Brr, it’s cold.
No like, properly freezing.
And entirely the wrong day to be heading down to the canal and hang out on a barge.
“It’s been snowing,” said Helen, bundled up in padded coat as we met by the waterside. Her huge fur-trimmed hood nodded in the direction of the ice that clung to the base of the wall next to us.
So, yes, it was really effin’ cold.
We looked from the ice, to the brightly-coloured barge, and back again.
“Do they have heating?” asked Helen.
“I think so,” I said doubtfully. “But the website said to wear layers.”
I wasn’t wearing layers.
After my attack of the vapours on Friday’s trip to the Wanamaker, I was a little nervous about putting my heattech back on. It was just me, my dress, and my coat, against the elements.
And we were shivering.
“Let’s go inside.”
We made out way up the short gangway and onto the deck.
It was beautiful there. Moored right in the middle of Little Venice, the water was surrounded by massive stucco-fronted buildings on all sides.
The water churned as boats thrummed their way past.
The air had that sharp whiteness that comes when you’re near a really cold expanse of water.
But my knees were starting to freeze solid.
As I opened the door, a waft of warm air spilled out. Good. They had heating.
I could see people swarming around with cups at the bottom of the steep staircase that led down into the body of the Puppet Theatre Barge.
Tea has always struck me as a strange substance to consume at the theatre. I was really weirded out by the ubiquitous presence of it at the Orange Tree, but here, on this boat, surrounded by so much frigid water, it seemed right. Proper even. Necessary.
“Do you want a cup of tea?” offered Helen as we queued for tickets at the counter that also served as the bar. I wasn't the only one feeling the need for hot drinks.
I thought about it. I did want tea. But there was something else on the menu that sounded even more appealing. “You know what, I’d really like a hot chocolate.”
“Can we take our drinks in?” Helen asked one of the black-clad ushers.
Hot chocolates, ticket (just the one needed), and programme (£1) acquired, we were led by another black-clad usher into the theatre itself.
Rows and rows of steeply raked benches, facing the tiniest stage I had ever seen.
While seats aren’t assigned, rows are, and we were directed to the correct one and instructed to shift ourselves to the end, where we wriggled ourselves out of our coats and then set ourselves upon our hot chocolates, letting the warmth seep into our bones and drive it the brittle cold.
What remained, was soon melted by the play.
A collective sigh of appreciation rose up from the barged audience as the first puppet appeared, and never really went away. It hovered amongst us, reveling in the charm that poured out from that tiny stage, inhabited by the clinking wooden puppets.
The Butterfly’s Spell, by Federico Garcia Lorca. Yes, the guy who wrote Yerma also wrote a play about a beetle falling in love with an injured butterfly.
“He sure had range,” I observed during the interval.
But perhaps it isn’t so surprising. Who else could have prevented such a sweet tale from devolving into schmaltz?
The woman working the box office came over. “Can I take your cups from you?” she asked. “We’ve run out at the front.”
The rush for more tea and biscuits must have been considerable.
No wonder. By that point the effects of my hot chocolate were wearing off and I dug out my scarf to put around my shoulders.
As the audience filled back in for the second act, I noticed something.
I looked around just to check.
We were all grown-ups.
Not a single child to be seen.
I would have thought a 3pm performance on a Sunday would have been the ideal time to take a child to see a puppet-show on a barge. But perhaps only the childless can be convinced to throw off their duvet on such a wintery day in order to spend their afternoon on a boat.
At the end, the puppeteers came out for their bows.
I recognised them.
They were the same black-clad figures who had led us all to our seats.
“I fucking loved that,” I said, as our applause died down. “So fucking charming.”
We started plotting the casting for a ballet version.
The entire experience was magical. I’m definitely going back. I need more magic in my life.
I just need to remember my heattech.
But there was no time to dwell on the experience. I had somewhere else to be. It was a two-show day, and I was heading off to Waterloo for my first trip to the Vault Festival… and the dreaded Unit 9.