"Ten minutes? Okay, we have to go pick up our tickets anyway," I tell the hostess in Honest Burger.
When she offers us the tablet to put a phone number into, Sarah grabs it to do then honours. Probably for the best. I'm not all that good with phone numbers. Or tablets for that matter. There's a reason one of us works in print and the other in digital.
Yup, I've managed to drag another of my poor coworkers with me on a marathon outing. I've begun to suspect that they are all taking it in turns to accompany me. Like some kind of corporate social responsibility activity that everyone needs to take part in.
For me, it's more a matter of helping them understand why I'm such a grumpy arsehole in the office.
We nip across Festival Terrace and slip in through the side door to the Southbank Centre.
It's busy. There's a queue over at the box office.
I keep on walking.
"I think we have to go over to the other building," I say, hoping that we do, actually, have to go over to the other building, and I'm not just leading my poor colleague on a nice tour of the place.
Through the building, out the main doors, and past the fountains, dry now that summer is very much over.
The Purcell Room shares an entrance with the Queen Elizabeth Hall. I know this because on the signs over the door it says “Queen Elizabeth Hall,” and “Purcell Room.” What I'm kinda banking on is that they also share a box office.
"The surname's Smiles?" I say to the box officer. "... for the Purcell Room?"
He pulls the Ss from the fancy wooden ticket box. "Maxine?" he says, reading the ticket sitting right on the top.
"Oo. First in the pile," I coo, as if that makes me special in any way. But you know, with a surname beginning with S, it isn't often that I get to be first. So, I'm taking it.
Sarah laughs. Not sure if it's a laughing-with or laughing-at type of laugh, and I decide it's probably best not to ask.
We leave, making our way back towards the Southbank Centre proper.
"We should find somewhere to sit," I say, looking around. There is very clearly no where to sit in this place.
"Shall we try outside?" suggests Sarah.
So we do.
"What about here?" I say pointing to a red bench.
Sarah looks at it.
The seat is curved like a smile, and is very clearly not designed to be sat on.
"How about over here," she says, walking towards a concrete bench that is actually a bench, and not an art installation.
I follow on meekly behind.
As Sarah checks her phone to see if the Honest lady has messaged us, a line of strange apparitions float past us. Dressed in red. Their arms extended in a gesture of supplication.
"Oh my gawd! It's the Red Brigade!" I say excitedly.
"The Red Brigade," I repeat, as if I'd known about them forever and hadn't just read an article about them yesterday. "They're a performance art group that attach themselves to protests. They're hanging out with Extinction Rebellion at the moment."
"Right... that's cool... Shall we go check on our table? It's been ages."
I get up and skitter after Sarah as she heads back to Honest.
The Honest lady comes over. "I messaged you ages ago!" she says. My heart sinks. I really needed a burger. "Don't worry. I refused to give your table away. This way."
So we order burgers. And chips. And onion rings. Okay, I order onion rings. And... "oh my god, I was going to ask if you wanted a drink-drink. But they have milkshakes!"
So I order a milkshake.
"The burger, would you like that medium?" asks our waiter.
"Well done," I say, hurriedly. "Sorry, I'm not classy."
Across the table, Sarah smirks.
"Yeah, I love food, but I can't pretend to be a foodie. I'm tacky as fuck.”
"I'm learning so much about you tonight, Max."
Yeah, like the fact that flagging buses gives me anxiety and I'm a petty-arse bitch. She's never going to go out with me again.
At least the chips are good. So good that I don't even panic about how little time we have until I look at my phone and see that the show is starting in four minutes.
We've got to go.
Like, properly raining.
Like, tipping it down raining.
No time for an umbrella. We need to run.
"How are you running so fast?" shouts Sarah from behind me as I slide into the side door of the Southbank Centre.
"I have longer legs than you," I shout back. It's my one and only chance for my five foot three arse to say that to anyone, and I’m not about to let that opportunity go to waste.
We run through the foyers, and back out the front door. I reach into my bag and grab my umbrella, holding it out for Sarah.
"You take this, I need to go ahead and get a photo."
"Now? Do it afterwards!" shouts Sarah through the downpour, but I'm already off, crashing across the flooded terrace.
There's so much water on the ground it's slopping in through the doors, and we have to jump over the puddle to get inside.
"My feet are soaked!" says Sarah.
Mine are too. But there's no time to think of that.
I stop in the main foyer and look around. "I have no idea where we go from here," I admit.
"Let's ask," suggests Sarah, going off to talk to one of the welcome deskers.
Turns out the Purcell Room is over on the far side. Right at the back.
"Will it freak you out if I run to the loo?" asks Sarah.
I mean, yes it absolutely will. But I can pretend I won't.
"Give me my ticket, just in case," she says,
"Do you mind if I go in?" I ask as I rip a ticket off the ream.
"No. You have to," she says, making a dash for it.
It's true. I do have to.
The massive doorway to the Purcell Room is marked with a smart sign saying Purcell Room.
A queue snakes it's way out into the foyer.
There's a man giving out freesheets.
"Can I get one of those," I ask.
"Are you here for Oona Doherty?" he asks, immediately clocking that I am not there for Oona Doherty.
"No, the Purcell Room?" I say. I have no idea what I'm here to see. Something dancey. I think.
Turns out there's a door to the Queen Elizabeth Hall is round here too, and I'm trying to nab myself the wrong freesheet.
I make my way to the front of the queue.
"First staircase up," says the ticket checker handing me a freesheet. The right one this time.
"Negative Space by Reckless Sleepers," it says.
That answers one question at least.
Inside and up the first staircase.
It's like a mini Queen Elizabeth Hall in here. Same seating. Same walls. Just a whole lot smaller.
The emergency exit over on the other side has extra messaging built in: Not to foyer.
Customised signage. This is a fancy joint alright.
Up on stage, the cast is already in place, leaning against the walls of a boxy white room.
I have a quick look at the freesheet.
The note on the back seems to have been written with the assumption that we're all fans of a work called Schrodinger. Which, considering I've never heard of Shrodinger, it's making it a tough read. Apparently, this piece is the exact opposite. So, presumably, the cat hasn't been poisoned, is out of the box, and is busy scratching the experimenter's eyes out.
I like it already.
"It looked way more sold out online," she says, indicating the empty seats on the side.
"I think they kept them offsale," I tell her. "Because of the walls of the set. The ones at the back were only a tenner because they are restricted view. But those ones at the front must be really really restricted."
We both look at the set, with its chunky walls taking up a very narrow area right in the middle of the stage.
"Maxxxxx.... this is why you're the blogger! I would never have thought of that."
Nah. It's just Sarah lives a normal life with normal things to think about. Do you know how hard it was to pin her down to a date to go to the theatre? Stupid hard. There was a waiting list of people queueing up for her attention. I'm not even kidding. Sarah has friends. Imagine what that's like...
"Wait," says Sarah, looking at me properly for the first time. "Are those your glasses?”
Ah. Yes. I may have got my specs out while she was in the loo.
"Yeah... I only wear them for shows."
Yeah. Really. And now that I hear myself say it, it does sound rather weird. I should be wearing them all the time. But like... I'm vain, so...?
The ushers close the doors and slip into the front row. Right on the side. I hope they can see from where they are. It'd be awful spending the whole show staring at a wall.
The audience hushes itself into silence.
We all look at the cast.
The cast looks at us right back.
It's like we're all waiting for someone to make the first move.
It's the cast who break first.
Trapdoors open. Heads pop out.
The auditorium doors creek open and the latecomers are brought in. All sat in the empty seats by the side. The proverbial naughty step for theatre-goers.
Up on stage, a game of wall-touching starts.
Hammers are wielded. And then dropped.
And then the destruction starts.
"Jesus," breathes Sarah as the hammer plunges into the plasterboard wall.
She's not the only one. Shocked murmurs and nervous laughter eeks its way around the auditorium. I jump in my seat more than once.
There's no music. No dialogue. Nothing to hide our giggling shame.
As the walls start imploding, the exclamations grow.
"Oh my gawd!" winces Sarah as someone drops backwards through a wall.
An hour later, it's over.
"I really enjoyed that," I say, still clapping as the cast disappear offstage.
"Me too! It was really good."
A cast member reappears, clasping his hands and waiting for us all to redirect our attention back to the stage. "We're just going to take ten or fifteen minutes to... wind down, and then do a bit of a Q and A," he tells us. "So if you have any questions, we'll be back after we've had ten minutes to... calm down."
"The only question I have is whether I can have a go with the hammer," I say.
It did look very therapeutic. And it's not like they'll be getting much use out of that plasterboard now. It's shot to shit.
I race towards the stage to get a photo of what is left of the set. A line builds up next to me of audience members doing the exact same thing.
"Here's a good angle," I tell Sarah, just knowing she'll want a pic, being the fancy photographer she is.
We both get our photos. Me for the blog. Her for the 'gram.
It's time to leave.
"You know," I muse as we head back out into the foyer. "It made me think that the perfect man is one who gives you a flower, hugs you when things are getting intense, and then lets you push him right through a wall."
"That's so true," sighs Sarah.
And with that in mind, it's time to go, before the whole place gets flooded out.