There aren’t many people out and about this early on a Saturday morning.
Most sensible people are still tucked up in bed, or perhaps if they are real go-getters, they’ve managed to stagger downstairs in search of tea, and perhaps toast.
They’re not sitting on a tube on their way to the opposite end of London.
They’re not like me.
But hey, sensible people don’t go in for theatre marathons. They’re missing out.
I mean, not on sleep. Or hot dinners. Or that James Graham Brexit show that I still haven’t seen. Or spending time with people that love them.
They’re not missing out on any of those things.
But they are missing out on that super-charged feeling that comes from seeing too much theatre crammed into a very short space of time, with all your emotions fizzing away just under your skin so strongly that you almost crackle as you walk.
Believe me, it’s worth it.
And I’m not just saying that to make you feel jealous. I’m saying it in order to convince myself.
It’s not working.
I miss sleep.
At least I had the carriage to myself. And a chance to read. Which is almost as good as sleep.
That was, until two young lads hopped on. I call them lads because that’s what they were. A bit lary. Still obviously drunk from the night before. And very loud.
“Oof, fuck man,” said one as he collapsed into a seat.
“Fuck man,” agreed the other.
“Fucking Stockwell,” continued the first.
“Where the fucking fuck is fucking Stockwell?”
I sympathised. I’ve had similar feelings about West Norwood recently.
“Excuse me, Miss,” said one, leaning so far forward that his shadow fell over my book. He was talking to me.
I looked up.
“Do you know where Stockwell is?”
Now I don’t react well to geography quizzes. We all know that the whole knowing-where-places-are isn’t exactly my forte. Especially early on a Saturday morning. I do however know that Stockwell is on the Northern Line, and we were rapidly approaching it.
“Sorry,” I said, not risking my small amount of Stockwell-knowledge lest it lead to more complex questioning.
“Fuck me,” was the lad’s sad reply. “We’re from Margate,” he added, as if that explained everything. “And we’re trying to get back.”
“I think you need a train station for that,” I offered, as helpfully as I could.
“Yeah, but which one?”
You see? Never offer knowledge. It always leads to more questions.
“Sorry,” I said again.
“We’ve been going around for four hours.”
“That’s not what you want on a Saturday morning,” I said in lieu of anything useful to add.
“Fuck. It’s Saturday? Did you hear that? Fuck.”
“At least it’s not Sunday morning,” said his friend.
“Right. At least it’s not Sunday,” he said, just as the lady on the tannoy announced that Stockwell would be the next station.
They stumbled out onto the platform and disappeared.
I hope they got home okay.
I however, had a long day ahead of me.
First stop: Wimbledon. At the Polka Theatre for the morning show. Hence the early start.
I’m going to take a moment here to thank everyone out there who has been helping me on my mission. From those who have been linking me to theatres that I’ve missed (I swear I’ll do a recount soon, I just… can’t face upping the number of theatres I need to get to quite yet), to warning me about closures.
Today’s shout out goes to the lovely @RhianBWatts, who gave me the heads up that the famous children’s theatre, the Polka, is shutting its doors for refurbishment soon.
With day-time shows, and only a few weekends left before they went dark, I had to get there fast.
Thankfully I have a friend who lives down there who offered to meet me for pre-theatre tea and cake to help prepare me for the horrors that were sure to follow.
Pre-theatre for me, that is. Not my friend.
While Ellen is supportive of my whole marathon thing, she’s not so supportive that she was prepared to go to a kids’ show on a Saturday morning. She is one of those sensible people.
And anyway, Ellen had been to the Polka before. As a child. So was able to give me all those charming details you get from people who have a proper connection to a place. Like the tale of how she got fired from a face-painting job there when she was 12 years old.
Oh, ummm… Okay.
That was slightly less charming that I had expected.
There was also one about the sea-monster coat hooks.
It didn’t put her off walking me to the theatre though (told you she was a good friend. I rather like being walked places. Although, perhaps given my recent propensity to get lost, she felt the need to do so as some sort of civic duty. Still, I liked it. Theatres should start offering it as a service.)
While I waited at box office to pick up my ticket, Ellen went off to investigate the state of the sea-monster.
“One ticket?” asked the woman at box office, holding the single ticket with a concerned look on her face.
“Yes, just the one,” I apologised. I know how it looks. Being there. By myself. At a kids' show. On a Saturday morning.
I had thought about borrowing a child to take with me, but 1) I don't know any that are of the right age, and 2) I believe it's frowned upon to borrow children you don’t know.
And anyway, there has to be hundreds of blogs out there from people taking children to the Polka Theatre. I doubt I can offer any interesting insight beyond what is already out there. But a fully grown-adult going to a see a show made for five year olds all by herself? Now that's a blog post worth writing.
So, I’m not even going to apologise for being the creepy lady at the show.
Okay… I’m sorry for being the creepy lady at the show.
“They’ve repainted the sea-monster,” Ellen announced when we re-found each other. “It’s not as scary anymore,” she added, sounding a little annoyed by this. I can understand that. I don’t see why kids today don’t have to suffer through the nightmare fodder that we did back in the day.
After an inspection of the courtyard to see if the giant climbable cat was still there (it wasn’t) Ellen and I parted ways. From here on in, I was on my own. To watch The Wind in the Willows. By myself. In a theatre full of happy toddlers and their associated adults.
So, what is it like watching a show at the Polka, by yourself, as a grown up?
Weird. Like… super weird.
But not unpleasant.
I actually really enjoyed the show. There were puppets and singing and jokes. And the programmes are only three quid, and packed with fun activities (how to make a water bottle flower!) and facts after animals (did you know that moles are actually super arsey twats with poisonous spit? I love them).
But I would say there are two things I don’t like about the Polka. Number one - it was really fucking cold. Like seriously, freezing. And number two - the rake is terrible. I noticed this because of how low I had to slink in my seat in order to hide my shame at being an unaccompanied adult. So low I was almost child size. I don’t think the theatre designers thought this one through…
But perhaps that will be fixed in the refurbishment.
Oh, and I was handed a prop during the show. The battery to Mr Toad’s car. I had to pass it along the line so that poor Mr Toad couldn’t get it. So mean.
That’s three things I don’t like about the Polka.
Following the show, there was a chance to take a tour of the theatre. Which was something I was tempted to do. For ghost-hunting reasons.
12 days into my marathon, and I still hadn’t seen a theatre ghost. Surely, lucky theatre number 13 would be the one!
Now I know what you’re thinking: Maxine, you’re at the Polka. Not the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. You’re going about this all wrong. You’re not going to find a ghost in the playroom.
But it is you who is wrong, my friend.
The Polka does have a ghost. And I have it on no greater authority that the Polka’s twitter feed.
Some long standing members of staff claim they have witnessed some spooky happenings...— Polka Theatre (@polkatheatre) January 11, 2019
But once again, the ghosts failed to introduce themselves to me. I was left spurned, and alone, once again.
Four things. Four things I dislike about the Polka.
Well, I didn’t want to see them anyway. Besides, I had somewhere else to be. A matinee in east London.
“Another theatre?” I hear you cry. “But this blog post is already far too long!”
I know. I’m sorry. But we can do this. Together. Just stick with me for a few more words. I swear I’ll keep it as short as I can.
Right, so instead of spending my afternoon ghost-hunting, I was on the DLR. Which I think we can all agree is also pretty good. Riding the DLR a rare pleasure for me, even if the rollercoaster movement of the trains make me feel a bit sick. What with the ground sinking down below you as you pass between skyscrapers. Makes my stomach go all funny.
After the trauma of trying to find The Yard yesterday, I made sure to read The Space’s ‘how to get here’ instructions very carefully. And I know I promised, not three paragraphs ago, that I was going to be brief, but let’s just press pause on this post for one second while I rhapsodise about their directions because they are brilliant. Well written. Clear. Concise (unlike me). Just perfect.
They carried me through right from the train (not just the station, the actual effin’ train), along the platform, up the stairs, down the wall, around the corner and right to the door of the theatre (opposite the Rose Food and Wine, donchaknow). To whoever wrote them, I give my heartfelt thanks. There was not a single moment in my journey where I felt lost or anxious or was in any doubt that I was heading in the right direction. Whoever you are, you are perfect and I appreciate you.
Right, where was I? Apart from not getting lost I mean.
The Space. Okay.
The Space is in a converted church, with the tiniest foyer in the world. I had to step in and step out more than once as people tried to get past from inside the theatre in order to head up the stairs. There’s really only space for one person to stand in front of the box office hatch (it really is a hatch, a tiny slither in the wall where you can just about catch a glimpse of the person sitting on the other side) and nothing else.
Once you collect your ticket, you really have to head back outside, or else spend your time sucking in your tummy and hugging the walls as everyone trying to get through instantly forms a long and powerful hatred of you.
There’s a bar round the side of the building, but I was more interested in the loos. There was no way I was using the ones on offer at the Polka, marked “Girls” and “Boys.” Ew.
Okay, there are six things I don’t like about the Polka. But that’s it.
“There’s only one toilet,” said a woman also waiting to use the facilities. “And that’s the men’s,” she added as I pushed tentatively on a door.
It was so dark in that corridor, it was impossible to make out the signs.
We waited a few minutes. And then a few more.
Eventually the ladies freed up and I was the only one left in the queue.
Blimey, The Stage should do an expose on the loos at this place.
As matters became a little more… err… pressing, I debated using the men’s. But just as I was about to go for it I noticed there was a disabled loo just around the corner. It was empty. Thank the theatre gods.
After my trans-London journey and epic loo saga, there was no time to check out the bar. i headed straight into The Space to face my nemesis: unreserved seating.
With few options left to choose from, I was left in the worse possible option: the second row. Or one of the second rows anyway, as there were two. With seating either side of the aisle. Sat directly behind the front row - without a rake - the second row doesn’t allow much in the way of a view. But at least everyone in the audience was a grownup.
Good thing too, as the play I was seeing - Laundry - featured a sex scene and the bloody aftermath of an abortion. In an old church. Not that I’m religious. Or even Christian for that matter. But still. It certainly adds an extra frisson to the experience.
The scene where all the women are washing blood stains out of their clothes, and the lighting turns red, and the music rocks out - you could almost convince yourself that hell had risen up to claim us all.
And, I’m not sure the scene where they’re all cleaning the dead body was meant to trigger my ASMR. But it really did. It was all that hair-stroking. So relaxing.
I probably shouldn’t have admitted that. I mean, there’s wearing all black and listening to Without Temptation’s greatest hits on repeat, and then there’s being the creepy goth gal sitting in a children’s theatre all by herself… oh.
It was a strange day.
But at least it’s not Sunday.