allison. I can’t be dealing with those things. They make me anxious.

We find somewhere to sit down. Well, Allison finds somewhere to sit down. I balance precariously on a table. And we wait for the black box to beep.

Ten minutes later we’re still waiting.

“I thought this was place was supposed to be fast food,” says Allison.

“Do you think we should go and ask?”

We do. Or rather, Allison does.

“Two minutes,” says the guy in the stall. Behind him we see the cook running around, busily making our currywurst.

Five minutes later, it arrives. On two plates.

“Err, can we have it to go?” I ask, looking around at the complete lack of free tables to sit two large plates on.

After much huffing and puffing, we get the currywurst in a to-go container.

I immediately open mine and tuck in.

“The chips are cold,” I say.

Oh well. We head back to the Southwark Playhouse and set up camp on one of the small tables outside. Perfectly positioned to be able to see what is going on in the bar, and primed to launch ourselves inside when the doors open.

It’s also the best possible set up to show off to Allison my ability to put away vast quantities of food in a very short space of time.

“Oh my…” says Allison, as I use my last chip to mop up a dollop of mustard.

We both look at her dish. it’s still half full.

“Don’t worry, we still have…” I check my phone. “Five whole minutes. No rush.”

But the doors are open and the crowds in the bar are starting to go in.

Allison admits defeat and we head inside. Slowly. Currywurst doesn’t sit lightly on the stomach.

There doesn’t seem to be much of a queue. Or rather, everywhere seems to be part of the queue. Within seconds Allison and I are jostled apart. I reach out my hand to here, hoping to pull her through the crowds, but we’re too far away. I let myself be swept forward towards the doors of the theatre.

It’s press night tonight and the smaller of the Southwark’s Playhouse’s two venues, The Little, is packed.

“Where shall we sit?” I ask Allison as we finally manage to find one another.

There aren’t many options left.

“Shall we try the other side?”

Somehow, the good people of the Southwark Playhouse have managed to fit multiple rows of benches on three sides of a tiny stage in here. We pick out way around the tiny stage until we make it to the other side. There’s some free spots round here. In the front row.

Now, we all know how I feel about the front row, but I think we’ll be safe. We’re here for a musical. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, no less. Which doesn’t sound like the sort of show that will have interaction.

But then, one never knows with theatre. I mean… I’ve told you about the immersive Hamlet, right?

I put on my best “don’t talk to me face,” and settle in.

The cast come out. They’re carrying instruments. They strike up a tune. It’s folksy and earnest. Which, if that description sounds familiar to you, is because I used it to describe the music in The Hired Man. But where the storyline of that musical got lost in the vast space of the Queen’s Theatre in Hornchurch, there’s no chance of that in this tiny, intimate space.

Sitting in the front row, with nothing before me but these musicians bouncing around and strumming their tunes, I feel like I’m in some West Country pub, listening to the local band singing about the town’s resident folk hero - forever drowned in legend - the truth of his tale long forgotten.

And because it is a legend, we don’t have to worry about the silly matter of logic. Or even why the American writer’s tale, originally set in Baltimore (yeah, I did my research - I’ve read the Wikipedia page), has been moved to Cornwall.

A large puppet is carried onto the stage. It’s Benjamin. His father gawps and him, and so do we, as we all puzzle the impossibility of such a birth.

No matter. The story moves on and so do we.

“It’s really good!” says Allison as the house lights go up for the interval. She sounds surprised.

“Shall we get a drink?” I say, showing her the drinks vouchers that come as part of the press night experience.

The queue in the bar is intense, but we stick close to each other and soon make it to the front.

“What can we get for these?” Allison asks the lady behind the bar.

“Anything!” comes the joyful reply. “Beer. Wine. Spirits.”

Well! I plump for a Gin and tonic, cos I’m well sophisticated and shit. Allison goes for a beer with a very romantic sounding name that I immediately forget. “It feels right for the show,” she explains. I hadn’t been the only one picking up the pub-vibes then.

A few minutes later, there’s an announcement that it’s time to go back in.

“Can we take our drinks do you think?” I ask, looking with concern at the large quantity of G&T left in my glass. I may be a trougher when it comes to food, but downing a large alcoholic drink in one has never been part of my skill-set.

“Yeah, they just said,” says Allison. I clearly hadn’t been paying attention.

We go back in and settle in our seats, listening to the conversation flowing around us.

“It’s really gooood.”

“It’s amazzzzzing.”

“Well done, darling.”

I love press nights. So much audience enthusiasm as everyone congratulates their friends and themselves.

“Do you want a tissue?” someone in the row behind us asks her friend. “I saw it last night and the second act is a bit of a weeper.”

Oh dear.

I mean: yay. I have a hankering for a show that makes me cry those big snotty tears. But also, I’m wearing a lot of eyeliner today.

Thank god I’m here with Allison. She won’t judge me if I get my face covered with black tears.

The sniffs start quickly. Everywhere around me people are touching their fingers to the corners of their eyes. Soon there are nose wipes taking over as sniffs are no longer affective against this onslaught of emotions.

There’s something in my eye. I blink. That was a mistake. The tears I’d been so carefully holding back start to spill. I press the back of my hand against my cheek, hoping to get rid of them before my makeup melts.

The cast bows.

We stare at them. Clapping because that’s what we’ve been trained to do. Our minds still not fully caught up with what’s just happened.

A few people stagger to their feet.

Gradually, more join them.

Allison gets up.

I follow her.

The cast start up again. A few people try to clap along with the beat, but the rest of us are too spent for such a thing. We fall back into our seats, crying happy tears as the performers play on.

The final note fades away. Grinning, the cast disappear. But we don’t stop clapping. Can’t stop clapping. This is it.

The cast aren’t coming back, but we still aren’t stopping.

Minutes later, they return for one final bow and are hands are allowed to still, the business of showing our appreciation now satisfied.

“I counted five people crying during the infirmary scene,” says the woman sitting behind us. “I love that,” as we all gather our belongings together.

Allison and I quietly make our way out. I can’t talk. Tears are still choking my throat.

It wasn’t the infirmary scene though. I mean, if you’re going to go, doing so in the arms of a handsome young man who adores you doesn’t sound all that bad to me. It was what came after that really got me. The diminishment of the self. The shrinking of Benjamin’s mind alongside his body. The memories fading. It comes to us all. Eventually.

As I trudge my way back home, I remember something. I hadn’t given Allison her cupcake. Shit. I had completely forgotten.

I’m a terrible date.

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A toast to Walnut Whips

Toast tonight! Nope, not my post-theatre dinner plans (although they may end up being that). I’m at The Other Palace for Nigel Slater’s Toast.

Which is great.

Except, I don’t know who the fuck Nigel Slater is. He must be very important, as nowhere on The Other Palace’s website do they actually stoop to telling us who he is or what he does.

Now, I write a lot of show copy. A lot of show copy. I don’t have the exact numbers to hand, but I would say I bash out marketing-words for at least 100 shows a year. And I’m trying very hard to think of someone who is famous enough not to require a little intro. You know the kind of thing: “the visionary contemporary choreographer X,” or “the cult-leader Z,” or perhaps “the Austrian former-artist and political rising star Y.” We actually have a mega-celeb involved in one of our upcoming shows, and even he gets an intro citing the number of Grammys that he’s won. So, I’m trying really hard to think of someone more famous than him. Someone who requires no introduction. Beyoncé perhaps? But even she would probably get the “legend who requires no introduction,” style treatment.

Which brings me back to: who is Nigel Slater? Is he more famous than Beyoncé? Is he the Queen?

I’ll admit to being incredibly ignorant, but I think I would have noticed if the actual Queen was called Nigel Slater.

This is what I get from the website about Nigel Slater: He has an autobiography. He grew up in England in the sixties. He ate food. He likes toast (?).

Well, I like toast too. So I think we’ll get along just fine.

I traipse my way down past the OG palace, making my way through all the fancy wide streets until I reach The Other Palace.

There’s security on the door. Or rather, in the door. Looming in the doorway and asking to check my bag.

He gives the contents of my bag a cursery glance and then I’m left standing in the foyer no sure what I should do.

I don’t need to go to the box office. I have an e-ticket.

If you fall into the overlap of the Venn diagram between People Who Follow This Blog and People Who Visit The Other Palace, this may surprise you. And you’re right. The Other Palace do indeed offer paper tickets. For a price. And it looks like I’ve found mine, because I was not prepared to pay £1.50 in order to get my hands on one. Call me a sell-out if you will, but even I have my limits on how far I’m going to go in pursuit of paper.

And anyway, they sell programmes here. So it’s not like I walking away entirely devoid of papery-goodness.

Or at least, I think they have programmes.

I can’t see any.

There’s no where to sit down, but I find a free spot over to the left of the entrance, and I use my spot to spy on the ticket checker. She has one of those little aprons that front of house staff sport when they have to deal with the business of change. But there are no programmes peeking out of the pocket.

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Being Janet

8pm. A start time that promises so much when you have a companion to spend the evening with, hanging around in cafes and debating whether you can manage another drink before rolling yourselves over to the theatre. Less so when you are off for a date with no one but your stupid cough, and have two solid hours to fill before curtain up.

I decide to take a massive detour around the West End, checking out what was happening at the Dominion (nothing much) before making my way south of the river. But even after all that, I still arrived at Southwark Street, sore of foot and heavy of bag, with half an hour to spare.

I've never been to the Menier Chocolate Factory before. Tickets are outrageously expensive, and despite them pushing an early booking agenda, don't dip much before the mid-thirties. But I'm here now, due to having a ticket passed onto me by a friend who can no longer make use of it.

From the outside, it doesn't look like much. It's in one of those tall, old, stone buildings that could house anything from a bank to a squat.

What it does contain, as I find out on stepping off the street and into a small courtyard, is a restaurant.

Am I in the wrong place? I'd seen signs for the theatre but perhaps I had gone down the wrong way. I did think it strangely close to the other theatre on this street: The Bunker. Maybe I was supposed to go around the other way.

There were people sitting on a bench in the courtyard, all hunched over their phones with that collective boredom you see at bus stops hanging over them. One of them glances up and looks at me curiously.

Oh well, that was it. I had to go in.

There's a small sign on the desk oppostite the doors. Theatre and Bar it says, with an arrow pointing the way.

Thank goodness. I was in the right place.

I follow the arrow, which which we down a narrow path that curls it's way between busy tables, left then right, then right again, until I reach the other end of the room.

There's a door back here, covered in laminated A4 print outs. "Box Office & Theatre Entrance," one says. "Please mind your step," warns another.

I mind the step, and make my way through.

From the restaurant, I now seem to find myself in a pub. Not just a pub, an old man's pub. An old man's pub in some remote village. The ceilings are low and the heavy wooden beams make it feel even lower. There are brick walls and exposed wiring that should give it that Shoreditch edge, but somehow just make it look a little tired.

The bar is opposite. There's a long queue.

I can't see the box office.

I'm in the right place though. There are theatre posters on the walls. I may not frequent old man pubs on the regular, but even I know they don't tend to go for old theatre posters as decor.

I edge my way further in. There's a lot of people in here.

Ah, there it is. The box office. Hidden around the corner.

I join the queue.

There's only one person ahead of me, but he's taking for frickin' ever.

I spend my time darting forwards and back as people try to get past me to the few chairs remaining vacant.


Oh good. Another person has jumped behind the counter.

I step forward and... shit. What was the name again? Not mine. Don't say that.

I manage to give Janet's surname. It feels weird and a bit wrong. Like I'm a spy in an undercover operation. Mission: Orpheus Descending.

It comes out sounding strained. There's no way he doesn't know that's not my name. I wasn't even slightly convincing. I'd make a terrible spy. And an even worse actor.

He starts looking through the tickets.

I tell myself that I'm Janet today, not Maxine. I need to think Janet thoughts: retro dresses, novelty prints, red hair, and Shakespeare.

Shit. He might ask for my postcode. Janet's postcode. I'd been rehearsing it the whole way over. All the way through the West End and across the river. And I couldn't recall a single digit of it.

"Janet?" he says, plucking out a ticket.


"That's one ticket," he says, handing it over.

Oh, wow. Scrap everything I've ever said. I'm a great actor. And would make a fucking fantastic spy. No wait. Even better. I could act the fuck out of a spy-character. Sign me up for the next series of Killing Eve, because I've got this shit down.

I'm so pleased with myself it takes me a second to realise that the guy on box office is trying to tell me something.

I try to focus. It sounded like he sais the show was two hours and forty minutes, but that can't be right.

"The first act is one hour forty," he says. I must have pulled a face because he grimaces in sympathy. "Then there's a fifteen-minute interval, followed by a forty-minute second act. And there's no readmission."

"Christ..." I say, forgetting that I was supposed to be Janet. "Thanks for the warning."

I probably shouldn't have blasphemed. I don't think Janet does that.

Two hours, forty minutes. And a 8pm start.

Is this a thing now? When did it become a thing? When did long plays stop demanding early starts? Do people not need sleep in this town?

I buy a programme in an attempt to cover up my error. I have four pounds in my purse. Would Janet pay with the exact change or hand over a fiver? I don't know. Shit. This is terrible. I'm floundering. Cancel my Killing Eve audition. I'm not ready for this yet.

I hand over the four pound coins and scuttle away, intending to hide behind my programme.

There are no chairs going spare, but I spot a leaning table without any elbows attached to it.

I rush over, and dump my programme and purse on it, staking my claim before anyone else has the chance.

It lasts for precisely half a minute before a couple plonks down their wine next to me, and jostle me around to the other side.

"The house is now open if you'd like to take your seats," comes a call from the auditorium door. I hadn't noticed it before. There are curtains made of what looks like sailcloth. There are even metal rivets punctuating the edges.

I look around, trying to work out if they tie into a theme somehow. The posters, the beams, the exposed brick, and the whitewashed walls. And now sailcloth.

Whatever's going on, I'm not getting it.

But I do suddenly realise why I was getting such old-man-pub vibes from this venue. It is absolutely packed with old men. They're everywhere. I don't think I've ever seen such a high proportion of men at the theatre. Not even at that chemsex play at The Courtyard.

Is that the Menier effect? Or is it Tennessee Williams who's to blame?

"The show includes haze," continues to front-of-houser. He has to raise his voice over the din. "Loud gunshots..." No one is listening. His list of warnings trails away into nothing.

A bell rings. It's only a quarter to. I wait, expecting a proclamation to follow, but there's nothing. I'm confused. Was the bell a reminder for us to go in? Or final call at the bar?

The couple next to me are on the move again. I'm finding myself bumping against the next table.

It's time for me to go in.

I look at the ticket for the first time.

Row A.

Of course it is.

Janet is such a front-rower.

I mean, I am such a front-rower. Because I am Janet. Love the front row, me. Can't get enough of it.

There's seating on three sides here, and I'm in the bank on the far side.

I tuck my bag under my chair and have a look at the programme. Is a tri-fold number. Rather fancy. It even has production photos in place of headshots, which is a very nice touch that I've never seen before.

I look closer. Hang on. That's Jemima Rooper! I love Jemima Rooper. Loved ever since she broke my heart in The Railway Children. Fucking hell. And there's Hattie Moran! I love her too! And Seth Numrich! Blimey. This is one hell of a cast.

Janet knows how to book good theatre.

I mean, I know how to book good theatre.

Having two hours and forty minutes to gaze at this cast doesn't sound so bad. Not anymore.

But when Jemima Rooper comes out it is under a mask of makeup. White powder. Red cheeks. Black eyes. She looks terrifying, and I feel attacked. I've suspected that I've been rocking the white powdered, red-cheeked, and black-eyed look about five years longer than is really appropriate. But man, I can't stop. And neither can Jemima Rooper's Carol.

She dances around the shop that we are living in, swamped by her giant leopard print coat, daring people to love her, to hate her. So desperate for them to accept her that she can't help forcing them to reject her.

I'm staring at her so hard I'm almost embarrassed by it.

As the house lights rise for the interval, the front-of-house steps in front of our row, blocking us in.

"If you can walk this way," he says, indicating the front of the stage-area.

I follow his directions and head back out into the pub.

It's already full. There's nowhere to stand without getting bumped and shoved. I press myself against the wall, but it's no good. There's a constant flow of people making their way to the loos and every single one of them knocks me as they pass.

I go back into the theatre.

The set has changed. The tables have been rearranged.

There's no possible way to take the directed route

I walk right across the stage and hope the front-of-houser doesn't spot me. It's what Janet would have done. Probably.

Forty minutes left. It's not going to end well. I'm not sure I'm ready for it. Someone's going to die. I can feel it.

I hope it's not that nice Seth Numrich. He's so handsome.

Or Jemima Rooper. Not sure I could deal with seeing her go down.

Hattie Morahan I can cope with.

Except, nope, I really, really can't.

Oh, god. This is dreadful. Why are people so awful? I can't stand it.

I want to close my eyes, but I'm frightened that something will happen if I do. Not that I'll miss it, you understand. But that the very act of closing my eyes would provoke it. As if my being witness is the only thing holding the bad things at bay.

But I must have blinked.

Because the bad things come.

As inevitable as the sunrise.

It takes a long time to get out of the theatre. Plenty of time to listen in to my fellow play-watcher's conversations.

They're all talking about it as if they just read it in a textbook. As if it wasn't the most emotionally shattering thing to happen to them.

I hate them, and want to get away from the,, but there's only one exit, and I'm at the back of a very long queue.

"It would be terrible if there was ever a fire in here..." someone says.

Terrible, and yet I long to burn everything down.

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She is risen


I know, I know. You were worried. I drop a blog post about being very, very ill and then disappear without another word. I meant to put a banner on the site to let you know that I'm, well, n't ded, like an internet-soaring Granny Weatherwax, but then I realised that if I did actually die, there would be no-one to take the message down, and while I would appreciate the humour of my determined declaration of non-death surviving me until the payment on my domain is due, I figured that the other ghosts might laugh at me, and even worse, attempt to stage an intervention.

So, anyway. I'm not, in fact, dead. I am quite the opposite. I am risen. Like the phoenix, Or the daffodils. Or any other spring-appropriate return-to-life metaphors that you can to think of. And while we all debate whether I am the messiah or a very naughty boy, can I take a moment to say how much I've enjoyed all the responses I've had to my... sickness. Over the past week I've been compared to Mimi from La Boheme, Violetta from Traviata, Marguerite from Marguerite and Armand, and... errr... Satine from Moulin Rouge. And while I revelled in being cast among the canon of sex-workers-dying-from-consumption (who knew it was such a trope?), I'm not sure I belong among those aria-singing delicate creatures. Personally, I see myself more as a Billie Piper in Penny Dreadful, spluttering all over that nice Mr Dorian. Like... it was intense. Blood everywhere. Seriously, I had to have a shower and put on a load of laundry before going to the hospital.

Right, now I've finished my course of antibiotics and thoroughly grossed you all out, it's time to take you with me to the next theatre on the marathon list.: Hampstead Theatre. I do like the Hampstead. Firstly because it requires little more than falling out of Swiss Cottage tube station in order to get to, and secondly because it makes me feel like I'm making a real contribution when I'm there. I swear, I bring down the mean age of the audience by a good decade the second I stumble through the door. It's not often that I get to feel so young and cool, and believe me, I relish every moment of it.

But as I arrive in the foyer, I find it devoid of octogenarians to compare myself to. Devoid of anyone of any age.

The place looks deserted.

One of the lady’s on box office beckons me forwards.

“Err, the surname’s Smiles,” I saw. Her hand is already on the box of tickets and she is flipping through them before I’ve even got the first syllable out.

“What was the name again?” she asks, still riffling through the box.

“This is the final call for Jude,” comes a booming voice over the tannoy.

Ah, that explains the frenzy.

“It’s for The Firm,” I tell her. I thought the information might calm her. The Firm, the play in their smaller, downstairs, theatre, doesn’t start for another 15 minutes. But she barely pauses, thanking me and reaching over for the other ticket box to flick her way through the tickets there.

“Here you go,” she says, unfolding them to check the tickets before handing them over. “You’re downstairs.”

I go down the stairs, passing the great bulbous curves of the main space, which bulge out like the bow of a ship, giving me flashbacks to when I watched Pirates under the hull of the Cutty Sark a few months back.

There’s a large foyer down here, filled with the kind of tables and chairs that make me think I should be in the subsidised cafe of some trendy modern university.

Not one is using them now.

Seating is unreserved and the queue is already stretching from bow to stern.

I push my way through and join the end of it. No wonder the box office lady was so stressed. This queue is massive.

I’ll admit it’s been a while since I managed to make it to one of the Downstairs shows at the Hampstead. Been a while since I was Upstairs, come to think of it. Gosh, when was I last here? Suddenly it comes to me. Gloria. How could I forget that? Best interval cliff-hanger since… well, ever…? I spent the entire interval stumbling around, staring into the distance, and whimpering. That Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is one hell of a playwright. I really think he has the potential to go all the way, you know. I pause, trying to conjure the name last Downstairs play I saw, but I’m failing. Perhaps because it didn’t have an interval. Downstairs shows rarely do.

Queue up, sit down, watch a play, then get the hell out. That seems to be the motto of the downstairs space.

Well, I’m sure it was just great, whatever the hell the play was.

The queue is moving.

There’s a sign by the door.

The play is only an hour and a half. No interval.

Ah. Was that good? I can’t tell. Usually that would be good. But now I’ve remembered Gloria and my interval stumbling and I’m suddenly not so sure anymore.

We file through the door, down a very dark corridor, and emerge in what looks like a fancy cocktail bar.

My position at the back of the queue doesn’t seem to have affected my seat selection. There are two banks of benches, arranged at an obtuse angel to each other, and I manage to nab a spot close to the central aisle, in the third row back.


I’m well pleased with that.

I’m even more pleased to find a programme on my seat.

I’m said before that a freesheet placed lovingly on the seats for the audience is the sign of a swanky theatre, but the Hampstead being, well, the Hampstead, just have to go one step further and offer up a fully-colour printed, 16 page, full-on programme. The sort I would charge a whole two quid for. And here they are, just lying around, to be picked up. For free.

I go to flick through it, but I don’t get much further than the third page.

“Hampstead Theatre would like to thank RADA for the loan of beer pumps.”

I can’t help it. I laugh.

Bless them. Isn’t that just the must perfect sentence ever committed to paper? How gloriously middle-class. Congratulations to everyone involved. Especially to RADA, for their stock of beer pump props.

Eventually, I manage to move on. But not by much as I find another gem on the centre-fold.

Well done programme-maker of the Hampstead Theatre, whoever you are. And to the playwright, Roy Williams, I suppose. I’m certainly feeling all kinds of damn aches at the moment. In places that I didn’t even know I could ache. And, I know I’m on a marathon and everything, and marathons are notoriously bad on your joints, but I didn’t think that applied to the theatrical variety.

But then, I didn’t think people seriously coughed up blood in this post-industrial revolution, post-slum era of socialised medicine that we live in, and yet here we are, so….

Anyway, you don’t care about that. Just pour me a shot of indulgence for this pity party of mine and let’s move on.

Back to the theatre. And the play. Which is starting now.

Looks like they are getting ready for a party, and not of the pity variety. It’s a welcome home jobby. They even have a banner.

The Firm, in true John Grisham style, is a gang of, Ooo, what shall we call them? Thugs sounds too violent, although there’s plenty of then. But I think the word thug suggests a certain mindlessness to their brutality and there’s nothing mindless about this lot. Everything is thought of, worked over, considered. Words are tested and tasted and thrown around.

Ne'er-do-well, perhaps? Nah, too cutsie. And these blokes aren’t cutsie.

Mobster? Too Godfather. We’re in London not New York.

Gangster then? Very East End circa the 1960s. Very Jez Butterworth’s Mojo.

And it is all very Mojo. With the bar and the gang of… whatever they are. Just… without the mojo.


Okay, that’s not fair. I mean, it’s lacking in the grimy glamour of the sixties which is a huge portion of Mojo’s mojo. And the Soho seediness that can never be replicated south of the river, no matter how hard the people of Streatham try.

But it does has that hot guy from Fleabag in it. No, not that one. The other one. The lawyer, not the priest.

So, it does have a little mojo. Just not Mojo levels of mojo.

Not gangster then. Besides, a gang of gangsters is some weak-arse writing. Even for me.

Let’s just move on, shall we?

The man sitting next to me certainly is. He’s not paying attention at all. He’s got his coat over his knees and I can see it moving as he scratches himself underneath.

At least, I hope he’s scratching.

I slide over a little on the bench.

It’s alright. There’s plenty of room.

This is the Hampstead after all. No Finborough-style packing them in over here.

I bump into something.

It’s a handbag, belonging to my other neighbour. She’d placed it rather pointedly between us on the bench when I came to sit next to her. A makeshift wall to divide us. A fencing off of her personal space. I wanted to tell her the show was sold out, and that if it wasn’t me, she’d have someone else sitting here. Put I didn’t. Mainly because I was worried that she would reply that her problem wasn’t with anyone else, but with me, specifically.

Looks like I’m stuck between a bag and a hard… ummm.

Let’s leave that there.

The play’s over anyway.

It takes a while to get out. The seats might be generous, but the audiences of Hampstead Theatre like to take their time, and the gangways are all full as they chatter about the play.

“It was good, but I didn’t understand a word of it,” observes one lady. She must have been a fan of those beer pumps.

Finally, I manage to escape and I make a break for the stairs.

But half-way up I realise something. I stop, blocking the man behind me.

“Sorry,” I say, but I don’t move. I’m wrestling my phone out of my pocket and fumbling to bring up the camera.

There, staggered up the steps, is The Firm’s artwork.

That is such a nice touch. Swish as fuck.

Perhaps that’s way I love the Hampstead.

They do good marketing.

I respect that.

Not sure about their press though. Those bastards wouldn’t give me a ticket. Not for this play. Not that I tried for this play. The ticket was only a fiver, and I feel a bit mean about putting in a request for a ticket that well-priced (plus… free programme. Fucking bargain). I mean for the main house. Rejected. Bastards. And at a whopping cost of thirty-eight quid, I’m going to have to do some serious saving up to get the upstairs space ticked off my list.

Pity about the penicillin. With my bloody cough I could have made a fortune wafting around with a stained hankie…

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One Ring Circus

I’m outside Stratford Circus trying to take a photo of an angel in an upstairs window. I saw angel, but what I mean is a display of angelic looking white wings. And I saw trying, because there is a street cleaner with a trolley coming my way.

I pause, lowering my phone, waiting until he passes.

Except, he's not passing. He's aiming right for me.

I jump backwards, having visions of being run over but a cleaning trolley and having to spend the rest of time haunting the nearest bin. Max the Ground of Theatre Square. Doomed to spend eternity watching people rush excitedly into the neighbouring theatres of Stratford East and Stratford Circus, and never get to see a show. Feeding off the crumbs of gossip and old tickets that they leave behind.

But I didn't get hit. Instead, the trolley stopped. Directly in front of me. Blocking my shot.

Stratford clearly ain’t got time for any of this hipster Instagram nonsense.

Nor had I.

My show this evening has a 7pm start time, and I haven't even picked up my ticket yet.

I extricate myself from behind the trolley and dash across the road towards Stratford Circus. I'm so dazzled by the fluorescent orange banners flapping in the breeze I entirely miss the entrance and have to double back.

It's orange. The same hue as the banners. But with two strip lights set behind a wall of translucent orange plastic, angled to form an arrow that points directly towards the door. Blimey, I must be tired, walking right past this. There's even an A-frame set outside. "Stratford Circus Arts Centre," it reads, for those who need the extra help.

This does not bode well.

Oh well. There's nothing for it. I go inside, go to the box office (orangey-red), and pick up my ticket (not orange), and buy a programme (also not orange. Kinda blue-ish purple actually. And pink).

It's been a while since I last visited Stratford Circus. Years and years now that I come to think about it. So long, that I can't actually remember where the main theatre space is.

I look around.

The main foyer is packed. Mostly full of people queuing up at the bar. There's a staircase right next to the box office, leading up to what seems like an Escher-like series of galleries and mezzanines stretching up to the heavens.

I look up, shading my eyes against the thousands of tiny faerielights set into the ceiling of each level.

There's a big number 3 on the glass high above, with a smaller "Circus" above it. Circus 3. There's a Circus 3? Circus 2 I knew about. That's the studio space. And Circus 1 was where I was heading for. But what's Circus 3? And more importantly, how many circuses are there in this place?

I get out my phone. I have to know.

Theatre websites are surprisingly coy about their spaces. Rarely can you search a list of events by venue, and very often they won't even tell you the space it's in before you get to the booking page. Often I left clicking around, putting random tickets in my basket just to find out which shows are where, and giving box officers across London major headaches as tickets appear and disappear from their system as I do so.

You'd be surprised to know how many secondary studios I've only found out about because I saw a sign for them when I was in the building. Just like I was now.

But there's one place where you kind find this info. And that's the hires page.

I find it.

"Stratford Circus Arts Centre has a range of spaces that are perfect for meetings, live performances, celebration and training events," says the website. Great.

"C1 - Auditorium," reads the first one. That must be Circus 1. I've already got that covered. I move on. "C2 - Studio Theatre," is next. I don't got that covered, but it's on my list, so I'll get to it eventually. Onwards. "C3 - Dance Studio." There it is. Circus 3. It looks nice. "A large and airy rehearsal space with sprung dance floor, mirrors and adjustable blinds; adaptable for a variety of events including classes, rehearsals, workshops and performance." Performance, It's suitable for performance. Shit. Does it need to go on the list? It probably needs to go on the list. Do they programme things there? How do I even check? I mean, apart from the adding random tickets from every single show into my basket...

I quickly close the tab. I'm not going to add it to the list. What I'm going to do it pretend that this never happened, and you are too. And if you even mention the fact that there is a C4 (Multi-purpose space) on the website, I'm going to have to take a course of action that you won't like, and I won't be held responsible for.

Enough of that. I put my phone away and turn around. There appears to be a queue. A very long queue. But this one doesn't lead to the bar. People are looking at their tickets and stuffing the remains of half-eaten sandwiches into their mouths. It looks like we're going in. I find the end of the line and add myself to it. At least the question of where is Circus 1 is not something I have to worry about anymore.

Circus 1, it turns out, is on the ground floor. As is the stage, which is on floor level, leaving a large back of bench seats to rise up from it. There's also a couple of narrow circles above us, but those seem to be closed off.

"This is so cool," someone whispers loudly as we all try to figure out where we want to sit.

They're not wrong. It is pretty cool.

There's a boxing ring set up on the stage, and its surrounded but young people dancing like butterflies and stinging like bees. I find a seat in the middle of the fourth row and try to look like the sort of person who understands boxing.

It doesn't work.

So instead I pull my fan out of my bag and try to cool off. If I'm not going to be someone who looks like they understand or partakes in sport, I might as well embrace it and run full tilt in the other direction. Well, I say run, but perhaps stumble slowly is more my style. Or "adagio walking," as a dance critic once described my prefered level of exertions.

I do kind of like the idea of seeing two people deck each other though. I mean... that's kinda why I wanted to see this. Libby Liburd's Fighter is billed as a play about female boxers fighting for the right to... well, fight. Which I am well into. Just because of my own physical cowardice, doesn't mean that I don't have a hefty appreciation of those that are willing to take a punch in the name of feminism in other people.

And oof, Libby Liburd's Lee is willing to take a punch, both literal and metaphorical. There's no keeping her down.

The clock roles back twenty-one years, and she bounces into Tommy's Gym, shiny new gym back and smart mouth at the ready. Neither of which get her very far in the world of ninety's boxing gyms. Woman have only been allowed to fight (allowed!) for two years and the message hasn't quite filtered down to the local gym level quite yet.

But she's got the babysitter in and she's not to be turned away. Or at least, not for long. As she's back the next day, and the next, and the next. It's 1998 and the Spice Girls have been preaching the gospel of Girl Power for four years now. There's nothing Lee can't do, and she's got the brand new Lonsdale top to prove it.

Nothing can stop her.

Almost nothing.

Except for the Achilles' heel of the single-mother.

That's where Lee's real fight begins.

And I'm feeling it. The empowerment. The Girl Power. Lee can do anything, and by extension, I can do everything.

I feel myself puffing up with second-hand pride.

The big fight scene's coming. Eye of the Tiger is pounding through the sound system. Lee is coming down the steps of the stalls, the spotlight bouncing off her pink satin robe and...

Lights dim. The scene changes. We're flung forward in time. Back to 2019.

The boxing ring is full of cute kids practising their swings.

Oh. No fight? I deflate back to normal size. I mean... fine. I get it. But I was all psyched up to see two ladies punching each other and now... okay.

Just have to settle for feeling all empowered and shit. Which is alright. I suppose.

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The Real Triple Threat

Would you be shocked if I told you that I'd never been to Battersea Arts Centre before? Because it's not true, you know. I have been there. Just... not to see a show.

It's just one of those venues that feels impossible to get to. First the tube journey. Which isn't exactly a short one to begin with. Then the train. And then that calf-shaking walk up Lavender Hill. It took important work meetings to get me there in the first place, and a marathon to bring me back.

But I wasn't just going to the BAC to see a show. Oh no. I was going full ham on this expedition, hitting up three of their spaces in one night.

And you know what three venues result in? One hell of a long blog post. Get yourself comfy, my friend. Maybe even make a cup of tea. This might take a while.

"Which show are you here to see?" asked one of the young ladies behind the box office desk.

Always a challenging question at the best of times, but even harder when your answer needs to be given in three parts. I know my limits, so I don't even attempt to recite them from memory. I get out my phone and bring up the relevant email.

"High Rise eState of Mind," I started. "Then Frankenstein, and then Beyond Borders."

She didn't blink an eye.

There was a festival going on. Plenty of people would be doing a performance-crawl that evening.

"Here's High Ris," she says, handing me one ticket and then looking for the next box.

"This must be a nightmare for you," I say sympathetically as she tries to locate the right one of what looks like a dozen scattered across the counter. "So many shows."

"It is a bit," she laughs, finally finding the right one and flicking through the tickets until she finds the one that belongs to me. "And that's Frankenstein."

Beyond Borders was a little easier. From a plastic wallet she pulls out a sheet of green wristbands and begins tearing one off.

I roll up the sleeve of my jacket.

"Do you want me to put that on you?" she asks.

"Please. I'm useless at these things."

"No problem at all," she says, wrapping the paper strip around my wrist before giving me my instructions for the evening. "You're first show is o the first floor," she says. "There'll be a bell in the foyer when it's time to go up. Then you're in the Grand Hall. That's down towards the back of the building. And then you're on the first floor again." She must have seen the panic in my eyes at this point. That was a lot to remember. She smiles kindly. "Just ask someone and they'll point you in the right direction," she says, with all the enthusiasm of a kindergarten teenager who truly believes you got this.

Did I got this? I wasn't so sure. I'd not attempted three venues in a single evening before. Three in a day, yes. But that was a Saturday, started in the afternoon, required multiple hot chocolates to get me through, and resulted in me sleeping for eleven hours straight when I did eventually get home.

But, you know, sometimes all we need in life is for someone to believe in us. And I had box office lady.

The foyer was quite, but it was the kind of quite that throbbed with the echoes of activity happening elsewhere in the building. The bar was full. The exhibition next door had a healthy number of visitors staring at the walls. People rusher past, looking like they knew exactly where they were heading, only pausing to say hello and hug a fellow rusher.

I stayed in the foyer, not wanting to miss that bell, and had a great time taking photos of the bee-mosaics on the floor and sneakily listening into everyone's conversations. The BAC really is the most extraordinary building. With its bee-mosaics and its massive marble staircase that looks fit for yet another Beauty and the Beast remake. The whole place is sending up those chateaux-vibes. Post-revolution, though. When the townspeople have moved in and start replacing the Rembrandts with their kids' drawings, and painting slogans over the priceless panneling.

The bell sounds.

A foyer that had previously just contained me and a couple of front-of-housers was now teaming with people aiming for the stairs, with seemingly no time in between. They weren't there, and then they were. Rung into existence by the bell itself.

They weren't wasting any time. They bounded up the steps.

I follow their lead, attempting a bound for myself. But my legs aren't built for bounding, so filled with regret and a new twinge in my knee, I make my way up the last set of steps with something more akin to a hobble.

At the top of the stairs, we turn left, aiming for a door that, without signage or ceremony, I would have walked right past if it wasn't for the ushers standing outside waiting for us.

The signage it seemed had been reserved for the secondary door. The one after the ticket check.

"Recreation Room," it read far too smugly for someone that came in so late to the conversation.

The Recreation Room is dark. Too dark to get a proper photo. Blackout curtains cover the windows. And any hint of what recreations this room would usually contain has been removed.

Chairs have been arranged in rows in church hall format, but to preserve against the kind of mishaps we discovered at the Horse Stables, there's a small rake at the back. The BAC aren't newbies at this game. They know what they're about.

For a crowd that was willing to throw themselves up a flight of stairs in order to get themselves in this room, there's a lot of standing about as the relative merits of different rows are discussed.

"Is it sold out?" asks someone. "Shall we just sit here on the end and then move down if more people come?"

No one wants to commit to sitting next to a stranger if they don't have to.

Musical chairs ain't my game, so I pick the middle of the third row and hope the person next to me wasn't banking in having an empty seat for a neighbour.

Turns out more people where coming. And everyone has to move down.

A large group arrive. There are five of them. They scan the rows, looking for the mythical unicorn of five seats together in an unreserved theatre minutes before the show is about to begin.

"Do you mind?" asks one. Two people dutifully move down and the group manage to split themselves across two rows.

The Recreation Room door closes. The lights dim. Out comes the performers. And we are treated to an hour of tales from the housing crisis and class inequality in the form of storytelling and hip hop. As someone who has committed themselves to working in the arts, for reasons that made sense at the time, I felt every damn word. But hey, that's the trade off isn't it? No hope of ever having a home, and the constant fear of ending up on the street and dying in poverty in exchange for... ummm, what was it again? Helping make art happen or something. We don't do it for the money, so my must do it for the love, I guess.

We're asked to raise our hands if we have a dream house. Somewhere we long to live that isn't where we're at now. Only about half of us have their hands raised. I look around the room at those with their hands in their laps and see a bunch of liars.

"Where would you like to live?" Conrad Murray asks a front row hand raiser.


"And where do you live now?"


We all nod sympathetically. That's rough.

Turns out she lives alone. And owns her place. Sympathy levels drop. Well, she doesn't work in the arts, clearly. And she probably will end up working in America. She even gets a song improvised just for her.

Right. Show over. Next stop: The Grand Hall for Frankenstein. I wasn't the only one.

"Anyone seeing Frankenstein?" asks Conrad Murray.

Someone in the front row whoops.

"Well, I'll see you there! And if anyone would like a programme, with lyrics printed in them, we'll be selling them for three pounds."

Oh. Oh!

Do I want a programme? Stupid question. I always want a programme. The real question is, do I have three quid on me. I'm fairly certain I gave my last note to the programme seller at the Trafalgar Studios, and I hadn't made it to a cash point yet.

In the queue to leave, I pull out my purse and try to cobble together the funds, trying to ignore the small voice at the back of my head that tells me that I should be saving the coins for a deposit, not blowing them on programmes. "Or at the very least, spend it on clothes!" says the voice. "You can sell clothes. No ones wants your second-hand programmes."

Yeah, well, I want my second-hand programmes. And you can claw them from my cold, dead, impoverished, and paper-cut hands after I'm gone.

I manage to make up three quid in change and hand it over to the Lakeisha Lynch Stevens, who has swapped her role of spoken word artist to programme seller to see us out.

"That was so good," I tell her, truthfully. It really was.

Back down the stairs. Now where? People seem to be drifting towards the left. I follow them and see a sign of the Grand Hall. Super. We were all going the same way.

Down a corridor and a flight of stairs and... if I thought the main foyer was fancy, it was nothing to the space I was in now. Stone arches balanced on marble pillars. Grecian alcoves cradling statues of naked lady nymphs and boys with wings. There was even a dome. Made of glass.

"Are you picking up a ticket?" asks a girl as I stop to take a photo.

"Oh, no, sorry," I say, stepping out of the queue that I had managed to barge into without noticing. I'd been too busy gazing up in awe at that glass dome.

I manage to stop staring long enough to realise that the direction of the crowd was shifting down a corrdior. I fell into step with them, but the convoy came to a halt as we all stopped to take photos. After the marble and glass of the foyer, the corridor is rocking a touch of monastery chic. The austere walls no doubt a remnant of the fire that engulfed this part of the building just over four years ago. I manage to almost convince myself that I can smell the smoke. Probably my overactive imagination, but there really does seem to some sort of strange scent - a touch of eau de polyester-top-that-has-been-left-too-long-in-the-dryer.

Finally, we all managed to put our phones away long enough to get to the end of the hallway and... oh baby. There it is. That's what I was after. The Grand friggin' Hall in all its glory.

I was there for Frankenstein, which I am always down for watching a new interpretation of (I stan Mary Shelley so hard, she's the ultimate goth mother). There seems to be a lot of them at the moment. It's the story de jour, and I ain't complaining, Still, I'd like to know BAC's reasons for putting on the show. I mean, the story of a battered and broken corpse, resurrected, rebuilt, and reanimated... seems like an odd choice of programming for the venue. But then, what do I know.

The tungsten bulbs hang from the ceiling so that they flicker just above the stage like a colony of glowworms. Their orange lights don't have much reach, despite the coils burning brightly inside their glass homes.

I find my seat, with a tasty freesheet waiting for me on it. No stressing trying to find an usher to beg one off. A freesheet on your seat is the theatrical equivalent of a chocolate on your hotel pillow. It's a classy touch.

I crane my head back, trying to get photos of the ceiling. Intricate patterns spread out over us. It looks like the vaulted ceiling of a cathedral rendered in mdf. Or an intricate paper cut out. Or perhaps a brand new colouring book waiting to be filled in.

Lights dim. Show two.

Except no. Conrad Murray is back. Just as he promised. He introduces the cast, all from the BAC's Beatbox Academy and then... oh no.

He's trying to recruit us. Worse. He's trying to teach us.

"Boom! Tee! Cha!" he shouts, getting us to repeat him.

I'm not ready for this. I definitely can't do this. And I don't mean in a cutsie "I'm too shy and quiet to let my voice shine," kinda way. I mean in a: "I cried every day for a year to be allowed to give up piano lessons," kind way. I'm not musical. I am the opposite of musical. If it's possible to have negative musical talent, that's me.

We've discussed how I can't clap out a rhythm multiple times on this blog.

My lack of musicality is my great tragedy.

Being asked to join in with this stuff just sends me into a shame spiral.

Everywhere around me people are Booming, Teeing and Claing.

And I'm... not. Very much not. I sit very quietly and wait for this all to be over.

"When I say Battersea Arts, you say Centre," starts the call and response. "Battersea Arts"


"Battersea Arts!"


I swear it's Thriller Live all over again.

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