Cover Me In Dead Stickers

"You look really cool standing there with your sunglasses," says Helen by way of a hello.

Leaning against the outside wall of the Rose Playhouse in the early evening sunshine, wearing my sunglasses, and my 49er jacket, and my stompiest boots that are so worn the leather is peeling away at the heel, I do feel pretty fucking cool. Not gonna lie.

"Have you seen the ruins of the old Globe?" she asks.

I haven't, so we wander down the road together to take a gander.

"They're just over here," she says, pointing at exactly nothing.

"It looks like a car park?" I say, peering hard at the empty courtyard.

"You can see the circle there," she says.

"Ummm," I say. There is a circle on the ground, made from the pattern of the cobblestones, but it isn't exactly what I'd pictured from the word 'ruin.' "Unless Richard the third is buried under there, I don't really see the point..."

"Honestly, I just wanted to see the disappointment in your face when I showed it to you," she laughs.

Well, jokes on her because I still attempt to take a photo. But whoever set this place up clearly did so without Instagram in mind, because it's impossible to get a shot of all the lettering set into the stones. And the railings are very unphotogenic.

That done, we return to the Rose.

It doesn't look like much from the outside. There's a wall, made from the type of polished grey stone that looks like it belongs in a premier league footballer's bathroom, and the doors. You can't miss the doors. Large. Red. Panelled. And definitely the portal to hell.

"I think we're just meant to push them?" I say doubtfully.

Helen does so.

They open.

It's dark and cool in here. Not what I expected from hell's foyer. The walls are white. And covered with a woodcut design on one side, with a big scrolly banner reading "Welcome to The Rose. Bankside's First Theatre." Well, at least we're in the right place.

The other side is all glass. There's a counter. And people sitting behind it. The box office then.

"Are we too early?" asks Helen.

One of the ladies behind the counter frowns. "No?" she says, as if the doors to this place look as if they were designed to keep out a raging hoard of peasants for at least a century.

Helen looks at me. I look at her.

She's waiting for something.

"You booked," I say, finally realising what's happening.

"Oh!" she says, jumping into action and giving her name.

"For health and safety, I need both your names," says the lady behind the counter. "In case there's a fire."

"My name?" I say, leaning over the counter. "Smiles."

"Yes?"

"Shall I spell it?"

"What's your name?"

"It's Smiles."

"Name please?"

"Max Smiles?"

"I need your name."

"It's Maxine. M-A-X-I-N-E."

She writes this down, then looks up again expectantly.

"Err, Smiles? S-M-I-L-E-S."

"Oh! That's a nice name."

It is a nice name. But it's not an easy one to live with.

She places two freesheets on the counter. "Here you go. And your tickets. You'll need to hand these back when you go in."

XXXADMISSION PASSES

We're allowed through the door then, into another foyer. This one is far more interesting. There's a model of the old theatre ("The Globe totally ripped this place off," is my thought on the matter) and there are display cases full of tasty little knick-knacks.

"I really like that ring," says Helen.

I go over to look at it. It's Helen's birthday coming up soon and I have not a clue what to get her.

It's pretty. And not overly expensive. I wonder if I can distract her long enough to buy it.

I read the information card.

"Umm. Here's the thing," I say. "I would get it for you, but the inscription says 'think of me, god willing' and I'm not sure we're quite there yet in our relationship."

"Maybe next year," says Helen, thankfully not sounding too disappointed.

More people are starting to arrive. We find ourselves amongst a group of people peering into display cases.

From behind the black curtains comes a voice.

"I will murder you and all your ancestors."

Blimey.

"What was that?" asks Helen.

It's Emily Carding. Warming up.

That name may sound familiar for a number of reasons, but in marathon-world it's because this is the fourth time Carding has featured in this here blog. Yup, you heard right. Fourth. Little bit stalkerish of me, but what can a girl do? Not go to plays with a talented actor in unusual spaces? Hardly. And if you're wondering whether Carding is aware of my - shall we call it 'loyalty'? - then I am happy to inform you that yes, she is. And she approves. Or is at least sweet enough to pretend that she approves. Now stop asking.

A front of houser appears. "It's very cold in the space, so if anyone wants a blanket, we have some." She points at one of those stripey bags that students use to heft around their laundry. "I would advise that you take one."

"Oh my..."

Helen laughs. "You look so excited."

That's because I am so excited. "They have blankets!"

I don't tell Helen this, but there's a reason that I'm so excited. I've been pitching the idea of ordering logoed-up slankets at my work for years. I mean, picture this: You're in the theatre, watching a play, or... as this is my idea and my theatre, some high-quality contemporary dance, and you are all snuggled down in your seat, comfy because you are covered neck to toe with a great big fleecy blanket, with sleeves. We cannot forget the sleeves. You need your arms free so that you can read your, very reasonably priced, and beautifully edited, programme. Now, isn't that the dream? And the Rose has made it happen! I'm almost annoyed that they got there first. But no matter, my ones will have sleeves. That's still an innovation and I'm claiming it as one.

"Would you like one?" asks the front of houser offering up a folded-up fluffy blue blanket.

I definitely do.

"Now," continues the front of houser once the business of the blankets is complete. "Before you go in, please switch off any non-Elizabethan devices.

"You're very lucky. Richard of Gloucester himself will be showing you to your seats."

"Do we need to curtsey?" someone asks.

Apparently, curtsies are optional.

We form a queue.

From the other side of the curtain we hear the greetings being passed out as people are taken in and we inch ever closer to the door.

"Let me take that from you," says the front of houser on the door, reaching for my ticket.

I'm next.

Carding appears, all hunched of back and black of suit.

I kind of want to curtsey.

She grasps my hand and gives it a firm shake as she welcomes me in with a frenzy of words.

She holds out a placard. I duck my head under the red ribbon.

I'm to be Buckingham for the evening. Duke of.

She motions me to a seat. I'm sat next to a small boy. One of the Princes in the Tower. Of course.

On the other side is the King. I can tell he's the king because he's wearing a crown. It's made of paper and has more than a touch of a Burger King feel about it.

Helen's next.

She's to be a queen. Elizabeth. The Woodville one. She gets a crown too. She looks very happy about it. I'm a bit jealous.

You may have guessed by now, but this rendition of Richard III doesn't follow standard procedure. With only one actor (Emily Carding), the audience has to get involved in order to bulk out the cast.

I've done one of these before. You remember. The Hamlet one. I was Ophelia. It was... terrifying.

But, as this blog will testify, I'm a glutton for punishment. And besides, I'm a touch more familiar with this play. I've seen it before, for one. It's even featured in this marathon. I'm hoping that will help.

Except, who is Buckingham again?

Am I a Yorkist or a Lancastrian?

Whichever one I am, I hope it's the red rose side of the Rose Wars because I'm wearing a dress covered in the damn things. After the success of my Over My Dead Body dress at Hamlet, I thought I'd made an effort this morning and try a touch of theme dressing. And, as I don't own any dresses with white roses on them, it appeared I had no choice but to align myself with the red rose cause.

Something I only realised might be problematic when I was heading out to vote this morning, as I'm fairly confident that you are not allowed to wear political symbols inside the polling station. I really didn't want to be turned away. Partly because I didn't have time to go back home and change, but mostly because I wasn't even voting for Labour this time around. But, as it turned out, no one noticed. And I got my cross in the box without issue.

Thing is, I'm starting to suspect that Buckingham was not in the white rose gang.

I pull the blue blanket across my lap to hide my shame.

It looks like we're all seated now, ready to go.

This place is small. Long and narrow, with seating on three sides. Nothing interesting there.

But the fourth side. Now... that's something.

As Carding takes her place in the middle of the stage and starts her opening speech, the void of the old Rose theatre glimmers darkly behind her. The architectural dig, covered from the elements by a thinly walled building, is open behind her. The stage effectively a viewing platform for the ruins. Proper ruins. Not like that shitty car park Helen tried to fob me off with earlier.

Carding is a very modern Richard. And it's not just the snappy suit. She's armed with an iphone and she's not afraid to use it. She reads allowed a series of constantly pinging texts, takes a selfie with Lady Anne, and fixes me with an intense stare as she has a phone call with Buckingham.

And no one is safe from that stare.

As Queen Lizzie comes under its forcefield, I look over at Helen. Her fringe is all squashed down by the paper crown. Her face is rapt.

And then the dead-stickers come out.

I was very excited about the stickers. Ever since I saw Carding tweet about them this morning. I love a sticker. Any sticker. But a macabre sticker? Fuck me. That's a whole other level.

I was so excited I messaged this to Helen.

XXX

And yes, that avatar I'm rocking is indeed Edmund Keen in the role of Richard III. How very observant you are. Well done.

It's actually from a painting at my work. I love that painting. It's in a part of the building that I call the demon's corridor because it is always freezing there. I like to think it's haunted. Possibly by Edmund Keen. I have no evidence of that. Other than the painting. But I take my theatre ghosts where I can find them.

The king is the first to go. After Carding checks my neighbour's pulse, she declares him dead and slaps a sticker, printed with the word DEAD in big capital letters, on him.

He's not the last.

Stickers are getting stuck all over the place.

Carding orders Lady Anne to be by her side for the coronation. The dutiful wife. She doesn't look happy about it. I'm impressed. She's really good.

I'm ordered up too.

I leave the safety of my blanket behind and walk onto the stage, taking up a spot to the right of the throne.

Carding hands me the paper crown. This is my big moment. I'm feeling both more terrified and more powerful than I ever have in my life. A emotion-combo that probably goes along with the job. I never thought I'd feel close to the Archbishop of Canterburys, but this marathon has been taking me to some weird head-spaces. But I bet the Archbishops of old never had to contend with a paper crown. It's so cold I'm shaking. I'm not sure I can move my hands. I do my best, plonking it on Carding's head, but she has to rearrange it to get it to stay down.

When it comes to it, can someone let the royals know that I won't be available that day? It turns out that I'm not quite cut out for kingmaking.

I'm sent back to my seat and the safety of my blanket.

Carding rolls her chair over to me and asks what we should do about Hastings. I pull a face. What is to be done about him? She runs her finger across her throat. Well, yes. We could do that. I copy the gesture and nod my head.

Dead-sticker.

Dead-sticker.

Dead-sticker.

Carding hands two dead-stickers to a young woman and orders her to kill the princes.

The young woman walks over. "Sorry, you're dead," she whispers to the young boy sitting next to me, as she gently sticks him with his dead-sticker.

I'm feeling very alone now in between all these corpses.

It doesn't last for long.

It's soon time for my execution.

Carding comes over, hunched of back and intense of stare, and sticks the dead-sticker to my left side, just above my heart. She slaps it into place with the back of her hand.

I should be sad, but I can't stop myself from grinning. I really wanted a dead-sticker. I'm so pleased.

Also, turns out my red rose dress wasn't so inappropriate after all... double-crossing demon that I am.

Eventually, there's only one dead-sticker left.

The paper crown slips from Carding's grasp. She reaches for it, but it's too far away. She looks done for. But she has the just enough left in her for one more act. One more dead-sticker.

I hold my breath.

Silence.

And then a second later, applause.

Carding gets to her feet.

I breathe again.

She grins. All traces of Richard left lying on the floor.

"Please return the placards. The stickers however, are yours to keep," she says, pointing at me.

Yeah, there was no way I was giving up my dead-sticker.

"I can't believe you didn't die!" I say to Helen as we are released from our seats.

"I can't either! I really wanted one."

"Oh, take one. We have lots," says Carding, stepping in to give Helen a sticker. That's fair, I suppose. Elizabeth Woodville is dead, after all. She has been for a good long time.

"Let me take that from you," says a front of houser, relieving me from my blanket. "Are you staying for the talk?"

There's a talk after the show, about the Rose.

"Do you want to stay?" I ask Helen.

She doesn't.

We leave.

"Hang on, the door's locked," says a front of houser, rushing out of the box office in order to let us out.

As the door opens, warmth hits us. I stop shaking.

"Shall we get pancakes then?" says Helen.

I had previously suggested pancakes as part of my post-immersive theatre plan. Interaction really takes it out of me. The slightest sniff of audience-engagement sends me crashing as I burn up every little molecule of adrenaline in my body. And after something as intense as this... well, I knew that I'd need sugar, and I'd need it STAT.

We begin walking, up the stairs to Southwark Bridge Road and off to get us some carby goodness.

"She's really amazing," says Helen. I'm relieved. I knew if anyone would like this kind of thing, it would be Helen. She managed to enjoy You Me Bum Bum Train. Immersive Shakespeare is nothing to her. But still, there's always the worry when taking friends to shows like this. "The way she brings you into the text..."

"You know what I find amazing. That you know what to do, you know? Like, I'm bad at people. We know I'm bad at people. Especially reading people. And yet... it's totally clear what's expected. Like, when she was taking people's hands, and they stood up, I was confused about how they knew to stand up, but..."

"She tells you. Without having to say a word!"

"Exactly!"

"Like when she handed you the crown. It was obvious what you had to do."

"Totally."

"And that bit with Lady Anne and the gun. Where she said 'seriously, this is going to be messy,' so Lady Anne knew what to do."

"Yes! I don't think I've ever seen anyone so hyper-aware of their surroundings. Playing off everything, and everyone."

"There was this moment, at the end, when she's dying and there was some kind of noise in the distance, and it was actually had this perfect synchronicity because she reacted to it, bringing it in and..."

We're nearly at the pancake place now, so our conversation turns to one of tables and menus and drinks and ordering.

"Are you both alright?" asks the waitress, looking at us with concern. "You are both dead?"

"Yup!" we say cheerfully. We're both still proudly wearing our dead-stickers.

She waits for further explanation, and seeing that no more was coming, laughs and plays along.

"You must be hungry, being dead," she says, taking our order. Two dutch babies. One sweet. One savoury. And two hot chocolates. Laden with whipped cream.

Almost worth dying for.

Read More

Over My Dead Body

A couple of my friends have a running joke that on the 31st December they are going to put on a one-woman play in one of their living rooms, sell tickets... and then not tell me about. Thereby bringing down my marathon at the final hurdle. Now, they would never really do this. Firstly because they are not that mean. And secondly, I'm fairly confident that marathons don't have hurdling involved (I could be wrong though, I don't follow sport).

Anyway, as I arrive at my next theatre on the list, I begin to wonder whether perhaps I had stumbled on their plan a little ahead of schedule as Drapers Hall didn't look anything like the image the name had conjured in my head and instead looked like a pleasant suburban bungalow. Albeit owned by someone with severe privacy issues, as the garden is almost hidden behind some very heavy duty black gates.

If it hadn't been for the poster board outside, I would have presumed it part of the estate that it lives in.

Which I suppose is the point.

The homely atmosphere extends in off the street, as the hallway is full of people shrugging off their coats to hang up on the rail, wandering around clutching steaming mugs of tea, and flopping down on the sofas.

I grew suspicious. Perhaps it really was a home, and this entire trip had been a meticulously planned prank from my friends. It was a little late for an April Fools', but it was all too perfect. If I were going to send me off to a fake show in a fake venue, then an immersive Hamlet would be exactly the sort of thing that I would plan in order to torture me.

Confession time! I've never seen Hamlet. Well, I've never seen it all the way through. I've seen bits of it. A touch of Tennant's while it was on TV. A dab of to be or not to be, acquired through cultural osmosis. I’ve watched that Tom Stoppard Play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. And The Lion King. Seen that one. The film. Still have to make it to the musical. Although the countdown is on to get to that one…

As for immersive... well, you should already know my feelings about that by now.

I do my best to shake off the feeling. My friends wouldn't do that to me. They couldn't possibly be so cruel. Not least because one if them was supposed to go with me, but had to back out because she needed to go to some academic thing I didn't really understand that was happening at Yale... Oh.

I'm a cynical old bag by nature, but this conspiracy theory was a touch too extreme even for me. Still, I am so struck by the feeling that I have literally just wandered into someone's living room that it takes me a moment to realise that I should be checking in.

This is done, via mobile phone, and my name is instantly recognised.

Now, that isn't unusual. My name is very memorable. But sadly, this isn't the Smiles-effect at work here.

"You were supposed to be here..."

"Last Friday, yes."

That was true. I had booked to go last week, but the lovely people at BAC offered me the chance to crack through three of their spaces in one night, and when it comes to marathons, three theatres beats one every time. It's just basic maths.

Thankfully the people at Drapers Hall are even lovelier, and allowed me to switch my ticket to a different night.

"There's tea and food in the kitchen just round the corner, in exchange for a donation."

Well, this needed thorough investigation.

There really was a kitchen around the corner. A proper kitchen. Not some little pokey corner-room with just enough counter space to fit a kettle balanced on top of a microwave. There was an oven, with five hob rings. A chopping board lay ready to use next to it. I could have knocked out a Sunday roast in that kitchen if needs be. But there was no shortage of food. Beside the still steaming kettle, there was a plate of custard creams and an array of milks and fruit teas. And on the other side, there were crackers and houmous and hot cross buns and crisps and apple juice. No one was going hungry tonight.

“Follow me!” comes the call when the doors are opened. “You can take your drinks in, if you like.”

Many people do like, and they go through, clutching their cuppas for comfort and leading to the bizarre sight of ten or so people trying to work out what do with their mugs as they take their seats. The rest of us join the circle without the benefit of a soothing hot drink, and try not to look anxious.

The space is a small one. Not round exactly, but hexagonal - or one of those other geometric shapes that I can’t remember the name of - with high vaulted ceilings that stretch up into a sharp point above our heads.

It’s dark. There are wood panels. Kinda like a sauna. I’m certainly sweating out my nerves.

In the centre, sat on the floor, is Emily Carding - a name you will be familiar with if you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, as this is the third time her name has popped up in my posts (now beating Shakespeare by a single entry).

The doors close, sealing us in. That’s it. It’s happening. There’s no escape.

Emily Carding leaps up, ready to shake hands and greet us. Are my hands sweaty? They’re probably really sweaty. I hope they’re not sweaty.

No time to think of that. Carding is explaining what’s happening. We’re actors. We’re going to be given roles. Scripts are handed out.

First up: Horatio. That goes to a man sitting across the circle from me. Carding explains that it’s an important role. A speaking role, no less. He nods. He’s up to the challenge.

Next up… Carding comes over to me. “Will you be my Ophelia?”

Err. “Sure?”

Now, I may not have seen Hamlet, but I’m pretty sure that Ophelia is a significant role. Hamlet’s love interest, no less. Carding warns me that it’s going to be tough going. I’m going to get spoken to with some not very nice words. I smile nervously, trying not to show my fear. That was apparently the right thing to do. We were on. The role is mine.

As the other roles are handed out, I look at my script. I’m to take a letter and hand it back. Stand up. Sit down. Listen as people talk to me. That all sounds okay. I can deal with that. I stand up, sit down, and listen to people every day.

I keep reading.

I have a line. No, two.

Well, alright. Speaking is fine. Been doing that for years.

I keep reading.

Oh. Oh! I had forgotten the thing about Ophelia. The very important thing about Ophelia. The one thing that ends up defining Ophelia.

I was going to have to die.

I read the instructions. Then read them again just to make sure I understood them.

I say instructions, but this was no IKEA step-by-step breakdown of a theatrical suicide, but rather a guideline. Firstly, I was to tear up my script. Fine. Nice. I like it. But then I had to crumple the pages into flowers. Poetic. Nice. I like it. Except… how?

Carding gives our Laertes a stage combat less with invisible swords. She’s amazing. She’s got the stance down. She reveals she’s done this before.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear ohdear ohdearohdear.

We have a trained pro in our midst.

Don’t fuck up, Max, I order myself. And don’t you dare show fear.

A thought occurs. Perhaps showing fear was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Is that why Carding picked me? She could see the raging anxiety behind the eyes? I didn’t know enough about the role to tell. This Ophelia-chick is clearly not having a good time of it. Perhaps I should be all shaking-nerves. In which case, I’m nailing this.

As the play kicked off and my fellow audience members began performing their assigned parts, I tried to figure out the problem of the flowers.

I could tear my pages in half. That would be very dramatic, I thought. And then perhaps roll each half into a tulip, twisting the length into a stem. No. That would take far too long. And besides, the script said to crumple.

Polonius and Laertes come over to sit with me. “He’s mad,” says Laertes. “Completely bonkers. Wouldn’t you agree, Polonis?” She ad-libbing, and she’s great at it.

I nod. My script says I’m supposed to listen to them, but I chance a weak “right…” of agreement.

Hamlet’s writing a letter. Carding looks up and locks eyes with me.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.”

I mean… oof. That Shakespeare could write a mean love letter. No wonder Ophelia went barmy over this bloke.

I take the letter. My hands aren’t just sweating now. They’re shaking. I blame the contents. That is a damn inferno of words being held in them.

I hear my name. Ophelia’s name, even. That’s my cue. I get up. I’ve been told to return the letter to Hamlet. Carding won’t take it. I try again.

This is it. The scene I’ve been warned about. The letter is crumpled and tossed away. It looks so sad and pathetic on the ground. Like a child’s discarded homework.

“Get thee to a nunnery,” Carding orders.

I clutch my script. It creases under my grasp. That feels right. I try to leave, but Carding shifts to block me.

I’d always fancied that I’d make a rather good nun. I look great in black. But Carding says it with such venomous. My heart is thumping. Eventually, Hamlet is spent. The tirade is over. I’m allowed to return to my seat. I collapse into it.

Things aren’t going well for Hamlet either. He asks to sit in my lap while we watch a play, but Ophelia isn’t having it. A sentiment I can only sympathise with.

Hamlet kills Polonius and shouts at his mother, which is one hell of a day to be having.

“Tell Ophelia that Hamlet has killed you,” Carding orders the audience-member-formerly-known-as-Polonius.

This he does.

Oh god.

It was time for me to die.

I tear off a page of my script, crumpling it up and twisting the end to form a flower.

I offer it to the woman sitting next to me. She hesitates, then takes it.

The next flower goes to Laertes, sitting on my right.

I get up, crumpling the third page as I walk across the circle and hand over another flower. The fourth goes to Gertrude. The fifth and final page, the front cover which bears only the word OPHELIA, is given to Claudius.

I have no more pages left.

I go lie in the middle of the floor, crossing my arms over my chest, and close my eyes.

I try to channel Millais’ Ophelia. All wafting hair and serene expression. But I fear I’m more Elizabeth Siddal, freezing to death in the bath because she’s too frightened to tell the artist that the oil lamps keeping the water warm have gone out.

I can hear my fellow actors moving about. Eventually, Carding touches my arms, and I am released into the world of the dead, free to enjoy the rest of the play as an observer.

The invisible swords are back. Hamlet and Laertes are fighting. All rather exciting now that I’m a ghost.

 

Death after death follows. Laertes falls to the floor. Gertrude too. Claudius slumps back in his seat.

As Hamlet proclaims his final words, Laertes twists round to watch. Different rules apply when you’re a ghost.

Exeunt Hamlet.

We applaud, but Horatio steps forward to stop us. There is one speech left. He thanks us for our cooperation and bids us to applaud one another. This we do.

“You had a really tough role,” says Laertes as we pull on our coats.

Not quite as tough as hers. Making flowers is a lot less scary than sword-fighting.

“And your dress was so perfect!”

I look down. Oh. Yeah. I’m wearing my Forsythe dress. So called because it was once admired by the choreographer William Forsythe, and I like giving my favourite dresses names. Although it should more accurately be called the “Over my dead body” dress, because that’s what it says - right across the chest and down the arms. The arms I’d crossed over my chest while everyone had stood… over my dead body.

“That’s probably why you got picked as Ophelia.”

Probably. It must have been quite the sight when I was down on the ground being dead.

Hamlet may have escaped, but Carding doesn’t get away that easily. As we emerge back into the bright and welcoming light of Draper Hall’s foyer, we all queue up to thank her.

Read More

What a good boy

When I tell people about my theatre marathon, the reactions I receive fall broadly into two camps.

The first sounds something a bit like this. "256 theatres? That's very doable. You'll have over a hundred days off!"

As if going to every theatre in London was like reading the complete works of Tolstoy, or learning Klingon. Something that can be done on your own schedule, and not at the whims of programmers.

Unsurprisingly, the people who take this line, almost exclusively, work outside of the arts.

The second group, the ones who have jobs in theatre, take a rather different stance. "That must be costing a fortune!" they start with, eyebrows disappearing into their hairlines. "How many have you done so far?" When I tell them, they usually get embarrassed and mumble something about needing to go to the theatre more. And remember, these people work in theatre, so when we're talking about their theatre-going habits, it tends to be on a trips per-week basis. At this point in the conversation, they start thinking about the logistics. "Are you doing all pub theatres? There's millions of those. And what about all those funny art-centres that are basically cinemas with a stage?" they'll ask. "Or the open air summer ones?" They'll marvel briefly when I tell them about my spreadsheets charting seasonable and pop-up venues. And then they'll frown. "God, your list must be growing all the time," they'll say. To which I agree. People are always sending me links to venues. Sometimes it's one that I’ve missed. Occasionally its one I've never even heard of. This will then be followed by a moment of silence as they try very hard to come up with the name of a theatre that I've never heard of. "Have you got the White Bear Theatre on your list?" they'll ask. For some reason, it's always the White Bear Theatre.

Which is ironic.

No, it really is. Ironic process theory. Tell someone not to think of a white bear, and they’ll instantly think of a white bear. Ask someone to think of a theatre I’ve not hear of… they’ll think of the White Bear Theatre.

I'm telling you this, not because I want to shame you into giving me better intel than the existence of the White Bear Theatre (you know better than that already...) but in order to help explain the mix of emotions that I felt on Tuesday night when a member of the Greenwich Theatre audience stood up after the play, to tell us all about another production, in another venue. A venue I had never been to. A venue I had never heard of. A venue that was definitely not on my list.

A venue that I couldn't damn well find when I start googling as soon as I got on the DLR.

"Just down the road," he'd said. But all my searches of the name plus "Greenwich" weren't turning up anything. I opened Google Maps and started inching my way around, working through all the streets that surrounded Greenwich Theatre.

Nothing.

And I had neglected to note down the name of the play. I tried to remember what he'd said about it. Something to do with the red flag. And a woman. Who gets arrested.

I tried all these as search terms.

Nada.

By the time I reached Bank, I still hadn't found anything and I was beginning to get frantic. What if I never found it? I'd have to live out the rest of this year, nay, my life, knowing that there was a marathon-qualified venue out there, in London, and I had missed it.

Just as I was seriously considering tweeting at the Greenwich Theatre to ask for their help in tracking this place down, it suddenly occurred to me that he might not have been literal.

"Down the road," might not actually be "down the road."

With that divine spark of inspiration, I changed "Greenwich" to "London" and eventually stumbled on a tweet. A tweet that linked to a blog post. A blog post that was reviewing the play. Which I now knew to be called Liberty. So, thanks Alex Hayward!

And thanks to the theatre gods too. They had done me a serious solid. We'd found it. Together.

In Deptford.

I ask you.

Anyway, after moving some things around, I managed to arrange an evening free, and come the day I bought my ticket and...

"Please dress 1930s."

I looked down at what I was wearing.

I was not dressed 1930s.

The jumper might pass, just about, but my skirt was way too short and... oh dear. It was a church. The venue was a church. I was going to a church. Wearing a short skirt. Are short skirts allowed in churches? I don't know. I haven't been in one since I left school. Not a real one, one that still had services and things. And even then it was Sherborne Abbey and my main concern was how many layers I could fit under my coat to protect me against the massive cold stone walls and yet remain unobtrusive enough to avoid notice when I didn’t go up for communion.

And... can you tell I don't do well in churches?

Going through 14 years of religious schooling can do that to a person. Especially when it's 14 years of Christian schooling (Catholic convent school, with nuns and everything, followed by high church CoE) on a Jewish girl...

Oh well. It was too late to change.

Either my outfit or my religion.

We were just going to have to do this thing. We were going to Deptford. To the Zion Baptist Church. On New Cross Road.

Fun fact - I used to work in Deptford. My very first proper job in the theatre was at The Albany. That was a very long time ago. So long that I'd forgotten just how much time it takes to get there.

"No need to run," laughed the lady on the door. She was wearing the most fantastic pillbox hat on her head. I hoped she hadn't spotted my skirt.

"I've run the whole way from the station," I puffed in reply.

"Don't worry. Start time is at five past seven."

So, I wasn't late. I was... five and a half minutes early. Excellent.

She signed my ticket, pointed out the door to the loos, and then directed me to another door where the audience was gathering pre-show. "There's free tea and coffee," she added.

Through the door, and into a space that had the air of an Oxford don's room - all comfy chairs and low lighting and teacups... and can you tell that I didn't go to Oxford and have no idea what a don's room looks like?

Do they have dogs? Because this room definitely had a dog.

He scampered up to me, demanding ear scritches and back rubs.

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Science fiction, double feature

Is there anything more hedonistic than taking a half-day off work to watch ballet?

No, my friend. There isn’t.

And I can’t even blame the marathon for such an extravagant use of my time.

I’d had this outing planned for months. There was no way I was going to miss ballet-god Rupert Pennefather’s glorious return to the London stage.

Sadly, we all know what they say about god and plans.

But I wasn’t going to let the little matter of an injury and the resulting cast changes get in the way of my self-indulgent afternoon. So, after a quick lunch at my desk, I sauntered down to the London Coliseum. Or rather, the Coli. Everyone calls it the Coli. Or at least, I think everyone does. I certainly do. Perhaps just the pretentious twats who frequent it on the regular use that name. Of which, I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, I am very much one.

Which leads me to this question… how do I write about a venue that I am this bloody familiar with? One that I even have a charming nickname for? I can’t describe walking around in wide-eyed wonder as I’m sure I would have done if I’d been a newbie. The Coli really is the most extraordinary venue. Over-the-top in almost every aspect. It’s not just the gilt, and the velvet, and the massive stage. These are merely the base layer onto which Frank Matcham built his monument to excess. There are domes. Multiple ones. With stained glass. And stone gargoyles guarding the staircase. Marble balustrades. Mosaic covered ceilings (with umbrella’s to match). Carved wooden doors. Roman iconography. Golden horses. And then topping it all, a spinning globe lit up with the name of the theatre.

It has so much bling, even Elizabeth Taylor would think it a bit gaudy.

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