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.


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.


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…