Another 7pm start again. But this time, I’m feeling rather more positive about it. Mainly because my theatre for tonight is only down the road, which means that I get to stay at work for an extra half-hour. Oh. okay. Maybe I’m not on team 7 o’clock-start quite yet. Mad rush across London or staying late in the office isn’t that great a choice.
But I can’t blame the King’s Head for that. If anything I should be grateful that I only have to stroll down Upper Street to get to them. Won’t be able to do that much longer. They’re moving next year. That’s a lie. Not the bit about them moving, they’re doing that. The bit about me not being able to stroll there after work. They’re only going down the road. God, I rambling, aren’t I? Sorry. I’m so fucking tired right now. This weather… I’m really not doing well at the moment. Can’t sleep. Can’t think. Can’t breathe. And my poor hair… let’s not talk about my hair. It’s too distressing.
And the whole this is made worse by everyone else loving it so much. Soaking up the sun like lizards on rocks.
Look at them, sitting out there outside the pub, with their faces tipped up to the sun, and their drinks, and their smiles, and their happiness. Ergh. I hate them.
I better go inside. Where it’s dark and cool.
It’s been a while since my last visit here, so I’m very pleased to see the massive KING’S HEAD THEATRE sign up on the back wall, leading the way to the box office.
It’s a funny old set up they have here. Not for them the laptop propped on the end of the bar, oh no.
Instead they build a kind of barricade between the theatre and the pub, and on top of this, they set up shop with money box and printed lists. It’s exactly the kind of thing you would expect from a pub theatre, but it doesn’t seem to exist beyond these walls.
I give my name to one of the box officers on the barricade and get my name checked off the list.
He grabs a tiny scrap of paper and scrawls my seat number on it with biro.
“Let’s do you a nice bespoke, DIY ticket,” he says before handing it over.
“Well, that’s completely unforgable,” says some wag in the queue next to me.
Ah, bants. You gotta love it.
I’m shocked. Not about the hand-made nature of the ticket. That’s very King’s Head, after all. No, it’s more the fact that I have a seat number at all that is surprising me. Now that I think about it, I vaguely remember selecting a seat while booking, but still… I think that’s a first on this marathon. A pub theatre that actually assigns seats.
“The doors will open soon,” he says, then looks behind him as the doors to the theatre start shifting from the inside. “Oh, they’re opening now!”
I’m not sure I want to be first through the door. That’s a level of keenness that I don’t want to be showing off. Not at the King’s Head.
I step back and tuck myself against a shelf and watch as other theatre-goers pick up their tickets.
“There we go,” says the box officer to the next person in line. “A nice bespoke, DIY ticket for you.”
Ah. If a line’s that good, it deserves repeating.
Time to go in.
The usher on the door takes the scrap of paper from me. “C11? That’s third row, either this side or the other, you’ll need to check. They keep on switching them over.”
I don’t get the scrap of paper back.
I’m on my own.
C11. C11. C11. C11. C11.
I repeat it again and again so I don’t forget. In my head, of course. Just to be clear. I’m not that weird.
I head for the furthest aisle and start checking the seat numbers. They’re written on tiny little plaques screwed to the backrest of the benches. And I saw written, because that’s what they are. Not printed. They look like they’ve been scratched out and rewritten a hundred times over.
You got to love it, don’t you?
I hope they bring these battered badges with them to the new venue. I can’t wait to hear what the swanks in Islington Square head office have to say when they hear about it.
C11, as it turns out, is in the last block of seats. In the third row.
That was pretty easy to find. After all, I can count all the way to a hundred. And I know my alphabet. Sort of. (I get a big confused around the Qs and Ss, but I can run through it pretty snappy if I remember what the tune is).
I don’t mean to sound smug. But the other audience members seem to be having a bit of a problem.
“Do you know what row you’re in?” a lady asks me.
“Yes, row C. It’s written here,” I say tapping the badge on the back of my seat.
“Oh.” She doesn’t sound convinced. She looks about her, turns, and then leaves.
Perhaps I should have offered to sing her the Alphabet song.
The ticket checker rushes over to the front row. “Sorry Sir,” she says, waving at a man squeezing himself into the front row. “You’re over here.” She points to a spot over in my block. In the second row.
“Ah! I thought you meant over here,” he says, the invisible light bulb above his head lighting up, and he makes his way over to the correct seat.
The lady who asked me about my row is back, still looking lost.
The usher tries to help. Pointing her to the seats just behind me.
“Is that row C?” she asks.
“D,” says the usher. “You’re just in here.”
The usher points again. “Just here. The three seats right at the end.”
“But we’re not all together.”
“No, one of you is in row C.”
“Yes, this row,” she says, pointing at the row I’m sitting in.
“And one of us separate?”
“Yes, in row C.”
“Three of you are in row D.”
And on and on it goes. I’m beginning to think I really will have to sing the Alphabet Song to her if this continues.
“This,” says the lady, pointing up at the ceiling. “Is intolerable.”
She’s quite right. It really is.
“Sorry,” says the usher. “They’re turning it down.”
Oh. She meant the music. Huh. I was rather enjoying it.
My neighbour twists around on our bench to look at me.
“How long is this?” he asks.
People faffing around finding their seats? A fucking eternity. Oh, he means the play.
“70 minutes,” I tell him.
“70 minutes?” he nods and turns back to face the stage, apparently satisfied with that answer.
Eventually, with a lot more usher assistance, everyone manages to find their seats. You have to admire the King’s Head for their dedication to the cause of allocated seating. Lesser venues would have through it over in favour of the free-for-all years ago.
As we all settle down, the guy from the box office comes in, brandishing a bucket and with a tote bag slung over his shoulder. I think we all know what that means. It’s the upsell.
“Welcome to the King’s Head Theatre,” he starts before introducing himself. Should I mention a front of houser’s name? Is that appropriate? I don’t usually. But I guess, he gave his name willingly, so… it’s Alex.
He has a prepared speech. The King’s Head isn’t subsidised. They need to raise a hundred grand a year. The pub and the theatre are separate. The theatre gets none of that revenue. “If you ordered a double at the bar tonight, you’re not helping us,” he says, as if that was ever the point of ordering a double.
But never fear, theatre audiences, Alex has a plan.
“When people ask where you were on Thursday night, you can tell them you were at the King’s Head Theatre,” he says, straightening out the tote bag so that we can all see the design. “It’s fairtrade. It’s organic. It’s only five pounds.
“But what do you put inside the tote bag? Well, how about a Brexit playtext?” he says, pulling a handsomely covered book from the bucket. “Only five pounds and available from the box office after the show. Or,” he says, pulling something else out of the tin bucket. “A DVD documentary about the King’s Head Theatre.” That’s only three pounds he tells us, which sounds like a right old bargain to me until I remember I haven’t owned any kind of tech capable of playing a DVD in around seven years. “Or,” he goes on. “I have this bucket. It’s a tradition at the King’s Head. If you have any spare change, unfold it and drop it in.”
That gets a laugh. Hopefully it also gets them some fivers.
That done. It’s on with the play.
I can well and truly say that I’ve had my fill of the subject. But, well, I thought it would be appropriate. Pin this marathon into the calendar like a still wriggling butterfly into a frame.
And it’s funny. It really is. With lots of backroom dealings and double-crossings and clever wordplay and references to ‘Matron’ the former prime minister.
Set in the near future, where everything is exactly the same but even more so. Endless rounds of talk, with no one capable of making a decision. The withholding of closure on an entire continent.
As the applause fades, I reach under my seat to grab my bag.
“You seemed rather detached from that?” says my neighbour as I re-emerge.
Did I? “I’m just very tired,” I say, which seems to be my answer for every bit of criticism I’m receiving at the moment. No matter what it is. Missed a deadline? Tired. Finished of the last of the biscuits? Tired. Forgot to pay the gas bill? Again? So. Fucking. Tired. I mean, it's not like we even need gas. Not in this weather.
“I did enjoy it though,” I clarify, just in case he thinks I’m dissing the play. I’m not. I really did enjoy it.
He sits back surprised. “You’re American?”
“Err… no?” I say, equally surprised. I’m really not American, and couldn’t even do the accent if I tried.
He doesn't say anything to that. I'm not sure whether he's pleased with my lack of Americanness or not.
I get up to leave, but his comment is still playing on my mind, even when I'm halfway down Upper Street.
Detached? How would he even know? Perhaps I wasn't laughing enough. That could be it. But I'd say the general reaction to Brexit (the play) is more of a giggle than a guffaw. So that can't be it. Surely. I must have been acting very strangely for him to feel the need to point it out. Have I started talking to myself? Oh god, I've started talking to myself, haven't I? I'm doing it right now, aren't I? Shit. Don't answer that. Talking to yourself is one thing. Getting an answer is quite another.
Whatever I was doing, I can't help but think that this is punishment for my blog. After passing judgement on the audiences of over 160 theatres, they've now finally turned on me.
You know what…? I think I just got reviewed.
And I did not get five stars.