Well, it's happened. The marathon has brought me to Croydon.
Not a place I'd ever thought I would need to go, but life is funny that way.
And you know what? I've been here all of thirty seconds, and it's true what people say.
There are trams.
I can hear them clanging their way up the hill, with people scattering in their wake so as not to get run over. I stick to the prescribed crossings. You know I ain't good with roads. I am so going to get run over one day, and I'll be damned if it's by a trolley.
The pavements are cluttered with ads for Fairfield Halls. I can't move for seeing posters advertising their opening gala, and that Angela's Ashes musical which nobody asked for. There's even artwork painted onto the tarmac itself. They are going hard on the marketing. But that's not my destination tonight.
Nope, I keep on walking, turn into a cobbled street and stumble down a very steep hill. Strings of hanging bulbs criss-cross over the courtyard, and tables with long benches are set up under them.
It's all very cute.
This place is giving me some serious Neal's Yard vibes. The signage makes me feel like the windows should be crammed with classy blue bottles and dried herbs. Even the name is a rip: Matthew's Yard.
Except I won't be buying overpriced skincare tonight. Oh no. I've heard tell that there is a theatre lurking somewhere within. And I really hope the rumours are true, because I've booked myself in to see a play.
Inside it's all big communal tables and brick walls painted with murals. There's a kitchen advertising itself as a vegan grill, and a counter covered with what I like to call I'm-having-a-bad-day cakes. You know the kind. Ones where a single slice will cover an entire plate. And have so much icing it'll dam your tear ducts for a least a couple of hours.
What I don't see, is a theatre.
I have a wander around. There's a staircase, but that only leads halfway up a wall and no further. There's a back room with a ping pong table in it, and nothing else. And a gallery. This also leads to nowhere.
It's 7.15pm and the show will be starting in fifteen minutes. And I have no idea where the theatre is.
I look around, trying to work out which of these people are here to see a show, and which are only after the vegan burgers. Everyone is eating, or drinking, or looking really intensely at the menu.
No one looks to be ready to be watching a play right now.
My anxiety, already rumbling away in the background after all those trams, flares right the fuck up.
I bring up their website on my phone. It's not a very good website. They don't even list their events on it. Oh no, You have to go to the Facebook page for that. What they do have, however, is details about how to hire their spaces. I look at the theatre page, trying to get clues about it’s location. But there's nothing.
I do find out it's the first crowd-funded theatre in the UK. Which is nice. Not very useful in this moment. But nice all the same.
It's no good. I'm going to have to ask.
I get in the queue at the cake counter.
"Sorry, we are only taking cash tonight," says the young woman serving when I get to the front.
"Oh, no. I was just wondering where the theatre was," I ask, suddenly panicking that I was in the wrong place. There is no theatre. And never was.
"It's through there," she says, pointing to a doorway behind the counter. There's a sign hanging over it. It says: Lounge. "It's third door on the right."
I look through the door. There's a corridor going on down there. A very dark corridor.
"Okay... Do I need to check in with a box office, or..."
She laughs. "No, it's quite informal, I think."
Right... Well, here goes anything. I start walking down the dark hallway. Counting the doors on the right until I reach the third one. It's closed. Very closed. And we all know the rules of theatre doors: don't be opening them if they are shut.
But opposite there is an open door. I have a look inside. It's the promised lounge. Complete with faerie lights, tables, chairs, and even a piano.
There's no one around.
Slightly scared, I go back to the cafe part and stand around, trying to think what to do.
The clock on my phone ticks on. It's 7.29pm.
My anxiety is burning up all to hell. I can't believe I came all the way to Croydon, risking death by tram, for this.
I might just go home...
A man emerges from the corridor. He's wearing a very smart white shirt. And a tie. He lifts up his arms, high above his head. The chatter in the cafe stills as we all look at him.
When he has our attention, he dramatically points behind him,
I think he wants us to follow him.
A table full of young people clatter out of their seats and go down the corridor. As does a girl who had been sitting by herself.
I follow on behind.
Down the dark corridor, and through the third door on the left. Now open.
Inside is a large room. There's a tech desk at the back. And a low wooden stage at the front. In between are rows of folding chairs, white with vinyl covered cushions the colour of sweeties. Pink and green and orange and blue.
The group all make a rush for the front row.
As does the lone girl.
I leave them too it. You know how much I hate sitting in the front row.
I slide myself into the second. Right to the end.
The man in the white shirt hops onto the stage and grooves to the music playing. A couple of girls from the group groove back at him, swaying in their seats.
A minute later, he's off again, dancing away to gather up more audience members.
He returns with two ladies. They sit in the front row too. There's one space left.
It does not get filled.
The man indicates something to the tech person. Close the door. Even I manage to understand that gesture. But the tech person doesn't, and it's left to our performer to dance off to the door, close it, and switch off the house lights.
Right, we're ready to begin.
The man is Tunji Joseph. It's his play. He wrote it. White board: Back pieces: Race in the west.
That's a lot of punctuation for a title.
But the show is slick and moves at a fast clip through stories and anecdotes and questions, and an attempt at some of the answers. What it is to be black in a white world. How it messes with self-perception and even something as fundamental as desire.
Joseph tells a story about being a student at ArtsEd (the group in the front row whoop - so we all know where they studied) and having to go on dates with classmates while in character. About being attracted to one the white girl he was out with. About getting a nod from a fellow black man in the restaurant and not knowing the meaning of the nod.
Joseph brings out a tennis ball and shows it to us.
Going over to the front row, he shows it to the guy sitting on the aisle. "What colour is this?" Joseph asks.
"Light green?" chances the guy on the aisle.
Joseph is horrified. Light green? That is literally the wrongest answer that ever wronged.
He looks around and spots me. Oh dear.
Making his way into the second row he holds out the tennis ball. "What colour is this?"
Well, if light green is super duper wrong. Then I'm going to go for the exact opposite. "Red?"
"Does no one know what this is?" cries out Joseph, clearly distressed.
No one does.
And we get to the end of the show without ever finding out.
Joseph announces there will be a short break, and then we'll have having a Q&A to discuss the process and whatnot.
I have to say, I'm not a big fan of the Q&A. The whole "more of a comment than a question” thing doesn't really do it for me. I'm sure, out there, in the world, exists someone who asks interesting questions, but I've never heard one. I suspect the type of person who does have interesting things to ask, isn't the sort to stay behind after a show to ask them.
But I stay. I'm fairly confident that I'm the only person here who doesn't know the playwright, and I think it'll be a teensy bit obvious if I step out now.
A woman in the from row raises her hand. "This isn't a question, it's more of a statement..."
After a few more statements, and reminisces about the good old days at ArtsEd, we get to the first real question.
"What audience did you imagine? Who did you write this for?"
I sit forward. Now this I find interesting. Because this audience is hella white, and not at all what I pictured when I booked this show.
This marathon has taken me to all sorts of places and all sorts of shows. I've been in plenty of audiences where my whiteness put me in the minority, and even one where I was the only white person in the building apart from the staff, and I've always tried to take this into consideration. Sitting at the back, not taking space away from the people the show was created for. You know. I'm doing my best over here not to be an arsehole. Me doing this marathon shouldn't be getting in the way of someone seeing their art.
So the whiteness of the room I'm sat in, is surprising.
Joseph is more accepting though. "Theatre audiences are white and middle class," he says with a shrug after admitting we weren't quite the crowd he was going for.
"If you can stay, I'll see you in the bar in a few minutes," says Joseph and we all make our way out.
Well, apart from the few kind souls who offer to stay behind and tidy up the chairs.
ArtsEd should be proud.
Me on the other hand, I'm got a tram I need to not get caught by.