Can you believe that this is my first visit to the Kiln Theatre? And I'm not talking since the rebrand either. I ain't never been to the Tricycle neither. Shocking. I know. Even I'm surprised. Or I was until I got on the train to get here. Honestly, people who battle the overground in the pursuit of theatre are gawddamned heroes, they really are. Like, I know I complain a lot about trains. But seriously, they are awful and I want no part of them. Once this marathon is over, I'm never going anywhere that isn't within a ten-minute walking distance of a tube station.
Anyway, I'm here. And there it is, the Kiln. Sitting right there, right on the high street. All cosy and tucked in between a cafe offering wood oven pizzas and the Daniel Day Lewis family's pharmacy, giving off some serious Tara Arts vibes.
Inside there's some sort of cafe or bar or something like that. I don't hang around to find out. My attention is entirely taken uo by the neon sign glowing at the end of a long corridor. A red neon sign glowing at the end of a very long, dark, corridor. A red neon sign saying "Kiln" glowing at the end of a very long, dark, brick corridor.
It's hella creepy.
I don't want to get all, you know, but walking along a very long, dark, brick corridor, towards a red light advertising itself as an oven... I mean, it feels a bit holocausty. Just saying.
Dark, red-lit corridors are already hitting those horror movie tropes. We don't need to be adding kilns to the mix.
I make it down the corridor though, and emerge into a buzzing... again, cafe or bar or possibly restaurant, I can't tell.
A sign points the way towards the box office and I follow it into a brightly lit space. All white walls and tiled floors, and relief on my part.
I stand around, marvelling at the TARDIS-like architecture going on around me.
This place is unexpectedly massive.
It's not like Tara Arts at all. That whole high street frontage is a total scam. This isn't some diddy local fringe venue. This place is glossy as shiz. This is a venue that has done some serious deals with the devil. Which explains the horror hallway.
I suppose I better pick up my tickets.
It's a great big box office. Long counter. With bollards to keep the queue in check. Not that there is one right now.
Terrified that I would be late, I'm in fact here far too early. Damn those trains for running on time.
"The surname's Smiles?" I tell the first box officer I reach. "S. M. I. L. E. S."
"Great!" he says, making a grab for the ticket box. "Can I take your first name too please?"
He absolutely can.
"That's one," he says, handing it over.
Right. Now what?
The cafe or bar or quite possibly restaurant, looks to be more on the restaurant side of the spectrum. No plopping oneself down at a table and taking up space without ordering. Over by the box office there are great big booths, large enough for ten to squeeze around the tables. Each of them seating a single person.
I don't really fancy sharing right now.
Over on the opposite side, there's a counter with high chairs. That looks pretty popular too. I'm not feeling it though. My short legs don't love sitting in high chairs. I like to keep my feet firmly on the ground.
But over there looks like a quite corner for me to stand in.
I hang back, waiting for someone to pass in front of me.
He stops, and glances over. "Box office is just that way," he says.
"Oh, I've got that sorted," I say with a wave of my hand which I hope suggests a casual appreciation for his concern.
Over by the bar, there's a clicking of switches and the lights go down.
We are clearly now in evening mode. Mood-lighting is a-go.
I check the time. Still a bit early to go in.
I should go buy a programme or something.
I look around. While there are waiters buzzing around everywhere, I can't see staff of the front of house-variety.
I go back to the neon sign, and find the entrance to the theatre.
Ah. There's a front of houser. She doesn't have programmes though. Huh. Maybe they just don't do them. Bit at odds with the schmancy vibe they've got going on here, but perhaps it's a statement about kilns, and paper burning, and I don't know... I don't pretend to understand what is going on anymore.
I show her my ticket.
As she sets about ripping it to shreds, I look down and notice something.
Down on the floor, propped up and balanced against the wall, are booklets with the When the Crows Visit artwork on their covers.
"Do you have programmes?" I ask doubtfully.
"I do!" she says, reaching down to grab one, "That's four pounds."
As we settle the business of me handing over a fiver and her finding my change, she goes over the rules. "Just to let you know, there's no readmission once the performance has started, but there is a twenty-minute interal." She pauses. "And no photography is allowed," she says, clearly clocking my sort.
Duly warned, I go inside.
Turns out I'm sitting in the back row, which is no bad thing, because it's a neat little theatre in here. One block of lightly raked seats, lined either side by narrow slips, and a balcony running around the top.
The stage is wide, and the set massive. Huge doors are separated by wide pillars.
All very nice. I make use of the near-empty auditorium to take some forbidden photos. A bell rings outside, and the rows begin to fill up.
An usher walks down the aisle holding a "please turn off your mobile phones," sign on a flappy bit of paper. He reaches the end, walks back up, and puts the sign away. Job done.
The house lights go down. The play begins.
I shift around in my seat.
This is.... well, there's a lot of shouting going on. And I am super not into shouting.
But also, I feel like the playwright is trying really hard to be Ibsen right now. Like, all the component parts are there. And yet, somehow, they don't seem to blend at all. There's this whole crow motif going on, but it feels tacked on. And extra. If this is Ibsen, it's Ibsen-by-numbers.
Next to me, my neighbour's phone lights up as she checks the time.
I glance over, wanting the answer to that question too, but I'm too late. She puts the phone away.
Guess I'll just have to wait then.
And wait I do. As the house lights go back up again, I make a dive for my phone. And... oh my gawd, only an hour has passed. Holy...
I get out my programme in an attempt to distract myself. Let's see what my four pounds has bought me.
There's a piece by the puppet-maker who made the crow. That's cool. It doesn't really say anything. Not about puppets or making them. All bollocks about the beauty of shadows. But, I know how hard it is to get artists to write anything real. So, whatever.
There's an article about the patriarchy in India. That's depressing.
A memorial piece from the playwright about a producer. Which is nice. Not sure the relevance to this play. It makes me think the playwright made a special request for this to go in for her own reasons, rather than anything that would interest or educate the audience. But again... artists.
There's also an intro from the artistic director. And it mentions Ibsen.
I fucking knew it.
I have to hard not to air-punch in satisfaction.
I. Fucking. Knew. It.
Two girls sitting in the row ahead of me return, balancing pastry squares on paper napkins.
Those look good. I wouldn't mind me one of those.
No time to think about that though, the lights are going down and my neighbour hasn't come back.
Half the back row is empty.
Looks like I'm going to have to sit through this ersatz Ibsen all by myself.
Oh, oh lordy... okay. Now it's hitting. I was not prepared for all these details.
Gasps of horror float back through the audience and hit me right in the chest, but I'm too far gone to make my own. This is gross and I don't want these mental pictures that I'm getting here.
My stomach is churning and I am so not into this. But I can't move.
As the applause fades, I make my escape. I want to get out of here as fast as possible.
I race towards the station, half driven by the memories of those words clipping at my heels, and half by Citymapper saying I have three minutes to catch my train or I'll be stuck in Kilburn for another twenty.
I have no intention of hanging around.
I speed up, overtaking a couple walking ahead of me.
They're talking about the play.
"I was not expecting that," says one of them, with a shudder of disgust.
You and me both.
You. And. Me. Both.