Early to the Execution

I'm off to court. And by court I mean a council chamber. And by council chamber I mean that I'm going to be watching that site-specific, immersive, Agatha Christie play over in London County Hall. Witness for the Prosecution.

I'm a little worried about that. The immersive bit.

I had a look at the website for the production and found, buried deep in the FAQ, the very question that I always want to ask: Will there by any audience participation?

And you know what, they manage to write an entire answer without either confirming or denying it. I bet they had a lawyer draft it for them.

They state that its an immersive production. They admit that actors will be in the aisles. And then they assure the reader that the audience remains seated throughout the performance, But at no point do they answer their own question.

And that worries me even more.

As does the recommendation that we should arrive forty-five minutes before the start time.

Especially as I'm reading this while on route, barely an hour before the matinee kicks off.

They best have their speediest bag checkers on duty this afternoon because there is no way I'm going to make it.

As it happens, I'm sideling down Belvedere Road by 2pm, and the lobby at London County Hall is next to empty when I arrive.

"Are you here for the play?" someone asks as I go in, blinking against the gloom after all that dazzling sunlight going on outside.

"Yeah," I say, managing to make out the very smartly dressed young man who's talking to me. "I just need to pick up my ticket." I point towards the box office lurking behind him at the other end of the foyer.

"Can I just check your bag first?"

Of course he can. I open it for him and he prods around at the top layer before giving the bottom a good squeeze. Honestly, the indignities my bag suffers through in order to support me on this marathon.

The smartly dressed young man doesn't find anything suspicious, so he lets me go off to collect my ticket.

I give my name, and one of the two box officers behind the counter digs it out for me. There's a display of programmes, with a sign. Four pounds. Cash only.


Four pounds is fair enough, but what's this 'cash only' nonsense? Surely the whole point of buying one at the counter rather than off one of the front of housers in the auditorium is so that you can use a card. Do they not have a card machine back there? How on earth do they manage to deal with walk-ups without one? Perhaps this is a more immersive experience that I had anticipated. We really are being sent back to 1953, and I need to find myself some shillings quick because decimalisation hasn't hit yet and the box officer is going to look at my fiver as if I just handed him a membership card to crazy town.

But the box officer takes my note and gives me change without fuss.

I'm almost disappointed. All of that build up and I managed to get through the doors within three minutes. What am I supposed to do with the other twenty-seven? I hang around in the lobby. It's very impressive. Mosaic tiled flooring with some sort of crest action going on. A fireplace. Stone carvings. It is just like being in an episode of Poirot. I full expect to see David Suchet strolling though one of those glass-paned doors muttering about 'the little grey cells.'

I take a few photos. But after that, I soon run out of things to do.

It's time to go in.

Two ushers flag the very grand looking staircase. Behind them looks a high iron fence which I presume they use to lock us all in once we've been found guilty.

I show my ticket to the closest one.

"Central Gallery," she says, reading it. "Up the stairs and to the left."


Signs pointing out directions to all the different doors are wrapped around the massive marble pillars, as thick as tree trunks.

I check my ticket.

I'm after door number seven.

The nearest pillar says that doors four to nine are on the left.

A front of houser catches me looking at the pillar, and he gives a here-to-help kinda smile.

"Is door seven this way?" I ask, pointing in the direction of the arrow on the sign.

"It's just through here," he says, indicating a doorway behind him. The exact opposite direction of the arrow.

Good thing he's there, I guess. Having a front of houser on duty by the door is definitely a lot more efficient than accurate signage.

I go through the door. There's a stairwell in here. Considerably less grand than the marble monstrosity behind me.

Up I go. And up. And up. Everything becomes that bit less stately the higher I go.

These are clearly the town hall version of theatre's povvo stairs.

I'm not after a drink though. I'm still trying to locate door seven.

The signs send me off to the right.

Down a corridor with windows overlooking a grim looking courtyard.

And there, on the left, are a few steps leading up to a door.

Door seven, according to the sign. There's even a crest on it. The Royal coat of arms that is used by government departments. Dieu et mon droit and all that.

Inside, I find the gallery. Long leather covered benches with an impossibly steep rake.

But I don't even have the chance to contemplate those dangerous-looking steps because my attention is entirely focussed on the other side. The view.

A courtroom.

Sort of.

Not like any courtroom that I've seen before. Even on TV.

Concentric circles of leather chairs surrounding a raised stage.

The judges' bench looks over it, and the figure of Justice presides over the entire thing. Sword in hand. It's enough to make me feel like I've done something very very wrong. Justice may be blind, but Guilt has frickin' laser vision.


I should probably go find my seat.

I wobble my way up the very narrow steps up to the back row.

I presume that's where I'm sitting. Row D. That's the onetwothree - fourth row back.

I peer at the benches. I don't see any seat numbers. Or any indication of what row it is.

Oh wait. There's something. On the ground. I can't make it out. It's so gloomy up here.

I get out my phone and light up my screen, directing it towards the floor.

Ah, there we go. Tiny seat numbers on tiny plaques.

I shuffle my way into the row.

It's really high up here.

Like, really high.

At least the rake is good though. At least, I think it is. There's no one sitting in the row in front just yet. There's no one in this entire gallery. I'm sitting up here all by myself. I'm starting to think that I'm the only one who actually read the FAQs on the website.

Eventually, someone else turns up. He stares at the rows for a long minute, bending over and squinting at the ground before he too gets out his phone to help light the way.

"The seat numbers are on the floor," I say, feeling helpful.

"I was just checking I was in row C," he replies.

This becomes a pattern. New people coming in. Them blinking in confusion at the floor. The emergence of their phone. And then one or other of us passing on a vital piece of information.

"That's row B."

"The one at the end is seat 30."

"No, you've come through the wrong door."

"Seriously, there's no seat number 10 here."

"What door number does it say on your ticket?"

"Well, then perhaps that's the door you should have taken."

"Don't get pissy with me."

"Fucking bitch."

I jest.

I didn't say any of that.

I sure thought it though.

I got quite worked up. I'm really warm now. There are fans blasting up here, but they are pointed up, and cooling nothing but the ceiling. I need a drink.

I make my way back down the very steep steps, holding onto the balustrade very tightly as I go. People wander round the corridors looking lost, holding tickets in front of their faces and muttering door numbers to themselves.

I leave them to fend for themselves and wind my way back to the bar.

The queue stretches all the way across the little foyer and out into the opposite corridor.

That is... way too much effort for a gin and tonic.

Thankfully, there are a couple of jugs of water on the table behind, with a stack of cups nearby.

"Can I help myself to water?" I ask. Just in case it was special legal water or something.

"Yeah, go for it," says the woman behind the bar with a wave of her hand.


Armed with my cup of water, I stumble my way back to my seat.

More people are in now. But I still have my entire bench to myself. That's rather pleasing. I quite fancy the idea of sprawling around up here with my cup of water in my hand, and my fan in the other, lording it over all those fools below who spent real money on their tickets just to be cooped up in chairs. With armrests.



Hang on. What is that?

The group of old ladies sitting in the front row have put something on the stage and are pushing it around between them.

I dig my glasses out of my bag to get a better look.

It's a box of Maltesers.

They're treating the stage as if it were the conveyer belt in YO! Sushi, sliding their snacks around between them.

Hell maybe other people, but they save a special layer of it saved for weekday matinee audiences.

A front of houser closes the door, sealing us all in together in our sweltering inferno,

At least I got my whole row to myself.

As soon as I think it, I regret it. The theatre gods, they be listening, and they be cruel. And just as I am cursing myself internally, the door opens once more, and two men come in, heading straight for my row.

They probably don't deserve the death glare I sent shooting their way, but it's too late now, the show is starting.

Or at least, the pre-show is.

An actor, who according to the programme is Karlina Grace-Paseda, and is playing the role of Stenographer comes out when a rather nice suit, to swear in the jury.

I hadn't noticed them before. Two rows of seats, tucked up next to the judges' bench.

She hands them a bible and a piece of card, and each one in turn holds up the book in one and reads from the card in the other.

There's two seats still unoccupied. Ten members of the jury. I'm not sure this is a fair trial.

I wonder what they do in these situations. Bring in some more people from the stalls?

But as their lights dim, those two seats remain unoccupied. Making a mockery of this entire process.

Still, no time to think of that. A man is being dragged on stage and is about to be hanged and I have never been so glad to be sitting high up in the gallery before that is alarming as fuck.

It really doesn't look good for him.

Not even when, fifteen minutes in, the doors open once more and the two missing jury members are slipped in.

I keep a close eye on them, but they're more interested in the business of folding up their coats and getting comfy then what is happening on stage.

I think Lewis Cope's Leonard Vole should demand a retrial.

Although, I'm not sure I could handle that.

The fans are off, and while they weren't doing much, at least I knew they were trying.

"It's so warm!" says a lady as we all make our escape in the interval.

She's not wrong.

I head for the corridor and hang out next to an open window overlooking a grey courtyard, and try to cool off.

My little perch turns out to be rather popular and I'm soon surrounded by a bunch of ice cream eaters discussing the case.

Well, I say ice cream eaters but...

"I think one of the lawyers did it," says one, as she stares blankly at her tub.

"Really? I think it's a double jeopardy situation," says another as he watches her struggle. "It's under the lid."

"Double jeopardy? I don't understand how that works. What do you mean under the lid?"

"So, he can't be tried again. Here, the spoon's under that card."

"Oh, I see!" she says, retrieving the little spoon. "Nah. I still think it was the lawyer."

"That's... an interesting theory."

It is an interesting theory. But not one that I can weigh in on. Because I already know the ending. I say the TV adaptation a couple of years ago, and I remember the general gist of it.

Then again, the play might be different. We don't know which way that jury is going to go. Those two latecomers may be the key to overturning everything.

As I go back in, the Stenographer is swearing them in. Better late then never I suppose.

There seems to be something else going on now.

The members of the jury are being asked to write something.

They tear pages out of their notebooks.

Two pages each.

I think we can guess what they're writing.

Guilty on one.

Not guilty on the other.

Looks like we're having a Blue Peter trial.

Here's a verdict I made earlier!

It's not looking good though.

When the judge, Michael Cochrane, comes out, he lays down a pair of white gloves and a black cloth in front of him.

No explanation is needed. We all know what that means. The black cloth is still in the public consciousness even if it's not on our judges' heads anymore.

Although, with Priti Patel as home secretary, there'll probably be handing them out at every county court in the country by the end of the year.

When the time comes, the stenographer goes over to the jury, and they hand over their pieces of paper.

A jury member stands. And she reads out the verdict.

Very well done. A lovely clear voice. Although she should probably have put down her coat beforehand.

During the bows, the actors all point to her, and she gets her own round of applause. And a spotlight.


Time to go.


At the bottom of the stairs, there's a A-board.

"Remember you are #SwornToSecrecy but share your pictures of the chamber with us."

I stop to take a photo.

Someone asks an usher where the toilets are. She points out to a door. A door leading to the courtyard.


Now, I'm not a theatre loo-goer. I tend to avoid that whole... situation. It's fine. I have a bladder of steel.

But this intrigues me.

I follow the directions, out through the door, and do indeed end up in that grey courtyard I'd seen from the corridor window,

There's a little cabin out here. Wooden. With two doors.

One has a queue stretching out of it.

I don't need to read the signs to know which is the ladies.

A woman standing behind me tuts. "Always the way, isn't it?"


I join the queue.

Inside there are two stalls and two sinks. The counter is flooded with water. The floor of the stalls is a mess of loo roll.

There's nowhere to hang your bag. I stare at the filthy floor and contemplate my options before managing to balance the strap over the door lock.

There's a no touch flush, but when I go to wash my hands I can't figure out the tap.

"Am I being dim?" I ask the queue, waving my hands under the spout thinking the no touch technology must extend to the clean up.

The lady next in line pushes a slim button and a shoot of water spurts out. It lasts all of two seconds.

By the time I get out, the queue has grown. It stretches across the courtyard, and all the way through the doors and back into the lobby.

The men's is, of course, empty.

Honestly, this is why I don't pee at the theatre.

This is not what I want from my theatrical excursions, or indeed, from life.


Death by Starburst

If I were to go missing, the police would have such a nightmare trying to figure out all the data from my Oyster card.

"She goes to work," they'll say. "And she goes home, but what the fuck is she doing in between?" They'll gather around the commuter screen, all scratching their heads as they look at the latest in a long line of weird London locations that I tapped in at. "Gants Hill? What was she doing there? Does she know anyone in Gants Hill? Could she have been meeting someone there? I mean... what the hell is in Gants Hill?"

Well, you policemen of my potential future, let me tell you. There is nothing in Gants Hill. Nothing. Like, literally nothing. The only reason I had to be in Gants Hill, is because Ilford doesn't have a tube station. It has a train station, for sure. But I wasn't prepared to deal with that nonsense. Not today. So I got the circle line to Gants Hill, and decided to walk from there.

Big mistake.

All the sunshine we've been enjoying for the past week decided to come to an end, at just the right time to ensure I left the house wearing a jacket that was really not up to the job of preventing the wind from trying to blow its way right through to my bones as I trudge down the long hill towards Ilford.

All this, of course, leads to the inevitable question: what the hell is in Ilford?

To which I do actually have an answer: the Kenneth More Theatre.

Yup, me neither.

But there it is. Just off the high street where all the market traders are taking down their stalls. Around the corner from the town hall. In a building I would have sworn was the council offices if it didn’t have KENNETH MORE THEATRE spelt out in huge white letters across the front.

I feel bad for saying a theatre is ugly. I mean, I know as well as anyone how foolish it is to judge a theatre by it’s exterior. But man, the KM is ugly. It’s not just the awkward columns out front that look like they were swiped from a multi-storey car park. Or the line of toothy windows set high on the wall that make me feel sure there must be some toilets on the other side of them. There’s an air of grimness that hangs over the squat shape like Paco Rabanne at the school disco. Let’s just say, the seventies called and they want their pebbledash back.

And their wood panelling. Blimey it’s everywhere. The doors, the walls, even the ceiling, are encased by thin strips of wood that, while they might have intended to conjure happy thoughts of chalet living, roaring fires, and fondue, are inducing terrifying memories of avocado bathrooms instead.#

I head over to the (wood panelled) box office and give my name.

“You’re in row H,” says the box officer, pointing to a seat plan stuck to the counter. Gosh. That’s a first. I don’t think I’ve ever been shown the location of my seat at ticket pick-up point before. I rather like it. “So, you’re half way back,” he continues, and I begin to wonder whether this seat plan action is not standard practise, and that perhaps, I’m giving off the kind of vibes that suggest I wouldn’t be able to find various parts of my anatomy with both hands at my disposal.

“You can go either down,” he says, pointing to the staircase on my right. “And up. Or,” now he points across the foyer. “Up, and then down. The choice is yours.”

Oh dear. I’m not very good with choices. I decide not to commit to either course just yet, and instead focus trying to capture this throwback to the Harold Wilson administration.

“Are there programmes,” someone asks the box office as I’m busy looking around for lava lamps and macramé plant pot holders (I’m unfortunately coming up short on both points).

Excellent question, my friend. This is a bloke who knows the important things to ask.

“They're on the kiosk. Free of charge if you just ask.”

It’s then that I notice the kiosk. It’s next to the box office. And further down, there’s another counter. This one piled up with tea cups and advertising ice cream. Three counters, one foyer. That sounds like the title of a video that has serious viral potential.

Four counters, if one counts (…) the good-sized display of books nestled up between the tea and programmes. “Books all 50p” reads the sign. Which is a bit of a bargain. The people of Ilford seem to agree, and the shelves are being browsed intently by some very serious looking theatre-goers.

I decide not to join the. The last thing I need a pile of books to drag all the way back to Finchley. My bag is heavy enough already.

There’s only one thing I’m prepared to risk permanent spinal damage for, and that’s a programme.

“Can I take one of these?” I ask the lady on the counter.

I could.

So I do.

It’s only a freesheet. A folded A4, run off the photocopier. But it’s free, and available, and won’t provoke a trip to the chiropractor, so I’m grateful.

I tuck it away carefully in my bag, so as not to crumple it, then set off to the auditorium.

Down, and then up.

Another big mistake from ya gurl, Maxine.

The down part takes you right past the looks, and the bright-white painted brickwork is doing nothing to offset the strong smell of urine.

I scuttle down the corridor as quick as I can, launching myself at the ticket checker with the desperation of someone with limited lung capacity.*

Ticket checked, I stumble out the other side into a large theatre. There’s no circle, but the seats stretch far back towards a distant horizon. The walls are brick. The seats are red. And the spotlights are throwing shadows that look like a creepy ghost. I am well pleased with all of it.

As the box officer promised, I’m sitting about half-way back. The rows are well marks, as are the seats. So I have no trouble locating my spot. Which is why I’m surprised when I spot a young girl clambering over from row G to sit next to me.

Her dad edges along the row in the more traditional manner - apologising to everyone he forces to stand and remove themselves from his path.

“Hang on, is this row G?” he asks, as he finally reaches the end of the row.

The last one, gripping onto the back of the chair as he waits for this bloke to vacate the row nods to confirm that this is indeed row G.

“Oh, sorry,” he says. He calls to his daughter. “This is row G!”

“Oh,” says the girl, before swinging her leg back over the seat.

“Think those people are in the wrong seats,” says the end capper.

Those people start scrabbling away in their bags for tickets, eyes blazing. But the light soon fades when they check their seats numbers, and they quietly shift over a single space.

Dad crab-walks back the way he had come, leaving apologies in his wake.

The rest of his row bite back their annoyance at being made to stand, but that doesn’t stop the head shakes and tutting that follow him back to his seat.

The end-capper pulls out a large M&S food carrier and starts distributing snacks to his party. Huge bags of crisps are opened and tucked into open rucksacks for easy play-scoffing access.

How long is this play?

The BBC version was three episodes, but a good hour of that screentime was dedicated to lingering shots of the Aiden “Sexy Vampire” Turner, which no one was complaining about. Surely we wouldn’t need a whole three hours to kill off eight people. Unless they’ve gone and cast Mr Poldark, in which case they can take as long as they need…

I check the cast list.

No sign of those wild curls that can’t be tamed.

Oh well.

I’m exhausted now. All this drama and the play hasn’t even begun.

I’m glad that I’m here to watch a nice, relaxing Agatha Christie. It’s And Then There Were None. A cosy serial killer mystery, set on a deserted island. That’s the stuff.

But as the curtain rises and the secretary tended with the job of welcoming everyone to the island ventures over to the wall to read the poem that acts as a framing device for the murders, the real mystery is why she’s bothering with a cheaply printed nursery rhyme when there are what looks like two Vermeers gracing the wall of this drawing room.

Or why the murder needs to both at all, when time alone would have done the work for them with the sound of the seagulls cawing so loudly outside that it would be enough to drive anyone to run headfirst off the cliffs.

Still, death by incessant cawing isn’t much of a plot driver, and soon our first victim is rolling around on the floor, choking.

The row end-capper from before unwraps a sweet and pops it into his mouth.

He flails, grasping at his neighbours sleeve.

He’s chocking too.

As the actor on stage collapses into stillness, so does our friend the end-capper.

I glance over.

He’s sitting very still.

Very. Still.

I give an internal shrug.

Death imitating art, I guess.**


* Now, last week I would have held my hands up and freely admitted that fitness and me are two words that do not belong in the same sentence. But I have since found out that I’m been harbouring a nasty lung infection for the past six months, sooo… just gonna blame that, ya?

** He was fine. Many more sweets were consumed in the second half. He didn’t offer me any.

Read More