“Martha, have you been to the Hen and Chickens before?”
I thought if anyone would have been to the Hen and Chickens, it would be Martha. It’s a theatre pub. And Martha loves a theatre pub.
“No!” she cries, sounding distraught and a little bit ashamed about her lack of Hen and Chickens experience. “I really should. I love theatre pubs.” (Told you). “And it’s in Islington, isn’t it?” (It is).
To be fair, there are a lot of pub theatres in Islington. They’re like curry houses on Brick Lane. Bookshops on Charing Cross Road. Or estate agents in Finchley. Bloody everywhere. You have to be real dedicated to the pub theatre cause to go to all of them.
Thankfully, I am. Well, not specifically to pub theatres. But they are definitely part of my remit for the year. Along with barge theatres, museum theatres, outdoor theatres and all the rest of them. So off I go, negotiating all the roadworks that is happening around Highbury and Islington station, as I try to make my way around the roundabout to there (with a short pause to stick my hands through the barriers so that I could get a photo of the exterior without the decorative addition of plastic railings - I told you: real dedicated).
Back over the road and I’m taking some close up shots of the chalkboards outside. They’re advertising the show. “Tonight!” one proclaims. “Killing Nana 7.30pm £15,” topped by a banner stating “The pub/stage/is you” (that one took me a while to work out).
Two young women walk past, look down at their phones then back up again.
They stop. They’re looking at the two chalkboards. Then back up at the door. I know what they’re thinking. I had the same thought as I was taking my photos. There’s no handle. How on earth does it open.
“Is there another entrance?” one asks. They strike off, heading down the road. But the pub isn’t that big, and a minute later they’re back. This time they try the other direction, eventually finding a smaller, less impressive looking doorway. But while it may lack chalkboards to flank it on either side, it benefits from the presence of a handle.
They go in.
I follow them. Not in a creepy way, you understand. Just in a… I’m-done-procrastinating-with-my-photos-and-now-that-someone-else-has-confirmed-where-the-entrance-is-I-might-as-well-go-in way.
It’s packed inside. I have to squeeze myself through at least two groups just to get far enough inside to see what is going on.
To the left of the bar, and a little behind, is the box office. A little podium tucked away in the shadow of the staircase.
We go about the business of getting my name checked off the list.
“You're going to go upstairs when the bell rings,” says the box office man with a directness that I can only appreciate in a new-to-me venue.
He hands me an admission pass and a freesheet. There’s an unspoken agreement that he doesn’t need to ask if I want one, and I don’t need to trouble him with the request to take one.
I make to put the admission pass in my pocket, but something catches my eye. I turn it over. There, scrawled on the back, are the details of the performance. It’s not an admission pass. It’s a ticket. And a weighty ticket at that. it’s the size of a business card, but if you were to get these printed by Moo, you’d be paying extra for that heavy cardstock (I mentioned this to Martha this morning. “Islington,” was her one word reply. Fair enough).
When the bell rings, there’s a rush to the stairs.
The walls are a rather tasty shade of teal. I want to take a photo but there’s already of queue of people behind me. I just manage to catch a snap of the quaint order not to smoke in the theatre. A sign from a bygone era.
As we step into theatre, the teal is replaced by the more traditional theatre blacks.
It’s warm up here. Really warm. First thing I do is pull off my scarf, jacket and even my cardie. I’m still too warm. I need to sit down.
The seat shifts under me. As someone who once broke a bed while merely sitting on it, this is rather alarming. I hold myself very still. There is no further movement from the seat. I think I’m safe.
Time to inspect the freesheet. And, oh look. It was written by someone in Hollyoaks.
Aww. That takes me back. I used to love Hollyoaks back when I was of a Hollyoaks watching age. I’d only given a brief glance of the marketing copy before going in, but it did all sound very Hollyoaks. Tortured family dynamics. Shut-ins. Overcrowding. This is going to be brilliant.
I think this must be the first time that I’ve seen vaping on stage. Cigarettes are still very much de rigour. But really, it’s as quaint as the sign on the stairs. With one action, they’ve instantly made every smoking scene in London look passé.
I wonder what the Hen & Chickens stance on vaping is. I didn’t see any signs disallowing it.