At least there was cake...

There aren’t many people out and about this early on a Saturday morning.

Most sensible people are still tucked up in bed, or perhaps if they are real go-getters, they’ve managed to stagger downstairs in search of tea, and perhaps toast.

They’re not sitting on a tube on their way to the opposite end of London.

They’re not like me.

But hey, sensible people don’t go in for theatre marathons. They’re missing out.

I mean, not on sleep. Or hot dinners. Or that James Graham Brexit show that I still haven’t seen. Or spending time with people that love them.

They’re not missing out on any of those things.

But they are missing out on that super-charged feeling that comes from seeing too much theatre crammed into a very short space of time, with all your emotions fizzing away just under your skin so strongly that you almost crackle as you walk.

Believe me, it’s worth it.

And I’m not just saying that to make you feel jealous. I’m saying it in order to convince myself.

It’s not working.

I miss sleep.

At least I had the carriage to myself. And a chance to read. Which is almost as good as sleep.

That was, until two young lads hopped on. I call them lads because that’s what they were. A bit lary. Still obviously drunk from the night before. And very loud.

“Oof, fuck man,” said one as he collapsed into a seat.

“Fuck man,” agreed the other.

“Fucking Stockwell,” continued the first.

“Where the fucking fuck is fucking Stockwell?”

I sympathised. I’ve had similar feelings about West Norwood recently.

“Excuse me, Miss,” said one, leaning so far forward that his shadow fell over my book. He was talking to me.

I looked up.

“Do you know where Stockwell is?”

Now I don’t react well to geography quizzes. We all know that the whole knowing-where-places-are isn’t exactly my forte. Especially early on a Saturday morning. I do however know that Stockwell is on the Northern Line, and we were rapidly approaching it.

“Sorry,” I said, not risking my small amount of Stockwell-knowledge lest it lead to more complex questioning.

“Fuck me,” was the lad’s sad reply. “We’re from Margate,” he added, as if that explained everything. “And we’re trying to get back.”

“I think you need a train station for that,” I offered, as helpfully as I could.

“Yeah, but which one?”

You see? Never offer knowledge. It always leads to more questions.

“Sorry,” I said again.

“We’ve been going around for four hours.”

“That’s not what you want on a Saturday morning,” I said in lieu of anything useful to add.

“Fuck. It’s Saturday? Did you hear that? Fuck.”

“At least it’s not Sunday morning,” said his friend.

“Right. At least it’s not Sunday,” he said, just as the lady on the tannoy announced that Stockwell would be the next station.

They stumbled out onto the platform and disappeared.

I hope they got home okay.

I however, had a long day ahead of me.

First stop: Wimbledon. At the Polka Theatre for the morning show. Hence the early start.

I’m going to take a moment here to thank everyone out there who has been helping me on my mission. From those who have been linking me to theatres that I’ve missed (I swear I’ll do a recount soon, I just… can’t face upping the number of theatres I need to get to quite yet), to warning me about closures.

Today’s shout out goes to the lovely @RhianBWatts, who gave me the heads up that the famous children’s theatre, the Polka, is shutting its doors for refurbishment soon.

With day-time shows, and only a few weekends left before they went dark, I had to get there fast.

Thankfully I have a friend who lives down there who offered to meet me for pre-theatre tea and cake to help prepare me for the horrors that were sure to follow.

Pre-theatre for me, that is. Not my friend.

While Ellen is supportive of my whole marathon thing, she’s not so supportive that she was prepared to go to a kids’ show on a Saturday morning. She is one of those sensible people.

And anyway, Ellen had been to the Polka before. As a child. So was able to give me all those charming details you get from people who have a proper connection to a place. Like the tale of how she got fired from a face-painting job there when she was 12 years old.

Oh, ummm… Okay.

That was slightly less charming that I had expected.

There was also one about the sea-monster coat hooks.



It didn’t put her off walking me to the theatre though (told you she was a good friend. I rather like being walked places. Although, perhaps given my recent propensity to get lost, she felt the need to do so as some sort of civic duty. Still, I liked it. Theatres should start offering it as a service.)

While I waited at box office to pick up my ticket, Ellen went off to investigate the state of the sea-monster.

“One ticket?” asked the woman at box office, holding the single ticket with a concerned look on her face.

“Yes, just the one,” I apologised. I know how it looks. Being there. By myself. At a kids' show. On a Saturday morning.

I had thought about borrowing a child to take with me, but 1) I don't know any that are of the right age, and 2) I believe it's frowned upon to borrow children you don’t know.

And anyway, there has to be hundreds of blogs out there from people taking children to the Polka Theatre. I doubt I can offer any interesting insight beyond what is already out there. But a fully grown-adult going to a see a show made for five year olds all by herself? Now that's a blog post worth writing.

So, I’m not even going to apologise for being the creepy lady at the show.

Okay… I’m sorry for being the creepy lady at the show.

“They’ve repainted the sea-monster,” Ellen announced when we re-found each other. “It’s not as scary anymore,” she added, sounding a little annoyed by this. I can understand that. I don’t see why kids today don’t have to suffer through the nightmare fodder that we did back in the day.

After an inspection of the courtyard to see if the giant climbable cat was still there (it wasn’t) Ellen and I parted ways. From here on in, I was on my own. To watch The Wind in the Willows. By myself. In a theatre full of happy toddlers and their associated adults.

So, what is it like watching a show at the Polka, by yourself, as a grown up?

Weird. Like… super weird.

But not unpleasant.

I actually really enjoyed the show. There were puppets and singing and jokes. And the programmes are only three quid, and packed with fun activities (how to make a water bottle flower!) and facts after animals (did you know that moles are actually super arsey twats with poisonous spit? I love them).

But I would say there are two things I don’t like about the Polka. Number one - it was really fucking cold. Like seriously, freezing. And number two - the rake is terrible. I noticed this because of how low I had to slink in my seat in order to hide my shame at being an unaccompanied adult. So low I was almost child size. I don’t think the theatre designers thought this one through…

But perhaps that will be fixed in the refurbishment.

Oh, and I was handed a prop during the show. The battery to Mr Toad’s car. I had to pass it along the line so that poor Mr Toad couldn’t get it. So mean.

That’s three things I don’t like about the Polka.

Following the show, there was a chance to take a tour of the theatre. Which was something I was tempted to do. For ghost-hunting reasons.

12 days into my marathon, and I still hadn’t seen a theatre ghost. Surely, lucky theatre number 13 would be the one!

Now I know what you’re thinking: Maxine, you’re at the Polka. Not the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. You’re going about this all wrong. You’re not going to find a ghost in the playroom.

But it is you who is wrong, my friend.

The Polka does have a ghost. And I have it on no greater authority that the Polka’s twitter feed.

But once again, the ghosts failed to introduce themselves to me. I was left spurned, and alone, once again.

Four things. Four things I dislike about the Polka.

Rude ghosts.

Well, I didn’t want to see them anyway. Besides, I had somewhere else to be. A matinee in east London.

“Another theatre?” I hear you cry. “But this blog post is already far too long!”

I know. I’m sorry. But we can do this. Together. Just stick with me for a few more words. I swear I’ll keep it as short as I can.

Right, so instead of spending my afternoon ghost-hunting, I was on the DLR. Which I think we can all agree is also pretty good. Riding the DLR a rare pleasure for me, even if the rollercoaster movement of the trains make me feel a bit sick. What with the ground sinking down below you as you pass between skyscrapers. Makes my stomach go all funny.

After the trauma of trying to find The Yard yesterday, I made sure to read The Space’s ‘how to get here’ instructions very carefully. And I know I promised, not three paragraphs ago, that I was going to be brief, but let’s just press pause on this post for one second while I rhapsodise about their directions because they are brilliant. Well written. Clear. Concise (unlike me). Just perfect.

They carried me through right from the train (not just the station, the actual effin’ train), along the platform, up the stairs, down the wall, around the corner and right to the door of the theatre (opposite the Rose Food and Wine, donchaknow). To whoever wrote them, I give my heartfelt thanks. There was not a single moment in my journey where I felt lost or anxious or was in any doubt that I was heading in the right direction. Whoever you are, you are perfect and I appreciate you.

Right, where was I? Apart from not getting lost I mean.

The Space. Okay.

The Space is in a converted church, with the tiniest foyer in the world. I had to step in and step out more than once as people tried to get past from inside the theatre in order to head up the stairs. There’s really only space for one person to stand in front of the box office hatch (it really is a hatch, a tiny slither in the wall where you can just about catch a glimpse of the person sitting on the other side) and nothing else.

Once you collect your ticket, you really have to head back outside, or else spend your time sucking in your tummy and hugging the walls as everyone trying to get through instantly forms a long and powerful hatred of you.

There’s a bar round the side of the building, but I was more interested in the loos. There was no way I was using the ones on offer at the Polka, marked “Girls” and “Boys.” Ew.

Okay, there are six things I don’t like about the Polka. But that’s it.

“There’s only one toilet,” said a woman also waiting to use the facilities. “And that’s the men’s,” she added as I pushed tentatively on a door.

“Oh, right.”

It was so dark in that corridor, it was impossible to make out the signs.

We waited a few minutes. And then a few more.

Eventually the ladies freed up and I was the only one left in the queue.

Blimey, The Stage should do an expose on the loos at this place.

As matters became a little more… err… pressing, I debated using the men’s. But just as I was about to go for it I noticed there was a disabled loo just around the corner. It was empty. Thank the theatre gods.

After my trans-London journey and epic loo saga, there was no time to check out the bar. i headed straight into The Space to face my nemesis: unreserved seating.

With few options left to choose from, I was left in the worse possible option: the second row. Or one of the second rows anyway, as there were two. With seating either side of the aisle. Sat directly behind the front row - without a rake - the second row doesn’t allow much in the way of a view. But at least everyone in the audience was a grownup.

Good thing too, as the play I was seeing - Laundry - featured a sex scene and the bloody aftermath of an abortion. In an old church. Not that I’m religious. Or even Christian for that matter. But still. It certainly adds an extra frisson to the experience.

The scene where all the women are washing blood stains out of their clothes, and the lighting turns red, and the music rocks out - you could almost convince yourself that hell had risen up to claim us all.

And, I’m not sure the scene where they’re all cleaning the dead body was meant to trigger my ASMR. But it really did. It was all that hair-stroking. So relaxing.

I probably shouldn’t have admitted that. I mean, there’s wearing all black and listening to Without Temptation’s greatest hits on repeat, and then there’s being the creepy goth gal sitting in a children’s theatre all by herself… oh.

Oh well.

It was a strange day.

But at least it’s not Sunday.

The sisters of Litchfield Street

We’re off! Hail to the new year that is 2019 and good riddance to the piss-pot collection of putrid days that was 2018.

I don’t know about you, but I woke up with a deep awareness of my own mortality that I suspect was caused by the crashing realisation that I still hadn’t bought any theatre tickets. Not a single one. Not even for the matinee that I planned to attend mere hours later.

Usually I would never leave it so late to buy tickets. I’m the type of person who leaps into the box office queue as soon as they go on sale (and by that I mean the online queue. I don’t actually go to the box office. That would involve a level of human interaction that I simply can not deal with on such high-stakes days). So, I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be any room for little old me by the time that I got there.

But here’s the thing: I’d convinced myself that I wanted to day seat my first day of the marathon. And I wasn’t going to be put off by the mere fact that it was already afternoon-time and I was still in my pyjamas.

Some frantic activity involving eyeliner, washing a weird stain out of my shirt and a race across London later and I made it to Litchfield Street by 2pm.

First call: St Martins Theatre. Home of The Mousetrap. A choice I was rather pleased with. There’s something rather neat about having the first theatre in my year-long tour of London theatres be the longest-running show  around.St Martins Theatre from Litchfield Street“Are there any day tickets left by any chance?” I asked with an air of calm that impressed even myself.

You bet there were. Because no one wants to go to a matinee on new years day.

Even if you do get to overhear the cast warm up on stage as you wait at box office.

Ten minutes later, I had secured a front row seat and stepped back out into the biting cold of the West End wondering how on earth I had managed to be swindled out of £29.50 for a ticket to a show that has been running for more than double my life-span. Twenty-nine British pounds! And fifty pee! For a day seat to a weekday matinee? With tickets still available an hour before the curtains goes up? Are they serious? I still can’t get over that. That’s monstrously ruinous. I don’t think I have ever, in my life, spent so much for a theatre ticket that wasn’t… well, Hamilton, or something that provided equal bragging rights. And no offence to The Mousetrap… but, I’m was fairly certain that I wouldn’t be stepping out of the theatre with a song in my heart and an ache in my belly as I suppress the urge to rap the entire text at once.

Feeling rather woozy I stumbled down the street to my next stop. The Ambassadors Theatre. Thankfully located right next door.

“Any day seats left? By any chance?” I asked, feeling rather less certain of myself by this point.

There were. And for the considerably less heart-attack inducing £19.50.The Ambassadors Theatre from Litchfield Street until it was time to return to St Martins Theatre, lest I wander away and spend even more money.Instagram StoriesWith my ticket purchases for the day sorted, I busied myself making

It did give me the opportunity to admire all the signage around St Martins though. Did you know that The Mousetrap is the “world’s longest ever run”? Nor did I. I feel it should be talked about more.

(Incidentally, what does “world’s longest ever run” even mean? It sounds like something Eddie Izzard would do for charity. That’s an over-workshopped tag line if ever I heard one.)

I have to admit, for all my hours of prep, I went off to my first theatre trip of the year still not knowing exactly how I was going to write it up. Would I count the loos and inspect the access-friendliness of the entrance? Analyse the ease of navigating their website? Rant about the extortionate rates of booking fees nowadays? Am I supposed to have drink at the bar? Comment on their wine list? Rank the attractiveness of the ushers?

All these possibilities were considered and dismissed with rapid succession.

Instead, I headed straight over to the merch stand.

I fucking love merch. And there looked like there was some lush looking tea-towel action going on over there.

What I don’t love however, is merch queues. And the already cramped foyer at St Martins Lane was almost all queue. By my reckoning, there were at least three: the box office, the merch stand, and for the ladies’ loo. But which was which was impossible to make out, so tangled up were they.

My anxiety levels already dangerously high, I opted out of the entire ordeal and bought a programme from a conveniently located usher, who was very chipper considering it was the early afternoon post-the-new-year’s-eve before (he had a chill evening, involving cigars and had no hangover to speak of, as it turned out).

Now, kudos to The Mousetrap - programmes are only £4 and are filled with lots of tasty articles and a minimum about of ads. Speaking as a professional (no, seriously… I produce programmes for a living), I was impressed. Well worth the monies.

But even the programme wasn’t enough to distract me from the nagging thought that I should probably be doing something.

Like… taking photos maybe…?

You can probably already tell, but I’m not much of a photographer. I spent far too long trying to work out how to take pictures of the auditorium, but in the end gave up and just snapped the ceiling.

Then I realised I should probably prove I was there. So attempted some selfies which was equally unsatisying.

Note to self: remove glasses first.The domed ceiling at St Martins Theatre. What’s up there? I want to know!Now how to I get this here thingamyjig to take photos?You’ll be pleased to note that the show started shortly thereafter, saving you from any more of my attempts.

Which I suppose is my segue to telling you about the show itself.

But really… what can I say about The Mousetrap that hasn’t already been said a million times since it opened? It’s funny, and dark, and comforting in the way that all Agatha Christie’s always are. You just want to snuggle down in your seat and get cosy, knowing that you are safe while the characters battle with blizzards and each other. If you haven’t been, you definitely should. If only for the eavesdropping potential during the interval as everyone tries to work out whodunnit (the two women sitting on my right figured it out). I’d already seen it, so I was denied the pleasure of joining in, but who doesn’t love a rewatch of a murder mystery, when you can spot all the clues?

Anyway, back down the street and off to Switzerland!

The Ambassadors Theatre is actually St Martins’ sister venue, designed by the same architect. And pleasingly currently features a new play by another female playwright: Joanna Murray-Smith. Not only that, the play itself is about a female crime writer, the magnificent Patricia Highsmith. There’s more Sister, Sister action going on here than in a 90’s Nickeloden sitcom. It’s almost like I planned it… almost.

More ceiling photography followed. And more selfies. (Sorry, I swear I’ll do my best to figure this out).The royal icing ceiling at the Ambassadors TheatreCan’t take selfies. Send help.The Ambassadors is a titchy-tiny theatre. Intimate. But without the black-boxiness that usually goes along with that descriptor. It only has the one circle. With an ornate ceiling and painted a pale cream, it felt like I was sitting inside a wedding cake. Which was not an unenjoyable experience. Despite the grim look on my face (at least I remembered to remove the glasses).

I actually liked it so much I started getting angry at the idea of long running shows hogging the pretty (sorry The Mousetrap). I’d never made it to The Ambassadors before. Mainly because Stomp lived here for 15 years. I think there needs to be a limit. A show should get a maximum of two years before it’s out. I’m not saying end long runs, just keep them moving. Like a massive game of musical chairs.

That’s the platform I’m running on.

Max for Theatre President, 2020.

And I don’t want to hear any nonsense about “practicalities.”

Errr, apologies for that strange turn… on to the play - I need to insert a chef’s kiss gif here. I don’t know why, but something about a bitchy, misanthropic, hermit writer really speaks to me. The programme (another £4 wonder) is filled with fascinating facts about her and I’m totally into it. I’m not saying I want to be Patricia Highsmith when I grow up, but I wouldn’t be angry about it if I did. Except for the racism. That’s like… so not cool. And living off cans of soup. Not into that either.

A++ work to everyone involved. And at 90 mins, no interval, it really can’t be beat.

Closes on Saturday. I’m glad I caught it. You should go too.

Phew. That’s it. I’m spent.

I can’t believe I have to do this all again tomorrow. And every day. For a year.

It’s fine. It’s all perfectly fine.

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