I’m going to like this place.
That was my thought the second I walked through the door of the Arcola.
I don’t know what it was that provoked such a strong reaction. Perhaps it was the pink coloured light that blazed out over the door. Or the fact that it was an easy walk from my work. Or maybe that being so close to an overground station, my journey home was going to be a cinch. The staff, bustling around in their branded aprons, demonstrating open friendliness and scary efficiency in equal measure, might have contributed to my thought process. The £1 playtext sale must have helped. And the huge yellow sign over box office proclaiming “Tickets” which is exactly the no-nonsense, anti-jargon, stance that I can get behind. But between you and me, I think it was the bench.
There, slunk low, just inside the foyer door, was a long wooden bench. Exactly the sort you would find in a school gymnasium. It conjured up memories of being five years old and doing bunny hops along the full length. Bunny hops were my absolute favourite thing to do in gym. Leaping about from one side to the other, while gripping onto the surface of the bench for support. The feeling of flying as you soared over the bench. The power in your arms as they take your full weight for that fraction of a second. It doesn’t get much better than that. Plus, no one is throwing anything at you and expecting you to catch it.
"Is this for Daughter-In-Law?” asked the woman at box office (or “Tickets”) as I gave my name.
I looked around. There, to my left was a sign. “Studio 1.”
Shit on a cracker.
The Arcola has more than one theatre.
The warm glow that had been sitting in my stomach at the sight of the bench wavered. I had another theatre that I needed to add to the list. 251 theatres in London. 252 now. And this was only number 25.
I managed to fight through the pain and indicate that yes, I was there for Daughter-In-Law.
She glanced at the ticket.
"Now you'll have to go outside and back in. There’ll be a bell when it's time. I'm afraid no drinks are allowed in these seats."
But I wasn’t paying attention.
252 theatres. I wasn’t even a tenth of the way through my marathon and I’d just found out that another mile was being tagged onto the end.
I could feel myself boarding the Anxiety Express. I needed to think nice calming thoughts.
Tickets (real tickets). Programmes with full-page photography…
"I think I ordered a programme?" I posed it as a question, but I definitely recalled seeing programmes for sale during the online booking process and I couldn’t imagine not sticking one in my basket.
"Let me check," she said.
"I mean, I might not have,” I prattled on, suddenly starting to doubt myself. “But I feel very strongly that I did."
It was still early, so I took myself and my programme over to the bunny-hop bench and had a flick through (really good by the way. An absolute bargain at only £2 online. £3 at the theatre. Lovely paper-stock. Interesting articles. Recommended).
As I stood, reading about D.H. Lawrence’s use of dialect, something jabbed at my leg. I tried to swat it away with my foot, but only succeeded in stubbing my toe. I looked down, fearing some creepy-crawly had got my leg.
A massive splinter was sticking out and clawing at the back of my calf.
The bunny-hop bench had betrayed me.
I felt less kindly to it after that.
I decided to go for a wander.
The bar looked nice. But busy.
And on the wall… oh bliss… oh rapture.
Free for the taking.
Good lord. Programmes, real tickets and free cast sheets? Arcola, you spoil me, you really do.
See? I couldn't stay mad at this place for long.
Soon enough, the theatre bell rang as promised and people began to saunter out.
I busied myself tucking my cast sheet away in my bag, and by the time I looked up again, the door was banging shut after the last person had left.
I hurried after, heading back out into the street, rounded the corner and headed for the brightly lit door and the other end of the building.
Hmm. That didn’t look right.
Where did the lady on box office say I was supposed to go again? I hadn’t been paying attention.
This was going to be another The Wrong Door situation again, wasn’t it?
The Anxiety Train going full speed by this point. I backtracked. I’ll just go back inside, and ask, I told myself. Like a normal, functioning adult. It’s fine. It’s all fine. There’s plenty of time. No need to stress.
I didn't make it that far.
Just as I was about to head through the main door, I spotted another one. It was narrow. Barely a slither in the stonework, but there was no question, this was The Right Door.
I must admit, I'd been a little worried about what sort of seat I'd get. Usually I just buy the cheapest and hope for the best. But this time, I levelled up. 15 quid for a value ticket instead of a ten pound restricted view one. I prayed to the theatre gods that it was worth it.
After making almost the entire length of my row stand up to let me past, I made it to my seat it the front row of the balcony.
There was a pillar in front of me, but so narrow I forgot it was there within minutes.
What I didn't forget was the cold.
Eighty minutes is a long first act at the best of times, but when you're stuck in your seat, shivering, it can feel like an eternity.
I thanked the theatre gods that I had remembered to back my shoe grips in my Theatre Survival Kit that morning. The pavements were bound to be icy by the time we got out of there.
Don't get excited. My Theatre Survival Kit, such as it is, is mainly composed of whatever crap I remember to shove in my bag to help me get through these very long days. Snacks and... well, mainly snacks. But also the aforementioned shoe grips on icy days, a folding fan for warm ones, and cough sweets all year.
Speaking of cough sweets... I reached into my bag. I've had a cough since Christmas, one that refuses to go away. It's always made worse when I'm stuck in confined spaces. Like lifts, or the tube, or theatres. I could already feel a small niggle starting at the back of my throat and...Shit. No cough sweets. I had meant to pop out over lunch and restock but I'd... forgotten.
I stuck my hand right down to the bottom of my bag, past my wallet, my book, my Tupperware and shoe grips, and explored the slightly sticky base, feeling in between the empty wrappers and forgotten receipts.
Ew, when was the last time I cleaned this thing out?
After much scrabbling around I found one, lonely, cough sweet. A little bit dusty from accumulated bag debris, but by that point I would have sucked on the contents of my hoover bag if it promised some relief.
This play better be worth it, was all I could think at that point.
How wrong of me to doubt them.
I should have known the Arcola wouldn't do me wrong.
The first act flew past. As did the second. And I didn't cough once, well... not until the curtain call when I suddenly remembered about my tickely throat.
Now, Arcola. You need to package this shiz. You and me. We can make a mint. Or rather... a cough sweet (sorry). Arcola's Awesome Cough Remedy: two and a half hours of relief - guaranteed! As approved by the overtired theatre-marathoners of London.
Call me, yeah?