"That sounds very communist," said my cake-eating friend Ellen when I mentioned that I would be at the Camden Peope’s Theatre on Thursday night (you may remember her from posts such as my Polka & The Space double-show day blog).
I’d been thinking of the Gettysburg Address: Theatre of the people, for the people, by the people. But a communist theatre right by Euston station sounded much more promising.
But, like with so many things with politics, I found it utterly baffling when I arrived.
There was a box office. I could see that. One that shares its desk space with the bar. Each end appropriately marked up with a sign. “Bar” to the left. “Box office” to the right.
Except, I couldn't get to either. A mass of people had congregated between the door and the counter.
Were they queuing?
I couldn’t tell.
By the looks of it they were merely milling.
Now, I don’t have a lot of experience with communist theatre. But come on, most theatres incline at least slightly towards the left. Surely things down this end of the political spectrum couldn’t be that different. I was fairly certain queuing was a universal concept. I just had to figure out where this one began, or ended.
Someone emerged from the theatre and there was lots of “there he is!” type of calls from the group.
Friends of the playwright.
That made sense.
"You've all got comps waiting for you," the playwright announced magnanimously.
Yeah, well. That’s all very nice I’m sure. But I got a paid-for ticket waiting for me, and I would like to pick it up please.
I edged my way around the group, trying to get past.
“Is this a queue?” I asked someone nearby who looked like they might be a fellow-edger.
“You want to pick up tickets? The box office is just here,” said the lady standing behind the bar-half of the counter.
“Are you waiting?” I asked the other edger.
"You go if you want,” was his very gracious reply.
I’m not very gracious, so it looks like I may have queue-barged ahead of the one genuine person trying to pick up their ticket. Sorry mate.
The tickets turned out to be playing cards, marked up with CPT (Camden People’s Theatre. Come on now, keep up) on the back and a die-cut star punched out of the corner, lest anyone try to sneak in with a faked up playing card-ticket. Ingenious. I like it. And also deliciously mistrustful. Are there many people out there bent on sneaking into theatres with playing cards? Perhaps I’m just showing off my naivety here, but it that seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to. I don’t know. Maybe there are roving gangs selling individual playing cards with CPT sharpied on the back of them. “Wanna see a play?” they mutter as you pass them on a street corner, checking over their shoulder for any sight of the rozzers.
Frankly, if there really are people out there who are so desperate to see a play that they do go to the effort of putting marker pen to playing card, I say let them in. They deserve it.
“You can take one of those,” said the box office guy, clearly noticing how my attention was now fully taken up by the pile of cast sheets sitting on the counter.
I know. I’m sorry. You are so utterly bored about reading about my obsession with the more papery aspects of the theatre experience. It’s okay. You don’t need to say anything. I can tell.
I have a problem.
But these cast sheets… are really nice. The paper stock. Ooff. Thick. With a nice weight. And a subtle sheen.
If it were me, I would have given them a extra proofread, but… with paper this nice, who’s really paying attention to the use of quotation marks?
Fully stocked with paper, I went to find somewhere to sit.
There are plenty of tables and chairs in the bar, but they all seemed to be taken. Around the edges however are these funny little benches which are just wide enough to perch on, but still so narrow that high levels of concentration are required at all times to prevent you from losing your balance and toppling off.
I grabbed one and clung on.
Sitting there, unable to fit on my very narrow bench, I couldn't help but think of the conversation I'd had with Ellen last weekend. It didn’t make it to the blog last time, but perhaps I held it back, knowing it would come in use in the future.
I'd mentioned being weirded out by the thought of going to see a kids’ show by myself, and that naturally led to a discussion about feeling nervous going to the theatre. There's been a lot of words, and even more money, thrown about at the top tier of the performing arts, in an effort to make theatre more welcoming. Opening up the building via the means of rejigging the architecture, and offering free tickets for under 18s, are current schemes at our city's two major opera houses.
"But places like that never bothered me," said Ellen, but with far more eloquence than I am able to properly recall. "It's the cool places that puts me on edge"
I had to agree. You can get lost in an opera house. And I don't just mean in the literal sense, wandering about while looking for the loos.
There are so many people there, it's easy enough to blend in. Whether wearing jeans or an evening dress, you'll just be one of the crowd. It's the smaller theatres though. The fringe-cool ones. The ones that served their community so well, they have started catering to a niche as narrow as their benches. That's where I feel my most awkward.
I was definitely not cool enough to be here.
The seating alone should have told me that.
When the bell rang and I headed inside the theatre-space, I was somewhat alarmed to see that the front row was made up of what looked like those old wooden packing boxes. With thin cushions placed on top as the only concession to comfort.
I quickly bypassed those and made my way to the safety of the third row, where their were proper chairs.
The play was timely. And by that I mean it was about Brexit. Not that you'd know it until the punchline. You have to get through a very surreal first hour before the payoff of the final ten minutes hits.
Curtain call over, everyone was very slow to move on. There was another play coming up. A double bill. I'd been tempted to stay. Adding the second play to my ticket order would have only have required a few extra quid, but there are no bonus points for repeat views in this challenge. And the idea of being back in my bed by 10pm was just too tempting.
Yeah, when I say I'm not cool, I'm not playing.
So, I was off. Even if this lot weren't.
As I started layering up, winding round my scarf and shrugging on my coat, ready to launch myself back into the freezing night, the applause started up again.
I thought the cast may have reemerged but I couldn't see them.
"Max! Max! Max!" chanted the front row.
Err. Thanks? I know my coat is pretty spectacular, but really... applause really isn't necessary.
Then the playwright emerged.
The playwright who was dishing out comps to their mates.
The playwright who is also called Max.
So yeah, it is a bit communist but only in the sense that it benefits to be in the inner circle of our great leaders.
All theatre-goers are equal, but some theatre-goers are more equal than others.