It’s taken a tube ride, two Thameslink trains, and a quick march up a steep hill to get here, but I’ve finally made it to the Bromley Little Theatre.
Tucked off a small side street behind a… gosh. I don’t know what to call it. My brain is serving up the term porte cochere, but I’m fairly confident that really only applies to Downton Abbey and its ilk. What I mean is, that the short path between the road and the courtyard beyond is covered by an extension of the building, arching up over my head as I walk below it. It’s the type of construction that makes me instantly think of it should belong to garage in a provincial town, for reasons that I can’t identity right now and don’t want to question too hard.
There’s a handy sign pointing to the right door, which is much appreciated as there seems to be doors everywhere.
There’s steps in here. I start climbing. They’re very steep steps. Very, very steep steps.
And I’m wearing a very short skirt. A very, very short skirt. Made even shorter by the fact that I’m a little bit chubbier than when I bought it.
I look behind me and yup, there’s somewhere there. A bloke at the bottom of the stairs.
Thank god I put my big girl pants on today. Fucking hell…
There isn’t much of a landing at the top, but what space there is is taken up by a man sitting on a stool.
He’s busy dealing with someone else, so I hang back, surreptitiously trying to pull down the back of my skirt.
When it’s my turn, I give my name.
“Smiles! I remember that name,” he says in response.
They always do.
“Here you go,” he adds, handing me a lanyard. “Would you like a programme? 50p.”
“Bargain,” I tell him, looping the lanyard over my arm and reaching for my bag.
My purse has, of course, worked its way down right to the bottom, so I step aside and let the person behind me get lanyarded up while I dig around in search of it, find it, chip my nail varnish, pull out the purse, locate a pound coin within the detritus of pennies and cough sweets, and then when the name checker is free, hand it over, get 50p in change, and walk away with my programme.
I’m exhausted and I haven’t even got through the door yet.
Thankfully, there isn’t far to go, as the show I’m watching is in the foyer bar. Now, when I saw this, I thought it was just a cheeky name for a space cordoned off from the main bar. Perhaps with the use of curtains, or some kind of sliding wall situation, but no. We are literally in the bar. There, it is, over on the far side of the room, positioned right next to the box office. Chairs are positioned in two sets of rows, one on the bar side of the room, one on the entrance side. Benches are tucked against the walls. And in between, resting on tables that fill what little free space there is, are bowls of crisps.
All around people are munching away and laughing.
It’s quite the crowd.
There may not be a lot of room but almost every seat is taken.
I spy one free spot, in between a row of chatting ladies and a bowl of crisps. A prime spot.
“Is this seat taken?” I ask one of them. It isn’t.
I plonk myself down, careful not to knock over the crisps.
In really is small in here. Or rather, it feels small. Cramped even. The ceiling is low, and made even lower but the presence of heavy wooden beams painted an inky black and playing double duty as a lighting rig.
The tiny bit of free space in the middle of the chairs contains an office desk and, well, even more chairs. That’s our set for the evening.
There’s a TV on the wall. It’s playing one of those dreary financial channels where men in suits talk sternly in acronyms to each other for hours on end. An odd choice of viewing material for a bar, I think. I didn’t have Bromley pinned as an outposts for city workers, but then, I don’t hang out with city workers if I can help it.
Everyone is wearing their lanyards. I’ve just spent a whole day wearing one, and I’m not feeling overly keen about putting on another for the evening, but everyone else has, even the staff, so I duly duck my head down under the red tape and put it on. I’m a guest here, after all. A non-local in what feels like a very local place. It wouldn’t due not to play the game.
I look down at what my lanyard actually says. VISITOR, in fat green letters, cementing my position here.
I look around. We’re all visitors.
Except, no. There are some who have something different on theirs. I watch them, trying to work out what makes them different. Behind ones belonging to the blokes behind the bar are red. They say STAFF.
Except, hang on. I spot something. Across the top, in the black banner, instead of saying Bromley Little Theatre, or the like, it has: British Universal Industries Ltd.
“Don’t forget the five aside this evening,” says a sing-song voice over the speakers. “Team work makes the dream work.”
I almost laugh. I’m such an idiot. The TV. The lanyards. And those creepy inspirational words stencilled onto the walls. They are all there for the play.
Now, I’ll admit it’s been a few years since I saw Mike Bartlett’s Bull last, but this is slow work on the part of my brain.
“It must be starting soon,” says a woman sitting behind me.
“How can you tell?” whispers back her friend.
“The lights in the bar have gone off. The lights in the bar always go off just before they start.”
Gotta love that quality insider info.
She’s right too. A few minutes later, and we’re plunged into a meeting room at British Universal Industries. Three candidates. Two jobs. It’s going to get nasty.
As the audience sip their drinks, they become more and more vocal as the play progresses. Biting words are greeted with winces and hisses through teeth. But it takes one the actors taking his shirt off to turn the chorus to vocals.
“Very nice,” says the lady sitting behind me.
She’s not wrong.
But her appreciative comments don’t last long. He’s a wrong’un and treating poor Thomas abominably, and she’s not having it. “Why doesn’t he hit him?” he hisses furiously at her friend, as Thomas suffers the ire of the shirtless-wonder, XXX, one too many times. “He should leave! I would leave! Why doesn’t he just leave?!”
Similar whispered comments circle around the room.
We’re all rooting for Thomas. To fight back. To have pride.
We’ve all been there. Felt powerless in the face of people cleverer than us, quicker than us, more attractive, more confident, more charismatic. We are all Thomases.
It’s Isabel’s turn, with her pristine pencil skirt and precise pixie-cut.
I get up to leave. I’m one of the few that does. People lean far back in their seats in order to talk to people down their row, behind them, walking past, everywhere. A frenzy of conversation buzzes around the space.
I wade through it, back towards the landing.
There’s a box out there, ready and waiting to receive the lanyards.
I dither. I don’t need to tell you why, do I? Don’t make me admit it. You know I don’t like talking about my habit of pilfering audience-props.
No one would know if I just slipped it into my pocket and walked away.
But I can’t. I just can’t.
The ticket was only a fiver. And everyone here was so nice, so into it. I just… can’t. It would be wrong.
I dump my lanyard in the box and scuttle down the stairs before I have the chance to change my mind.
Probably for the best. I need to go back to get their main space ticked off the list. It wouldn’t do to get barred.Read More