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.
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.
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.