Death by Starburst

If I were to go missing, the police would have such a nightmare trying to figure out all the data from my Oyster card.

"She goes to work," they'll say. "And she goes home, but what the fuck is she doing in between?" They'll gather around the commuter screen, all scratching their heads as they look at the latest in a long line of weird London locations that I tapped in at. "Gants Hill? What was she doing there? Does she know anyone in Gants Hill? Could she have been meeting someone there? I mean... what the hell is in Gants Hill?"

Well, you policemen of my potential future, let me tell you. There is nothing in Gants Hill. Nothing. Like, literally nothing. The only reason I had to be in Gants Hill, is because Ilford doesn't have a tube station. It has a train station, for sure. But I wasn't prepared to deal with that nonsense. Not today. So I got the circle line to Gants Hill, and decided to walk from there.

Big mistake.

All the sunshine we've been enjoying for the past week decided to come to an end, at just the right time to ensure I left the house wearing a jacket that was really not up to the job of preventing the wind from trying to blow its way right through to my bones as I trudge down the long hill towards Ilford.

All this, of course, leads to the inevitable question: what the hell is in Ilford?

To which I do actually have an answer: the Kenneth More Theatre.

Yup, me neither.

But there it is. Just off the high street where all the market traders are taking down their stalls. Around the corner from the town hall. In a building I would have sworn was the council offices if it didn’t have KENNETH MORE THEATRE spelt out in huge white letters across the front.

I feel bad for saying a theatre is ugly. I mean, I know as well as anyone how foolish it is to judge a theatre by it’s exterior. But man, the KM is ugly. It’s not just the awkward columns out front that look like they were swiped from a multi-storey car park. Or the line of toothy windows set high on the wall that make me feel sure there must be some toilets on the other side of them. There’s an air of grimness that hangs over the squat shape like Paco Rabanne at the school disco. Let’s just say, the seventies called and they want their pebbledash back.

And their wood panelling. Blimey it’s everywhere. The doors, the walls, even the ceiling, are encased by thin strips of wood that, while they might have intended to conjure happy thoughts of chalet living, roaring fires, and fondue, are inducing terrifying memories of avocado bathrooms instead.#

I head over to the (wood panelled) box office and give my name.

“You’re in row H,” says the box officer, pointing to a seat plan stuck to the counter. Gosh. That’s a first. I don’t think I’ve ever been shown the location of my seat at ticket pick-up point before. I rather like it. “So, you’re half way back,” he continues, and I begin to wonder whether this seat plan action is not standard practise, and that perhaps, I’m giving off the kind of vibes that suggest I wouldn’t be able to find various parts of my anatomy with both hands at my disposal.

“You can go either down,” he says, pointing to the staircase on my right. “And up. Or,” now he points across the foyer. “Up, and then down. The choice is yours.”

Oh dear. I’m not very good with choices. I decide not to commit to either course just yet, and instead focus trying to capture this throwback to the Harold Wilson administration.

“Are there programmes,” someone asks the box office as I’m busy looking around for lava lamps and macramé plant pot holders (I’m unfortunately coming up short on both points).

Excellent question, my friend. This is a bloke who knows the important things to ask.

“They're on the kiosk. Free of charge if you just ask.”

It’s then that I notice the kiosk. It’s next to the box office. And further down, there’s another counter. This one piled up with tea cups and advertising ice cream. Three counters, one foyer. That sounds like the title of a video that has serious viral potential.

Four counters, if one counts (…) the good-sized display of books nestled up between the tea and programmes. “Books all 50p” reads the sign. Which is a bit of a bargain. The people of Ilford seem to agree, and the shelves are being browsed intently by some very serious looking theatre-goers.

I decide not to join the. The last thing I need a pile of books to drag all the way back to Finchley. My bag is heavy enough already.

There’s only one thing I’m prepared to risk permanent spinal damage for, and that’s a programme.

“Can I take one of these?” I ask the lady on the counter.

I could.

So I do.

It’s only a freesheet. A folded A4, run off the photocopier. But it’s free, and available, and won’t provoke a trip to the chiropractor, so I’m grateful.

I tuck it away carefully in my bag, so as not to crumple it, then set off to the auditorium.

Down, and then up.

Another big mistake from ya gurl, Maxine.

The down part takes you right past the looks, and the bright-white painted brickwork is doing nothing to offset the strong smell of urine.

I scuttle down the corridor as quick as I can, launching myself at the ticket checker with the desperation of someone with limited lung capacity.*

Ticket checked, I stumble out the other side into a large theatre. There’s no circle, but the seats stretch far back towards a distant horizon. The walls are brick. The seats are red. And the spotlights are throwing shadows that look like a creepy ghost. I am well pleased with all of it.

As the box officer promised, I’m sitting about half-way back. The rows are well marks, as are the seats. So I have no trouble locating my spot. Which is why I’m surprised when I spot a young girl clambering over from row G to sit next to me.

Her dad edges along the row in the more traditional manner - apologising to everyone he forces to stand and remove themselves from his path.

“Hang on, is this row G?” he asks, as he finally reaches the end of the row.

The last one, gripping onto the back of the chair as he waits for this bloke to vacate the row nods to confirm that this is indeed row G.

“Oh, sorry,” he says. He calls to his daughter. “This is row G!”

“Oh,” says the girl, before swinging her leg back over the seat.

“Think those people are in the wrong seats,” says the end capper.

Those people start scrabbling away in their bags for tickets, eyes blazing. But the light soon fades when they check their seats numbers, and they quietly shift over a single space.

Dad crab-walks back the way he had come, leaving apologies in his wake.

The rest of his row bite back their annoyance at being made to stand, but that doesn’t stop the head shakes and tutting that follow him back to his seat.

The end-capper pulls out a large M&S food carrier and starts distributing snacks to his party. Huge bags of crisps are opened and tucked into open rucksacks for easy play-scoffing access.

How long is this play?

The BBC version was three episodes, but a good hour of that screentime was dedicated to lingering shots of the Aiden “Sexy Vampire” Turner, which no one was complaining about. Surely we wouldn’t need a whole three hours to kill off eight people. Unless they’ve gone and cast Mr Poldark, in which case they can take as long as they need…

I check the cast list.

No sign of those wild curls that can’t be tamed.

Oh well.

I’m exhausted now. All this drama and the play hasn’t even begun.

I’m glad that I’m here to watch a nice, relaxing Agatha Christie. It’s And Then There Were None. A cosy serial killer mystery, set on a deserted island. That’s the stuff.

But as the curtain rises and the secretary tended with the job of welcoming everyone to the island ventures over to the wall to read the poem that acts as a framing device for the murders, the real mystery is why she’s bothering with a cheaply printed nursery rhyme when there are what looks like two Vermeers gracing the wall of this drawing room.

Or why the murder needs to both at all, when time alone would have done the work for them with the sound of the seagulls cawing so loudly outside that it would be enough to drive anyone to run headfirst off the cliffs.

Still, death by incessant cawing isn’t much of a plot driver, and soon our first victim is rolling around on the floor, choking.

The row end-capper from before unwraps a sweet and pops it into his mouth.

He flails, grasping at his neighbours sleeve.

He’s chocking too.

As the actor on stage collapses into stillness, so does our friend the end-capper.

I glance over.

He’s sitting very still.

Very. Still.

I give an internal shrug.

Death imitating art, I guess.**


* Now, last week I would have held my hands up and freely admitted that fitness and me are two words that do not belong in the same sentence. But I have since found out that I’m been harbouring a nasty lung infection for the past six months, sooo… just gonna blame that, ya?

** He was fine. Many more sweets were consumed in the second half. He didn’t offer me any.

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