Oh, LAMDA. I'll be sad to see you go. But part we must because I only have one of your theatres left and then it's goodbye forever... or at least, until next year.

Last up is the Linbury Studio. No, not that Linbury Studio. I was confused about that as well, but apparently, this city is big enough for two of them. Of course, there's the one you're thinking of. The one that lives underneath the Royal Opera House, terrorising the ballet girls with mask-wearing antics, and then there's the other one. At LAMDA. Where I am currently off to for a performance of Pomona.

Now, I've seen Pomona before, back when it was at The Shed (requiescat in pace). No, I didn't catch the original run at the Orange Tree. This was back in those happy days when I thought Richmond was way too far away to travel to just to see a play. I don't remember much about the play, other it being very dark, very complex, and being good enough to send me to Alistair McDowall's follow-up play at the Royal Court: X (the playtext of which still features as my absolute favourite of all time, but the ten or so pages in the middle that are filled with nothing but the letter X. Yes, it was performed. And yes, it was astonishing). And oh, it featured Cthulhu in some way that I really can't recall but there was some definite tentacle action going on.

Anyway, back off to Barons Court I go. I'm an old hand at this now. I'm not getting lost. I even know that the Linbury has a separate entrance to the other LAMDA theatres. Has its own little foyer and box office too. Well, I say box office. But it's really just a bar with a laptop. But, eh. It does the job.

I grab a free programme, and as soon as the house opens, head inside.

The Linbury is a bit of a strange shape for a theatre. Long and thin, with only two rows of chairs running up each side. The rows closest to us are already beginning to fill up, but there doesn't seem to be a way of getting to the other side without crossing the stage.

A small group of us dither, unsure of what to do. The beginning of a small pile up is beginning to form. The queue clogging up behind us. Where is the usher to shout at us for stepping on the stage? Apparently, that's not against the rules. Some brave soul decides to strike out, weaving their way through the huge concrete blocks that make up the ruinous set, leading us like Moses through the parted Red Sea, to the promised seats on the other side.

The front row has those shortened benches so beloved of drama schools. I ignore these. I don't want to be one of these people that say "people over thirty shouldn't..." but seriously, people over thirty shouldn't sit with their arses only two inches off the ground. It's murder on the knees. I leave that nonsense to the students. And there are plenty of those in tonight.

"Oh my god!" says a young girl pointing at the platform at the far end of the stage. "It's Chloe!" She waves. Chloe does not wave back. She sits, cross-legged, staring into the distance. Wearing a Cthulhu mask. The tentacles hanging down the front of her pretty white dress like one of the more outré Coachella outfits.

It's only then I notice that the stage is full of actors, slumped against the concrete blocks, lost in their own thoughts and agonies.

It certainly makes taking my photos a lot harder. What are the rules of taking pictures of students? I'm not a big fan of even capturing the professionals when they're on stage, and do my best to avoid them, angling the camera elsewhere as best I can, but sometimes there's no avoiding it, and well... I need photos, so there we are. But with students, it feels downright wrong.

Someone in my row gets out his phone, opens the camera app and aims it at Cthulu, zooming in so that she fills the entire screen.

Right then. That answers that question. Clearly the moral quandaries that I struggle with aren't universal.

Nor, apparently, is feeling the need to cross a stage. As our side of the theatre began to fill up, I notice that the newcomers hadn't come through the same door I had. They are coming through quite another door. A door that's on the same side of the stage as the one I'm sitting in.

Fuck's sake.

Bloody students, with their knowledge about where the doors are, and their youth, and their talent. Err, I'd hate them if they weren't so damn great. Look at how supportive they are, coming out to see their friends' plays on a Thursday night. I don't know about you, but I never go anywhere for anyone on a Thursday night. Or any night for that matter. At the moment I'm blaming it on the marathon - sorry love, can't go to your party, I'm theatre-ing until 2020 - but let's be real: I'm just a terrible, terrible friend. The warmth in this room is melting my heart and I don't like it.

Thankfully the play starts before I get any gooier, and we're thrust into a world of stolen people, hard underworlds, and RPGs. And oh, Pomona was so clearly written half a decade ago - riding high on the tsunami of dystopian fiction that threatened to engulf us in a thousand Hunger Games rip-offs, but that doesn't stop it being bloody excellent. I'd remembered the big reveal from the first time around, but I'd forgotten about the time loops, and how all the sub-plots fitted so neatly together, and, well... just how damn good the writing was. Dystopian story-lines may have had their day, but good writing never dates.

As the lights blink out and the cast come out for their applause, the front row leap to their feet in a standing ovation for their friends.

And why shouldn't they? If you can't rely on the people you love to cheerlead for you... what's the damn point of them. Be like LAMDA students. Give your peeps the standing ovations they deserve. For putting up with your nonsense, if nothing else.

Read More

Staging an intervention

“… is this an intervention?”

I thought it best to ask. I’d never had one before and I’d expected there to be more passive-aggressive daubing of the eyes with Kleenex.

The reply from Helen came quickly: “Max, you’re loved and valued…”

So it was an intervention then.

If the handkerchiefs were out, they weren’t coming through over the digital messaging system.

I took a grubby tissue out of my pocket and blew my nose before typing my reply. Just to show willing.

“The ‘me’ in my blog is just an exaggerated version of me,” I explained. “Not actual me.”

This is true.

Sort of true.

Everything I write in my blog is real. We don’t do fiction here at the London Theatre Marathon. If I started allowing myself to make things up, even small things, it wouldn’t take me long to embrace the click-bait and go full hog on a SEO-friendly spiral of lies.

There would probably also be listicles.

“How I learnt to embrace sitting in the front row”

“10 ways theatre improves your relationships”

“The cats of London theatre, ranked by snobbishness. You’ll be shocked by who’s at number 3!”

Wait, hang on. That’s a really good idea, actually…

Err, where was I? Right, lying.

I don’t do it. Everything you read has happened. I really did almost faint at the Sam Wanamaker. If I say I turned up to a show a month early, well - I am exactly as stupid as that makes me sound. Any dialogue that you encounter here is as close to an accurate transcription as what my memory can manage.

And I really do have anxiety.


But while I may have put out more than 60,000 words since starting this blog, it might surprise you to find out that I’m fairly selective in what I chose to write about.

“Selective? Max, you spent half a blog post telling us how you turned up to one of your chemistry A-levels drunk the other day,” I hear you moan.

Yeah, and didn’t you enjoy that? Look, I could have done this marathon without ever starting this blog. A few photos and a two line review for Instagram would have served just as well. But, hey - I’m a writer. Of sorts. So that’s what I do. I write. And if I’m writing, I may as well attempt to be entertaining. Which means picking out the most interesting parts of my outings and making a pretty post out of them. Parts which very often touch on my anxiety as they are the cause of so much of my embarrassing fumbling.

And does it not work? Are you not entertained?

My name is Maximus Scaena Riseum, Runner of the London Theatre Marathon, General of the legion of theatre ghosts, loyal servant of the Theatre Gods.

Ah, yes. The theatre ghosts. What started as a silly story soon turned into a running joke and then...

“I’m not going to kill myself by jumping into an orchestra pit,” I messaged, just to be clear.

“I’m not worried about a dramatic suicide so much as wearing yourself out to a point where you are ill and miserable,” rejoined Ellen. “You know you best tho obviously,” she added, ever the diplomat.

Glad we’d got that sorted.

For the time being.

“I can’t believe I’m delivering Crosstown doughnuts while wearing a Greggs t-shirt,” I said, as I turned up at Helen’s flat that evening with Crosstown doughnuts and wearing a Greggs t-shirt.

I was at LAMDA that night, and a trip to Hammersmith is an excuse to buy doughnuts and visit Helen.

We had important matters to discuss.

Like my burgeoning writer-crush on David Ireland.

“He’s got a new play opening in Belfast,” Helen told me setting down a big mug of tea in front of me. She’d just spent the past five minutes dropping a load of intellectual chat about intertextuality and the use of language in Cyprus Avenue on me, which is the type of quality chat I’m after with my doughnuts.

Read More

Getting ready to meet the theatre gods

Wouldn't it be hilarious if I died on this marathon? Calm down, there's no need to panic. I have no intention of not seeing out this thing to the bitter end, but it would be quite funny, wouldn't it?

I don't mean getting hit by a car or anything so mundane. It would have to be a marathon related death. Tripping down some steps on my way to my seat perhaps. Or being murdered by a disgruntled duty manager. All excellent ways to go.

Death by theatre.

It certainly has a ring to it.

And if I did die in pursuit of this marathon, I could come back as a theatre ghost. And hang out with all the other theatre ghosts. They wouldn't be able to ignore me then. Not when I was one of them.

Anyway, all this is my way of saying that I have a cold.

A really bad cold.   

Scratchy of throat and runny of nose, I headed of to Barons Court, to see what the shiny talented folk of LAMDA were up to.

That was, if I could find the theatre.

LAMDA has three (as far as I'm aware) and neither their website nor their confirmation email contained any instructions on how to get to any one of them.

I was fairly certain I was on the right street though.

I paused, digging out a cough sweet out of my bag as I squinted through the darkness, trying to make out the buildings.

A car chose that moment to splash past, sending a wave of ditch water from the side of the road in my direction.

I tried to jump away, but it managed to catch me mid leap, coating my leg from my knee down.

Scratchy throat, runny nose, I then had a wet leg to add to my list of ills.

Things are going super well for me right now, as I'm sure you can tell.

It did help focus the mind though somehow, or perhaps merely the eyes, as I spotted a long, modern building up ahead.

It was LAMDA! There was even a brightly lit foyer, with a queue at the box office and a sign reading: The Linbury Studio. 


That wasn't the one I was after.

I carried on.

Past the main door.

Past the entrance to the Sainsbury Theatre.

On and on until the lights dimmed and I was left on a dark patch of road surrounded by construction hoarding.

It seemed I had run out of building.

Where on earth was the damn Carne Studio then? 

I turned around and headed back. It had to be there somewhere. 

I've joked that theatres are making up venues just to torment me, but I didn't think they were actually doing it.


Until then.

I looked back over my shoulder, just in case I had missed it, and stepped right into a puddle.

Great. A wet boot to match my wet legs.

This was not the theatre-death I was after.

There was nothing for it, I would have to ask.

I squelched my back to the Linbury and asked an purple lanyarded usher who was tearing tickets. I hoped that she didn't notice the wet footprints I'd left in my wake.

She frowned, but whether at my question or my dirtying of the nice clean floor, I couldn't tell. "Hmm. I'm not sure the best way. I don't want to send you I'm the wrong direction. Hang on... Excuse me," she said, holding the door open with one foot as she leant out to flag down a nearby gentleman wearing a matching lanyard. "Where is the Carne?"

He sprung to attention. "Ah, it's very close - just head back outside, walk down the building and the foyer is right there."

I was fairly certain I had already walked down the building and the foyer had very much not been right there.

Seeing the panic in my eyes, he led me back out and pointed down the street. The very street I had just walked. Twice.

"Oh," I said, still unsure. "I've been all the way down, but didn't see it."

He looked surprised. 

"I did see the Sainsbury though," I added hurriedly, as if to prove both to myself and to him that I wasn't utterly unobservant.

He smiled, his face clearing. "That's the same foyer."


That made sense. I guess.

"Start time is at 7.45," he added.

It was 7.25.

"Plenty of time."

"Oh yes, plenty of time," he agreed in one of those smooth, highly cultivated voices.

It's only when you meet a properly trained actor with a properly trained voice that you realise how scratchy and messy your own bleating attempts at communication are.

I popped another cough sweet in my mouth and set out.

Back through the dark. Back towards the Sainsbury.

"Am I the right place for the Carne?" I asked the lady at box office. Somehow I still doubted it. There weren't any signs.

She frowned at me. I was starting to get used to that look.

Was I pronouncing it wrong or something? That would explain the looks.

Or maybe it really was all just some super elaborate joke on the part of LAMDA.

A performance piece in its own right. I wasn’t there for as Schiller play. There would be no Don Carlos. Instead I would be taking part in The Search for the Carne Studio. An immersive promenade performance in one act.

I hate immersive performances. Especially the promenade ones.

I looked down. There, fanned across the counter were a series of sheets - featuring the fresh-faced headshots of the cast and their biographical information. One for each actor in the play.


"Yes, you're in the right place," said the box officer at last, before asking my name and handing me a ticket.

Right then. I'd made it. Time to relax.

I found a table. And a programme. They have them out on display with a request to take one. "FREE," they proclaim from their covers. "Take one." I took one. 

"The bar has closed," came the sound of a plaintive voice behind me. "Why has the bar closed so early?" 

It was only 7.30. A full fifteen minutes before curtain up.

With the bar closed, we all gathered around the door to the studio.


I began to suspect that might have been the cause of the closed-bar. The people of LAMDA were ganging up on us, with the express purpose of ensuring that we weren't late.

By the time the doors were ready to open, there was quite the queue waiting to be let in.

But for once there wasn't a rush for the front row. If anything, my fellow audience members were actively avoiding it.

It didn't take me long to figure out why.

The floor in the Carne Studio is totally level. No rake. No dais. 

Instead, it was the seats themselves that varied in height. With each row increasingly taller than the one in front of it, so that those who did chose to sit in the front row had a choice - half sprawl across the floor so that they looked like an awkward tourist in a harem, or crouch with knees up by their ears in the style of a squatting frog.

Neither appealed to me. 

I went for the second row. A reasonable height for my short legs.

Such important decisions made and seat committed to, I had the chance to take in my surroundings.

We were in a church. Or at least, that's what I took the set design to mean - with huge stone doors on either side and a large altar in the middle. The two sets of bench seating positioned either side of the aisle-like stage only added to the ecclesiastical vibes.


As did the dense, smoke-filled air.

I unwrapped another cough sweet. The thought of coughing during a graduation show was nauseating. Which was then another worrying ailment I had to contend with.

I vowed to eat a fruit at some point this week. For the vitamins.

Thankfully, coughing didn't turn out to be a problem as I was too busy risking asphyxiation by holding my breath every time there was a fight scene. 

And there were a lot of fight scenes. Bodies flying all over the place. Blood pouring. Heads smashing against chairs.


Who knew Don Carlos was so exciting?

Anyway, I'm going to have a little lie down now. Don't cry too hard if I don't wake up. I'm in a better place - hanging out with the Nudger, above the dome at the Royal Opera House - watching ballerinas chaîné into eternity.

 Good byeeeeee