I thought I was well past the point where I was able to shock my coworkers with my theatre-going, but the expression on their faces as I wrap my scarf around my neck and breezily say that I'm just popping out to watch a play tells me that I've hit a new low.
Turns out, slipping into an empty seat at the back to catch the matinee in your own theatre is one thing, but running down to Bridewell Theatre in order to squeeze a short play into your lunch break is quite another.
Oh well. Doesn't matter. I'm already halfway down Farringdon Street and too out of breath to worry about my rapidly deteriorating reputation in the office.
I haven't been to the Bridwell Theatre before, but I've seen the signs for it, so I'm not entirely surprised when I step out of the smog of grey suits on Fleet Street and into a quiet little side-street that looks like it's pitching itself as a location for this Christmas' glossy Dicken's adaptation.
Two ladies chat outside the front door to the theatre, but apart from that, it's entirely deserted.
I'm guessing lunch-time theatre can't really compete with M&S sandwiches in the life of a city worker.
I'm up for it though. A 45-minute play in the middle of the day sounds great. It's just a pity that this place is too far from my work for me to ever justify coming here outside of my marathon. Best make the most of it.
Huh. This place is not nearly as exciting looking inside. After a brief interlude involving floor to ceiling tiling, those old Victorian stones have given way to white walls and grotty floors.
But no matter. There's a good old fashioned hole-in-the-wall box office. It even has a circular speaker thing set into the glass. The metal surround is inscribed with the directive to: SPEAK HERE. I do, giving my surname, and I'm handed a small entrance token in exchange.
They are small. And laminated. There's a picture of a sandwich on the front (cucumber on wholemeal) and a poorly hyphenated set of terms and conditions on the back. I'm disappointed. Somehow I had got into my head that the Bridewell was connected to the printing industry, but I couldn't imagine any proper printer producing this sort of nonsense.
To be fair, that connection may exist nowhere outside of my own fuzzy memories, and no be based on anything even approaching reality. In which case, the tokens are just fine. And cucumber sandwiches are totally ace. But like... not on brown bread. Don't be gross, people. No one wants that shit in their lives. It should be white bread or nothing when it comes to cucumbers. And plenty of butter. The good stuff. Yeo Valley, or Kelly Gold if you must.
"The house will open at five to one," says the man behind the window. "We'll ring a bell."
That's only a couple of minutes away. I better start exploring.
I follow the signs down to the bar.
Oh, blimey. That's not what I expected. There I was, traipsing down the white-walled staircase, never knowing that the basement bar was lurking underneath like the Phantom's lair. Bare brick walls. Metal beams holding up curved arches. And there, squatting between the tables like an old man waiting for someone to buy him a pint is, oh my god, is that a printing press?
I fucking love a printing press. I’m always trying to drop hints to our printers that they should invite me around for a tour, but they are doing the absolute mostest to change the conversation to one of paper stock, or types of fold, which I suppose is also good.
I go over to have a proper look at it.
I suppose it could be a printing press. If what you're printing is shirts and by press you mean, wash out the dirt. They're washing machines. I'm in an old laundry.
I'm beginning to think I really did imagine the whole printing thing. Which is worrying.
Still, it is nice down here. I do like old machines, even if their purpose is to remove ink rather than print it. I like that you can see how they work. This wheel turns, that cog rotates, then this plate lowers, yadda, yadda, yadda, and your socks are clean!
It's surprisingly busy down here. All the tables are full.
I'm trying to work out how many of these people are here for a sneaky pint during their lunch hour. But none of these people look like the type to work around here.
There's less in the way of suits than I would expect. And far more anoraks than is reasonable.
I feel like I've somehow stumbled group in their pre-meet for a walking tour of the Lake District, rather than a bunch of city workers taking a short rest-bite from their heady day propping up capitalism.
There's a rustle of Goretex as they all stumble to their feet and make towards the door.
They must have heard something I didn't because the queue to get into the theatre is starting and if I don't hurry up and join it, I'm going to be stuck right at the back.
Back up the stairs, through the door by the box office, and via a small foyer taken up by some rather fetching blue curtains, and we're into the theatre.
It's a standard black box, with raked seating, and a rather fantastical lighting rig - meal bars jutting off at all sorts of wonderful angles. Each side of the space is lined with slim metal columns, the type you'd find on an old factory floor. I rather like it.
It takes a while for everyone to settle.
There are considerably more people here than I could ever have expected. Lunchtime theatre is clearly a thing, and I feel like I've been missing out. Someone needs to tell all the pub-theatres in Islington, because I want to get in on this action.
After five months in marathon-mode, even 90-minutes-no-interval is starting to feel like a chore. With a standard 7.30pm start, you're still not getting out before 9pm. And then there's the journey home, and by the time you've got your coat off, put the kettle on, and shoved all the clothes off of your duvet, accomplishing the coveted In-Bed-By-Ten prize is a bit of a challenge. If you ask me (and I'm sure you are), 45 minutes is the perfect length for a play.
I didn't know anything about this one, but with such a short run time, there wouldn't be much room to go wrong.
Even so, Stanley Grimshaw Has Left The Building manages to pack it in: family tensions, false allegations of violence, missed messages, Elvis impersonations, and not one - but two - twists, before the clock runs out. There's even a reverse of the man-sends-his-inconvenient-female-relative-to-the-madhouse trope, which was very pleasing.
I would credit those involved, but there wasn't a freesheet to be found. Which if the Bridewell really did have a connection to the printing industry would be really fucking embarrassing for them.
Now, I have to know - where did I get that idea from?
As I hurry up Farringdon Street on my way back to work, I quickly Google it.
"Housed in a beautiful Grade II listed Victorian building, St Bride Foundation was originally set up to serve the burgeoning print and publishing trade of nearby Fleet Street, and is now finding a new contemporary audience of designers, printmakers and typographers who come to enjoy a regular programme of design events and workshops."
They even have a library dedicated to printing and its associated arts.
Oh, Bridewell Theatre. Dedicated to the print trade and you can't even put together a freesheet. For shame. For shame!Read More