The Art of the Dead Woodlouse

I'm at Kings Place. I'm not sure what Kings Place is. But I'm here all the same.

Apart from having a name whose lack of apostrophe is making me itchy, Kings Place is also a great big, glass-fronted, building just behind King's Cross station. There are banners out front decorated with soundwaves that have apparently been lifted from... The Guilty Feminist podcast. And suchlike. Ceramics fill the windows. They're for sale. If you have a couple of grand to drop on something that looks like a mouldy ship's model. I don't, so I go inside.


The confirmation email said to pick up my tickets from the box office just inside the door.

That was useful, because without that instruction I would have wandered off into this space in an open-mouthed gaze.

It's fucking massive. With those towering ceilings you find in fancy new office blocks, where you can see into each of the tens of floors overlooking the foyer. Like a slice has been taken out of the most boring layer cake in history.


I go over to the reception (which, I guess, is also a box office) and give my surname.

“And the postcode please?" asks the box officer as she pulls my ticket from the ticket box.

I give it, and get handed a ticket for my troubles.

Right then. Time to investigate this joint.

On the far side it looks like there is some sort of cafe action going on. Next to it, closed off and guarded by a doorman, is: The Rotunda. I'm guessing that's a schmancy restaurant.

There's a great big long table, long enough to restage the Red Wedding, overlooking two massive escalators, descending into (and rising from) a pit of a basement.


According to the signage on the wall, that's where the theatre spaces live.

I ride down, adding to my mental list of theatres with escalators in them (Royal Opera House, Gillian Lynne, artsdepot...).

We sail past a gallery level with lots of terrifying paintings, and land next to a sculpture that I'm pretty sure is meant to be a dead woodlouse.

Two young men pause to look inside at the poor curled up skeleton within.

I look around for Hall Two. That's where I'll be spending my matinee today. Turns out it's just behind a small seating area.

The doors aren't open yet, but the sofas are already crammed with people ready to launch themselves at them. Opera crowds are keen. Combine with that unallocated seating and you've got a pile of people willing to turn up an hour early to join the scrum.

They're quiet now. Poised. Waiting. Reading programmes.

Ooo. I want me one of those. I frickin' love a programme.

There's a cloakroom desk over on the other side, close to the doors. And there seems to be some sort of sign on the counter. I can't read it from here, but I'm betting it's advertising the price of programmes.

I go over and yup - £3.50. I can do that.

"Would you like to pay by cash or card?" the front of houser asks.

I choose card. I still haven't bought the ticket for my evening show, and I'm worried I'll need my notes to get it on the door.

He presses a few buttons on his tablet, and the card machine instructs me to do my thing.

“There's two pieces to it," explains the front of houser. "The Chamber Opera and the Text," he says, handing over not one, but two programmes.

I look at them in wonder, my heart pounding with the thrill of being given two whole programmes.

“Love a twofer," I tell him, scuttling away with my prizes.

The doors are opening now. Time to go in.

I show my ticket to one of the ushers. “Please sit on the far side,” she says, letting me pass.

Ah. Okay.


I can see what she’s after. A slim apron pushes out from the stage, and rows of chairs have been set up on either side.

I pick my way over to the far side.

The front row is filling up, but I dismiss that, sliding down to the end of the second row.

“It’s unallocated,” explains an usher to a confused audience member. “So technically you can sit wherever you want. We’re just trying to fill up the rows.”

He chooses the second row too. Next to me.

“Is the screen changing?” asks a lady indicating the large screen above the stage. “Dear Marie Stopes,” it reads. That’s the name of the opera we’re seeing.

“I’m not sure…” replies the usher.

“I want to make sure that I can see it if it does…”

The usher nods. Yes, she wouldn’t want to miss that.

“Is that seat free there?” she asks, pointing to an empty seat in the front row.

He obligingly goes off to ask the man sitting next to it. Turns out it is free, and she is able to sit in it, content in the knowledge that should the screen change, she’ll be able to see it.

The musicians come out and start setting up as the last of the audience wander about trying to pick the best seats. It’s getting tricky now. Both front rows are full and no one wants to sit further back. Not when there is no rake going on.

I look around.

It’s a nice room.

Very high ceilings.

The walls are painted a calming shade of dark blue grey. There’s wood panelling. But like, the modern sort. That doesn’t look like it was ripped from a murder mystery novel. The seats are fairly comfortable and aren’t too closely packed.

It’s all rather nice.

Over on the opposite side, a woman has perched herself on the side of the stage to read her programmes. I can’t quite tell why she has perched herself on the side of the stage to read her programmes. It doesn’t look like a very comfy place to sit. And she has a chair. I can see it. Just a few feet away from the spot on the stage that she has claimed as her own.

It’s still a few minutes to show time, so I get out my own programmes.

They’re made in exactly the same way. A single piece of paper, arranged in a letter fold, to form six pages. One has the libretto. The other the credits. They’re nicely designed. And printed on good paper. I’m rather happy with them, until I remember that I paid over three quid for these things and then I feel a little ripped off. These are freesheets. Or at least, they should be freesheets. What counts as a programme note in this thing was written by the composer. At most, I would charge a pound for them. In a concession to the pleasing layout and nice paperstock.


Still feeling a little outraged, the doors close and the lights dim.

The lady on the stage gets up slowly, packing away her programmes and fussing around in her bag before finally going back to her seat and sitting herself down.

We begin.

The role of Marie Stopes seems to be being sung by a counter-tenor, which… fine. But also… why? I mean, Feargal Mostyn-Williams is great. And has a name I most heartfully approve of. But not quite sure why he is here. Is this for musical reasons? I really hope it’s for musical reasons. And not some bizarre idea that an opera entirely sung by women would be a bad thing. And let's not even touch on the single character with education and authority being gender swapped to male…

Anyway, Marie Stropes is being sung by a counter-tenor, and the whole thing is rather depressing. The past was, like, really bad. The present isn’t all that great either. But the past was worse.

Jess Dandy and Alexa Mason hand out pamphlets to the front row.

The person sitting in front of me gives hers a cursory look before dropping it under her seat.

Ungrateful wretch.

Forty-five minutes of death and pain later, we reach the end.

We applaud.

The cast wave up two more people. The creatives I’m guessing. They all link hands down the apron and bow. First to one side of the room. Then the other.

The lights come up.

It’s time to go.

Except no one is leaving.

The woman sitting in front of me gets up and goes over to talk to one of the musicians. There’s lots of cries of “how are youuuuu, it’s been agessss,” around the room.

I reach under the chair and grab the pamphlet, flipping it open to see what was inside.



I lay it reverently on the chair, hoping the owner comes back to claim it.

As for me, I’ve got another show to get to.

My row is still crowded, so I have to inch my way around the back, avoiding the crowded groups determined to block every possible route of escape.

I make it though.

Past the dead woodlouse, up the escalator, across that cake stand and out into the sunshine.

I breath in the claggy traffic-fumed air. One more show. Then I can go home and sleep.

Let’s do this thing.