The Museum of Comedy has a unicorn in it.
And no, I’m not being metaphorical here. The Museum of Comedy is not some magical venue amongst a city of more pedestrianly equine London theatres.
I mean an actual unicorn.
Well, not an actual unicorn. There isn’t an overgrown horned creature tucked between the exhibits. Not to my knowledge anyway. For all I know there might well be a unicorn hiding out between the bar, sampling the spirits.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that the Museum of Comedy is a funny old place.
For two reasons. Firstly because it’s a museum of comedy. Not explanation needed here, I feel. And secondly because it’s underneath a church. Literally underneath a church. As in, down a flight of stone steps and down a creepy tunnel lined with wooden pews and a stained glass window, underneath a church.
And then there’s the unicorn.
A statue. Sealed behind glass, he looks over his shoulder, an expression of horror carved into his features as if he’s just had a surprise visit from Marie Kondo and he’s suddenly realised that the pile of tasteful boxes he’s been locked in with don’t really do much in the way of sparking joy in his marble heart and he wishes he’d picked the glittery tiara instead.
Things don’t get any less strange when you round the corner and turn into the museum proper. More pews surround square tables in a manner that makes you question whether they are meant to be looked at, or sat on, or, quite possibly… laughed at. It is the Museum of Comedy after all. An art form (is it an art form?) than I know next to nothing about.
Like yesterday’s post about the Zion Baptist Church, I had found myself at a venue that I would never usually visit, a venue that I would never have heard of, if it wasn’t for the London Theatre Marathon. But they had a play on, and so, there I was, standing amongst the strange exhibits and probably looking a bit strange myself.
A strangeness not helped by the fact that I had no idea where the theatre was.
I looked around for signage, but while there were plenty of things stuck to the wall (so much that the fire escape route signs were relegated to the display cases) there was no THE THEATRE IS THIS WAY to be found.
There was a bar though. So I hung around, figuring that when the time came, in the event of an announcement, it would happen there.
It was nearly 8.30pm. A start time that would have had me dismissing this show as way past my bed-time in my pre-marathon life, but now, after experiencing some of the ludicrously late starts at the Vaults Festival, almost sounds reasonable.
Still, it was a Saturday. And a 75 minute run time.
I couldn’t be dealing with that nonsense on a school-night. And an interval would have been out of the question.
Just as I was smothering a yawn with my hand, the large red curtains at the back of the bar, that I had utterly failed to register, drew back.
“The house is now open,” came the cry.
Chairs scrapped back and coats put back on as everyone in the bar got to their feet and headed towards the newly revealed door.
I soon discovered the reason for the rush.
The theatre is tiny. A fifty-seater at most. And the chairs are just… well, chairs. No rake. In fact, nothing to vary the height between rows.
The only concession to it being a being a performance space rather than a… I don’t know, a school’s detention room, was the stage, lifted off the ground by just a few inches.
If ever there was a theatre that would reward sitting in the front row, it was this one.
However, the front row remained empty. Suspiciously so.
Perhaps because this theatre tends to host comedy nights rather than plays, the front row has more of a reputation as a danger zone than the non-unicorn-adjacent venues of this city.
I looked around, trying to work out who these people, my fellow audience members, were. Were they comedy people or theatre people? Did they come because there was a play at their favourite comedy venue, or was it the play itself that drew them here? Or maybe, I suddenly thought, they were all doing their own marathons. Racing across London collecting shows in museums, or staring Game of Thrones actors, or unicorns…
Whatever the reason, I took their lead, and avoided the front row, balancing the pressing need to see with the even more pressing need for safety, by sitting in the second row.
The stage, a tiny black island, was entirely taken up by the set - a table, two chairs, and a collapsed pile of newspapers, that as the lights dimmed, rose up like a circus top to become a small house at the edge of the world. Which is neat. As that’s the title of the play I was there to see: A Small House At The Edge Of The World. Starring the Game of Thones actor Laura Pradelska, and Alan Turkington, and no one else. Good thing too, as there wasn’t an inch of stage space left to fit anyone else.
And let me tell you, I have never been so glad to be sitting in the second row. Not because there was interaction, because there wasn’t.
It was their eyes.
Both of them.
Both of the actors I mean.
And both of each actors’ eyes too.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen such astonishing eyes in real life. Huge. Piercing. Luminous under the stage lights. And here was two of them, two sets of them, even, being flashed and squinted and glared until I was pinned back in my seat by the full force of them.
Sometimes, in the more intense moments, when one or other of them looked out into the audience, I had to look down, focusing on my knees to save myself from total spontaneous combustion.
And wrapped my arms around myself, wishing I'd followed my fellow audience members leads and wore my coat. It was freezing. And that combined with those eyes meant that I couldn't stop shivering.
When the play ended I gratefully shrugged it back on. I had to get out of there. Back outside where it couldn't possibly be as cold as this.
But on my way out, I paused to say goodbye to the unicorn.
He wasn't impressed. The unicorn carried on staring off into the museum, his face screwed up as it struggled to contain thoughts full of untold terrors.
Something tells me it wasn’t Marie Kondo that had caused the unicorn to look that way.
I followed his gaze and saw the source of his terror.
I was right.
There's been something else.
Something I'd missed.
He was staring at the bear..