A funny thing happened to me on the way to the theatre
I’m on my way to Sloane Square. I’m walking because I never learn my lesson on this. I’m in that funny hinterland between The Mall and Eaton Square, were 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 their 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.
Oo. That must have been one hell of an accident.
The truck and its XXX pass through.
A motorbike emerges from the other side of the road.
The police offer blows on their whistle with an angry chirrup, and raises their 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 anyway 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, other 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 fan enough of the monarchy to be able to tell you which one, but it had a lot of yellow and there was definetly a XXX 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.
On my right, I hear a strange clank. I look over. The bus driver is opening is 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 director. Towards the Royal Court.
The show in the main house has already gone in. Box office is empty.
I give my name to one of the ladies sitting behind the counter.
“Is this for Salt?” she asks.
“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 the 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. Some might say 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, death.
The Royal Court is literally killing me here.
The queue has already curled its way down from the top floor. I only need to go up a few steps from the balcony to reach it.
I lean against the wall, trying to get my breath back.
I am really, very, upset about this.
“Does this work for press tickets?” someone in the queue below me asks a passing usher.
“Just give your name. They have a new system.”
“Yes, but does it work for press tickets?”
“It’s just a list on the door.”
Printed tickets banished in favour of a list on the door. My heart withers inside of me.
A new group joins the queue. A blonde woman who I immediately take to be their spokesperson leans around the balustrade to get a good look up the stairs. “This trial doesn’t seem to be going very well,” she says.
I want to tell her that it is always like this for the upstairs theatre. That the queue grows and grows, making its way down the stairs like a tangled slinky until moments before the start time, when the doors and opened, and we are allowed to trudge our way up the final steps.
The queue starts moving, and we trudge those final steps.
The stairs narrow, and get darker. The only lights the ones illuminating the display or red and yellow Royal Court posters back from before they invented blue.
“It’s a bit dangerous isn’t it?” someone puffs behind me.
There’s a landing at the top of the stairs. A small foyer where we can catch our breath and deal with the ticket checker.
He has a tablet. The screen is Spektrix green. The same set-up used by the Vaults.
Is this it? Is this what I fought and died for? To be sent away from an empty box office, in order to queue in the dark, and get my name ticked up on a slightly clunky booking system beloved by small venues?
Look, I get this is only a trial. And a Monday, when tickets at the Royal Court are sold on the day, is as good a time as any to trial this. But come on. This is a nonsense. Don’t disband a queue from a location set up to deal with it, and put it upstairs in a poky room with no space for this sort of thing, forcing people to wait way longer than they should, on the fringgin’ stairs.
I get my name checked off and pick up a castsheet from the display on the wall. I don’t see any programmes for sale. Which is odd, as there is usually a playtext going.
I go in, keen to see what configuration they’ve got going on up here today.
Turns out, it’s a bog-standard rake. But I’ve not paying attention to that. I’m too busy staring at the goggles. Actual goggles. Of the kind worn by GCSE chemistry teachers across the land.
They’re on the seats. Placed ready and waiting for the occupents. But only on the first two rows.
A few brave theatre goers are already wearing them on their heads, and looking way cooler than I could ever hope to emulate.
I decide to sit further back.
Whatever projectiles are flying tonight, I want no part of it.
“The rule is, when I am wearing my goggles, you wear yours,” says XXX as the show starts.
That’s a good rule.
XXX tells the tale of a journey. A retracing of the steps of the ancestors of the play’s writer Selina Thompson. The slave ships that would have taken them from Ghana to Jamaica. Of the racism that still exists on these routes. That still exists everywhere. The opposing forces of home and history. The blood that has soaked into the stones of Europe.
And I can’t help but think of the traffic being stopped to make way for the unknown royal. And the pristine buildings of Eaton Square, kept up and maintained even though the sit empty with darkened windows. And the bus driver’s comment: “That’s the closest we’ll ever get to that.”
The visible evidence of an intangible wrong. Untouchable because of words like tradition, and history, and culture. Unmoveable because they have existed for centuries, their foundations sinking ever deeper into the earth.
And then the sledgehammer comes out. She slips her goggles on. The people in the first two rows follow her lead.
XX pounds on the salt, her blows attacking the men on the ship, and the forces that govern them. Crushing them each into dust. But also crushing herself. Everyone compressed under this terrible force, but the people at the bottom of her list, they are the ones who receive the most blows.
The queue to leave pushes back right into the theatre. I find myself standing on the stage, looking at the shrine XXX built on the table. Shoes. A wreath. Salt.
I try and step back. It feels wrong somehow, to be standing so close to something that feels so personal.
There’s no where to go. I turn my shoulder, as if to offer the shrine some privacy.
From this new angel, I spot something. From beyond the crowd, there is the red flash of an usher’s polo shirt. And in her hands…
“Can I get a playtext?” I ask, finally managing to inch my way towards her.
“Four pounds, please.”
“I only have a twenty…”
Turns out that’s fine. Because she has exactly sixteen pounds left in her money bag. She counts out the pound coins into my palm, just to double check.
My purchase seems to have started a run on playtexts, because I hear someone else asking about them as I rejoin the queue.
“How much are the programmes?”
“Four pounds, but I’m afraid I don’t have any change.”
Ooops. My bad.
I slink away in shame, my feet shuffling as the queue moves forward.
XXX is sitting out in the small foyer. As promised, she holds a basket.
A young woman is turning over the pebbles of salt, trying to find one she likes. “I feel bad taking a big one,” she says.
“Don't worry we crush it every night,” says XXX.
I smile to myself. She definitely crushed it.
It’s the guy in front’s turn at the basket. And he’s also a cautious fellow, digging through the basket to locate a small one.
“Well I'm gonna take a big bit,” I announce when I get to the basket. If one is going to be greedy, one might as well be blatant about it.
“Go for it,” says XXX, cheerfully.
So I do.
It weighs heavy in the pocket of my 49er, dragging down one side of my jacket as I make my way back down four flights of stairs and out through the side door that will take me to Sloane Square station.
On the train, I take it out and look at it. It’s pink, and covers my fingers with a dusting of powder. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it. I have plenty of theatre treasures tucked away in storage boxes. I listed them some of them in a post not so long ago. But this is different. This isn’t a prize. It’s a monument. A testimony. The intangible made tangible. And better than any fucking ticket.Read More