All around me books are being lowered. Commuters lean forwards in their seats.
Somewhere in this carriage buskers are playing Despacito and we all want to see who’s responsible for this crime against Latin pop. I don't think I'm alone in the belief that if you’re going to be playing a song on the tube, you should probably memorise the lyrics first.
The tube driver agrees with me.
An announcement is played.
“There are beggars and buskers operating on this train. Please do not encourage their presence by supporting them.”
People immediately start reaching into their wallets to hand over their change.
That’ll teach TFL.
The lethologic musicians hop out at the next stop and rush around to the next carriage.
I can still hear them playing their intermittently acoustic cover version as I change platforms at Cannon Street.
The rest of my journey is quiet.
Not many people making the journey to Deptford tonight.
They haven’t heard the call of the Albany.
It feels weird being back already. After a gap of six years, I’m now on my second visit of the week. This time though, I’m hitting the main house.
As I round the corner into Douglas Way and find myself grinning.
Not because of the theatre. Sorry, Albs. I find it hard to get sentimental about old workplaces. I’m smiling because it’s dark. Properly dark. For months I’ve been taking my exterior theatre photos in blazing sunshine, and now, finally, the nights are closing in and I don’t have to spend my evenings leaping between the shadows and feverously rubbing sunscreen into every exposed inch of my skin.
Seriously, it’s not easy maintain this maggot-pale colouring I’ve got going on.
I burn. I freckle.
I mean, it’s fine. No one said being Goth was easy. But it’s nearly October, and it’s my time. Sweaters and shawls and coats and velvet: here I come.
And bless the Albany. They have the heating on. I can feel it as soon as I walk through the door. The whoosh of heavy dry air that feels so eternally comforting, and proving that I don’t mind heat, as long as it is entirely artificial.
I join the queue at the box office.
“Is that Maxine?” asks the box officer, turning over her list of names to find me on the back. She grabs a ruler, and a highlighter, and runs a very straight line through my entry.
“Let me just stamp you,” she says once her highlighting is complete.
I offer her my hand, and she places the stamp up on the back of my wrist.
Strange location to pick, but I respect her artistic choices in stamp placement.
My unspecified ringed planet is red this time. To designate the main house, I presume. We wouldn’t want audience members sneaking their way between the studio and stage space without having been properly stamped and accounted for.
“Can I take one of these?” I say, pointing to a pile of freesheets on the desk.
“Oh!” she says, surprised. “Yes, of course.” She grabs one and hands it to me.
The house isn’t open, and I don't really fancy standing out here in the foyer, so I go over to the cafe to see what’s happening in there.
The answer is: not a lot.
People sit quietly at tables, sipping on drinks and waiting.
I find a table all to myself and join in the quiet time.
“Die! Die! Die! OLD PEOPLE DIE!” someone reads dramatically from their freesheet.
I can’t blame her. It’s a really great title. Quite possible the best one of the marathon. Even better than Kill Climate Deniers over at the Pleasance.
I take off my jacket and scarf. It's warm in here.
I’m feeling real cosy right now, and am fully prepared to join the climate deniers this winter if it means we get the have the heating on blast until March.
“Ladies and gentleman!” says a front of houser. “The house is now open for Die! Die! Die…!” he falters, and we all laugh. “Old… people… die.”
Great title. Seriously, fucking great.
There’s a scrapping of chairs as we all stagger to our feet and make our way back into the foyer, and through the doors into the main house, holding up our hands, or wrists, to show the usher that we have been marked by the red stamp.
Through the door and we get a nice view of the undercarriage of the seating.
We walk around, through the arched corridor that circles the space, until we find our way to the front.
The central block of seating is filling up fast.
I pick my way across the stage, leaping over a wire, powering a floor light, with previously unknown grace.
I pick a seat in the third row, as is my preference. But on the aisle, as a concession to this being quite a large space, even if half the stage is taken up by a mountain of seating tonight.
As the audience shifts around, selecting their seats, I get out my phone and try to finish a blog post.
But a gentle stirring around the room makes me look up.
Over there, behind the stage area, peeking from behind a curtain, are two performers. Jon Haynes and David Woods. They’re stepping out. Or at least, I think they are.
They’re moving so slowly, it’s hard to tell what their motivation is.
A few solo giggles sound off around the audience, unsure how to take this snail-like state. Are we supposed to be laughing? Is this a comedy? It’s hard to tell.
The pair cling onto each other as they lower themselves down the treacherous step from walkway to stage.
Then they begin the long walk to their set: a table, and two chairs.
It takes minutes. Multiple ones.
I’m beginning to get a bit bored.
The pair dribble and fart and talk over one another for the next sixty minutes or so, sometimes managing a smile-worthy line, but mostly shuffling around interminably.
I can’t help but think of that Caryl Churchill play where an entire act was dedicated to the dressing and undressing of an elderly man in a care home.
A work of genius to many. Painfully dull to me.
A few people at that onr took the Here We Go title literally, and walked out when it became clear that this cycle of costume changes was not going to end any time soon.
Over here in the Albany, a couple sitting in the second row are having the same feelings, and slip and out with a clatter of flipping seats.
With a loud bang, the show eventually ends, and we are free to leave.
I’d forgotten about that.
Another Pay-What-Makes-You-Happy show.
I pull out my purse and have a look at what’s going on in there. Not a lot. No notes at all. I prod at the coins, trying to count up the non-coppers. It doesn’t take long.
But as we make out way round the walkway and out the auditorium door, I spot an usher holding some fancy looking equipment.
“Have you got the card reader?” I ask him.
He prods away at a few buttons on his phone. “Sorry,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t like to connect.”
“I can try to find some cash…?” I say, knowing full well I only have three quid on me at best.
“No, I can try and get it working for you,” he says, but he doesn’t sound all that convinced.
“Are you sure?”
I dither, not knowing what to do.
But then he smiles. Success. “Yeah! There we go. How much would you like to donate.”
“Ten?” I suggest, finding myself wanting his approval. Ten is the suggested donation. It says so on the signs. I gave ten to the other show. The one in the studio.
He doesn’t say anything though, just gives me the card reader all set up and ready, and let’s me do my thing.
Payment accomplished I make my way back to Deptford station.
“I was kinda expecting the handbag to come out at the end,” says a woman also waiting on the platform. “It was still under the rug and he just stood on it.”
That’s true. I had forgotten all about the handbag.
“It was deliberate, no doubt,” she finishes.
I’m sure it was. Just because it didn’t do the business for me, doesn’t mean there wasn’t one hell of a business plan going on.
And anyway, still a fucking great title.