Well, this is a first. A theatre without a website. I honestly didn't think that was possible. Not in this year of 2019.
I thought not having online booking was bad enough. I've grumbled and moaned about having to email venues in order to reserve tickets. But this is the first one that I've come across that doesn't even have a landing page floating around on the ethernet with an address or something.
Based on the online-evidence, you'd think this place doesn't exist. Except I, for a fact, know that it does. Firstly, because it has a listing on offwestend.com, which in itself doesn't mean much. There are plenty of places on that site that don't exist, and haven't existed for a good many years. But thankfully I have a secondly. And that secondly is that I've had this place mentioned to me by a friend. Well, I say mentioned, but it was mainly her trying to convince me that I don't need to go. "It's small," she insisted, in a conversation that may or may not have been part of an intervention. "Really small. Max, I honestly don't think it counts."
Well, more fool her because it does count.
How does one buy tickets from a venue that is doing it's best to pretend not to exist though? That truly is a conundrum.
I considered going in person. It's only a short walk from my current base in Hammersmith. But the problem with that, is that it actually involves going somewhere. And despite the whole concept of this blog, I don't actually like going places.
But go places I must. All the way to Barons Court, to the Curtains Up pub, where a theatre is apparently lurking somewhere within.
I stand outside, on the opposite pavement, trying very hard not to question the plurality of the curtains.
Turns out, I don’t have to worry about getting a ticket. After a bit of Googling, I managed to find an Eventbrite listing for tonight’s show, and so git myself booked in. I check the details. It’s a 7.15pm start time.
I have a few minutes. It doesn’t do to be too early at these things.
Especially as I am highly suspect about that timing. Pub theatres don’t start their plays at 7.15pm. They just don’t. The standard London theatre time of 7.30pm? Sure. 7.45pm? Even better. 8pm? Or 9pm even? Sometimes. But 7.15? No. Never.
Either this place has a bedtime curfew, or they are sick of audience members rocking up half-way through the first act.
People sit around outside, having a drink and a cigarette. A grumpy looking pug sniffs around under a table.
I carry on walking.
I’ve told you before about this intuitive sense that I’ve developed on the marathon. I’ve visited so many theatres this year, I can tell just by looking at a place where I need to go and what I need to do.
And my intuition is telling me that I need to keep on walking.
Not too far. Just around the corner. And yes, there it is. A small side door set into the wall. And above it, on a small wooden plaque, a sign: Barons Court Theatre.
So, it really does exist.
I go in.
There’s a staircase leading down.
Another small plaque, this one affixed to a low lintel whose purpose seems to be solely to knock people on the head, says: Theatre Exit.
A basement pub theatre. That’s unusual. Haven’t come across many of those so far. Like first wives, pub theatres are usually locked away in the attic.
I start to stroll down, but I spot something. Another sign. This one slightly above the first. On paper, sellotaped to the ceiling. “STOP!” I stop. “No entry to the theatre this way.”
I go back up to the landing and stand awkwardly, not knowing what to do.
So much for intuition.
The door at the top of the stairs opens, and someone comes out.
Over their shoulder I see the gleaming warmth of the pub beyond.
I suppose I should probably go in there.
It’s a nice pub. Velvety armchairs and spotlights on the walls showing off artwork. Amongst them is a painting of Salvador Dali, gazing out from the black frame, a fried egg sliding off his moustache.
I ignore all that, because there’s a door just opposite, and it’s marked up as being the way to the “Theatre & Toilets.” My intuition is back in business.
Through the door. Down a corridor. Following an arrow which once again points out the way to: Theatre & Toilets. And down a staircase decorated with a line-up of headshots. I stop again. The arrow here is only pointing the way to the Gents. I don’t want the Gents. I want the theatre.
I try to turn around, but there is a man (perhaps even a Gent) behind me.
“Is this the way to the theatre?” I ask, more to explain my lack of movement on the stairs than to get his input.
“Sorry. It’s my first time here,” he says.
I let him pass, watching him disappear around a corner.
I don’t get that far. I find another door. It says Theatre on it. That’s good.
Except it’s closed. And has a lock on it. Which is less good.
I dither, trying to decide what I should do.
Exactly on cue, the door opens.
“Are you here for the play?” asks the man as I jump aside to give him room.
“Yeah… umm… where’s the box office?”
“It’s just through here,” he says, pointing behind him. “With the theatre.”
But he doesn’t move aside, and we just end up standing there, staring at each other.
“Shall I go back upstairs then?” I ask, feeling its on me to break the stalemate.
“No, the theatre is here,” he says. “And the box office,” he adds, just in case I didn’t get it.
“Is it open yet?”
“We’ll let you know…”
Again, the awkward silence.
I look around. There isn’t much room down here. And I don’t know about you, but hanging around outside the men’s loos is not my idea of a quality evening.
“I’ll just go back upstairs then,” I tell him.
He accepts that, and we both trudge our way back up the steps, past the headshots, towards the bar.
Back in the pub, I find an empty table and plonk myself down into one of the armchairs. It’s very comfortable. I find myself leaning back, my body sinking into the chair’s sweet embrace. It’s been a long day.
Before I fall asleep, I check the time.
Huh. So much for a 7.15pm start time. I just knew that was all nonsense.
A glamourous-looking young woman, with a tiny jacket and metallic stiletos comes in. She looks around, pauses to read the sign over the door, and then walks through to the corridor. I watch her. She strides past the Ladies, turns on her stilleto, and then slowly makes her way down the stairs.
A few minutes later she's back.
Right then. The house isn't quite open yet.
I keep an eye on the flow of people.
Mostly men, jouneying to the Gents.
I try to remember them, to see if they come back. But they're all wearing idential grey suits and I can't tell any of them apart.
Eventually the woman with the golden shoes returns, and tries her luck once more.
This time, she does not come back.
I check the time. It's a few minutes off 7.30. I should probably go see what's happening.
From the top of the steps I can see that the door to the theatre is now propped open.
Inside, rows of seating crowd in close on one side. On the other is a small hutch, where the box officer lives.
I give him my name.
"You paid, right?"
I did indeed.
He notes down my name on his clipboard. "Eventbrite?"
"Smiles," he says slowly as he writes, adding the bracketed word "(PAID)" after my surname.
He points to the bank of seating behind me.
"This side is probably best," he advises.
Well, I'm always one to follow advice.
There are three rows of seating here. The first one is completly empty. I'm not a fan of the front row at the best of times, and sitting alone in a tiny pub theatre is not about to change things for me. The second row looks fairly crowded. I dismiss that one too. The third and last row has one person in it. The glamorous lady with the golden footwear.
"Is anyone sitting on the end there?" I ask her, indicating the seats on the other side of her.
"Err... no?" she says, sounding confused. Although, maybe she's just clocked that there was someone staring at her shoes upstairs and now she's panicking.
"Do you mind?"
She gets up and let's me pass, and I tuck myself away at the far end of the row, right up against the wall of the tech box. It's the best I can do. But there's still only one seat between us.
Oh well. Guess I'm just a stalker now.
I distract myself from this startling self-realisation by looking around.
The stage is set amongst wide pillars, holding up a curved ceiling. The seating is on three sides. It's gloomy and creepy and I think I kind of love it. It's the sort of place you'd love to watch an Edgar Allan Poe story being performed. Which is handy. Because I'm here for The Masque of the Red Death.
So, that worked out well.
A man comes in and pauses at the box office, picking up a piece of paper from the tiny counter.
It's a freesheet.
I'd completly missed them.
"Are these free?" he asks the box officer.
Yup. Turns out that they are completly free.
He grabs a handfull and turns to us. "Programme? Would you like a programme?" he says, handing them out.
My glamorous neighbour takes one but doesn't hand it down.
She's probably still weirded out by me. Which, you know: fair.
"Would you...?" she says, turning to me and holding it out.
Oh. Well, yes, I would. I take it from her and hold it up to do the classic blogger-freesheet photoshoot. And then lay it carefully balanced ontop of the flip-seat between us. Just in case she wants it back. I'm not entirely convinced her generosity wasn't a loan. I wouldn't be handing over no freesheets to random strangers who stare at my shoes. That's for sure.
It's too dark to read it now anyway.
The house lights have extinguished.
The box officer switches off the light on his counter.
From the hallway outside I hear a voice. "I'm just going to the toilet, then we'll start."
We sit, waiting in the darkness.
A group comes in. They seem to know the people in the second row. "One more missing," they explain a front of houser reunites the friends.
"One more? Well, we need to start, but I'll be around!"
He goes over to the stage and welcomes us. "There are a few house rules," he explains. "The fire exit is over there," he says, pointing. "Please turn your phones onto silent. This performance contains fog and strobing, so... err... I hope that doesn't bother anyone."
It's time for the play to start.
It's... well, to be honest I don't know what it is. I'm lost. We seem to be at the party of a rather intense dominatrix. No one can leave becayse there is some really disgusting plague going on outside. The Red Death of the title. It all sounds rather icky and seems to involve sweating blood. Although, if it's a choice between that and having to spend the rest of my life cooped up with a woman who rents out her servants to the type of friends who think it's okay to send their playthings off for gender-realignment surgury and full-body tattoos, force others to recite poetry, and wear nude shoes with black tights... well, I think I'd take my chances.
It's super weird. Very Poe. Bit long. Only an hour, but even so... too much standing around in the pretext of creating atmosphere.
Still, I get a nice walk home, and am in bed by ten. So, I'd call that a success of an evening.
The fact that I spend the next three hours searching the web for golden high heels is neither here nor there.