Back in Peckham again tonight. I honestly don’t know what I did in life to deserve this.
It’s not Peckham itself, you understand. I don’t have any ill-feelings towards the place. Or any good feelings for that matter. I haven’t been enough to have formed any sort of opinion. I am Peckham agonistic, one might say.
No, what I harbour my annoyance towards, is the transport. My gawd. Waiting on platform two at Canada Water for a train that never comes, sweltering away without even the distraction of wifi… I cannot. I cannot. And I will not, ever again. Not once this marathon is over anyway.
For now, I must suffer through.
At least my next venue is right next to the station. I barely have to trip across the road to get there. 133 Rye Lane. Better known as the CLF Art Cafe. Or the Bussey Building. I think that’s what most people call it.
Half the building is hidden behind hoarding, but there’s a poster stuck outside showing me that I’m in the right place.
I head through the door and find myself in some sort of industrial-looking corridor. With bare pipes running along the wall, and chip-board ramps on the floor.
I worry that I might have accidentally walked into some sort of sweatshop, but no – there’s bunting strung up overhead. And one this this marathon has told me: theatres fucking love bunting. This has to be the place.
“Hello!” says a very friendly voice.
I look up. It’s my co-worker. Blimey. Okay.
“You don’t live round here, do you?” she asks.
“God no,” I reply, a touch too venomously. I try to recover. “I’m here for a show,” I say, pointing down the corridor to what I hope is the location of the theatre. “Such a journey to get here…”
“Is it?” She pauses. “You didn’t come here via Farringdon did you?”
“No. Should I have done?”
“The secret is the Thameslink.”
I groan. I fucking hate the Thameslink. “I fucking hate the Thameslink.”
“It’s better when you learn the train times.”
Yes, I suppose it must be.
We part. Her to go home. Me to plunge further down this corridor.
I emerge on the other side in a small courtyard. Surrounded on all four sides by high brick walls, painted with not unattractive graffiti. I’ll admit, Peckham is a little bit cool. You don’t get this kind of location-setting in Finchley.
The door directly opposite has a sheet of paper pinned to the frame, with details of the play I’m seeing this evening. So, it looks like I’m in the right place. I go in, and immediately find myself in a stairwell.
With nowhere to go but up, I start climbing.
One floor. Then another. Then another. Turning and turning as I climb higher and higher.
And then I stop.
There’s a chain blocking my path.
“Box Office opens at 7.15pm,” it says.
It’s ten past now.
A young man in hipster glasses appears from a side door.
“You’re here for…?” he asks, his words trailing off.
“Portents,” I tell him.
“Portents.” He nods. “It’ll open in about five munutes, the bar’s through there if you want to get a drink.”
I don’t particularly want a drink, but I follow his suggestion all the same.
The bar looks like it has a day job as a performance space. There’s a massive stage down the other end. It’s dark. Candles set on top the three tables barely punctuate the gloom. It’s quiet in here. Very quiet. There’s no music playing, and the two staff members behind the bar are whispering too each other as if trying to avoid breaking the very specific atmosphere.
The floor is bare concrete. The ceiling a mass of wiring.
But there are three industrial size fans and they are blasting out one hell of a breeze.
I stand against the wall, enjoying the fiercely blowing fans and try not to creep out the bar staff with my presence. I can’t help but think I’m the cause of all this quiet.
I check my phone. Five minutes has passed. It must be time to go in.
But when I head back towards the stairwell, the chain is still very much in place.
I don’t want to go back to the bar.
I think I might sit in the courtyard for a while, but there’s someone here. A woman.
“Is there a show on now?” she asks.
I hold up my hands. “Sorry, I don’t work here.”
The young man with the glasses does though, and he’s appeared just in time.
“Was there a show here earlier?” she asks him. “My son said he was here but I can’t find him…”
Leaving this anxious woman in the young man’s no doubt very capable hands, I go down the stairs. But there’s someone coming up the other way. And she doesn’t appear to have lost a child.
She stops. “Are you here for the theatre?” she asks me.
“Yeah,” I tell her, hanging back on the landing.
She sighs deeply. I feel she’s been holding that breath for a long time. “I’ve been everywhere!” she says. “All around.” She circles her arm to indicate the scope of her travels.
“It’s a confusing place,” I say.
“I went in the other building.”
I don’t know what other building she means, but I nod sympathetically all the same.
She passes me, just as hipster glasses pulls aside the chain. The box office, it seems, it now open.
My new friend doubles back. “We can go up!” she tells me.
I follow her, and the pair of us trudge our way up the stairs.
And more stairs.
And more stairs.
She points. “Even more stairs!” she laughs.
There are a lot of stairs.
We turn one final corner, and there it is. The CLF Theatre. I know because there’s a sign, inscribed in white against a very red wall. The same colour as my face right now.
Positioned outside, there’s a small desk. And the person who must be our box officer for the evening is sat behind it.
My friend goes first, but when she has trouble looking up the confirmation email for her booking, she waves me forward.
“The surname’s Smiles?” I say.
“No, I see you!” says the box officer, finding me at the end of a very short list. “Have you got the reference?” she asks.
Gosh. That’s a first.
I pull out my phone and bring up the email. I find the reference. That’s a lot of numbers and letters. “Um, it’s very long,” I say, turning around my phone so she can see the screen.
“That’s perfect,” she tells me. “I just wanted to confirm the booking.”
Okay. Bit intense. I mean, we’re not exactly at Hamilton right now. Usually box offices just ask for a first name. Or the postcode if they’re really swanky. But okay.
My new friend steps forward. She’s found her email. And she gets a bright yellow wristband for her troubles.
Huh. I didn’t get a wristband. I want a wristband!
“Feel free to head in when you’re ready,” says the box officer.
Neither of us move. I don’t know about you, but sitting in an empty venue, by myself, really creeps me out. It’s even worse than being in a bar by yourself. The bar staff can at least whisper to each other. In a theatre, a small theatre especially, it’s just you and the tech person. And neither of you are supposed to talk to the other.
Two more people arrive. One of them is carrying a guitar case.
“Can I have a wristband?” he asks, after purchasing his ticket.
“These are for people booking the double bill,” the box officer explains.
Fine. That explains it. I don’t want a wristband then.
The boy with the guitar is interested though. “How much is the double bill?”
The box officer grabs a flyer to check. “Fifteen pounds,” she tells him.
He thinks about this. “if I were to decide I want to stay after the show, could I just pay the extra five pounds?”
The box officer smiles. “Don’t worry,” she says. “I’ll remember you.”
Not surprising, as the boy with the guitar turns out to be the chattiest person in the world, and I soon find out that he knows someone in the show, is a student, likes the box officer’s earrings, and that the box officer is not actually a box officer. She runs the theatre in Edinburgh that this show is touring to.
“You can go in by the way,” says the box officer who isn’t actually a box officer.
None of us move.
“No one wants to be the first,” I say.
The boy picks up the guitar. “I’ll go,” he announces and leads his friend through the door.
I shrug. “Alright then, I’m going in,” I say. And the four of us head into the theatre.
It’s dark in here. Darker than the bar even. Mainly because there’s a light rigged over the stage to glare into the eyes of the audience. But as I adjust to the dimness, I begin to make things out. Rows of chairs facing a floor level staff.
A wooden floor.
Right in the middle, there’s a pillar, with more dotted around, propping up the ceiling.
It’s like having a theatre set up in your neighbour’s attic.
We take our seats, all avoiding the front row. Not that it’ll make much difference. Not when there are only four of us.
My friend leans over the aisle to me. “What time does it start?” she asks. “I thought it was 7.30pm”
“Yeah, I think they’re waiting for people to turn up.”
“Like the performers, or…” she turns around to look at the non-existent audience. “or us?”
Good question. I'd meant the audience, but who knows. Perhaps the cast had done a runner.
The doors close, and the box officer (who isn’t a box officer) slips in, taking a seat at the back.
The young man with the hipster glasses reappears. He’s introducing the show. “Welcome, to all…” his eyes scan the empty seats. “Five of you.”
But the play starts and the performers go on undaunted, apart from their alarming tendency to catch eyes. Not helped by the whole thing being performed from behind a set of lecturns. I swear I spend a whole five minutes locked in a staring contest with one if them.
And they’re all so young. That combined with the all black costumes. and the music stand style lecturns, and I feel like i’ve stumbled into the rehearsal for a school choir. Except they’re busy talking about secret broadcasts, lizard people, and aliens.
Not sure I have any idea what this play actually is, but it’s interesting enough, even if it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. Although their leaving out of the Facebook plot to storm Area 51 in their run down of conspiracy theories doesn’t make it all feel a bit… out of touch.
Whatever. I clap enthusiastically enough when they’re done. You’ve got to admire their gumption if nothing else.
I reach down and grab my bag.
“Are you staying for the next show?” my new friend asks from across the aisle.
“No, one play is enough for me in one night...” Turns out even I have my limits.
She nods and turns away. Somehow I don’t think she wants to be my friend anymore.