There is Nothin' Like a Dame

It's eleven o'clock on a Sunday morning and I am in King's Cross. Because that is my life now. By rights, I shouldn't even be awake yet. I should have a long day of shuffling around in my pyjamas ahead of me, tearing off chunks of bread direct from the loaf and applying heaps of butter without ever having to resort to such barbaric implements as knives. I should be catching up on my Netflix. I should be hunkering down under my duvet to watch the latest Bake Off episode, which I still haven't got to. Although, perhaps that's a blessing. Now that the Goth girl has gone. I suppose I could go back to The Curious Creations of Christine McConnell to satisfy my need for spider-shaped biscuits, but no: I can't. Because I'm here. In King's Cross. Fully clothed, I might add. As if this wasn't all nightmare enough. 

Anyway, I'm heading back to Kings Place. Which hasn't managed to acquire an apostrophe since my last visit. 


Through the rotating doors and past the box office. I don't need to stop there today. I somehow managed to pick up the ticket for this performance last time around, which I didn't notice until I was standing over the recycling bin, my old bag in hand, throwing out all the ticket-off cuts and receipts that have been cluttering up the bottom, before I transferred the contents over to my new bag. 

I really love my new bag. I especially love that owning it means that I didn't throw away my ticket for this morning. And I double love that all this means that I don't have to talk to any box officer, because while I'm sure they are absolutely lovely, it is only 11am, on a Sunday morning, and I am really not up to that whole interpersonal communication thing right now. 

The long table in the foyer is already filled with people sipping tea and delicately nibbling on cake. And the queue at the cafe extends all the way out, past the fancy restaurant. Turns out that the coping methods of my fellow audience members on a Sunday morning also involve baked goods. And I salute every single one of them. We will get this this together. Whether we like it or not. 

Unfortunately, there's no cake vending machine around here, and I decide to forgo any cake that would require me to talk to someone, and instead let the long escalator down to the lower ground level calm my delicate, sugar-spun, nerves instead. 

The dead woodlouse is still there, resting on the floor, his legs tucked up inside his shell and pumping out a serious mood, which I am greatly enjoying. 

I look around, trying to work out if there are any programmes for sale, and if so, where. 

There seems to be a merch desk. It’s selling CDs of the piece being performed. I tuck myself up against a wall and keep an eye on it, treating the desk as a case study into the type of people that still own the technology to play a CD. While I cannot pretend that my methodology in this experiment is entirely sound, it is interesting to note that no CDs were sold in the several minutes I stood there, and the only person approaching the desk seemed to be after a chat rather than a compact disc. 

I decide to go and have a look at the gallery. I missed it last time, but the small glimpse I got while riding on the escalator past it was enough to intrigue me.  

I go find a flight of stairs and hop up them towards the gallery level. A level entirely bypassed by the escalator, though there are lifts. 

It looks like it’s an exhibition of self-portraits up here. I don’t stop to read the explanatory note. I move straight on to the pictures. 

Some of them are really rather good. I quickly become enamoured with a crinkled face, sprouting a hairdo of flowers that curl on themselves like Medusa’s snakes. But the four-digit price tag soon has me scurrying away. 


As I walk around the near empty space, a woman barges in front of me, blocking my view.  

I get it. The lure of art. It takes me that way sometimes too. 

I move on, finding some more pieces I wouldn’t mind taking home with me if… well, if I didn’t actually work in the arts and could therefore afford to buy some. 

With a sharp blow to the back I find myself stumbling forward. 

It’s that woman again. 

Handbag out. Weaponised. 

I’m starting to get the impression that she doesn’t like me. 

I hurry away from her, looping around the mezzanine and back down the stairs. Where it’s safe. 


I might as well go in now. 

I check my ticket. It says to take the East Door. Looks like that’s the one closest to me, which is handy. 

The ticket checker on the door glances down at my proffered ticket and smiles. “Would you like a programme?” he asks. 

Fuck yeah. “I would love a programme!” I say, so enthusiastically manage to give myself a headache. 

He takes it well. “There you go!” he says, way too cheerfully for a pre-noon Sunday, and hands me the slim booklet. 

Well, look at that. A free programme. Covering the entire festival that I didn’t even know this show was part of. 

I tuck it away and concentrate on the business of finding my seat. 

It doesn’t take long. I’m at the back. I work in the arts, remember.

Not that it matters though. Not in this place. Hall One of Kings Place is smaller than I had expected, but that doesn’t stop it from being a bit lush. Colonnades of wood panelling surround the room, lit up by blue and red lights. The floor slopes down towards the small stage, where there’s a glossy black piano lying in wait. 


The seats are comfy. The leg room excellent. The sightlines… acceptable. Given that this is a music venue, I really couldn’t have expected more. 

“Are you together?” asks a woman, standing a few rows ahead of me. 

The man she’s asking nods his head. They are together. 

“You’re together. And we’re together,” she says, pointing to her companion. 

“Ah,” says the man. “Well, we had four and six so…” 

“And I have five, so if you…” 

They sort themselves out, reassigning their seats so that they can each sit next to their preferred person without the need of usher-intervention. 

How civilised. 

Two women sitting right in front of me are discussing the upcoming show of a choreographer I work with. Obviously, I’m now all ears. 

“We’re not in London,” sighs one. “Why are we paying London prices?” 

“How much are they?” 

“Sixty or seventy pounds!” she exclaims in horror. 

“They’re a hundred at Sadler’s.” 

The first woman draws in a deep breath. “That explains it then.” 

Personally, I’m always more outraged by the bottom end of the pricing spectrum than the top. That’s where you really find out how committed a venue is to accessibility. My attention drifts to the people sitting behind me.  

“You know, I’d often rather be sitting up there,” says one, meaning the upstairs seating. 

All around the room is a slim balcony with a single row of seats. It’s starting to fill up. 

I wonder why I didn’t buy up there. They must have kept it off sale until the stalls filled up. That or I was feeling flush. 

My neighbour arrives and sits down. 

She’s wearing perfume. At 11.30 in the morning. 

It hits the back of my throat and I dive into my bag to retrieve a cough sweet. Somehow I don’t think my hacking away is going to be appreciated at a show that is effectively a piano recital with a bit of talking. 

Turns out though, I’m not the only one with a touch of consumption. 

A loud, wet, chesty cough rings out in the row behind, but is quickly stifled behind a tissue. 

The red and blue lights turn to gold. 

Lucy Parham comes out, and starts playing the piano. I don’t know a lot about piano music, but it’s pretty, I guess. 

She’s joined by Harriet Walter. Dame Harriet Walter, I should say. She’ll be our narrator this evening. Telling the story of Clara Schumann in between piano pieces. 

Now, if that sounds familiar, it’s because I already saw a show about Clara Schumann, interspersed with piano pieces, over at RamJam Records. But that was called Clara, and this one is I, Clara. So they are clearly totally different production. 

I’m enjoying it though. If I have to be awake in the wee hours of a Sunday morning, I might as well have some gentle piano music to ease me along. 

The woman sitting in the row behind me might not agree. She’s struggling. Really struggling. As each piece finishes she coughs and splutters into her hankie. 

I grab another cough sweet, ready to turn around and hand it to her the next time she’s overcome with an attack. 

But then I hear something. Something less coughy and more, well, papery. 

She’s reading the programme. 

Not just the couple of pages dedicated to this performance. She’s not checking how many pieces of music are still to go. No. She’s reading the whole damn thing. 

Now, obviously I approve of programme reading. You should be digesting those things cover to cover. A lot of work goes into them, and you better appreciate it. 

But here’s the thing: not during a performance. 

Especially not during a quiet and gentle music performance. 

It’s rude. 

I unwrap the cough sweet and pop it in my own mouth. 

She don’t deserve my Jakeman’s. 

Just as Dame Walter is describing Schumann’s London fans waving her off with their handkerchiefs, a man gets out of his seat and walks towards the back. 

I think he’s making an escape, but no. He stops by the ushers. 

“There’s a strange noise,” he says in a whisper that carries loudly in this acoustically designed room. “Over by the doors. The doors at the back, over there.” 

The usher disappears. Presumably to investigate the source of the noise. That or sneak a cheeky cigarette outside.  

Either way, the man returns to his seat an remains there for the rest of the performance.  

Applause rings out. 

One man gets out his handkerchief to wave at the performers, which is a nice touch. 

Three times they are recalled to the stage. 

Parham steps forward, and the clapping stills long enough for her to talk. 

If we liked the music, an extended version is available to purchase out in the foyer, she tells us.

For those who still live in 2005 presumably. 

Personally, I’ll be waiting for it to hit Spotify. 

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.