I'm onto my next venue of the marathon and I have a bad feeling about this one. This bad feeling is based on nothing more substantial than the name, but the name is The Monkey House, and that is enough.
I don't like monkies.
I really don't like monkies.
With their creepy monkey hands and their creepy monkey toes.
Nope. Not into it.
And don't give me that spiel about them being just like people. That's the problem. People are gross too. With their creepy people hands and their creepy people toes.
Yeah, yeah. I should have just called this blog the London Theatre Misanthrope. I get it.
Perhaps that will be my next project. If I ever manage to emerge from the hermit-hole that I intend to seclude myself in come January.
Anyway, it looks like I was right because I'm at the address and there's not a theatre to be found.
I'm right here. On Seven Sisters Road. And all I see is a William Hill where there's supposed to be a theatre. I keep on walking, following the pavement around the corner, and almost walk into a group of young and cool looking people. The sort of young and cool looking people who would be up for watching a play about the Jamestown cult at 6.45pm on a Wednesday evening.
I look up, and yup, the sign over the door says "Fourth Monkey."
This must be the place.
Inside the door, perched on a chair in the tiny foyer, sat at an even tinier table, is another young and cool looking person. But this one has a pile of papers in front of her. Looks like I've found the box office.
"Hi," she says with a massive smile as soon as I walk in.
"Hello. Err, the surname's Smiles?"
"Nice name," she comments as she draws a line through it on the list.
I've been wearing this name for over three decades and it never gets old.
"Here's one of these," she says, pulling a castsheet free from the pile on the desk.
They are nice. Really nice. Full-colour headshots and printed on a heavy paper stock. It doesn't get much better than that.
"Um, where am I going?" I ask as I suddenly realise that I have no idea what lurks beyond this tiny foyer.
She points towards the door a few feet away from us.
"First floor," she says, then stops. "No. Second floor. The top floor."
I nod. "Okay. Is the house open?"
"It is, but you may have to wait in the kitchen."
Blimey. I mean, that's weird, right? Waiting in the kitchen? Let's hope they have the kettle on. Although, I'm not sure a stuffy old kitchen is where I want to be right now.
"I might wait outside," I tell her. "Bit warm."
"Okay," she says brightly, very sweetly pretending to care where I plan to send my pre-show time.
I go outside. And once more curse myself for putting on a great big pleated skirt on a breezy day.
After a few minutes wrestling to keep my skirt at least somewhere in the region of my legs, I give up and go inside. Through the door that the box officer had pointed out and into a secondary room. Which turns out to be another foyer. Or perhaps a vestibule. Or even a lobby. One of those. Can't tell you which because I don't know the difference. Let's just call it Foyer Number Two.
Whatever it’s called, it contains the promised staircase, which will take me up to the second, or possibly top, floor. And on the walls, in all capitals, is the missive: NO SHOE ZONE.
For the first time I notice that the walls of Foyer Number Two are covered with boxy shelves. And that each cubby-hole is filed with footwear.
... they don't mean me, right? Not people going to the theatre? Right? This is just for the students... right?
I look down at my boots. I still haven't sorted out the shoe situation since the last time I had to take them off for a show. I didn't think I would have to. Taking off your shoes to go into some's literal house is fair enough. To remove them in order to go upstairs in what I think is some sort of drama school seems a bit much. Especially when the shoes in question require straps to be unbuckled and a good deal of lacings to be loosened in order to get them off.
I look around at all the shoes on display. On the ground there is a wicker basket filled with soft slippers.
This is like going bowling. Which is something I don't do. And not just because of the public footwear situation.
I don't think there's any getting away with this. I think I'm going to have to do it.
With a massive internal sigh, I bend down and start on with the business of unbuckling and loosening. Leaning against the wall I manage to pull them off and I find a cubby hole to store them in for the duration.
Only then do I dare examine the state of my tights. With no forewarning, I hadn't thought to pull out a pair without holes. It's unlikely that I'd picked one out by chance this morning.
I have a rule, you see. I don't throw out an item of clothing until it has been repaired at least three times. Sometimes I manage to stretch that to six or seven before I finally give up on them. Bit three is the minimum. So my tights are often held together by more of my terrible attempts at stitches than would be deemed acceptable for public viewing.
But the theatre gods have looked kindly on me once again, and brought about another miracle, because today, my toes are stitch-free. And there is not a single hole to be found anywhere. I've got the good pair on.
It feels really strange to be going upstairs in a public building with nothing more than sixty deniers worth of nylon between them and me. It makes me feel intensely vulnerable, which is not a feeling I want to be having before I've even stepped into the auditorium.
One floor up and there's an office. Over the open doorway the signage proclaims this place as "Monkey Business," which I have to appreciate, if only on a punnage level.
I ask the two ladies standing on the landing where I'm going, and they point me up one more level.
One more level it is then.
Up I go.
The sign above the next door says "Kitchen," but it's nothing like the kettle-totting kitchen of my imagination.
I've instead found myself in a large, comfortable looking room, with leather armchairs, a counter running down one wall, and a hatch serving as the bar for the evening. There are also strings of red fabric running from the lampshades off all over the place, with masses of cardboard axes swinging from them, a Sarah Kane quote on one wall, and an artwork that places the Vikings in front of the London Eye on the other.
As I wander around, trying to find somewhere to stand which isn't in everyone's way, I tread on something.
I don't look down.
I don't want to know what it is.
I just keep on moving. Quickly.
No one else seems bothered the lack of shoe-action going on up here.
People stride around in their socks. A few have the wicker-basket slippers. Others have bare feet.
As a queue forms to get into the theatre, I spot a girl with socks so full of holes her toes clawing at the floorboards.
People hands and people toes.
It takes a while to get through the corridor.
I'm not mad though. There's a Pina Bausch quote on the wall here. I love Pina Bausch. One of my prizest possessions is a signed Pina Bausch programme that I may or may not have lifted from work. And if I have to get stuck in a corridor with someone spouting out their views on choreography, I'm glad it's with her.
Eventually we make it through.
The theatre is a black box. Seating has been set up on two sides, traverse style. With a small stage in the middle.
There's one seat going begging in the back row.
"Do you mind?" I ask the person sitting next to it.
No reply. So I take it he doesn't and sit down..
It's really hot in here.
But there's no time to get my fan out because the lights are going down and the play is beginning.
It's a drama school show (I think... I'm still not entirely sure on this) so I won't be commenting on the performance. But the play is pretty good. Zipping along with a familiar tale. You know the one. Don't drink the kool-aid and all that.
Someone a couple of rows ahead neglected that part though, as she starts coughing. And coughing. And coughing.
She gets up and after coughing more in the empty space behind the seating block, eventually goes outside.
A second later, a woman in the row in front follows her.
The bloke next to me twists in his seat, again and again, to see whether they are coming back, not focusing on the play at all, his attention completely with the coughing woman out in the corridor.
They come back soon enough. And we can all go back to watching the play.
As soon as the stage lights go down at the end, instant applause rings out. I've never seen it happen so fast.
But as soon as it starts, it peters out.
The actors do not return to the stage for their bows.
"Are they not coming out?" someone asks. "We're clapping."
"No, they don't do that here."
Well, what do you expect from people who don't wear shoes?