Going Barking

After spending the best part of five hours on the tube, running errands all around London, I step off the platform in Barking at 6.55pm. The show I'm seeing tonight starts at seven. TFL claims the theatre is an 11-minute walk away. Google Maps has estimated seven minutes. 

Looks like I'm going to take the advice of AWOLNATION and RUN. 

I pelt it down the highstreet, darting between the market traders packing away their stalls and into a wide sidestreet. Without bothering to check to see if there's a car coming I launch myself across the road, almost running over a small child skipping her way down the pavement. No matter. Kids heal fast. I keep going. Through the foliage of a large three I can just about make out a banner: "DANCE COMEDY MUSIC." It's the Broadway Theatre. I've found it. I skid to a hault, pausing just long enough to take a photo before aiming myself at the sliding doors. 

I'm in the box office. There are people queuing at the desk. It's 6.59pm. I fucking made it.  

I join the queue, clutching at my side and trying to think calming thoughts as I get my breath back. 

Behind the box office desk, there are three clocks. One set to the performance start time (7 o’clock). One to the finish time (10 o’clock). And one for the current time. That is the middle clock. And it has just clicked to one minute past seven. 

“The sound check ran over,” explains the box officer to the person in front. “They’d just finished their tech rehearsal. It should be starting in five minutes, but the doors are open. They just need everyone to take their seats.” 

Thank the theatre gods for overrunning tech run-throughs. 

It’s my turn. 

I give the box officer my surname and she sorts through the few remaining tickets. It doesn’t take her long. She frowns. 


“I booked this morning?” I say, thinking they might be the sort of venue to print their tickets in advance. Turns out they’re not. 

“I have the confirmation email?” I try.

The box officer looks through the four last tickets once more, before taking my phone and inspecting the email. 

“Hmm,” she says again, setting it down by her keyboard and glancing between the screen of my mobile and the one on her computer. 

The minute hand on the central clock clicks forward another minute. 

And another. 

A queue grows behind me. Presumably all owners of those last four tickets. 

With a final tap of the mouse, the printer under the counter putters into action, and a ticket comes out. Thank goodness.  

Ticket in hand, I make for the stairs, finding myself in a large, light-filled bar. 

Not sure where I’m meant to go now. 

I look around confused, but my feet, led by some sixth theatre-sense, takes me off to some low doors across the way. 

A woman grabs my ticket from my fingers as I pass, too fast for me to react. “That way,” she says, pointing over to the low doors. “The ladies in blue will show you the way,” she adds, handing back the ticket to me.  

I turn around to thank her, but she’s already moved on. “The show is about to start!” she shouts to the bar. 

Through the doors and I’m in some sort of lobby. Sofas and armchairs nestle around large photos of shiny people doing earnest community things. 


There’s lots of doors in here. I pick the one that goes up to the balcony and start climbing the stairs in the very red stairwell. One day, I’m going to write a thesis about the presence of red corridors in theatres. There must be some psychological reason behind it. Perhaps to get everyone to hurry the fuck up. 

Well, it works, because I storm my way up those stairs, and find myself emerging at the back of the auditorium, right behind the tech desk. 

And there’s someone sitting in my seat. 

I check the row. And my ticket. Which is hard because it is black as the proverbial pitch in here. But yes, there is a bloke. In my seat. 

“Hi, sorry,” I say to him. “Are you V1?” I ask, knowing perfectly well that he is not V1. Because I am V1. And we can’t both be V1 unless things went very wrong at the box office. 

“Sorry,” he says, jumping out of the seat. “I was just sitting with my friends,” he adds, nodding to the group sitting behind. 

Apology accepted. I go to sit down. But the bloke is still hanging around in the aisle. 

“Sorry I…” he says, indicating the spare seats to the other side of me. 

I stand again to let him pass. 

I start on the business of getting settled in, taking off my jacket and putting on my glasses. 

But the peace doesn’t last for long. 

The owners of those four tickets have arrived and they want to claim their seats – right where the bloke is sitting. 

And they’ve brought an usher with them. 

Again, he tells them that he was just wanting to sit near his friends, but the usher asks to see his ticket and he is soon led off elsewhere. 

As for the friends? Yup. You guessed it. They were in the wrong seats too. Another usher comes to take them away, depositing them in the empty slip seats as the show starts. 

It’s Shakuntala. A dance drama based on the Indian tale. Full of glittery costumes, synchronised dances, lip-synching, projections, surtitles and a voiceovered narrator. 

But the drama isn’t contained on the stage. 

The seat-hopping at the back of the auditorium was only the start of a game of musical chairs that has no intention of quitting any time soon. 

One guy in the row in front begs his escape from his neighbour, only to return a few minutes later with a water bottle which he hands to the person sitting at the end of the row with the instruction to “pass it down.” 

Blue shirted ushers lead people in, turfing seat-stealers out of the way as they go, before starting the process anew as these seatless-wonders are led back to their official places, creating a domino effect of movement throughout the first act. The games only pause as the house lights rise to allow for the procession of an angry sage and his cymbal-clattering followers are they make their way down the aisles towards the stage. 

When it is the turn of Shakuntala herself, in her bridal red, to climb the stairs, I swear I see shadows scattering in her wake. 

There can’t be a single person in this place who reached the interval in the same spot they started the show in. 

The narrator tells us there will be an interval of 20 minutes. And that there are CDs of the songs available for purchase. 

I go back downstairs. Mainly to get some photos of the space. I didn’t have much time on the way up. 

As I aim my camera at some signage, a man comes up to me. “Where are the toilets?” he asks. 

I tell him I don’t know, and he apologises so profusely I realise he must have thought I was an usher. 

I’m currently wearing a Louis Theroux t-shirt, and playing with my phone. Not exactly the picture of the perfect usher. Oh well. 

In the bar, I look up and find that the word THEATRE has been marked out in huge, blocky, capital letters against the windows. 

I try to get a photo of that, but I can’t find the right angle. I go all the way to the far side of the bar to try to get it in, but from here, the letters are completely invisible. 

It’s only after the fourth or fifth attempt that I realise that windows are see-through, and I could go outside to get my photo. 

I do. And discover that from out here, the letters are all the right way around. 



Back inside, and I find a quiet spot to inspect my art. 

“Where are the toilets?” 

I look up. It’s a woman, with her family in tow. 

“Sorry… I don’t know…” I say slowly,  

She apologies. She looks utterly embarrassed. 

And I wonder if I have somehow managed to get hired by the Broadway Theatre without my noticing. 

It doesn’t take long to figure out what’s happening though. 

It’s a race thing. 

The only white people in this theatre tonight are the ushers. And me.  

I make it through the rest of the interval without sullying the name of usher any further, and go back upstairs. 

The audience filters back in slowly. 

As I stand to let a group in, last person touches me on the arm and says thank you, in a gesture of such warmth I almost thank her right back. 

“Are you enjoying it?” asks my neighbour. 

I tell him I am.  

I mean, we’re not talking Martin McDonagh levels of scripting here. And the dancers aren’t exactly Mavin Khoo. But everyone on stage looks like they are having a great old time. And that has a charm all of its own. 

As the lights descend once more, I spot that he’s holding something. A programme. 

Where on earth did he get that? I was all over the place downstairs, and I didn’t see anyone selling programmes. I didn’t see much in the way of a front of house presence at all. Probably why everyone was asking me where the loos were. 


“Good evening ladies and gentleman,” comes a voice that is definitely not the narrator’s. “Can I ask if you are eating peanuts in the theatre, please put them away, as there are people with allergies.” 

I momentarily panic before I remember that not only am I not eating peanuts, I don’t even have any with me. So the chances of me being the source of this person’s flair up must be elsewhere. 

Peanuts presumable removed, the show starts again. 

Shakuntala is in all sorts of difficulties, but after some friendly fishermen have finished their dance, they manage to sort things out and break the curse that’s keeping her from her true love, the king. 

A microphone is brought out, and it’s time for the speeches. The cast and crew are thanked. All the back-stagers are brought out for bows, and there’s some moving talk about the connection to Barking. 

It’s all very sweet. 

That done, the house lights go up and I make for the door. It’s a long way back to Hammersmith. 

A man stops, and doubles back to talk to me. 

“That was interesting, wasn’t it?” he says.

“Yes,” I agree. “It was good.” 

He wants to say something else. I can tell. 

And sure enough, as we make our way to the stairwell, he asks: “Do you come to this kind of show often?” he asks.  

I smile. I know what he’s really asking. “What is a white girl doing at a show like this?” 

I admit that no, this isn’t my usual fair. I think that real answer would be even weirder than the whatever is going on in his head. “I’m just a theatre-nerd,” I shrug. 

A Goth goes to Redbridge

I've just travelled from one end of the Central Line to the other, and I feel like I have stepped up the train into another county. I'm in South Woodford. Redbridge. Which is not a part of London I'm familar with, and yet recognise instantly. The shops are all exactly the same as anywhere else in London. There's a Starbucks. And a Marks. And I can spot a Waitrose coming up ahead, but even so. Something feels off.

I feel different.

Or rather, I look different.

Which is odd because I'm wearing my classic combo of great big black skirt and black t-shirt.

And then I realise, it's not me that's changed. It's everyone else.

Do you remember back when I told you about my trip to the artsdepot, and I mentioned how out of place my friend Helen looked in Finchley? Well, that's me in Redbridge.

In a world of untucked pastel t-shirts, I'm walking around looking like Joy Division wrote my personal theme song.

Although apparently, I'm yet to perfect my resting bitch face as everyone is smiling at me. It's making me feel paranoid.

A homeless man sitting on the pavement offers me a cheery "Hello Miss!"

A group of men all wearing flip-flops grin as the shuffle past me.

Everyone is happy.

It's weird.

I'm beginning to think they must pump something into the air around here.

The confirmation email I got from the Redbridge Drama Centre after booking my tickets has been the chirpiest I've received to date on the marathon, and by far the most delightful. Following an assurance that Emily and Molly will be busy stuffing my tickets into envelopes as I read, the email goes on to promise a "rather unique!" box office if I "thought better of it and will be picking up tickets."

With nothing further to go on, my brain has been going all sort of wild places (Up a tree! Underground! A hole in the wall you must whisper your darkest secrets into before being allowed inside!), but nothing could have prepared me for the next email.

The show had been cancelled.

That was a serious blow.

I could actually feeling my heart sinking as I read it.

This isn't the first time this had happened to me. I'd planned to get to the Redbridge right at the start of my marathon. It would have been one of my first venues. I had it all diarised and planned out. And then the day before, when I went on their website to buy the ticket, there was nothing but a note to say that the show was no longer going ahead, but I could see it at some other theatre on its tour. Which was no bloody use to me.

The disappointment was compounded by the problem that, despite the name, the Redbridge Drama Centre doesn't have all that much drama going on. It's taken nearly half a year for me to find another marathon-qualifying event on their appalling website for me to go to.

So, I was feeling a wee bit stressed about the whole thing.

But all was not lost.

It was not really cancelled. Just postponed. Moved from the Friday to the Saturday.

I didn't need to do anything. My tickets had been moved across to the new date. All I had to do was turn up.

Fair enough. I could move things on my end. I wasn't missing out on what might be my last chance to get to this place before the year runs out. Except, the email didn't end there.

"If there are any problems with this," it went on to say. "Please let us know and we will be able to make arrangements for you to see the show on the Friday still."

What on earth...

The show on Friday was cancelled. But I could still see it.

It was all very strange.

I began to wonder whether I had done something wrong. If perhaps I should have paid homage to the keepers of the box office in advance. Perhaps they just already knew that my secrets aren't dark enough.

Maybe it was all a test. And by turning up on Saturday, I have already failed it.

So, it's with some trepidation that I turn off the main road, walk through a housing estate, and pause in front of what looks like an old school building to get a photo of the outside.

There's a ramp leading the way down to the main entrance, which I follow around and go in.

I find myself in a barn-like space. Brick walls painted white. The bar takes up one side, decorated with black umbrellas and a street sign hanging from the ceiling pointing out the way to 42nd Street and 5th Avenue (in completely different directions).

In the corner is a model of a cow. I don't have the brainpower to process that right now, so I move on.

Over the other side is... I'm not sure, I have to take a few steps to one side to fully understand it. It's the front of a tube train. Bursting out of a brick tunnel which leads to a back office. The TFL logo is painted on one side, and the driver's seat has a computer next to it.

It must be the rather unique box office!


They weren't lying.

There's no one sitting inside, so I hang around, trying to make sense of this place.

A woman comes in and slips into the tube carriage. "The box office is now open," she half-sings through the front window, with a Broadway-style opening of her arms.

I sidle my way over as someone in the office calls out: "And the bar!"

"And the bar," the box office lady confirms. "More importantly."

"Everything is open!" I say, not wanting to be left out.

"Are you picking up tickets?" the box office lady asks me. "What's the surname?"


"What a lovely name," she says. "I would love that to be my name. I would smile every day."

I give her my standard patter that I dole out whenever anyone shows interest in my surname. It's Scottish. It means small.

"Aww," she says, as she hands over my ticket. "Well, smile through the performance!"

The Redbridge air must be getting to me, because I leave the tube grinning from one ear to the other.

There are a few tables dotted around, but over by the cow (I'm still not ready to contemplate the cow) there's a black sofa that looks mightly comfy and more in keeping with my aesthetic. I lob my bag and myself onto it and watch all the people come in.

It's soon packed. Every table is full of people chattering, excited about the upcoming show. Music is playing. Someone dims the lights. A party atmosphere starts to form.

I just hang out with the cow.

We start by merely side eyeing each other, before I realise that it's not the cow that's looking back at me. She seems to have a see through centre - a glassed off compartment where her four stomachs should be, and through that a poster of two men peer out. It's most disconcerting.


"The auditorium is now open!" calls a voice from the door on the far side.

I sigh in relief, and head over to join the queue.

The door takes us through a corridor lined with show posters, around a corner, through another room that looks like it belongs in a hospital, round another corner, and this time into a hallway lit by a row of chandeliers. Very la-di-da.

An usher stands guard by the door, checking tickets.

The boy infront of me shrugs.

"You don't need a ticket," she laughs, clearly recognising him. "You just turn up!"

I can't just turn up so I flash her my ticket and she nods me through.

The old man behind me tries to hand his over. "I'm just looking at them," she explains, and he is also nodded through.

Inside is a floor level stage, with a good-sized bank of seating rising up away from it.

I clamber up the stairs, making my way to the back. I don't want to be taking any of the good seats away from these people. But it's not a large theatre, and even from the back few rows, I'm still not all that far from the stage.


One of the front of housers comes and asks for a surname. "Can I have a show of hands?"

Said owner of surname shows his hands and the front of houser goes over to him. "These are yours I believe," he says, handing over a pair of tickets.

Now, I don't think I've ever seen in-seat ticket delivery. I bet ATG are pissed they didn't think of that.

Tickets all delivered, the show starts. Five minutes late, but no one seems to care. They're all so happy.

I can't say it lasts for long. The show is Elergies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens and it is super depressing. A serious of monologues from people who died of AIDS, interspersed with songs.

And that finale, with a massive cast busting out a tune together, filling the entire stage... Really not sure I can take on that on a Saturday night. My poor emotions.

As the doors open, I slip out quickly and hurry back to the tube station.

It's a long way back to Hammersmith.

It's a long way back to anywhere from here. I'm almost grateful that the theatre's programming is so infrequent. The chances of me ever feeling the need to come back here are very slim. Shame though. I did like that box office.

As I cross the North Circular, a man dances out of my way, and then stops, startled.

"Hey!" he says. "I saw you coming the other way."

I give him a confused look and keep on walking, but as I pass his friends I realise that yeah, I do recognise them. They're all wearing those frickin flip-flops!

Oh dear.

It's probably for the best I'm not coming back. Only been here two hours and already people are starting to remember me. They'll be talking about this for years: The day the Goth came to Redbridge.

I better get out of here.

Absolutely Harrowing

I've lived in London for over ten years now. Closing in on a dozen, now that I think about it. And I've been a theatre-fan for a good number of those. So, it's amazing to me how many theatres I haven't been to yet, and plain haven't even heard of, or likely would have heard of, without the push of the marathon.

When I get to one of these new-to-me venues, I have a lot of questions that need answering. What type of work do they programme? What are the audiences like? Do they provide freesheets? You know, that sort of stuff.

It's not often my first question is: how do I get in.

I'm standing outside the Harrow Arts Centre. It's a nice building. Very nice. Red brick. Old. Surrounded by gardens. Very pretty.

There's a little enclave outside the door, with wooden benches set into the brick walls. Very cosy. The sort of place you could imagine sheltering from the rain at a church fete and falling for a naice young man sporting a woolly jumper and a stutter.

The door, however, is dark. There's no sign of life inside. There's no sign of a sign.

I'm beginning to worry that I might have got the wrong building, and that I've been traipsing all over the gardens of some company away day centre, and any encounter with a young man in a woolly jumper would be closely followed by a radio call to security and possibly some dogs being released in my direction.

But no, there's the banner up by the road advertising a solitary matinee performance of Coppelia. This is def the right place. Just possibly, the wrong door.

I decide to have a walk around the building. See if anyone else is having this problem.

Somewhere a car door slams, and then a second later, a couple emerge from behind a hedge, hurry across a flagstoned courtyard and disappear through an automatic door.

Well, I might as well go after them then.

Engraved in the stone after the door, it says The B.G. Elliott Hall. I don't know who B.G. Elliott is, or why The was carved with a different font to the rest of the message, and I really hope I'm not going to find out. I walk over slowly, fully expecting a B.G. Elliot to come marching out and order me off his property. Possibly while wearing a woolly jumper. But no one does. Instead, I find myself in some sort of antechamber. There's another door in here. And another sign above it. This one says: Harrow Arts Centre.

Thank goodness for that.

Inside it finally, finally, begins to look like an arts centre. There are flyers everwhere. And posters. And roller banners. There's even a sign for the Box Office, with an arrow pointing to... a closed door.

I look at the door.

It does look very definitely closed. The type of closed that does not appreciate being opened.

Okay then. Perhaps I don't need the box office. The pre-show email hadn't mentioned e-tickets or anything of the sort, but then it also hadn't given any advice on transportation other than for car drivers, and also misspelt the word queues ("ques"), so perhaps that email isn't the best crutch to lean on right now.

I press on, further into the building, turn left, and see a queue (or possibly 'que') of people coming out of a door, a door that, if my mental geography hasn't let me down, should be to the box office.

There's a sign on the door. "Public Notice," it says. "The Box Office opening hours are Monday - Friday 10am - 5pm." It's well past 5pm now, but there is a show on tonight, so I imagine they are making an exception.

A few minutes later, I'm at the front of the queue.

"The surname's Smiles?"

"Can I have your order number?" says the lady behind the desk.

"Umm... yes?" I say, pulling out my phone. I don't think I've ever been asked that question before at box office. Not unless there was a problem, or I was asking for something unreasonable, like a ticket exchange.

I find my confirmation email and recite the order number, and she types it in. Soon the ticket machine is puttering out my ticket. She gives it a good wiggle and a tug. It did not want to come out. Probably because the ticket stick was put in the wrong way round. Or at least, I presume the logo isn't supposed to be upside down. Not that it matters much. With the logo positioned on the ticket's stub, it'll be torn off soon enough, leaving nothing but a plain white, unbranded piece of card. The shame of its upsidedowness lost to the recycling bin.

"Just the one?" asks the box office lady, giving the ticket a once over before handing it to me.

"Yes... just the one." I didn't even try to convince my friends to come to this one. Bless them, they do try. But Harrow is an Overground journey too far for even the strongest of friendships.

"Where am I heading?" I ask.

I don't know what prompted me to ask that. I don't usually. Perhaps I've encountered too many closed doors on this trip to have faith I'll find the right one. Or maybe I just want to make it really clear that I'm the loner who doesn't belong here to the box office lady.

She blinks at me in surprise.

"Err," she says, as if she's never been asked this question before, because, presumably, simply everyone knows where the Studio theatre at Harrow Arts Centre is, and what is this person that she is now having to deal with? A person who comes to the theatre, by herself, and doesn't even know where it is? She's definitely not paid enough for this, and she'll be making a note so that she can bring it up in her next one-to-one. "Head out of this building," she starts, pointing back out the door.

I'm sorry, what the what? Outside?

She sees the alarm on my face and presses on. "Go left from the car park and you'll see a sign for the studio theatre. The medical centre will be the opposite."

"Right," I say weakly. "Thank you."

Bloody hell. I'm glad I asked.

I stop outside in the corridor to quickly make a note of what she said. More for my own use than the blog. "Left. Car park. Sign. Medical centre," I mutter to myself as I battle against the auto correct to type it out.

From inside the box office I can hear a very loud customer talking very quickly. "Can't find my email, but can I buy a ticket?"

"Sorry, it's all sold out."

Blimey, I would never even have thought of that. Buying a new ticket because I can't find the confirmation email from my last one. No wonder the show is sold out if that's how the people of Harrow sort things out. Rebuying tickets because they can't figure out the search functionality on their emails. Oh well, at least it's generating some income for the arts, I suppose.

I go outside. I'm not entirely sure where the car park is, but I follow the building around, back to where I had heard the car door slam earlier, and yes. Here it is. And as promised, there's a sign. I walk down the road to get a better look at it. I'm not wearing my glasses and can't quite read it.

It lists all the delights of the Harrow Arts Centre: Elliot Hall, Studio Theatre, Medical Centre, Swimming Pool, Cafe and Bar. With arrows all pointing in the same direction. That's convenient.

I turn left and am instantly lost.

There's hundreds of buildings here. Fancy brick ones. Whitewashed ones. Ones that look like are falling apart. Ones that look like they housed pigs in another life. And others that probably have a sweat-shop in them right now.

But down a path lined with some of the more dispiriting examples, I spy a crisp white sign, gleaming out from all that peeling paint-work. "HAC Studio Theatre."

I'd found it.

And so has everyone else. There's a line coming right out the door.

It rather looks like I've stumbled on the hit show of Harrow.

I hear the ticket checker before seeing him. He's bantering away with everyone coming through the door.

"You'll be having the stay out here with me," he laughs to a group of women, before letting loose a beaming smile on the next person in the queue.

We shuffle our way forwards into the foyer. There's a little desk in here. But it's not being used. And doesn't appear to have been used since 2004. There's a TV resting on top. It has a built in VHS player.

The ticket checker chats away to everyone in turn, seeming unperturbed by this historical artefact resting on the desk not three feet away from him.

"That's two," he asks the man in front of me in the queue. He looks closer at the print out. "Just one?" he says, looking up at me.

The man in front confirms that it is just one.

The ticket checker takes my ticket. "Thank you, madam," he says, handing it back. No banter. Barely even a glance.

Right then. I go into the studio. It's dark, long and low, and makes me think of an industrial chicken coop.

Ridgid rows of chairs are packed in.

This should be my cue to head to the front, to claim my spot at the end of the third row, as is my preference in unallocated seats. But instead, I turn the other way, heading for the first raised row, just behind the door. When the choice is between proximity and a rake, always choose the rake. That is my free and personal advice to you.

It's a bit tight in here. I had to clamber in around the chair in front so as so to disturb the nice ladies at the end of the row. There's a free seat between us, but that is doing nothing to save my legs.

I may only be a shade over 5'3" but that's not short enough for the squishy legroom here in the studio. I really hope no one sits in front of me, as they are going to end up with a knee in their back.

As soon as I have this thought, someone plonks themselves down in the seat in front, only to discover my knee in their back.

He jerks his seat back, but when he finds no relief, he looks behind him to discover the cause of this obstruction, only to discover my apologetic face.

I try to rearrange myself, but a big group has just come in and the ticket checker is trying to find seats for them all. The nice ladies at the end of my row move down with a smile. "Someone can sit on the end there," one says.

The doors are closing. There's still five minutes today but we are locked in together in the darkness.

We all sit and awkwardly look our host for the evening, Pariah Khan, sat on a table, his legs swinging, his head bowed as he reads a book.

A young woman a few rows ahead of me looks back and holds my gaze for a second too long before turning back around. It was a look of curiosity and recognition. We're the only two white girls in the audience. The only two white people.

The ticket checker comes back in to let people through and give a countdown to the tech person. Four minutes to go.

Three minutes.


Khan begins. He's come to Britain to explore what this country has to offer. To travel about. fall in love, and watch football at a reasonable hour.

"This is really good," says the man sitting in front of me, leaning towards his companion.

I'm glad he's got something decent to distract him from the knee in his back.

A minute later, a phone rings. First quietly, but louder as its owner rummages through her bag in search of the disastrous noise machine.

Khan stops, his face a still mask as we all collectively hold our breaths, waiting for the phone to stop ringing.

"Did you remember to turn your phone off?" he asks, with a sly side-long glance as the ringing eventually comes to a stop.

Unfortunately, no number of side-long glances will stop the sounds of the radio bagging through from the foyer, as messages are relayed through the hundreds of buildings that make up the Harrow Arts Centre.

But Khan presses on, taking us on a tour of this strange country of ours. Even when a woman in the front row decides to stand up, put her coat on, make her way to the door, and let it slam on her way out.

At the end, applause still going, Khan uses the flipchart that has been his companion and time marker throughout the performance to display the credits.

The clapping quietens as we all watch him flip pages.

"You can carry on applauding!" he says, showing us the director's name (Eduardo Gama).

We dutifully do so, but it's not the same. Just think how much better it would have been if they'd been a freesheet.

Read More

The Secret Language of Flowers

With cautious glances at one another, we take up places around the edge. Balancing on knees, or curling around our legs.

A few people decide that sitting on the floor is more than they signed up for, and head for the benches by the wall instead.

Angelique keeps on talking. The party isn’t going so well. She’s spotted her boyfriend with another girl, and his dealer, the one she really doesn’t like, is there.

And… oh god. Her voice sinks as she tells us what happens next. I clutch tight at my knees, twisting around to follow her as she moves around us, wanting to look away but at the same time not being able to take my eyes off her.

There’s a crash.

As one, our heads snap towards the window behind Dennis-Edwards.

Another crash.

A young girl peeks through the blackout curtains. It’s the boys with their football.

The girl’s mother gives her a look and the curtain is dropped back into place.

But the lure of the teenage boys and their football is too much for her, and soon she is peeling open the edge of the curtain once more to look outside.

Angelique moves around the space. She wants to show us the vase of blue flowers she has put in her new home.

They're basic but bright, she says. But perhaps more than that, they embody new beginnings, and hope. Of sun-filled days. Of her own shop. Her own life. Away from those who see her as a resource and not a person.

Outside, it’s still swelteringly hot. The party next door is still going. The music still blasting.

But the streets are empty. Deserted. I walk towards the tube station, swinging my jacket from my arm.

Everything smells of heat and tarmac and fast food.

Despite the pain, I miss Angelique’s world. Her lack of nonsense. Her drive. And the lush freshness of her flowers.

I should really go buy some.

Maybe for my birthday. That’s coming up in three weeks. Three weeks and one day. Not that I’m dreading it or anything.

Still, flowers would help. Peonies, I think. They’re my favourite. I wonder what they mean. Angelique would know.

Read More