I Got Played

I’ve broken the pattern. I’m not on the Southbank. I’m north of the river, which is rather exciting. It's been a while. I'm in Hammersmith! Usually this would mean a quick stop off at the Crosstown concession in the tube station, but it’s a 7pm start so I better get myself shifted. Thankfully the theatre is just down the road. You can see it from the station, the massive logo peeking around the side of the pub like a friend winking at you in a crowded party.

And it is a friend now, because I’ve already done the main house. But I’m back to tackle the studio. Something that’s been a bit tricky getting myself into as the good people at the Lyric seem to mainly programme kids’ shows in that space. Thankfully I was saved from that fate by the Lyric Ensemble. Some sort of youth group. With new writing. I don’t know. I'm sure I’ll find out soon enough.

There are three box officers behind the counter tonight. They all grin wildly as I step in the door.

“Hello!” calls over the middle one in what must be the friendliest welcome I’ve had in a theatre so far.

The main house is dark at the moment. Noises Off doesn’t open until tomorrow. For now, the studio is ruling the joint. So it’s nice and quiet. And the box office team seem to be enjoying it.

I do the whole business of giving my name and middle bloke digs out my ticket from the box.

“That’s the second floor,” he says. “In the studio.”

I go upstairs, but I have no intention of going to the studio quite yet. The sun is shining, and there’s a terrace I need to become reacquainted with. I mean, you know how much I love a terrace. And the Lyric has gone a pretty mega one.

Unsurprisingly, I’m not the only one to have had this idea. There are a lot of people out here. A lot of young people.

A bench near the entrance is covered from one end to the other with stacks of pizza boxes and the general vibe seems to be sitting around cross-legged, holding slices of pizza, and laughing.

Not wanting to be the spectre at the feast, I head over to the wall overlooking Lyric Square and make friends with the pigeons instead.

Some people might consider this a bit of a low point in my life. Communing with pigeons while surrounded by teenagers having a pizza party, but to them I say… you’re probably right, let’s move on.

I do, heading back inside and making my way to the studio, which is conveniently all of ten steps away. I flash my ticket at the door and the ticket checker waves me through.

The studio is bright, with white walls and a wooden floor. No black box nonsense here.

“Just to let you know, there’s no readmission,” says a front of houser.

“Right thanks.”

Another front of houser comes over. “Would you like a free programme?”

I absolutely would. She pulls a freesheet out of the pile in her arms and hands it to me.

Right then. Time to choose where to sit.

It looks like the seating that is usually in here has been folded up and pushed back against the wall. Instead, chairs have been brought in, placed on three sides around a stage that looks like a box of earth. Each side has two rows.

I decide I’m not really feeling the front row today, so I put myself in the second. That seems to be the popular choice. Only one person has dared the front row so far.

“No readmission?” says a newcomer on hearing the party line. “So once we’re out, we’re out?” He laughs as the front of houser confirms that, yes, that is the way things are going tonight.

Slowly, the rest of the audiences filters in. The front of housers chat quietly as we all wait for the rows to fill up. One of them fetches a pile of reserved signs and starts laying them done. On the chairs near the entrance, as standard, but also half way down a row on the left, and the furthest seat in that row. All very strange.

I begin to get worried. Reserved seats in the middle of rows. That sounds like the cast might… sit amongst us. And I’m not liking the look of these pieces of paper slipped beneath the chairs. I’m tempted to get mine out and have a look at it, but I’m not sure I want to know.

“There’s no readmission, so if you need the toilet, you need to go now,” says one of the front of housers to a new group just coming in.

We’re nearly full now.

My neighbour gets out her freesheet and starts reading. “It doesn’t say much about the show,” she says.

I’d just been thinking the same thing. It’s a nice freesheet, don’t get me wrong. Has the title treatment of the show at the top, a blood splattered Mob Reformer, which looks very exciting. There’s a cast list. Creative credits. A note from the director. A nice group photo of the ensemble, and a bit about what that is exactly. And the thanks. Obvs. I spot Conrad Murray’s name in there. That’s cool. I wonder if we’re going to get any beatboxing out of this evening.

A woman in a fabulous satin skirt comes in and takes the reserved seat at the end of the row. She’s holding a notebook and wearing a lanyard, marking for what is quite possibly the shortest round of my Blogger or Director game to date. Director. For sure.

The satin skirt gave it away.

Bloggers can't dress for shit.

The front of housers start directing the stragglers to the few empty seats left going.

“Sorry,” says one usher to the front row. “Can you all move up one, so we have one on the end.” One by one they all shift up to close the gap. “Sorry, do you mind?” she asks the last person to move. They don’t mind, and the end chair on the row is freed up.

But it’s not enough, and soon a front of houser is bringing in a spare seat for the last person standing.

Right. I think we’re done.

The cast certainly think so. Someone comes out, in full medieval garb, and an Amazon box in their arms. “I’m Niamh,” Niamh introduces herself all bright and full of cheer. Her smile only wavers when a newcomer arrives, in jeans. This is Ele. She’s late. Oops.

No matter. There’s a show to be getting on with. Niamh gets out a helmet from her box. It’s made of paper, and very impressive. There’s a grill that covers the lower half of the face, space for the eyes, coverage for the whole, you know, head area. It really is excellent.

And she wants us to make one.

“You’ll find pieces of A3 paper under your chairs,” she says. And with no further guidance, we are left to it.

I get out my piece of paper, and stare at it. It’s exactly what she says it was, a blank piece of A3, and nothing more.

“Remember the eye-holes,” she says encouragingly before handing out some masking tape.

Ah, well. Now we’re talking. There’s a lot that I can do with tape.

I wait for the tape to come around, but the front row are having way too much fun with it, wrapping it around their heads and under their chins as they create elaborate constructions.

“Three minutes!” shouts Ele.

Three minutes. Shit. Okay.

I fold the paper in half. Unfold, and then refold. But the other way. I then tear it in two.

“Two minutes!”

With my thumb, I pock through two eye holes.

“One minute!”

I look up, trying to see if any tape as made it to the second row. Nope. I’m on my own here.

Right then. I lay one side of paper over the other, and concertina the short edges together so that they just about hold together. That’ll do. Not exactly a helmet. It’s lacking the head covering element that the word helmet suggests. It’s more of a mask really. But without tape…

I look around to see what others have done.

Someone has created a sort of 18th century bonnet construction that looks rather dapper. While her friend has curved the paper right over her head, leaving a hole for her bun. That one is rather good too. Both of them used tape though.

Niamh and Ele come around to inspect our work.

“That’s really rather impressive,” says Ele to the bonnet girl. “Have you done this before?”

Bonnet girl nods. She has.

“I can tell… Would you mind coming on stage?”

Turns out bonnet girl would love to go on stage. Which is a good thing, as Ele and Niamh have more in mind for her than a mere fashion parade. They’re going to teach her how to do a battle cry.

Niamh sucks in all the air in the room and lets out a roar.

Eel prepares herself. She cracks her neck and loosens up her shoulders.

We wait.

She cracks her neck and loosens her shoulders again.

And again.

Then she stops.

She’s done.

Okay, it’s bonnet girl’s turn.

Bonnet girl pauses, considering her options. She’s just witnessed two masters at work. She’s got to make it good.

With a flutter of her fingers, she lets out a tiny sigh.


Battle cry done, it’s time to ride off.

“We’ve got a recorder over here,” says Niamh.

Someone in the audience shoots up there hand. “I can play!” she announces.

“Can you? Can you really?” asks Niamh.

The hand shooter confirms that yes, she can. But only the one tune.

“You do you,” says Niamh, handing over the instrument.

And to the sounds of Three Blind Mice, the three of them trot around the stage, depositing bonnet girl back in her seat.

Introduction now over. It’s time for the actual play.

It’s about the peasant revolt of 1381.

Everyone’s angry about taxes. Wat Tyler is going to lead the rebels to London.

And… something’s going on. The front of housers are whispering in the corner.

The director gets up from her seat and rushes over.

There’s a police officer. Standing by the entrance. Talking to the ushers.

The cast press on. I try my best to concentrate, but I can’t help but look over. The police officer looks intense. She’s not letting up.

The director turns to us. “Sorry, sorry,” she says. The cast stumble into silence. “We’re just going to stop the show for a few minutes. If you could all stay in your seats. Actors, you stay on stage please.”

Oh. Oh dear. This does not sound good. Has something happened? In the theatre? Has there been a bomb threat. I bet there’s been a bomb threat. Or perhaps there’s a fire outside. No, they’d be evacuating us if that were the case. Or would they? I mean… fuck. I don’t know.

We all sit quietly, and I can’t help but think of that experiment where psychologists pumped a white gas into a room of people and waited to see what happened. Nothing, it turns out. The people in the room just sat there. All of them waiting for someone else to raise the alarm.

The director looks over to the cast and lowers her voice. “Romario?” She beckons to the actor playing Wat.

He looks back at her, his face reflecting the bafflement in all of ours.

She beckons again.

He steps forward cautiously, off the stage, his arms lifted either side of him, the very picture of confusion. He goes with the police officer.

The director’s lanyard bounces as she rushes to the other side of the room and whispers to someone sitting in the corner.

A second later, she’s by the stage, calling the actors in a huddle.

They nod.

A decision has been made.

“This is Adebayo,” she announces, indicating a young man in a red tracksuit. The person she’d been whispering to in the corner. “He’s our assistant director. He will be stepping in. This is a huge challenge for him, and the rest of the cast, so I hope you will be very supportive.”

We all applaud. But I can’t help but think of Romario.

I hope he’s okay.

I hope his family is okay.

A police officer knocking on the door is never good news. But stopping a play? Fucking hell.

My mind can’t help but go to the car crash my mum was in when I was a kid. And the police having to find my dad to tell him that his wife was in hospital. Fuck. I really hope Romario’s mum is okay. And all the rest of his family members for that matter.

Adebayo steps onto the stage, clutching a script. The cast sing around him, and he keeps his head lowered, his eyes on wodge of papers in his hands, his lips moving as he feverishly reads it.

But all those hours in the rehearsal room must be paying off, because soon he is merely glancing at the lines, and then he’s leaving the script on a stool while he joins in with the action. When it comes time to leave the stage, he takes the stool, and leaves the script.

He’s really going for it. Leading his rebels in a choreographed march around the stage, joining in with the perfectly timed chants, and then delivering a perfect rap performance…

Hang on.

What the fuck? Did I hear that right? Did he really just say “Red Power Ranger”? Like the red tracksuit he’s wearing…

Those fuckers. It’s staged. They staged it.

Did they?


They couldn’t have.

Could they?

Oh fuck. I can’t tell.

Adebayo is back, clutching his abdomen. His hoodie’s unzipped. There’s blood on his t-shirt. Blood on his white t-shirt. Blood that would not have shown up on Romario’s dark robes.

A film appears, projected on the white sail hanging over the stage.

It’s the ensemble. Lolling around on the floor, tapping away on their laptops. It’s a documentary. The making of the very play we’re seeing. And there’s Romario, grinning away with the group.

They’re going on the hunt for the Lord Mayor of London. The present one. Not the 1381 one. That one's dead.

They go on a field trip. Into the City. City with a capital C.

Romario tries to get past a security guard. He’s quickly rebuffed.

He tries again.

This time he gets pushed.

After some more failed attempts by the ensemble, the film ends.

There’s a closing note. They never did get a reply from the Lord Mayor.

And something else: “Romario was issued a police caution.”

Bonnet girl gasps. “It was a set up!”

When the cast return for the curtain call, Romario is amongst them.

The police officer, however, is not.

We file out slowly. All of us turning around, looking back, as if expecting someone to come out and announce it was all a charade.

“I don’t think it was pretend,” says a bloke walking behind me. “I think he really did have to get taken out.”

I don’t know, man.

And I don't like not knowing. It makes me feel itchy and uncomfortable.

Either way, I hope his mum is okay.

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Theatre of Dreams

Last night I was at The Shed. It was a very strange place to find myself, considering The Shed is a theatre that no longer exists. Where it once stood on the Southbank, its towering red walls bright within the shadows of the National Theatre that loomed over it, there is now only empty space. The wooden walls have been brought down and cleared away. But my subconscious doesn't seem to have caught up with these developments. Because last night, as I slept, I went back to The Shed.

It's not enough that I spend everyday writing and thinking about theatres, working for one during the day and visiting the rest at night. They've now started to invade my dreams.

It was quiet a nice dream though. I did like The Shed. I'm sad it's gone.

Unfortunately, it doesn't count towards the marathon. On account of it not being a real place anymore, and me dreaming up the entire trip.

Thankfully, I do have a bona fide, genuine theatre, that isn't made of sleep-deprivation and the murkier portions of my imagination, to cross off the list.

For once, I was off to an area of London that I actually knew. A bit.

Hammersmith. It's on the Piccadilly line. And close to the river. And it's home to the Lyric. No, not that Lyric. The other one. The one that doesn't house the source of all my anxieties while holding itself together with duct tape.

The station also has two doughnut shops in it. Which I feel is just the right amount of doughnut shops, and is something TFL should be looking at rolling out across the tube network.

These are all the facts that I know about Hammersmith.

Or the facts that I did know about Hammersmith. I have a few more now.

Like: The Lyric Hammersmith has some excellent signage going on throughout the building.

Yes, it’s all a bit cutsey. A bit… wannabe innocent-smoothie-copywriter-esque. But it’s big. And clear. And there is lots of it. Which is what we want from signage, isn’t it?

I found it all very soothing. It’s like Bach’s Rescue Remedy, except painted on a wall and without the aftertaste of rotten flower petals.

Also: Usually when you buy tickets via GILT (tickets from £10 in the New Year’s sale still available last time I checked), the ticket you are presented with at the theatre is from See Tickets. You probably know the ones I mean. They’re pink and yellow, with a starburst effect. Kinda ugly.

Not so at the Lyric. Here you get a proper Lyric Hammersmith ticket. With their branding. Including a heart watermark, and the title formatted in a brush-stoke styley font that matches the signage. You can tell that they spent on lot on brand consultants, and they are damn well making use of it. Nothing will go unbranded. I bet even the loo roll is printed with some uplifting and adorable tagline.

It might sound like I’m making fun, but that’s only because I am so in awe of this commitment to all things Lyric Brand. Kudos to whoever is the brand guardian at the Lyric Hammersmith. You are doing great work. May the theatre gods bless and keep you safe.

Lastly: There’s a super lovely terrace. And we all know how much I appreciate a terrace. I spent some quality minutes out there, taking photos and contemplating the heads of the people wandering down below.

Sadly, minutes were all I had, as it was time to head into the auditorium.

A few tasty signs later I got my ticket checked at the door, headed down a short red corridor and…

What the actual fuck?

I stopped dead, blocking the doorway. It was only when the person behind me coughed politely under his breath that I managed to gather myself enough to move over to one side. And then I stood some more. Staring.

Gilt? Plaster mouldings? Crazy-ornate ceiling?

Was I hallucinating? Had the lack of sleep finally got to me?

No, I was fairly sure my imagination is not that good.

It was real.

My brain refused to believe it. There had to be some other explanation for what I was seeing. Perhaps, it suggested, firing up some long neglected synapses, I had wandered through a portal to another dimension while making my way down that red corridor. Or maybe, piped up another thought, I had neglected to change lines when I got off the train at Leicester Square, and had made my way to one of the West End houses instead.

But the terrace? I argued.

“The Garrick had a terrace,” snapped back my brain.

But not like that. It was an itty bitty thing. It didn’t have plants.

My brain shrugged. “A portal then.”

I didn’t have the energy to argue anymore.

Final fact about Hammersmith: the auditorium of the Lyric theatre is housed in a separate dimension.

I took a few photos just to prove to myself that I had actually been there, that I had journeyed between two universes, and lived to tell the tale.

After that, I needed to sit down. The cognitive dissonance of stepping from a modern building into an Edwardian auditorium, full of curly architecture, was too much for me.

That may have been a mistake.

One thing that became very clear about this other universe is that the people are missing one of their senses. Either proprioception, or the one of the common variety. I swear every single person passing through the row behind me managed to thwack me across the back of the head.

I mean… maybe they saw me up on the terrace on their way in, and sensed that I was judging the top of their heads and thought I needed a good smack applied to mine. I know not. What I do know, is that I got a bit of a headache after the fifth person managed to introduce the corner of their handbag to my skull.

Thankfully it didn’t stop me enjoying the show.

Leave to Remain sounded very worthy when I booked it. And no fun at all. Thankfully, I was wrong. Very wrong.

It’s charming AF and was the cause of my second standing ovation of the year (my first was, unsurprisingly, at the Playhouse Theatre for Caroline, or Change).

I may have even had a little cry on the tube ride home.

Don’t judge.

I am very tired.

Travelling to another universe will do that to a person.

And might go someway to explaining my dream about The Shed.

Still, inter-dimensional portals or no, I look forward to returning. And I don’t even need to wait until next year on this one! The Lyric has a studio space that I have to see. I might even treat myself to a doughnut to eat on the terrace.