Nearly a week into the marathon, and I feel like I’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve visited a smattering of West End venues, watched a play in a fringe venue under a railway arch, and done… whatever the Bridge Theatre is (off-West End commercial? Retirement home for ex-NT artistic directors? Two-fingers up at anyone who ever doubted they could do it?). I felt it was time for something completely different. And as different options go, watching a play in the gargantuan monument to all things animal, vegetable, or mineral that is the Natural History Museum, is an appealing one.
I love the Natural History Museum. Mostly because, well… dinosaurs. But also the building itself is just such a joy to look at. There isn’t a square inch that doesn’t hold some architectural surprise for anyone willing to drag their eyes away from the exhibits for a moment.
I mean, look at this nonsense.
And as I was there for a morning show, I had the opportunity to wander around before all the hoards of tourists had made there way out of their Airbnbs and into my way.
The theatre itself is located right inside the museum. When I asked for directions I was instructed to head to “the third arch, and it’s on the right.” I found it just after the Dino Store and before the Darwin Centre.
Once you’re in the correct arch, it’s hard to miss, as the doors have been laminated with enough blue and orange branding to scorch your eyeballs, after all the soft greys and softer browns of the stonework and skeletons located in the main hall.
At the box office they expressed surprise that I was only picking up just the one, solitary ticket. As if a woman old enough to have a theatre-going sproglet of her own, going to see a kids’ show at 11am on a Sunday morning, was at all an odd thing to do. I’m beginning to think that I should get some business cards printed up so that I can hand them over in by way of explanation of my strangeness in these situations. I mean… business cards that say londontheatremarathon.com on them. Not one declaring "following affidavits from the midwife and a doctor, I confirm that the bearer is, in all probability, human."
I put on my best intelligent face, hoping they’d think I was a post-grad student researching Darwin or something. I could be. I totally read his lesser known work, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, while at uni. The fact that I seem to be reading mainly YA fantasy at the moment is besides the point.
Anyway, that expression of surprise wasn’t the last one I was going to get. It followed me to the programme seller. “You want a programme?!” he asked, as well he might as they were 7 quid and I didn’t see anyone else with one once I got inside the theatre.
But before I could make it in, it was my turn to get a shock.
The person on the door, after checking my ticket, asked me to present my hand and then with a gentle, and yet reassuringly firm, touch, pressed something onto my skin.
I’d been branded. With a stamp!
Now, there’s nothing wrong with the stamp. Stamps are cool. And it’s a… turtle? I think? And, you know, I like turtles. Turtles are great.
But are they necessary?
Stamps I mean. Not turtles. I’m sure turtles are very necessary. As a metaphor for perverse in the face of overwhelming odds if nothing else. Oh wait, it was a tortoise in that race. Nevermind. Turtles are useless.
Unlike the neat little plastic disk system at The Union Theatre, these stamps don’t seem to serve much of a purpose, because the Jerwood Gallery at the National Bloody History Museum has tickets.
How the turtle stamp manages to prove the existence of a ticket better than the ticket itself, I’m not sure. Is a stamp better? I mean, other than being dinky. And cute. With it’s chubby swimming legs, and lovely rotund shell and…
Okay, I get it. Love the stamp. I am in total favour of the stamp.
And while we’re here, can we all take a moment to appreciate that I'm in the Natural History Museum wearing a sweatshirt covered in dinosaurs? This is some quality content that I'm offering you here. I just don't want it going unnoticed.
Wait, is this what I'm doing now? Dressing to theme? Am I going to wear a Viking helmet to the Royal Opera House? Winged sandals to the Apollo? Dress as a Christmas tree topper to Little Angel Theatre? As an old witch to the Aldwych? (Sorry). A ruff to Shakespeare's Globe? (I could actually do this... I totally own a ruff. Because of course I do). Okay, I'll stop now. I'm not going to do that. Still, it would have made going to the Red Hedgehog Theatre extra fun...
Where was I… right, in the Jerwood Gallery. Or the Jerwood Gallery Theatre. Not quite sure what this place is: a pop-up venue in a museum, or a more permanent fixture with more shows to follow. It looks like a pop-up venue. It feels like a pop-up venue. The seating is more suited to a secondary school assembly than a theatre. The stage is a literal black box that looks like it has been pushed into the vaulted gallery, like a kid pushing a chunky wooden cube into a play-set to help them learn shapes, or spatial awareness, or… I don’t actually know what they’re for. None of it gives the impression that it was built for the space in any meaningful way. Which makes me think that it will all be packed up, and the gallery restored to its former use, at some point in the very near future.
I don’t suppose there are that enough natural history-related plays floating about to fill a theatre into perpetuity. But then, perhaps it is a case of “build it and they will come.” I’d love to see a play about Mary Anning here (the dinosaur lady of Dorset). That would be frickin’ amazing.
Darwin’s great and all, but I doubt he could pull off a bonnet like Ms Anning.
In fact, The Wider Earth had a distinct lack of bonnets. Despite being set in the 1820s. It did have a hell of a lot of puppets though. Which seems to be the theme of my first week of this challenge. 3 of the 7 shows that I’ve been to this week have featured puppets. And not just puppets. Animal puppets. We had ensanguined sheep at Don Q, a spider on strings at A very very very dark matter, and an adorable iguana here at The Wider Earth. If only War Horse were still running, I could have gone for a fourfer.