You’re in a cult; call your dad

After bidding goodbye to my intrepid theatre-pie tasters, it was time for me to head off to my next show.

Oh, you didn't think I was done for the day, did you? This is a four-show weekend, my friend. Five if you include Friday night's convoluted trip to the Barbican.

I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Not really. 

My next show was only down the road, in the basement of the Travelling Through bookshop.  

This is my first bookshop if the marathon. 

I've done the former library that is The Bush, and the library-library that is the London Library. But no bookshop. 

Unless we count the Samuel French bookshop being based in the Royal Court, but I think we can all agree that we won't be doing that. 

So, there we were. On Lower Marsh Street, about to find out if bring able to purchase the books on the shelves makes a difference to the theatre they surround. 

Travelling Through is a very small shop. Or at least, that's how it feels when you are crammed shoulder to shoulder with the rest if the audience, as you wait for one of the Vault Festival ushers to check you in on their, by now familiar looking, tablets. 

After Helen's comment at the Vaulty Towers, suggesting that waiting around while holding a pie was actually part of the show, I did wonder whether this close proximity to my fellow audience members was an attempt to show us what life was like for a book, tucked up on the shelf next to its brethren. But the house was soon opened and we filed downstairs, and I forgot all about it.

The little basement cafe is a cosy space. Long tables take up most of the room, but they'd managed to fit in enough tall poufs for us all to sit on.  Each one topped with a freesheet, which was a nice touch. You don't see many of those in the Vault Festival, which is such a shame. And not just because I'm a paper freak. Even with the wonders of the internet housed in our hand, its surprisingly tricky to find out the names of people involved in shows without one. Everyone talks big game about programmes having had their day, but I think we've still got a while to go before I'm made redundant. I mean, they're made redundant. They. Not me. I can do other things than producing programmes. I swear. Please don't fire me.

At one end, a woman cradled a mug of tea. Somehow she'd managed to score an entire table to herself. 

It was xxx. Our performer. 

We all pretended not to notice. 

"What's your view like," asked a glamorous looking woman as she took the pouf next to me.

I glanced over at xxx to assess the situation. 

"Limited," I admitted.

She considered this. "I think I'll sit on my leg, " she said, tucking up one leg under her. 

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Six impossible things before breakfast

“Ooo,” cooed an old woman as she walked past me. “It’s a real boys’ club in there tonight.”

I followed her gaze through the bank of glass doors and into the theatre foyer, slightly surprised. Not just because theatre audiences are notoriously dominated by women, but because I was there for a play about the women chain makers of Cradley Heath, with a cast composed of two-thirds women, and called Rouse, Ye Women!. Somehow, I didn’t expect a massive male turn-out.

But there they were.

Two men.

Waiting at the box office to collect their tickets.

Blimey. I wonder what it’s like at the Greenwich Theatre on a less testosterone-fuelled evening.

Still, she didn’t seem unhappy about the development.

“Squeaky door,” she giggled as she pushed her way in. The door squeaked obligingly.

I followed behind, getting my own set of squeaks as I squeezed myself through the heavy door.

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I was a little bit early. After my run across the city (well, at least the well-posh portion of it) on Monday, I was determined to take it easy. Public transport all the way - starting with the tube and ending with the DLR. Not quite a door-to-door service, but I think calling an Uber for the last quarter-of-a-mile might have been a little extreme, so we can forgive the short walk I put myself through at the end.

The men were gone by the time I got to the box office, so without the ability to properly inspect such a transcendental phenomonen, I was left looking at my ticket. Brown and purple. Not a colour combination that you get to see that often.

There was a lot of it at the Greenwich Theatre though.

The squeaky doors were purple. The floors were brown. Everything else was varying shades of beige.

It was not what I expected.

If I’d been the betting type I would have put money on something a bit more, well, nautical in flavour. It’s not every theatre that has the literal damn Cutty Sark sharing a postcode with them.

But perhaps that was a bit obvious. A touch gauche even.

As I contemplated my unsophisticated imagination the church bells tolled outside.

I checked the time.

7.11pm.

I was getting that sense of cognitive dissonance again. The world had gone all weird and lumpy. Brown and purple. Time had either stood still, or sped up. I couldn’t tell.

The door squeaked.

A cool looking woman wearing a scarf as a headband was stuck in the door, her shopping bag trapped outside. Someone rushed forward to help her. A few frantic squeaks later, she tumbled into the foyer like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

I checked the time again.

It was still 7.11pm.

Time to buy a programme.

“That’s one pound,” said the programme seller.

“Bargain,” I said, reaching for my wallet and dropping my ticket at the same time.

Too many things.

I hefted my bag further up my shoulder, stuffed my phone and charger into my pocket, retrieved the ticket, found a pound coin, handed it over, and took the programme.

Now what to do with that?

It was large. A4. Or rather than A3, folded in half (for my publications peeps, we’re talking a 4pp A4 with a half-fold, printed in full colour on satin finish 80gsm paper, if I’m any judge). What was I supposed to do with it?

I didn’t have any hands free. I’d be flapping around this programme all night if I didn’t find somewhere to put it.

“You can go through if you like,” said the programme seller.

I went through the doors, and made for the nearest flat surface. I needed to fix this mess.

I carefully slid the delicate programme in after it, careful not to get it caught on any stray keys or umbrella spokes.

Zipping back up my bag, I looked up and almost started laughing.

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There is was! Hidden away in the merchandise corner.

Greenwich was officially here. Lurking behind the ice-creams.

The bell rang. The house was open.

I gave my best Cheshire grin.

That was no normal theatre bell.

It was a ship’s bell.

Sharp and clear enough to bring this fuzzy world back into focus.

Up the stairs and into the theatre, I headed right to the front of the huge bank of seats. No brown or purple nonsense here. The upholstery was blue. And in between each seat: a flag. Red. The better for waving in front of charging bullies.

This isn’t the first time this year I found a flag on my seat. I’d been provided with a Union Jack at The Yard.

I eyed it suspiciously as I pulled off my coat and gloves.

For someone who loves theatre ephemera as much as I do, I should have been more excited. But I am an experienced theatre goer. I know what props left on seats mean.

Interaction. Immersion. All the terrible I words.

I sat down. Nudging the flag away from me with my elbow, as if denying its presence would prevent the inevitable.

Here’s the thing about the inevitable though. It always arrives eventually.

Half way through a rousing union song, our Mary Macarthur opened her arms invitingly. She wanted us to participate.

I thought perhaps this was done for effect. A welcoming to the invisible women she was speaking with to join her in song. You know, acting.

I was wrong.

All around me, voices lifted and harmonies layered in rich sound.

“We are the union, the workers bound as one…”

Wait, what? I looked around me, amazed.

“We have the strength of unity, and victories can be won…”

Mary Macarthur stepped off the stage, picking up her skirts as she made her way into the audience to rouse us all.

“Together we are stronger, our voices have more power...”

How did these people know the words? Was this some famous union song? Was I on the brink of being kicked out for not being socialist enough to participate?

“And joined in a trade union, we’re sure to win the hour."

Is this something people do? Jump into a song half way through, knowing the chorus well enough to sing along? Is that just a regular thing that regular people can do? Or is Greenwich stuffed full of lyrical savants?

I mean… it’s well established that I have all the musical skills of a badger, but I’m still shocked by this.

“But Maxine,” you say with a heavy sigh. “Of course this is normal. Just look at all those Americans learning their own history through the medium of Lin-Manuel Miranda. People remember things if you put a beat to it. Even you did. Look. You literally just wrote the lyrics down.”

To which I say: yes. I did. But I copied them out of the programme. A programme which no one was reading during the sing-a-long.

And as for Hamilton. I have probably bopped around to that cast recording, Oooo… three hundred times, maybe. And I’ve seen it live. Twice. If it came down to it, life-or-death situation styley - I could probably rap along to a fair chunk of it.

But not during a first listen.

Not half-way through the damn song.

The music ended. The sole male-actor came forward. “We’ll now take an interval of fifteen minutes. Just wait for the house lights. There they are. See you in fifteen minutes.”

That should have been my cue to make a run for it. To escape. We'd only made it through act one and we were already singing. Act two could only get worse. And we still hadn’t even touched the flags.

I stayed in my seat, unable to move. I was, as the Tumblr kids say, shook.

I was right. There was more singing. And clapping along. And a fair bit of flag waving.

Mary Macarthur even whipped her programme around in lieu of a manifesto. The edges were torn and rumpled.

I nodded to myself. I was right to put my programme away so carefully. This is what happens when you just shove it in your bag with no concern for the delicate nature of the paper stock.

As the show closed, the man stepped forward again.

There was going to be a Q&A.

Before I could even reach under my seat to make a grab for my coat, the guest speaker was already on the stage. I couldn’t leave. I was in the front row. There was no getting out.

She was going to give a short talk first. There was a sheaf of paper in her hands.

Too much paper. Too many pages.

And then… okay, that was an interesting bit about Mary Macarthur. And that was good too. And wow… shit. She was one cool lady.

“I have a comment, then a question.”

Here we go.

The man stood up. “I just wanted to show you all my t-shirt. I didn’t know I was coming to see this show until 6pm, but perhaps, somehow, I did…” He was wearing a union t-shirt. With an image Rosie the Riveter. We all clapped in appreciation.

“Sorry,” said another man. “Can I just say  that if you’ve enjoyed this play, you might enjoy another play taking place just down the road…”

The ballsiness of this move was lost on me in the moment. I was too busy letting out scream of internal swear words. Shitshitbloodybastardbloodyshit. The play wasn’t in a theatre. Not a proper, dedicated-use theatre. It was a pop-up.

And it wasn't on my list. 

I quickly made a note of it on my phone.

“It runs until the 30th,” he finished before sitting down.

Eleven days to get there. Short notice. But doable. If you ignore the fact it’s February. I put away my phone.

Another man raised his hand.

And another.

And another.

The old woman had been right. It really was a boys’ club in there that night.

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Swoon-worthy theatre

This is not the blog post that I had intended to write.

I had other ideas entirely.

I was going to the next stop on my marathon with a friend. One who is a regular theatre-goer. We had dinner, over at Porky’s, quite possibly the least vegetarian place in existence, and even better, within full-bellied staggering distance of the Globe complex where we would be spending the remainder of the evening.

And while I was busy dribbling mayo and crumbs down the front of my favourite dress, Helen was busy dropping interesting thoughts about the art-form we both love so much. She's very clever, you see.

As an example, when mentioning the gender-swapped Dr Faustus currently playing at the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, my reaction on hearing about the girl-kissing was to share how much hotter I found that than hetero-normative theatrical love scenes. Her's was to muse on how they made one look again at a well-trodden tale.

"Ah, yes. That too," I said, nodding along.

See? She’s very clever. An intellectual even.

So, I was sure that she would have lots of interesting things to say that I could... borrow... for my blog post.

That was the plan at least. 

Events, however, rather got in the way.

After finishing up our meal (and me having a quick brush down of my dress - everything sticks to velvet), we headed across the road to the theatre. We were watching the Dark Night of the Soul, a collection of new plays written in response to the same Dr Faustus that had provoked my previous, embarrassing, admission.

"Free programme," offered an usher, holding up a couple of said free programmes to show us.

Absolutely, yes please.

I can never resist a free programme. I might have even said that: “I can never resist a free programme.”

Especially not one as nice as this. No A4 freesheets run off on the photocopier here. There are pages and pages, with proper artwork and beautiful typesetting and… oh, I’m quite overcome just flicking through it again as I write this.

Such rapture extended all the way up the stairs and into the theatre itself.

I’ve written before about the cognitive dissonance of stepping out of 2019 and into a space transported over from a previous age. And the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is no less startling even if you expect it.

The white hallway and the bright electric lights are left behind you as you are enveloped by shadows and candlelight.

We took our spaces. Right at the top, balancing on the narrowest of platforms, high above the pit. Spots chosen in a concession to my floundering bank balance. Once bags and coats had been dealt with, there wasn’t much room for feet to be placed.

“It’s a beautiful space, but the sightlines are terrible,” Helen had commented before we went in.

She wasn’t wrong.

It is a beautiful space.

And the sightlines are terrible.

Tucked up against the wall you don’t get much of a view of the stage. But there are compensations.

The ceiling, painted with the images of the skies that they hid, were mere inches above our heads, allowing close inspection of the golden constellations scattered across the angel-strewn heavens.

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The curtains leading out into the modern world were drawn shut, and we were left alone in the candlelight, cut off from the outside world.

As the first play started, our row settled into a common stance - arms resting on the bar before us, bums braced against the wall behind, feet positioned wherever our belongings allowed.

The warmth of the candles wafted up, brushing our cheeks.

I leant back, enjoying the feel of the cool walls through the back of my dress.

But the lure of the play was too much and I was soon back on the bar, leaning forward to catch what glimpses of the actors were available.

The air grew hotter.

I ran my finger inside the neck of my high neck of my dress. The satin-frilled collar didn’t allow much in the way of air to get through.

I settled on unbuttoning the cuffs of my sleeves and rolling them as far back as they would go.

That helped.

For a minute or so.

Could I unzip my dress? No one was behind me. I contemplated the acrobatics needed to reach my zip in such a confined space. Impossible... And let's be real here... super weird.

If I could just make it to the end of the play, I could try and grab one of the empty seats, I told myself. It wouldn’t be nearly so bad if I was able to sit down.

I was sweating. Heat rushed up and down my body. My head swam.

I was going to faint. Or throw up.

I didn’t know which was worse.

It couldn’t be long now. These plays were short, weren’t they?

The air grew thick, condensing over the flames below until it was impossible to breath.

I had to get out of there.

“Excuse me,” I said to the woman next to me.

With a whispered warning about the positioning of her bag, she slipped out of the row and let me past.

“I’m going to faint,” I announced to the usher. I really was.

She swept back the curtain and escorted me outside.

The cool air of the corridor flooded into my lungs.

I breathed it in greedily.

“This way,” she said, leading me back into the modern world. “This lady was feeling faint,” she explained to the ushers waiting out in the upper gallery foyer.

They lept up, sitting me down in a chair and fetching me a glass of water as I fanned myself with my hand.

“Sip that slowly,” said one, wearing a top that indicated she was a first aider.

I did my best, but the urge to tip it all back in one was almost overwhelming.

As the internal combustion engine in my chest gradually lost steam, I began to gather my thoughts.

The first of which, I am ashamed to admit, was: wow, this is quality blog content going on right now. My second, no less cerebral, was: I wonder if I'll make it into the show reports. I've always wanted to be in a show report.

They are such good fun to read.

It would be the audience member equivalent of having a character in a play based on you (quality call back to one of the night’s plays - Katie Hims’ Three Minutes After Midnight, right there).

Do we all know what show reports are? I feel if you are reading this blog you probably do. But just in case, they are basically a debrief on everything that happened that evening. Props that failed. Lines fluffed. Entrances missed. Jokes that didn’t land. Audience members who fainted. You get the idea.

“Here,” said the first aider, grabbing one of the free programmes and fanning me with it until I was back in the real world and not thinking about show reports. We laughed. “How are you feeling now?”

“Warm,” I said. But not likely to faint. Or throw up. Which was a relief. “I think I chose the wrong outfit for this theatre,” I said, smoothing down my velvet dress.

“Yes, I always stick to t-shirts when I’m working in there.”

“Yeah, this was a mistake… I’ve even got heattech under here.”

“Oh dear!” she exclaimed, clearly horrified. “You can take it off. There are loos just through there, if you like.”

That sounded like a good idea.

I headed where she pointed, got lost, but then managed to find the loos anyway.

They were gloriously cool. And empty.

I managed to wrestle my zip down, remove the blasted heattech, and then put myself back together again.

I left my cuffs unbuttoned though, and repaired to the sink where I ran cold water over my wrists.

I felt so much better.

That was, until I spotted my reflection. 

Good lord, I was a sweaty mess.  

I'd left my bag in the theatre. I had no way if repairing it. 

Oh well. 

As I was leaving, I saw my first aider chatting to the duty manager, asking about getting the heat down in the theatre.

I slinked away, ashamed at the chaos I was causing. 

“You can sit down over here and watch,” said the usher who was still posted upstairs. She waved me into a seat and indicated the screen showing the live feed of what was going on inside the theatre. “I’m afraid the volume can’t go any higher,” she added as an apology for the poor sound quality.

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“Do you have a programme?” she asked.

“I do.”

“You can have another if you like. Follow what’s going on.”

For the first time in my life, I turned down the offer of a programme. Just like when you’re car-sick, I believe it’s better not to read when you’re feeling queasy. All that looking down and focusing. Not good.

We sat together and watched.

A few minutes later the first aider returned, and they switched places.

“How are you feeling?” she asked, full of concern.

“Much better.”

“Fancy heading back in?”

I absolutely did. Mama didn’t raise no quitters.

“The play's almost over. When the angel comes out, I’ll take you back in.”

We waited, watching the screens. Eventually a winged figure emerged from the doors behind the stage. An angel.

She led me back in, handing me over to the usher on the door.

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“You can sit over there,” she said, pointing to a vacant spot on the end of a bench.

The view from there was marvellous. The mirror-like stage glowed under the light of the candles.

I looked back at Helen, who was still stoically standing in her five-pound spot. 

I probably should have sprung for a better ticket. 

Almost fainting is certainly one way to get a free upgrade, but perhaps not a route I would recommend following.

Rose-tinted theatre

I’m going to like this place.

That was my thought the second I walked through the door of the Arcola.

I don’t know what it was that provoked such a strong reaction. Perhaps it was the pink coloured light that blazed out over the door. Or the fact that it was an easy walk from my work. Or maybe that being so close to an overground station, my journey home was going to be a cinch. The staff, bustling around in their branded aprons, demonstrating open friendliness and scary efficiency in equal measure, might have contributed to my thought process. The £1 playtext sale must have helped. And the huge yellow sign over box office proclaiming “Tickets” which is exactly the no-nonsense, anti-jargon, stance that I can get behind. But between you and me, I think it was the bench.

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There, slunk low, just inside the foyer door, was a long wooden bench. Exactly the sort you would find in a school gymnasium. It conjured up memories of being five years old and doing bunny hops along the full length. Bunny hops were my absolute favourite thing to do in gym. Leaping about from one side to the other, while gripping onto the surface of the bench for support. The feeling of flying as you soared over the bench. The power in your arms as they take your full weight for that fraction of a second. It doesn’t get much better than that. Plus, no one is throwing anything at you and expecting you to catch it.

"Is this for Daughter-In-Law?” asked the woman at box office (or “Tickets”) as I gave my name.

Wait, what?

I looked around. There, to my left was a sign. “Studio 1.”

Shit.

Double shit.

Shit on a cracker.

The Arcola has more than one theatre.

The warm glow that had been sitting in my stomach at the sight of the bench wavered. I had another theatre that I needed to add to the list. 251 theatres in London. 252 now. And this was only number 25.

Shitshitshitshitshit.

I managed to fight through the pain and indicate that yes, I was there for Daughter-In-Law.

She glanced at the ticket.

"Now you'll have to go outside and back in. There’ll be a bell when it's time. I'm afraid no drinks are allowed in these seats."

But I wasn’t paying attention.

252 theatres. I wasn’t even a tenth of the way through my marathon and I’d just found out that another mile was being tagged onto the end.

I could feel myself boarding the Anxiety Express. I needed to think nice calming thoughts.

Tickets (real tickets). Programmes with full-page photography…

Wait.

"I think I ordered a programme?" I posed it as a question, but I definitely recalled seeing programmes for sale during the online booking process and I couldn’t imagine not sticking one in my basket.

"Let me check," she said.

"I mean, I might not have,” I prattled on, suddenly starting to doubt myself. “But I feel very strongly that I did."

She checked.

I had.

Phew.

It was still early, so I took myself and my programme over to the bunny-hop bench and had a flick through (really good by the way. An absolute bargain at only £2 online. £3 at the theatre. Lovely paper-stock. Interesting articles. Recommended).

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As I stood, reading about D.H. Lawrence’s use of dialect, something jabbed at my leg. I tried to swat it away with my foot, but only succeeded in stubbing my toe. I looked down, fearing some creepy-crawly had got my leg.

A massive splinter was sticking out and clawing at the back of my calf.

The bunny-hop bench had betrayed me.

I felt less kindly to it after that.

I decided to go for a wander.

The bar looked nice. But busy.

Staff everywhere.

And on the wall… oh bliss… oh rapture.

Cast sheets.

Free for the taking.

Good lord. Programmes, real tickets and free cast sheets? Arcola, you spoil me, you really do.

See? I couldn't stay mad at this place for long.

Soon enough, the theatre bell rang as promised and people began to saunter out.

I busied myself tucking my cast sheet away in my bag, and by the time I looked up again, the door was banging shut after the last person had left.

I hurried after, heading back out into the street, rounded the corner and headed for the brightly lit door and the other end of the building.

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Hmm. That didn’t look right.

Where did the lady on box office say I was supposed to go again? I hadn’t been paying attention.

Shitshitshitshitshit.

This was going to be another The Wrong Door situation again, wasn’t it?

The Anxiety Train going full speed by this point. I backtracked. I’ll just go back inside, and ask, I told myself. Like a normal, functioning adult. It’s fine. It’s all fine. There’s plenty of time. No need to stress.

I didn't make it that far. 

Just as I was about to head through the main door, I spotted another one. It was narrow. Barely a slither in the stonework, but there was no question, this was The Right Door. 

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I must admit, I'd been a little worried about what sort of seat I'd get. Usually I just buy the cheapest and hope for the best. But this time, I levelled up. 15 quid for a value ticket instead of a ten pound restricted view one. I prayed to the theatre gods that it was worth it.

After making almost the entire length of my row stand up to let me past, I made it to my seat it the front row of the balcony. 

There was a pillar in front of me, but so narrow I forgot it was there within minutes. 

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What I didn't forget was the cold.  

Eighty minutes is a long first act at the best of times, but when you're stuck in your seat, shivering, it can feel like an eternity.   

I thanked the theatre gods that I had remembered to back my shoe grips in my Theatre Survival Kit that morning. The pavements were bound to be icy by the time we got out of there.

Don't get excited. My Theatre Survival Kit, such as it is, is mainly composed of whatever crap I remember to shove in my bag to help me get through these very long days. Snacks and... well, mainly snacks. But also the aforementioned shoe grips on icy days, a folding fan for warm ones, and cough sweets all year.

Speaking of cough sweets... I reached into my bag. I've had a cough since Christmas, one that refuses to go away. It's always made worse when I'm stuck in confined spaces. Like lifts, or the tube, or theatres. I could already feel a small niggle starting at the back of my throat and...Shit. No cough sweets. I had meant to pop out over lunch and restock but I'd... forgotten.

I stuck my hand right down to the bottom of my bag, past my wallet, my book, my Tupperware and shoe grips, and explored the slightly sticky base, feeling in between the empty wrappers and forgotten receipts.

Ew, when was the last time I cleaned this thing out?

After much scrabbling around I found one, lonely, cough sweet. A little bit dusty from accumulated bag debris, but by that point I would have sucked on the contents of my hoover bag if it promised some relief.

This play better be worth it, was all I could think at that point.

How wrong of me to doubt them.

I should have known the Arcola wouldn't do me wrong. 

The first act flew past. As did the second. And I didn't cough once, well... not until the curtain call when I suddenly remembered about my tickely throat. 

Now, Arcola. You need to package this shiz. You and me. We can make a mint. Or rather... a cough sweet (sorry). Arcola's Awesome Cough Remedy: two and a half hours of relief - guaranteed! As approved by the overtired theatre-marathoners of London.

Call me, yeah?

Cold beans and etiquettes

Can I start out by being a bit sentimental here? Just briefly. It won’t take long, I promise.

I just wanted to say thank you to, well… you. And to all the others who have been reading along as I crash around London watching far too much theatre. Knowing that there are hundreds (and hundreds!) of people out there, rolling their eyes at my exploits, makes seeing eight shows a week that bit easier.

Yes, eight shows.

With a double-show day on Friday, I could by rights have taken Sunday off. Taken it easy. Caught up on some much needed sleep. But no.

A few days back I recalculated the number of theatres I need to get to before the clock chimes midnight on New Year’s Eve. And unfortunately it went up, rather than down. I added all the venues in the Vaults Festival, the studio of the Little Angel (missed that one, oops), a few newly announced site-specific spots, and ended up with a figure of 251.

Still doable. Just about.

Don’t worry, I’m not giving up yet. But it will be a while before I allow myself the luxury of a weekend.

Not that I’m trying to guilt you into coming back, but… don’t leave me alone here. I need you to hold my hand, and like… maybe, if it’s not too much to ask, perhaps also stroke my hair and tell me I’m pretty. This is hard work. I’m just after a bit of validation.

With all that in mind, I put on my most vibrant red lipstick and headed over to The Pleasance for the 5.30pm performance of In Lipstick.

This wasn’t part of some suggested dress code, in case you were wondering, but I figured I might as well get into the spirit of the thing.

It has just occurred to me that The Pleasance is my first proper north London theatre. Which, as a north Londoner myself, is pretty exciting. That, combined with a 5.30pm start and a 90-minute, no interval, show, meant that I would be back home in time to make a proper dinner. Now that was really was exciting. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a proper, hot dinner.

These are probably the wrong type of thoughts to have when going to watch a play.

Especially a play which features a picnic. Doubly especially when the picnic is packed full of M&S goodies.

Conventional wisdom goes that one should never go food shopping on an empty stomach.

The same can be said about going to the theatre.

There’s nothing worse than watching an actor joyfully chow down on a mini pork pie when you’re hungry.

I could easily have clambered over the three rows in front of me and hoovered up the entire spread laid out on stage.

When I’m in charge of theatre, I’ll introduce and then enforce a rule that states that theatres need to start offering packed lunches with a sample of the foodstuffs that the actors are consuming. Nice food, obviously. In reasonable proportions. We don’t want a Cool Hand Luke situation going on in the stalls.

I anticipate some push back. Yeah, there’ll be some fuss about the noise. And possibly the smell. And I’m sure the cleaners won’t appreciate my new initiative, but I think if we pitch it as part of an immersive experience, it’ll get through even the most hardened members of the Theatre Etiquette Crew.

No? Not into it?

Okay, the lack of dinners may be focusing my thoughts in the wrong direction.

A cup of tea wouldn’t have gone amiss though. It was freezing in there. I had to use my scarf as a shawl and I was still shivering. Even then, I wrapped my arms so tight around me that when I got up to leave, my muscles had frozen into place and I feared I might be stuck like that forever - like a human pretzel.

Thankfully, the lack of heating was the only unpleasant thing about The Pleasance.

This is a theatre that knows how to appeal to me. It has great signage, a proper box office, a bar full of packed bookcases, and the signs for the loos actually say 'loos' rather than 'toilets,' which I think we can all agree is the nicer word.

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Even better than loos, they have playtexts to purchase in place of programmes.

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Now, I love me a programme. You already knew that. I’ve made no secret of it. But a playtext-programme? That’s next level excellence. Because 1) if the play is good, you get to relive the best bits on your tube journey home, or conversely 2) if the play is bad, you can check to see how far you are from the end and prepare yourself accordingly.

It also meant that I had something tangible to take away with me in lieu of a proper, papery, ticket.

I don’t know what I did wrong, but I managed to turn up with an e-ticket. Which meant that when I got to the box office, there wasn’t a real one waiting for me to pick up.

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“You can just use your phone.”

What? But I don’t want to use my phone! My phone sucks. It keeps on switching off and losing battery and is basically the scourge of my life right now. What am I even supposed to do with an e-ticket? I can’t store it in my ticket box, and I can't get warm fuzzies from looking at them. And I like warm fuzzies. The world needs more in the way of warm fuzzies.

I considered asking for a printed ticket anyway, but working box office is hard enough without the added problem of dealing with me and my obsessions. So, I let it go.

I didn’t take me long to regret that decision.

While everyone else heading into the auditorium was getting their lovely tickets torn, I was sent away, dismissed, and directed to another usher, to get my phone scanned and beeped. Ergh. As theatre experiences go, getting pulled out of a queue and being beeped lacks a certain romance.

I didn’t put on lipstick special just to be beeped, like a tin can of beans.

A cold tin of beans at that.

God, I need to stop thinking about food.

And seeing shows with so much of it, kept tantalizingly out of reach.

Sausage rolls. Macdonald’s chicken nuggets. Scotch eggs…

Hang on. I’m just going to stick a slice of bread in the toaster. Be back in a minute…

Right. That’s better. I’m properly carbed up now. And I’m also running late. Great. Let’s wrap up then. Both figuratively and literally, as it is friggin’ cold out there today.

I’ll be heading back to The Pleasance a couple of times to check out their other spaces, and I’m not even slightly upset about this. But… perhaps I’ll leave it for when it’s a bit warmer. And I’ll be sure to select 'care of box office' when booking my ticket.

Beep!

This is how the world ends

I have something to admit.

I took a day off. No theatre at all for me on Sunday.

I stayed at home. Did laundry. Watched that James Graham Brexit thing (it was good). Painted my nails (now my programme-selfies won’t look so… chipped). It was good. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. Oh, yeah. Marathon. Fine… moving on.

Look how good my nails look! I predict they will be chipped again by the next programme-selfie

I was back in the West End yesterday. True West at the Vaudeville.

I hadn’t intended to see this one. Nothing against the play, Johnny Flynn or Kit Harrington (or even his hair), but I really wanted to see the Globe’s Emilia, which is next up at in the theatre. I mean, an all-female cast in a play about a seventeenth century poetess? Yes please! But damn GILT got in the way with its pesky ticket offers. You know how it goes. Not that I’m not grateful. Please don’t stop, GILT. I need you!

Monday night and I was off to the Strand. Took photos. Picked up my ticket. Bought a programme (£5. Articles. Rehearsal photography. Acceptable). Took more photos. Went to the bar. Then the other bar. All fine.

The route up to the grand circle is a little… bare. Made me think that perhaps a separate entrance had been integrated into the theatre, but no one had told the decorators. Still, not quite as prison-chic as the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, so let’s not linger too much on that. There were show posters hanging up on the walls. Fine.

In fact, everything was fine. So fine that I was beginning to panic.

What on earth was I going to write about?

I’ve been worrying about this a lot lately. 233 theatres. Even accounting for double-show days, that’s a lot of blog posts. Was there really enough to say? What if every theatre I visit is… fine. Things can’t happen on every single trip. I don’t want them to happen on every single trip. My anxiety, you know. It’s very stressful. But what’s even more stressful is the thought of having to sit down the morning after and pull a thousand words out of nowhere.

And that’s the most likely scenario, isn’t it? Nothing happening.

I’ve seen a lot of theatre over the years. A lot. And the amount of truly blog worthy incidents that have happened in my vicinity can be counted on one hand. I mean, there was that time when a notable character actor swatted a woman across the back of her head with his programme at The Old Vic because she wouldn’t switch her phone off. That was pretty intense. But unless I intend to put said character actor on retainer, I couldn’t rely on that happening again any time soon.

Such worries fluttered away however when I met the usher in the grand circle. As soon as she tore my ticket, I just knew there was going to be trouble. Perhaps all those years of theatre-going experience are finally kicking in, but I sensed we were not going to be in for an easy ride.

What’s the theatrical equivalent to spidey-senses? Well, whatever it is: that.

The Vaudeville looks like it’s been recently refurbished. Or at least, recently repainted. Either side of the grand circle, right on the edges, where slips seats might usually go, are a pair of wooden scaffolds, to hold spotlights. Now, I have nothing against spotlights, nor the sinister-looking constructions required to house them. But they are rather big. And if you are sitting right on the aisle, they manage to obscure the view of a good chunk of the stage. Which is ironic. Given the purpose of lighting and all.

So it was unsurprising that when the house lights dimmed, the woman sitting on the end of my row, slunk out of her seat and sneaked forward, into the empty front row, where presumably the view was considerably better.

She didn’t get to enjoy it for long.

A few second later, the usher hurried down the stairs to the front row and after some heated whispering, the interloper was removed. She meekly returned to her designated seat.

Except, the usher wasn’t done.

And the front row wasn’t empty.

There was someone else there.

I hadn’t noticed him before.

The usher leaned in. Some more fervent whispering followed.

He whispered back.

The usher wasn’t having it. She stood to the side of the row, waiting for him.

He didn’t move.

The tension strained taught between the two of them.

Who would break first?

Something was happening on stage but I wasn’t paying attention. This impasse was far more interesting than anything our playwright could possibly come up with.

I sat, watching, utterly gripped.

The usher dithered. I could see her thinking. She shifted her weight from foot to foot. Holy shit. It was her. She was going to give in.

The man in the front row stared resolutely forward, watching the play as if all the rules and orders of theatre weren’t tumbling down around him.

Then, she walked off. Leaving the man in the front row… in the front row.

He’d won.

I almost gasped.

In fact, I might of actually gasped.

Was this the end? Had this age of polite theatre finally come to an end? Where we going to return to a time of throwing tomatoes at the stage? Would actors need to start shouting over the din of the audience’s nattering? What about booing? I feel booing is due for a comeback. Why do opera and panto-goers get to have all the fun? I want to boo too!

After that, it was hard to concentrate on the play.

Kit Harrington displayed some excellent floor-work, kicking his legs and arms up like a baby grasping for his mobile. While Johnny Flynn tackled a loaf-full of toasted bread with such enthusiasm it made me quite hungry.

And the woman sat at the end of my row?

She’s a fighter.

As soon as the lights went back down in act two, she made a second attempt at the front row.

This time the usher didn’t stop her.

What was the point? Chaos had won. The thin velvet line had been breached. There’s nothing for it but to hide behind the bar and chug the gin and wait for the reinforcements to arrive.

Audiences of London! We will no longer we shackled by the conventions of theatre. The ushers have no hold over you. Talk! Eat! Lean forward if you so desire! Because a new age has dawned, and we will not be contained in our allocated seats!

As the curtain closed I leapt up, ready to launch myself into this new world and reclaim my power as an audience member. I could see it all: Audiences pouring out of the theatres and congregating in Trafalgar Square. There was going to be a march. And banners. And quite possibly a few bins kicked over. We were going to graffiti the theatre doors and disrupt the day-ticket queues. We would build a bonfire of theatre programmes! Okay, maybe not that last one. That’s taking things too far.

I headed out of the side door, towards the staircase leading down the outside of the building, and breathed in the night air. Ah! It smelt like a riot about to happen.

And something else.

Something slightly more acidic then the rising up of theatre-goers.

Unless the rising up of theatre-goers smells of piss.

As we left the alleyway, a lady with an American accent piped up behind me. “Did you notice that? That smell was urine, I think..."

Yeah, I think you’re right.

As we emerged onto the Strand, the smell, like the rebellion, dissipated.

I went home.

Okay… so my little tale is not quite well-respected-character-actor-hitting-woman-with-programme good. But we’ll work on that. Perhaps I’ll start leaving my phone on during shows. See what kind of reaction I can provoke. Leave it with me kid. You want drama. I’ll get you drama.

Vive la revolution!

At least there was cake...

There aren’t many people out and about this early on a Saturday morning.

Most sensible people are still tucked up in bed, or perhaps if they are real go-getters, they’ve managed to stagger downstairs in search of tea, and perhaps toast.

They’re not sitting on a tube on their way to the opposite end of London.

They’re not like me.

But hey, sensible people don’t go in for theatre marathons. They’re missing out.

I mean, not on sleep. Or hot dinners. Or that James Graham Brexit show that I still haven’t seen. Or spending time with people that love them.

They’re not missing out on any of those things.

But they are missing out on that super-charged feeling that comes from seeing too much theatre crammed into a very short space of time, with all your emotions fizzing away just under your skin so strongly that you almost crackle as you walk.

Believe me, it’s worth it.

And I’m not just saying that to make you feel jealous. I’m saying it in order to convince myself.

It’s not working.

I miss sleep.

At least I had the carriage to myself. And a chance to read. Which is almost as good as sleep.

That was, until two young lads hopped on. I call them lads because that’s what they were. A bit lary. Still obviously drunk from the night before. And very loud.

“Oof, fuck man,” said one as he collapsed into a seat.

“Fuck man,” agreed the other.

“Fucking Stockwell,” continued the first.

“Where the fucking fuck is fucking Stockwell?”

I sympathised. I’ve had similar feelings about West Norwood recently.

“Excuse me, Miss,” said one, leaning so far forward that his shadow fell over my book. He was talking to me.

I looked up.

“Do you know where Stockwell is?”

Now I don’t react well to geography quizzes. We all know that the whole knowing-where-places-are isn’t exactly my forte. Especially early on a Saturday morning. I do however know that Stockwell is on the Northern Line, and we were rapidly approaching it.

“Sorry,” I said, not risking my small amount of Stockwell-knowledge lest it lead to more complex questioning.

“Fuck me,” was the lad’s sad reply. “We’re from Margate,” he added, as if that explained everything. “And we’re trying to get back.”

“I think you need a train station for that,” I offered, as helpfully as I could.

“Yeah, but which one?”

You see? Never offer knowledge. It always leads to more questions.

“Sorry,” I said again.

“We’ve been going around for four hours.”

“That’s not what you want on a Saturday morning,” I said in lieu of anything useful to add.

“Fuck. It’s Saturday? Did you hear that? Fuck.”

“At least it’s not Sunday morning,” said his friend.

“Right. At least it’s not Sunday,” he said, just as the lady on the tannoy announced that Stockwell would be the next station.

They stumbled out onto the platform and disappeared.

I hope they got home okay.

I however, had a long day ahead of me.

First stop: Wimbledon. At the Polka Theatre for the morning show. Hence the early start.

I’m going to take a moment here to thank everyone out there who has been helping me on my mission. From those who have been linking me to theatres that I’ve missed (I swear I’ll do a recount soon, I just… can’t face upping the number of theatres I need to get to quite yet), to warning me about closures.

Today’s shout out goes to the lovely @RhianBWatts, who gave me the heads up that the famous children’s theatre, the Polka, is shutting its doors for refurbishment soon.

With day-time shows, and only a few weekends left before they went dark, I had to get there fast.

Thankfully I have a friend who lives down there who offered to meet me for pre-theatre tea and cake to help prepare me for the horrors that were sure to follow.

Pre-theatre for me, that is. Not my friend.

While Ellen is supportive of my whole marathon thing, she’s not so supportive that she was prepared to go to a kids’ show on a Saturday morning. She is one of those sensible people.

And anyway, Ellen had been to the Polka before. As a child. So was able to give me all those charming details you get from people who have a proper connection to a place. Like the tale of how she got fired from a face-painting job there when she was 12 years old.

Oh, ummm… Okay.

That was slightly less charming that I had expected.

There was also one about the sea-monster coat hooks.

“Terrifying.”

Ah.

It didn’t put her off walking me to the theatre though (told you she was a good friend. I rather like being walked places. Although, perhaps given my recent propensity to get lost, she felt the need to do so as some sort of civic duty. Still, I liked it. Theatres should start offering it as a service.)

While I waited at box office to pick up my ticket, Ellen went off to investigate the state of the sea-monster.

“One ticket?” asked the woman at box office, holding the single ticket with a concerned look on her face.

“Yes, just the one,” I apologised. I know how it looks. Being there. By myself. At a kids' show. On a Saturday morning.

I had thought about borrowing a child to take with me, but 1) I don't know any that are of the right age, and 2) I believe it's frowned upon to borrow children you don’t know.

And anyway, there has to be hundreds of blogs out there from people taking children to the Polka Theatre. I doubt I can offer any interesting insight beyond what is already out there. But a fully grown-adult going to a see a show made for five year olds all by herself? Now that's a blog post worth writing.

So, I’m not even going to apologise for being the creepy lady at the show.

Okay… I’m sorry for being the creepy lady at the show.

“They’ve repainted the sea-monster,” Ellen announced when we re-found each other. “It’s not as scary anymore,” she added, sounding a little annoyed by this. I can understand that. I don’t see why kids today don’t have to suffer through the nightmare fodder that we did back in the day.

After an inspection of the courtyard to see if the giant climbable cat was still there (it wasn’t) Ellen and I parted ways. From here on in, I was on my own. To watch The Wind in the Willows. By myself. In a theatre full of happy toddlers and their associated adults.

So, what is it like watching a show at the Polka, by yourself, as a grown up?

Weird. Like… super weird.

But not unpleasant.

I actually really enjoyed the show. There were puppets and singing and jokes. And the programmes are only three quid, and packed with fun activities (how to make a water bottle flower!) and facts after animals (did you know that moles are actually super arsey twats with poisonous spit? I love them).

But I would say there are two things I don’t like about the Polka. Number one - it was really fucking cold. Like seriously, freezing. And number two - the rake is terrible. I noticed this because of how low I had to slink in my seat in order to hide my shame at being an unaccompanied adult. So low I was almost child size. I don’t think the theatre designers thought this one through…

But perhaps that will be fixed in the refurbishment.

Oh, and I was handed a prop during the show. The battery to Mr Toad’s car. I had to pass it along the line so that poor Mr Toad couldn’t get it. So mean.

That’s three things I don’t like about the Polka.

Following the show, there was a chance to take a tour of the theatre. Which was something I was tempted to do. For ghost-hunting reasons.

12 days into my marathon, and I still hadn’t seen a theatre ghost. Surely, lucky theatre number 13 would be the one!

Now I know what you’re thinking: Maxine, you’re at the Polka. Not the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. You’re going about this all wrong. You’re not going to find a ghost in the playroom.

But it is you who is wrong, my friend.

The Polka does have a ghost. And I have it on no greater authority that the Polka’s twitter feed.

But once again, the ghosts failed to introduce themselves to me. I was left spurned, and alone, once again.

Four things. Four things I dislike about the Polka.

Rude ghosts.

Well, I didn’t want to see them anyway. Besides, I had somewhere else to be. A matinee in east London.

“Another theatre?” I hear you cry. “But this blog post is already far too long!”

I know. I’m sorry. But we can do this. Together. Just stick with me for a few more words. I swear I’ll keep it as short as I can.

Right, so instead of spending my afternoon ghost-hunting, I was on the DLR. Which I think we can all agree is also pretty good. Riding the DLR a rare pleasure for me, even if the rollercoaster movement of the trains make me feel a bit sick. What with the ground sinking down below you as you pass between skyscrapers. Makes my stomach go all funny.

After the trauma of trying to find The Yard yesterday, I made sure to read The Space’s ‘how to get here’ instructions very carefully. And I know I promised, not three paragraphs ago, that I was going to be brief, but let’s just press pause on this post for one second while I rhapsodise about their directions because they are brilliant. Well written. Clear. Concise (unlike me). Just perfect.

They carried me through right from the train (not just the station, the actual effin’ train), along the platform, up the stairs, down the wall, around the corner and right to the door of the theatre (opposite the Rose Food and Wine, donchaknow). To whoever wrote them, I give my heartfelt thanks. There was not a single moment in my journey where I felt lost or anxious or was in any doubt that I was heading in the right direction. Whoever you are, you are perfect and I appreciate you.

Right, where was I? Apart from not getting lost I mean.

The Space. Okay.

The Space is in a converted church, with the tiniest foyer in the world. I had to step in and step out more than once as people tried to get past from inside the theatre in order to head up the stairs. There’s really only space for one person to stand in front of the box office hatch (it really is a hatch, a tiny slither in the wall where you can just about catch a glimpse of the person sitting on the other side) and nothing else.

Once you collect your ticket, you really have to head back outside, or else spend your time sucking in your tummy and hugging the walls as everyone trying to get through instantly forms a long and powerful hatred of you.

There’s a bar round the side of the building, but I was more interested in the loos. There was no way I was using the ones on offer at the Polka, marked “Girls” and “Boys.” Ew.

Okay, there are six things I don’t like about the Polka. But that’s it.

“There’s only one toilet,” said a woman also waiting to use the facilities. “And that’s the men’s,” she added as I pushed tentatively on a door.

“Oh, right.”

It was so dark in that corridor, it was impossible to make out the signs.

We waited a few minutes. And then a few more.

Eventually the ladies freed up and I was the only one left in the queue.

Blimey, The Stage should do an expose on the loos at this place.

As matters became a little more… err… pressing, I debated using the men’s. But just as I was about to go for it I noticed there was a disabled loo just around the corner. It was empty. Thank the theatre gods.

After my trans-London journey and epic loo saga, there was no time to check out the bar. i headed straight into The Space to face my nemesis: unreserved seating.

With few options left to choose from, I was left in the worse possible option: the second row. Or one of the second rows anyway, as there were two. With seating either side of the aisle. Sat directly behind the front row - without a rake - the second row doesn’t allow much in the way of a view. But at least everyone in the audience was a grownup.

Good thing too, as the play I was seeing - Laundry - featured a sex scene and the bloody aftermath of an abortion. In an old church. Not that I’m religious. Or even Christian for that matter. But still. It certainly adds an extra frisson to the experience.

The scene where all the women are washing blood stains out of their clothes, and the lighting turns red, and the music rocks out - you could almost convince yourself that hell had risen up to claim us all.

And, I’m not sure the scene where they’re all cleaning the dead body was meant to trigger my ASMR. But it really did. It was all that hair-stroking. So relaxing.

I probably shouldn’t have admitted that. I mean, there’s wearing all black and listening to Without Temptation’s greatest hits on repeat, and then there’s being the creepy goth gal sitting in a children’s theatre all by herself… oh.

Oh well.

It was a strange day.

But at least it’s not Sunday.

Is this how I insult the entirety of South London?

My life can now be condensed down to a series of Ws: Wake. Write. Work. Walk. (39) Winks... okay, I need to brainstorm that one a bit more. But you get the idea.

Yesterday… was a struggle. I’ve been up at 6am every day in order to get my posts written before going to work in the morning. Which is… fine. I can do mornings. A cup of tea and a big bowl of porridge will see me through. 5.30am though. Now that’s a challenge. A challenge I needed to face, in order to get my words bashed out and then still arrive just early enough at work, that I could leave in time to get to West Norwood for that evening’s show. I had no idea how long that would take. Like with plays, i hoped for 90 minutes straight through. I feared 2.5 hours and an interval.

Where the fuck even is West Norwood? I had to look it up.

South London. Somewhere. Hence the name of the theatre that was next up on my list: the South London Theatre.

Look, I'm sorry. But if it doesn't have a tube station, it basically doesn't exist to me.

The TFL journey planner was no help at all, suggesting a route that involved three buses, a magical unicorn, and a dark portal, which didn’t sound right. I was fairly certain people lived in West Norwood. And they occasionally left and then felt the need to get home. There had to be a better way.

In the end, I decided that better way was sticking on the Northern Line all the way to the bitter end - that is: Balham, and getting the train from there.

An actual train.

In London.

God, the transport system in this city is weird.

An hour later, and feeling rather windblown after my journey, I alighted at West Norwood station.

That had been easy.

Now, where was the theatre?

The Old Fire Station (a much better name for the theatre if you ask me) was just around the corner as it happened.

Oh.

Well, what now? Was I supposed to go in?

The show didn’t start until 8. That was still an hour away. There’s getting to a theatre early in order to take photos and see what it’s all about, and there’s turning up an hour beforehand and getting under everyone’s feet.

Plus, the doors were closed.

And not just: It’s-cold-outside-let’s-leave-the-doors-shut-to-keep-the-heating-in kinda closed. But a we’re-not-ready-for-you-yet type of closed.

As if to prove my point, a young man loped down the road and used the keypad on the wall in order to unlock the door.

This theatre was very much not open to callers yet.

Okay, that’s fine. I’m sure there are many delightful ways to pass the time in West Norwood, I thought to myself, before loping down the road myself to go and discover what they were.

I’m happy to report that West Norwood’s high street is… exactly the same as every other high street in London. Chicken shops. A boarded up pub. Estate agents. A smattering of supermarkets. And too many coffee shops. There surely can’t be enough coffee drinkers in West Norwood to support them all. Do the people of West Norwood have a problem? Does getting on an actual train every morning necessitate huge amounts of caffeine? It’s okay. There’s no shame in it.

But other than that, I might have been anywhere in zone 3 really.

Oh wait. There’s a library. That was nice.

After marching my way all the way down the high street, and all the way back up again, I checked to see what time it was. Blimey. Only 7.30. That hadn’t taken long.

But it was okay. The doors were open! The South London Theatre was ready to receive callers.

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The closed door policy of earlier had done a wonderful job of keeping the heating in, and it was lovely and warm inside.

“Are you here to see the show?” I was asked as soon as I stepped in.

I said I was.

“Have you already bought your ticket?”

I had. I came prepared.

“Head over to the desk to pick up your admission pass.”

I did as I was instructed. And after having my name checked off the list was handed a small, laminated ticket.

Err, what now?

"Would you be interested in a programme?" laughed the programme seller behind me. "Only one pound?"

The man she was talking to declined the offer.

"I would be very interested in a programme," I said. Which is true. I'm always interested in a programme. Have I told you all about how much I love programmes? Because I do. I really love programmes.

“That’s the director,” she explained, indicating the man she’d been trying to hawk a programme to.

“Oh… How much are they again?”

“The suggested donation is a pound,” she said as I opened my purse. “The suggested donation. But you can give more.”

“I’m very poor,” I said apologetically as I handed over my pound coin. This is true. Made all the truer by the recent discovery of how much I have spent on programmes this year. I’ve been keeping track you see. In a spreadsheet. And I had just added in a SUM formula at the bottom of the column that morning. £47. Not including the pound I was handing over at that very moment.

“How about a raffle ticket?” asked a second lady, showing off her wares. She listed a few prizes, starting with the very one most likely to turn me off: wine.

One day I should take a photo of the wine cupboard in my house. It’s filled with all the wine I’ve been gifted over the years and never drunk.

I’ve had a bottle of wine sitting on my desk at work for the past 2 years because I can’t be bothered to take it home. What’s the point? What am I going to do with it? Add it to the cupboard?

I don’t hate wine. I’ll drink it if someone hands me a glass. But I’m never going to go out of my way in order to do so, by… opening a bottle. Or buying a raffle ticket.

So, I declined, and stood there awkwardly, wondering what I was supposed to be doing.

“Where do I go now?” I asked eventually.

I was shown the doors to the theatre. “They’re not open yet,” she said. The South London Theatre sure likes keeping it’s doors closed. “But you can go down the stairs to the bar if you like.”

Programme and pass

The ceiling in the South London Theatre’s basement bar

I did. So I went.

The downstairs bar wasn’t packed, but had that overly crowded feel that comes from underground rooms with low ceilings. But what low ceilings! Every inch was layered with old theatre posters. And their proximity meant that they could be examined with ease.

I had a pleasant few minutes taking photos of the covered ceiling before I remembered that seating was unrestricted, and without an entrance system in place, I better get back upstairs if I didn’t want to risk being stuck in the front row.

I wasn’t. Thank the lord.

The front row didn’t have an easy time of it with this play.

There was hand shaking. Imaginary prop holding. And even a moment of shoe-shining.

Thankfully, from my spot in the third row, I was completely detached from such frightening things.

I don’t have any photos of the space, as the two actors were already in place when we were let in. So, it’s imagination time again. Don’t worry. It won’t be hard. The theatre is a small room, with comfortable bench seating on three sides and an impressive rake.

That’s it. We’re done. I told you it wouldn’t be difficult.

It’s not the sort of theatre that would usually be on my radar outside of this challenge, but as it happened, they were staging a Philip Ridley play that I hadn’t seen before. And I adore Philip Ridley. He’s as dark as Martin McDonagh, but filled with a love and compassion that hits you right underneath the ribs and lodges there for days… sometimes even weeks after seeing one of his plays.

So, even outside of the marathon, I might have gone. Might have. Except for the pesky West Norwood thing.

I don’t know about everyone else in the audience though.

They all seemed to know each other. Or people connected with the play.

It was like walking into a church and realising too late you were at the wrong wedding.

When the play ended, they all hung around. For what I’m not sure. To congratulate the bride and groom perhaps.

All Ridley-ed up, and with a train to catch, I left.

I’m still not exactly sure where West Norwood is though…

WKD Green

Seventh day in a row I’ve been to the theatre and I feel like I’ve had a house dropped on me.

Does taking B12 help? I’m sure I’ve heard that taking B12 helps. I’m not convinced. I was so tired last night that I was sure if I didn’t do something I wasn’t going to make it through Monday, let alone the rest of the week. I needed to take more drastic action. So… I went off to see the Wizard… and by that I mean: I was about to get my Wicked on! It’s been running in the West End for over 12 years. I thought it was about time I saw it.

The only problem was getting there.

Somehow I managed to convince myself that walking the 3-or-so miles from the office would be a good idea. Let the cold smack my face until I woke up.

I hadn’t been to the Apollo Victoria before, but I figured I kinda knew where it was. Head straight into the West End, turn west at Trafalgar Square, then march down to The Mall and you’re there. Right? Right. Except as soon as I reached all those fancy red-bricks that crowd SW1 I got completely disorientated. Over 10 years I’ve been living in London, and I’m getting lost on my way to the theatre. I have literally never been so ashamed. What am I even doing with my life?

Don’t answer that.

And you can keep that opinion of yours to yourself too. I already know what you’re thinking. It’s 2019. Why didn’t I just get directions from my phone once I started getting turned around? To which I can only say: I did. But the more I walked, the more I seemed to get confused. Every corner I turned only took me further away. It was like being in a Bowie movie. Except with less puppets and flatter hair.

By 7 o’clock I was still wandering around in circles, lost in a towering maze of town houses, and I was starting to panic. Google Maps was being worryingly slow, the circle that was supposed to represent me was darting from one side of the junction to the other as if it too couldn’t quite work out if Greencoat Place and Greencoat Row were secretly the same road.

In the end, I picked one at random and hoped for the best.

The great theatre gods must have taken pity on me, because a few minutes later I spotted something in the distance. Something green. Very green.

I’d made it.

With just enough time spare to snap a photo.

The wrong entrance

You may have noticed by now that technology is not my friend. And my phone, traumatised by recent events, decided it could no longer cope with the trials of this marathon, and decided to switch itself off.

As I swore, and growled, and bullied my phone back into the world of the living, I noticed something was going on in the queue.

People were being turned away.

“I’m here, but I need to pick up the tickets,” one woman shouted into her phone. “No, I’m at the theatre. But on the wrong side.”

The wrong side?

Where were we then? Had I accidentally stumbled upon the stage door? Were these people not punters, but autograph hunters?

That was a lot of branding and a hefty queue for the wrong side.

There was a massive poster. And the name of the theatre. And doors. Lots of them.

It looked like it should be the right entrance.

And then I saw it, a small sign posted at the bottom of the stairs.

“For Box Office pleased use the Wilton Road Entrance”

For fuck’s sake.

Wilton Road is around the back. I was on the wrong fucking side.

I sprinted round, joining the closest queue.

The right entrance

“I need to see your bag and your ticket,” said the man at the front.

“I still need to pick up my ticket,” I said, looking around wildly for the box office.

“My colleague can help you with that.,” was his reply, as he peered into my rucksack.

His colleague stepped forward. “Does your email confirmation have the seat number on it?” he asked.

“Ummm???” My phone had managed to switch back on by this point, but it was still dragging its feet. Eventually I managed to find the email. “Yes!”

“Great. Head straight through and show the email on the door. No need to pick up your ticket.”

I made a strange sound. I don’t need a ticket? Then what was I even doing on the Wilton Road side of the theatre then?

“Unless you want the hard copy,” he added, clearly knowing my type too well.

“Right…” I said, still baffled, and made my way inside, leaving the queue for the box office snaking down the road well alone. I could live without a hard copy.

Now, sitting on my bed and writing this in the cold half-light of morning, I am filled with regret. I did really want a hard copy.

Dammit.

If anyone in the Wicked press team is reading this - hook a girl up! I just want a ticket. Not to see the show again (although…), just a actual, physical, hard copy. They looked so pretty with the logo and everything.

Next stop, the merch desk. Or, one of the merch desks. As there seemed to be multiple ones. A myriad even. Everywhere I looked there were stalls. Some selling sweets and popcorn. Others focusing on t-shirts and tat. All of it blazing green. I had walked into the marketplace of the Emerald City. And they were not going to let me out of there alive.

“That’s £8,” I was told as an oversized (‘souvenir’) programme was handed to me.

I tried my best not to look horrified as I stuck my card in the machine.

“I should tell you the role of Glinda will be performed by Maria Coyne tonight,” continued the programme seller as I officially entered bankruptcy.

“Oh?” I said, pretending this meant something to me.

Hard copies of tickets and cast change announcements at the programme desk? I was beginning to get the impression that Wicked-fans are just a teensy bit intense.

He opened a draw under the desk. “I usually have these cards to hand out when there’s a cast change,” he said, showing me a rather fancy looking A4 sheet printed with a colour photo, biog and headshot. He’d got my attention. They were nice! Really nice. Good heavy card stock. 250gsm at least, perhaps even 300gsm, and silk-coated. I pratically salivated. “But I don’t have the right ones. You can ask at one of the other desks and they’ll give you one.”

You bet I would. There was no way I was missing out on one of those beauties.

But that would need to wait until the interval.

Checking that I still had the confirmation email up on my phone to show to any ushers that would ask for it (spoiler alert: they didn’t), I made my way downstairs.

Or tried to.

Half way down the stairs I stopped. And blinked.

Everything was… green.

Green walls. Green lights. Even the carpet was green.

I staggered about, feeling a little seasick.

Green carpet

Green binoculars

Green chairs

As I turned into the auditorium, I had to blink again.

The seats were green.

Row upon row. Of green seats. With green binoculars secured to the backs.

Me, unable to deal with all the green

So. Much. Green.

I know I’ve ranted about shows sticking around too long in individual theatres, but I am in total favour of Wicked living out the rest of its existence in the Apollo Victoria. The show has really made the theatre its home. This is not ‘hoarding the pretty',’ this is making the theatre an extension of the show.

I’ve never been so happy in my all life.

And then the show started.

And I got even happier.

As soon as the last closing notes of Defying Gravity hit the roof I floated back up to the marketplace and headed to the nearest desk.

“Can I have one of those cast change things?” I asked.

“The understudy sheets?” she said. “They come with the programmes. £8.”

I explained I already had one.

“Do you have the receipt?” sounding a trifle suspicious, if you ask me.

“I do!” I replied, remembering how the original programme seller had slipped one inside the pages. I got out my programme and flipped through. It wasn’t there. “Hang on,” I said, reaching into my bag. It must have fallen out.

“Can’t find out?” she asked. The you lying bitch remained unspoken.

She was not letting this go. Good for her.

I had so much damn respect for that.

Or I would have done, if I hadn’t been panicking. I needed one of those luscious cast sheets.

I tipped up the programme and flapped it upside down. No receipt.

Someone else came to the desk. I indicated she should go first. But she was just there to look.

I was getting flustered.

Calmcalmcalmcalm.

But it WASN’T THERE.

Oh god, what was I going to do? I needed one of those cards. I already didn’t have a ticket. I wasn’t missing out on this.

Could I justify spending another £8 to get a second programme? No. I could not. Except…

I went through each page in turn, and somewhere towards the end, I found it. The receipt.

“Ah ha!” I cried out, as if I had just solved some complicated mathematical equation. “I have it!” I waved it about, just to prove it.

She took it from me, and checked it. Yup. The programme was bought that very evening.

She handed it back to me. With a cast change sheet.

Success! But at what cost? I think I knocked a full five years off my life last night.

It’s not easy being green.

On the Origin of Theatre

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.

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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!

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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.

I am not a number. I am a three man

I’ve been giving a lot of big talk about small theatres in the past few blogs, but this next one looks upon them and sneers at their hulking coarseness. Where the Ambassadors and the Garrick are lumbering about, weighed down by fancy architectural flourishes and Grade II listings, the Union Theatre zips nimbly around them, laughing at their twirly bits.

Twirly bits aren’t the only things they’ve done away with.

When I arrived at the box office (perched on the end of an already small bar) I was handed a large purple disk emblazoned with the number 3 that looked like the sort of plastic tag a bored-looking shop assistant will hook onto your hangers in a shop’s changing rooms.

“Have you been here before?” asked the youngest box officer I had ever seen (I swear it’s not just me getting old).

I had to admit that I had not.

She explained the system. Once the doors open at 7.15, we’d be called into the auditorium in groups. First the 10 people with a number 1 on their disks, then the number 2s, then the 3s etc. Thus ensuring that those who had arrived earliest got first pick on the unreserved seating.

Neat system. I like it. Removes the stress and queuing that so often goes with unreserved seating.

Pressure off, I had the chance to explore.

The Union Theatre doesn’t have a foyer. As you as you walk through the door, you fall straight into a cafe that looks like it was modelled your cool friend’s kitchen. You know the one, the friend who has mismatched cutlery picked up from French flea markets, and collections of found objects arranged in a fresh and original manner, that you feel confident you could emulate in your own home, but you know deep down would only look like a towering pile of rubbish if you ever actually attempted it. The friend who reads Dostoevsky. In the original. But will only roll their eyes if you express amazement at this and ask you what you think about the new Doctor Who. The friend who only looks put together, and yet effortless. At the same time. The friend who would hate if you didn’t love them so much. Yeah, that fucking bitch.

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That combined with the massive tables built for sharing and the chill vibes radiating off the staff makes for a really relaxed atmosphere. Tables are filled with strangers as they perch next to each other to read or have a drink. The director was even having his dinner at one.

All this general bonhomie floating in the air must have softened my newly-sharpened corners because I soon found myself in conversation with a fellow theatre-goer on all things Ibsen. Or rather, I was talked to about all things Ibsen. I don’t have a great deal of Ibsen anecdotes at my disposal, so my new friend had to do most of the heavy lifting on that one. Thankfully, before the load of carrying the entirety of the conversation grew too much for them, their number was called and they were off, guided behind the heavy red curtains, through the great double doors, and into the theatre.

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A few minutes later, it was my turn.

I tried to get a photo of the inside of the auditorium, but the combo of me being a terrible photographer and the lighting being very… atmospheric (lit: dark. Or rather, unlit: dark) I couldn’t get anything remotely worth looking at. Unless you enjoy peering at murky-dark images, with only the shadows for highlights.

So, let me paint you a picture with words.

It’s a brick-walled room. Seven rows of seats. Green upholstery. Comfy. Excellent rake. Sound desk to the right. Staircase upstage. Lighting rig overhead. There’s a freestanding set that can be spun around to form a building caught mid-build, to a town-hall platform, to the interior of a house. Nifty.

The space is so small, and yes: intimate, that even from my position in the very-much-not-the-front-row I felt utterly immersed in the action.

The good kind of immersed. Not the actors-threatening-to-interact-with-me kind of immersed.

The construction noises were very effective. Really effective. A low rumbling on the edge of hearing gradually grew into a thundering roar until my chair was vibrating as the noise intensified still further and then slowly died down, finalising off with rhythmic metallic clangs. They were very familiar sounding clangs. Very familiar. I could have sworn I had heard that sound earlier that day. And not on a building site.

And that’s when I suddenly remembered that I was sitting inside a theatre built underneath a railway arch.

And the rumble was a train passing over our heads.

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It was a bit like stepping out of a dream when I staggered back into the bar during the interval.

I was fully not prepared to chat to anyone, no matter how chill the vibes or communal the large tables.

At these times I would usually bury my head in the programme, but being the spry and nimble theatre this is, there weren’t any.

And then I realised, with no ticket, and no programme, I would have no physical evidence of ever being here. No memento for me to take away.

Oh dear.

This was bad.

What was I going to do?

My boxes and boxes of random crap picked up from theatres was going to be missing a representative from the Union Theatre. My collection would forever be incomplete. What on earth was I going to leave to my grandchildren?

“Do you have, like, a cast sheet or something?” I asked, driven more by hope than expectation.

They did. Tucked away, behind the bar.

Phew.

Panic over.

Now that I know that they have small bits of paper for me to hoard like a Golem of theatre ephemera, I can confidently make the decision to really like this theatre. I’m going to come back a lot, I think… starting next year.

New Year's Heave


Is it normal to feel quite so queasy on New Year’s Eve?

Let me rephrase that.

Is it normal to feel this nauseated before going out drinking?

I mean, seriously. Have you thought about the logistics of visiting every theatre in London within a single year? That’s 5 shows a week, for 52 weeks. In a row. No weeks off to go lie on a beach far away from any soliloquy beyond: can you make me another of those delicious daiquiris?

233 shows. In 356 days.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

And it’s not just the time constraints (although let’s not ever forget the time constraints). There’s so many other things I need to consider. Like… am I ever going to eat dinner again? What is my stance on re-visiting a theatre if they programme a show that I really really want to see? What about immersive theatre? Do I really have to put myself through that? How the heck am I going to get tickets to Hamilton? And do I need to see both parts of Cursed Child? And how am I going to pay for all these tickets?

Oh yeah… how am I going to pay for all those tickets?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking.

I guess it’s homemade sandwiches for lunch for the duration.

And let’s not forget the programmes.

Oh my god… the programmes.

I love theatre programmes.

I make theatre programmes.

For a living. That’s my job.

I can’t even remember the last time I went to the theatre and didn’t come away with a programme. It must be years.

There is no a play out there bad enough for me not to want a programme.

The 6 (six) 35 litre plastic containers I own, so filled with programmes that the lids don’t fasten down, are testament to this fact. And now my papery children are about to be joined by another 233 brothers and sisters.

Where on earth am I going to put them?

And more pressingly, how am I going to pay for them?

If each of those 233 programmes costs £5 (a conservative estimate given the price of programmes in the West End) that’s going to work out at… oh god…

£1165.

Over a thousand pounds spent on programmes before the year is out.

I’m going to need a second job.

Or a second mortgage.

Not that I even have a first mortgage. I spent my deposit on friggin’ theatre programmes and avocado toast.

I think I might have just made the biggest mistake of my life.

So, please do excuse me will I barf into this bucket.

And then down a bottle of gin.

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