I think I got a little too excited about living in a sorta-central location. Just because I can walk to places doesn't mean that I should. Buses exist. The tube is really rather good, and is worth tapping in that Oyster card every so often, when the places you need to go are not all that close. Like Little Venice. I mean, yes. It only took a little over an hour to get here. But not walking here on a warm and muggy day would have meant that I didn't turn up all sweaty and gross. Sorry about that.
But I'm here, at least. Outside the Bridge House. Home of the Canal Cafe Theatre. My second pub theatre in as many days.
And I'm back on the Camden Fringe fest trail again. Which I am most grateful for as I was a little bit unsure of this place. Their website claims they're a member-only theatre. I don't know exactly what that means, but there seems to be a charge attached to the first ticket that you buy. That gets you a membership card. Valid for a year. And while one pound fifty isn't all that much, and I do rather like the idea of owning a cute little membership card, I'm not going to be coming back here. Not before next year anyway. So, I am very happy that through the miracle of fringe theatre, I get to bypass all that nonsense and get straight in there.
Although, now that I'm standing here, I realise I should have probably done the whole membership thing. So much for my investigative approach to exploring London theatres.
Eh. Someone else can write a blog post about it.
They probably already have.
Anyway, too late to do anything about it now. I'm going in.
It's a nice looking pub. All white stucco frontage. And right next to the bridge going over the canal. Explaining the names of both the theatre and the pub.
There's a little courtyard garden. Very little. But it's lined with a rainbow of blooming floorboxes and is packed full of people sitting behind the bars of the smart iron railing.
There's a sign on the glass pane over the door. "Entrance to the Canal Cafe Theatre and Bar." So at least I know I'm in the right place.
Passing through the door I go from stucco-fronted sophistication to poster-ridden fringe venue.
The walls are covered in posters and flyers, and chalkboard giving a rundown of everything that's on.
Also the claim that the theatre is "Home to the world's longest running sketch show." Sounds like great fun, but it's on at 9.30pm, which is well past my bedtime, so I'm never going to see it.
There's a man in the foyer and he smiles as I come in.
"Box office?" I ask.
He steps aside revealing another bloke, this one tucked up inside of the cupboard underneath the stairs, like Little Venice's answer to Harry Potter.
I give him my name and he looks over his list. "One ticket?"
Yup. Just me on my lonesome. As ever.
Theatrical marathons as not a way to make friends. Or even keep friends...
"We'll be opening in about ten minutes," he says, handing me an admission pass from the box. "Take a drink because it gets warm up there."
My eyebrows shoot up. "Greaattt," I say, my keenness levels dropping fast. I've seen what happens when pub theatre's get warm. It's not fun.
Knowing what I know, and seeing what I've seen, you'd think I'd follow his advice and get a drink.
But I'm a stingy fucker, and still smarting from the money I dropped at Opera Holland Park, so I head out to the courtyard instead, and find a posing table to lean against and catch what little breeze I can.
The sun is still up and the bants-game is strong out here.
I let my attention wander while proofreading a blog-post, listening in to all the chatter going on around me.
I love listening to theatre chatter. Especially fringe theatre chatter. It's so marvellously unself aware of all the gossip being laid down in public.
A woman just a few feet away from me is an actor, and she is bringing stories to her table.
Stories that I will not be repeating.
"How long does it take to pick up tickets?" she adds, presumably realising that the show tonight is not about her.
"No time at all," says one of her attentive audience members.
"Like a minute, or...?”
They debate back and forth on the length of time it takes to give your name at box office. Long enough to have actually gone inside, given a name, and got an admission pass. Three times over.
She eventually decides to stop with this procrastination and actually get her ticket. Returning all of thirty seconds later.
"There's no upstairs bar," she announces, scandalised, on her return. "Maybe we should get drinks now?"
Her group agree that drinks now is a good idea.
"I know someone in the play," she says. "So afterwards I'll have to say hello, tell them it was fantastic... So... maybe drink first?"
For once I'm not annoyed to be in an audience of people who know the cast. Fuck. This level of cynicism is feeding my soul with pure hell-grown ambrosia.
The group head back in. Presumably to gain liquid-enthusiasm from the bar.
I join the queue that is heading up the stairs, as apparently, the house has opened without my noticing.
There's a ticket checker at the top, and I give her my admission pass.
"Would you like a programme?" she says, holding out a folded piece of paper.
You bet I would.
"Sit anywhere you like," she offers, with a wave of her hand.
I go in.
Gosh. Cabaret style. Again. That's two pub theatres in a row with it.
Not quite as pleasing as the set up at RamJam. The tables are plasticky and red instead of the mismatched wood over at Kingston. It's also a bit more on the squishy side here.
And as we know, there's no bar up here. So, we won't be getting table service. Someone that I've never understood when combined with this setup. Like seriously, what's the point of all these tables if you aren't going to bring me a drink?
No matter. I have more pressing things to think on. Like, where am I going to sit?
While the tables are taking up most of the room, there seems to be a raised section at the back with a more traditional format. With chairs set out in rows. I could sit there. I should sit there, really, considering that I'm here alone. Leave the tables to the groups.
But like... I'm here to get the full Canal Cafe experience. And I'm an arse.
So I take one of the tables at the back.
It's a double table. Two of them pushed together. Because that's the type of mood I'm in right now.
But as the theatre begins to fill up, and the tables get claimed, a couple of people join me at mine. And that's fine. I guess.
Across the room, I hear the tiny chink of spoon against saucer. I look over a see a man with a literal teapot and teacup, set down neatly on a tray. He even has an itty bitty milk jug sat on one side.
The Canal Cafe may not have a bar up here, but they sure as hell are living up to their name.
I'm finally seeing the purpose of the cabaret tables.
It's not for the wine glasses (although the table next to me appears to have their bottle cooling in an actual ice bucket right now). Oh no. It's for cream teas and theatre. I mean, granted, there are no scones on his tray. At least none that I can see. But the potential is there. I've always been fairly against the idea of mixing tea with theatre. I think it's weird. But I suspect what really puts me off is the sight of lines of people struggling with the samovar and then not being able to figure out what to do with their cup. This tray thing is a game-changer.
"Sorry," says the ticket checker, grabbing the back of one of the spare chairs at my table. "I've just got two coming up who need to sit here."
And sure enough, two people come into the theatre and take the two spare chairs.
I appear to now be sitting at the table of misfit toys. A raggle-taggle bunch made up of the friendless, and the watchless.
As I wait for the show to kick-off, I have a look at the programme. Well, we know it's a freesheet. But I appreciate the effort. Pity it didn't go as far as running off a test copy, because once again we're seeing the dreaded "forgot to click the flip-on-short-edge checkbox." No matter. I like reading things upside down.
It's an interesting freesheet actually. The biographies of characters are mixed in with the cast, so there's a brief moment when you're left wondering which drama school Mary the Maid went to, or what position the actor Laura Gamble had in the royal household. As for the writer of Brandy, Matthew Davies, he has forgone all attempts at a biography and instead spends a solid paragraph telling us that Queen Anne has been forgotten to British history. Yes, that Queen. The one which Saint Olivia Colman won an Oscar for playing only last year. That Queen Anne. Okay, Matthew Davies. You do you, I suppose. Don't let Hollywood get in the way of a neglected-narrative narrative.
The ticket checker closes the curtain, blocking the bright light from the stairwell, and then disappears into the tech booth. Gosh. I wonder if she also has to serve the tea.
As the lights dim, a woman sitting a table ahead of me loudly shifts her chair over to the right, blocking the view of someone at my table. I'm outraged on behalf of the misfits, but not for long. Because the play is beginning, and there is some serious big-dress action going on over there on stage.
The 18th-century really knew how to fashion. The silks. The panniers. The wigs!
Bring back petticoats, that's what I say. Even better, crinolines.
Might make getting on the tube a bit awkward, but just think of the personal space we'd gain. Rando strangers wouldn't be able to get within ten feet before bumping their ankles against the metal hoops hidden under our skirts.
Light floods into the theatre as the curtains are pulled back one more. The box officer is there, with two latecomers. He indicates they should go in, and as soon as they step in from the landing, he closes the curtain behind them, sealing them in with us.
They stand there, at the side of the room, blinking in the darkness, looking around as they try to locate spare seats.
Sensing their trauma, the ticket checker, or should I say the tech person, emerges from her box and leads them both to the back.
There's a small cry as one of them fails to find her seat. But they must have settled, because the tech person returns to her box, and I hear no more signs of distress from the back.
Although, I might be feeling a little bit of it myself. Only a few minutes in, and I'm already seeing the problem with this play. The stage may be raised, but not quite enough to lift the bed-bound Queen Anne into visibility about all the crowded heads of those sitting around tables.
I lean back against the wall, finding a slither of sight-line that cuts across the room, and there I stay.
But as Mary the Maid and Queen Anne dismiss each other, I'm startled as the curtains up once more. This time it is not the box officer standing on the other side. The silhouette is altogether more dramatic.
There are panniers. Wide ones.
It's Sarah Churchill. Or rather Zoe Teverson in the role of Churchill. As played by Rachel Weisz in that film we're all supposed to have collectively forgotten.
She stalks through the tables towards to stage, paying the audience as little mind as if we were peasants clinging to the bottom of her shoe.
Her great height has her souring after the heads of the audience. As she bends down to pour herself a glass of brandy, I realise this whole arrangement was a clever directorial decision. By blocking the view, our attention is fully diverted towards Churchill. Just as every head in Queen Anne's court must be have turned towards this self-made woman.
As the house lights go up, and the tech person emerges from her booth to pull open the curtain, there is a distinct lack of movement towards the exit. This is something I've noticed about fringe theatre. No one likes leaving.
Well, screw this, I'm going home.
I stomp my way down the stairs, followed by precisely no one.
Reaching the foyer once more, I turn around for one last look.
Still not sure about that sketch show, but I think I could be tempted to fork out one pound fifty on a membership card in order to come back. If only to sample the cream teas.