Into the Witching Hour

It's 10pm and I'm at home! This is very exciting. Being at home at 10pm is the holy frickin' grail for me right now. Being at home at 10pm means being in my pyjamas, it means cup of tea in bed, with... and I don't want to go crazy here, but what the hell, it's 10pm and I'm at home... biscuits.

At least, that's what it would usually mean.

Tonight however, things aren't going that way.

It's 10pm and I'm at home, and I'm staring at my clothes wondering whether it's socially acceptable to leave the house in pyjamas when you're not a student anymore. Because I've got a show to see this evening. Night, even.

What does one even wear to a midnight matinee? I need to be comfy. That is high on my list of priorities. And warm. Or possibly cool. I don't understand what's happening with the weather at the moment.

So I pick the only outfit that makes any sense to me: a sheer black, ankle length skirt, and a t-shirt that thinks the Hanson brothers were in Nirvana. In my bag I stuff a cardigan (in case it gets cold), a waterproof jacket (in case it rains), and my sunglasses (in case I need to have a nap).

That works.

Right, let's Robert Frost this bitch. I may not have promises to keep, but I sure as fuck have miles to go before I sleep.

I get to London Bridge just after 11. It's Friday night and the streets are thrumming with people not entirely able to walk in straight lines. I'm having a bit of trouble with that myself, the sheer force of my yawns is sending me off course. I am so bloody tired.

Eventually I fall into step behind a couple heading for the Globe. I know they are heading for the Globe because of their shoes. They are both wearing very sensible, and very comfortable-looking shoes. Now usually I'd say they were tourists, and the shoe-choice was a result of all the pavement-trekking they were intent on doing, but they don't stop to gaze in wonder at the ship, apparently docked in the middle of a backstreet, nor do they pause to take a photo of the glittering silhouettes reflected in the Thames. They've seen it all before. The only explanation for these damn ugly shoes, is that they are intent on standing on a hard concrete floor for the next three hours or so. They are Groundlings. I can feel it.

And sure enough, they turn onto New Globe Walk and step below the huge red O hanging overhead.

Stopped at the door to get my bag checked, I lose sight of them as they got lost in the bustle of excited looking people.

No matter. I'm done stalking them.

"Nope!" says the bag checker, spotting someone trying to sneak in a bike. "You're not bringing that in!"

"It folds up!" protests the bike owner, but he's not having it.

"Well, take it back outside and fold it up then. You're not bringing it in like that."

I leave them too it. I need to go pick up my ticket.

There's a bit of a queue, with three people darting about behind the long counter, rushing from the ticket box to the computer to get through everyone as quickly as possible.

Soon enough I've got my ticket and I'm left to find out what is happening with the programme situation.

You see, I don't know what play is being performed tonight.

And for once it's not my dodgy memory to blame.

I don't know what play it'll be, because no one else does either. And no one will, until it comes time to actually start the damn thing.

So, that's the question isn't it: how do you sell a programme for a show that hasn't been decided on yet?

I get in line at the concession desk to find out.

Looks like I'm not the only one intrigued by this puzzle.

The bloke in front of me has got hold of a copy and is paging through the programme with great interest.

I wait.

The programme seller waits.

But the bloke in front is still reading, apparently unaware that a queue has formed behind him.

The programme seller catches my eye and I side-step this avid reader, hand over a fiver, and walk away with my prize.

No time to celebrate quite yet though. I've got another queue that needs joining.

I go upstairs and make my way over to the doors that lead outside, and show my ticket. "Stand wherever you like," says the ticket checker, nodding me through.

It's busy out here. People buying wine and renting cushions from the concession stalls around the outer wall of the theatre. I don't have any time for that nonsense though.

I make my way around the curved wall and towards the door marked Yard & Lower Gallery.

Yup, I'm a Groundling too tonight. I mean, you've got to, haven't you? If you're doing to Globe, might as well do it proper like.

The queue starts here, hugs close around the white walls, back towards the brick building behind. Stops. And then restarts.

I look at the two woman standing several feet from the end of the queue.

"Is this a gap in the queue?" I ask, wagging my hand between the two points.

"Yes, they asked us to leave a break," says one, pointing towards the glass doors that lead to the loos.

"That makes sense," I say, falling into line behind them.

There's not much to do now but wait. I get out the programme to see what I've bought myself.

Turns out, it's programme covering all three play options for tonight. Ah, ha. I see. The show, whatever it is, is being performed by the Globe's touring company. So all that had to do was put the touring programme on sale. Makes sense.

The queue grows and grows, snaking back on itself.

And then the doors open.

I mean...

As first impressions go, Shakespeare's Globe has got it down.

That painted canopy of stars, glowing against the inky black of the midnight sky.

It's a little bit magical.

The first people in line race to take up the prime spots, right in front of the stage. That's what they waited for. And that's their reward.

The front edge of the thrust is all taken up by the time I get in. A second row is already beginning to form.

I have a choice: good view, or leaning space.

It's nearly midnight and if I'm to have any chance of getting through this, I need something to lean on.

I walk to the far end of the stage. There's no one down here. Except one of the red tabarded stewards.

"Is it okay to stand around here?" I ask her.

"Go for it!" she says.

"I just never like being the first..."

"It's always good to be first."

Well, she's not wrong. Being first means that I can tuck myself in next to the stairs that branch off the side of the stage. Not a great view. There's a bloody huge pillar taking up a huge amount of the sight-line, but it does mean that I can wedge myself in between the stage and the steps.

The yard fills up. The seats in the surrounding balconies too, but not nearly as much. You have to be a hardcore fan to want to do Shakespeare in the middle of the night. Those people like to be close to the action. Even if it means they get owie feet in exchange.

A group of girls arrive and take up position next to me. They've wearing glitter on their faces.

"What happens if someone does a speech right there?" asks one of them, pointing at the pillar.

"So what? Get over it," her friend replies.

Music starts. Coming through the Groundlings as the performers make their way to the stage.

They're all wearing variations on the same outfit. Blue and greys, with what looks like a cross between Tudor hose and a pinafore dress, making the lot of them look as if they just escaped from the prep school assembly.

Everyone giggles as Mark Desebrock twangs a strange vibrating instrument, and cheers as Andrius Gaucas does the splits.

Their tune ends, and it's time to pick a play.

How are they going to do it? Well, they're not. We are. The audience.

Oh god. There's going to be shouting, isn't there?

We have a test run.

"I'm going to say a play, and you pretend you really want to see it..." says one of the performers who has introduced himself as Eric.

Everyone cheers and claps.

"Come on," says Beau Holland. "Let's wake up the neighbours: Cinderella!"

More cheering and clapping. A few people pound on the stage to really show their enthusiasm.

But who will be analysing the data? Well, the team have a solution for that.

A beach ball appears.

"The first person to catch it will throw it to the second person. The second person will throw it to the third. The third person will be our independent adjudicator."

Sounds simple enough.

The beach ball is lobbed into the yard. Someone grabs it and bats it onwards. Again it's caught and passed on. And then promptly disappears. Sinking below the line of the crowd.

We all groan.

But no, someone's got it.

"What's your name?" asks Eric (or Eric Sirakian to give him his full name).


"A round of applause for Tash!"

And then it began. The choosing of the play.

"Who wants to see Comedy of Errors?"

The girls next to me scream. They really want to fucking see Comedy of Errors.

I stay silent. I really fucking don't. Fucking hate that play.

Next up...

"Twelfth Night!"

Palms pound on the stage and the night air is filled with hollering.

I join in with the clapping. I do like Twelfth Night. I mean, I've already seen it once this week. But it's a good play. And frankly, anything is better than Comedy of Errors.

"And Pericles!"

You can almost hear the tumbleweed blow through over the sound of polite clapping.

"Come on guys!" says a bloke near me. "Pericles is really good."

Yeah, whatever mate.

A few more people join in. Getting louder and louder as they realise it's all up to them whether they win this thing. The Pericles contingent may be small, but they have some lungs on them.

It's over to Tash now.

"Per-i-cles! Per-i-cles! Per-i-cles! Per-i-cles!"

"I think some people want to see Pericles?" she says, doubtfully.

A round of boos is turned on Tash.

Eric and Beau are pressing her for an answer.

"Twelfth Night?"

The girls next to me groan.

"Cinderella!" shouts the Pericles guy.

Someone rushes on stage with an orange robe and holds it out for Evelyn Miller. She's to be our Orsino.

"If music be the food of love, play on..."

And so we're off. My second Twelfth Night of the week.

Actors start to reappear on the stage, now wearing costumes over their pinafores. Andrius' Olivia in a jewelled veil. Mark Desebrock’s Malvolio in a smartly tailored coat. Beau's Sir Andrew in a plush green doublet that I just want to rub my cheek against, it looks so soft.

The characters begin the business of getting themselves all in a tangle.

I'm really glad I've seen this play before. I'm even more glad that I saw it four days ago... or is it five? I can't work it out. Either way, I'm glad. Because my brain is starting to slow down as the cool night air drifts down through the open roof.

I am so fucking tired. I cross my arms on top of the stage and rest my chin on them, allowing the actors' voices to lull me to... nope. Got to stay awake. I haven't fallen asleep in a theatre yet and I'm not about to start now.

I push myself away from the stage, swaying slightly on my feet before I fall against the sturdy side of the steps, and there I stay, sometimes leaning my back against, it, sometimes just my hip. But always in constant contact. May the theatre gods bless and preserve those steps from woodworm for ever more.

"To be up after midnight and to go to bed then, is early," says Colin Campbell as Sir Toby Belch, staggering up those same steps before throwing a beer over my head and into the yard. Natasha Magigi's Feste follows on behind, belting out a note that blasts my ears.

In the interval, people sink to the ground, putting their knees at risk for the sake of their feet.

I'm about to join them but someone has plonked themselves down on my steps, and if anyone should be sitting on those steps its me.

I go sit next to her.

A steward comes over.

"Sorry ladies, you're not allowed on the stage."

I heave myself back up and find a spare patch of ground to sit on.

I'm worried about what the rough floor will do to my sheer skirt, so I lay down my jacket first, feeling very Walter Raleigh as I do so, and sit on that.

"You need to keep an eye on those stairs," one steward whispers to another, as if we're a litter of naughty puppies who have to be kept away from the Sunday roast.

The young girls next to me seem to have got over their Comedy of Errors loss and are now eating sandwiches.

A steward comes. "Hi ladies," she says to the young girls. "Are you enjoying the show? It's time to get up now."

Shakespeare, it seems, cannot be taken sitting down.

We all struggle to our feet. And it is a struggle. 

It's cold now. Properly cold. I put on my jacket.

My feet aren't too happy about being called on again so soon. I am not wearing ugly-comfy-sensible shoes tonight. They'd be alright, my feet, in my stompy boots, I think. But after 150 theatres they finally gave out on me. A huge crack has split the left soul. So I'm wearing inferior boots. And they're fine. But they are letting me know there's a good possibility that they won't be find in the near to immediate future.

As Cesario gets caught in a scrape after the reappearance of Sebastian, I shift my weight foot to foot, and cross my arms to keep my jacket close.

On stage the characters all work it out. True love reigns. And the company do their closing gig.

But we're not done yet. Mogali Masuku steps forward.

"Thank you, you wonderfully insane people," she says. This gets a cheer. Everyone likes being thought of as slightly insane, don't they? Or at least vaguely eccentric. That is surely most of the appeal of midnight matinee - the ability to shock your friends when you tell them about it afterwards.

"Thank you for playing with us this evening." She pauses. "This morning...?  I don't want to keep you much longer, but this year is the centenary, one hundred years since the birth of Sam Wanamaker." She pauses again for the audience to react. "By the sound of that cheer you haven't heard of him, but he created this beautiful place." She sweeps her arm around to encompass the circular beauty of the Globe. "Without government funding. And it's still like that now. No funding from the government, and we're trying to raise a hundred thousand pounds. The stewards, who are all volunteers by the way, will be standing with buckets. We hope you might throw in a few pennies... or a few pounds, of if you're really tired, perhaps some paper notes too.

"Thanks so much for playing with us tonight and good MORNING!"

And with one final cheer from the audience to chase the actors backstage, they're gone.

And it's time for us to leave too. 

Struggling to stay awake on the night-tube, I finally emerge back in Finchley just as the sky is beginning to lighten. I walk the rest of the way home to the sounds of the dawn chorus, and crash into my pillow face first.

Read More