"You look really cool standing there with your sunglasses," says Helen by way of a hello.
Leaning against the outside wall of the Rose Playhouse in the early evening sunshine, wearing my sunglasses, and my 49er jacket, and my stompiest boots that are so worn the leather is peeling away at the heel, I do feel pretty fucking cool. Not gonna lie.
"Have you seen the ruins of the old Globe?" she asks.
I haven't, so we wander down the road together to take a gander.
"They're just over here," she says, pointing at exactly nothing.
"It looks like a car park?" I say, peering hard at the empty courtyard.
"You can see the circle there," she says.
"Ummm," I say. There is a circle on the ground, made from the pattern of the cobblestones, but it isn't exactly what I'd pictured from the word 'ruin.' "Unless Richard the third is buried under there, I don't really see the point..."
"Honestly, I just wanted to see the disappointment in your face when I showed it to you," she laughs.
Well, jokes on her because I still attempt to take a photo. But whoever set this place up clearly did so without Instagram in mind, because it's impossible to get a shot of all the lettering set into the stones. And the railings are very unphotogenic.
That done, we return to the Rose.
It doesn't look like much from the outside. There's a wall, made from the type of polished grey stone that looks like it belongs in a premier league footballer's bathroom, and the doors. You can't miss the doors. Large. Red. Panelled. And definitely the portal to hell.
"I think we're just meant to push them?" I say doubtfully.
Helen does so.
It's dark and cool in here. Not what I expected from hell's foyer. The walls are white. And covered with a woodcut design on one side, with a big scrolly banner reading "Welcome to The Rose. Bankside's First Theatre." Well, at least we're in the right place.
The other side is all glass. There's a counter. And people sitting behind it. The box office then.
"Are we too early?" asks Helen.
One of the ladies behind the counter frowns. "No?" she says, as if the doors to this place look as if they were designed to keep out a raging hoard of peasants for at least a century.
Helen looks at me. I look at her.
She's waiting for something.
"You booked," I say, finally realising what's happening.
"Oh!" she says, jumping into action and giving her name.
"For health and safety, I need both your names," says the lady behind the counter. "In case there's a fire."
"My name?" I say, leaning over the counter. "Smiles."
"Shall I spell it?"
"What's your name?"
"I need your name."
"It's Maxine. M-A-X-I-N-E."
She writes this down, then looks up again expectantly.
"Err, Smiles? S-M-I-L-E-S."
"Oh! That's a nice name."
It is a nice name. But it's not an easy one to live with.
She places two freesheets on the counter. "Here you go. And your tickets. You'll need to hand these back when you go in."
We're allowed through the door then, into another foyer. This one is far more interesting. There's a model of the old theatre ("The Globe totally ripped this place off," is my thought on the matter) and there are display cases full of tasty little knick-knacks.
"I really like that ring," says Helen.
I go over to look at it. It's Helen's birthday coming up soon and I have not a clue what to get her.
It's pretty. And not overly expensive. I wonder if I can distract her long enough to buy it.
I read the information card.
"Umm. Here's the thing," I say. "I would get it for you, but the inscription says 'think of me, god willing' and I'm not sure we're quite there yet in our relationship."
"Maybe next year," says Helen, thankfully not sounding too disappointed.
More people are starting to arrive. We find ourselves amongst a group of people peering into display cases.
From behind the black curtains comes a voice.
"I will murder you and all your ancestors."
"What was that?" asks Helen.
It's Emily Carding. Warming up.
That name may sound familiar for a number of reasons, but in marathon-world it's because this is the fourth time Carding has featured in this here blog. Yup, you heard right. Fourth. Little bit stalkerish of me, but what can a girl do? Not go to plays with a talented actor in unusual spaces? Hardly. And if you're wondering whether Carding is aware of my - shall we call it 'loyalty'? - then I am happy to inform you that yes, she is. And she approves. Or is at least sweet enough to pretend that she approves. Now stop asking.
A front of houser appears. "It's very cold in the space, so if anyone wants a blanket, we have some." She points at one of those stripey bags that students use to heft around their laundry. "I would advise that you take one."
Helen laughs. "You look so excited."
That's because I am so excited. "They have blankets!"
I don't tell Helen this, but there's a reason that I'm so excited. I've been pitching the idea of ordering logoed-up slankets at my work for years. I mean, picture this: You're in the theatre, watching a play, or... as this is my idea and my theatre, some high-quality contemporary dance, and you are all snuggled down in your seat, comfy because you are covered neck to toe with a great big fleecy blanket, with sleeves. We cannot forget the sleeves. You need your arms free so that you can read your, very reasonably priced, and beautifully edited, programme. Now, isn't that the dream? And the Rose has made it happen! I'm almost annoyed that they got there first. But no matter, my ones will have sleeves. That's still an innovation and I'm claiming it as one.
"Would you like one?" asks the front of houser offering up a folded-up fluffy blue blanket.
I definitely do.
"Now," continues the front of houser once the business of the blankets is complete. "Before you go in, please switch off any non-Elizabethan devices.
"You're very lucky. Richard of Gloucester himself will be showing you to your seats."
"Do we need to curtsey?" someone asks.
Apparently, curtsies are optional.
We form a queue.
From the other side of the curtain we hear the greetings being passed out as people are taken in and we inch ever closer to the door.
"Let me take that from you," says the front of houser on the door, reaching for my ticket.
Carding appears, all hunched of back and black of suit.
I kind of want to curtsey.
She grasps my hand and gives it a firm shake as she welcomes me in with a frenzy of words.
She holds out a placard. I duck my head under the red ribbon.
I'm to be Buckingham for the evening. Duke of.
She motions me to a seat. I'm sat next to a small boy. One of the Princes in the Tower. Of course.
On the other side is the King. I can tell he's the king because he's wearing a crown. It's made of paper and has more than a touch of a Burger King feel about it.
She's to be a queen. Elizabeth. The Woodville one. She gets a crown too. She looks very happy about it. I'm a bit jealous.
You may have guessed by now, but this rendition of Richard III doesn't follow standard procedure. With only one actor (Emily Carding), the audience has to get involved in order to bulk out the cast.
I've done one of these before. You remember. The Hamlet one. I was Ophelia. It was... terrifying.
But, as this blog will testify, I'm a glutton for punishment. And besides, I'm a touch more familiar with this play. I've seen it before, for one. It's even featured in this marathon. I'm hoping that will help.
Except, who is Buckingham again?
Am I a Yorkist or a Lancastrian?
Whichever one I am, I hope it's the red rose side of the Rose Wars because I'm wearing a dress covered in the damn things. After the success of my Over My Dead Body dress at Hamlet, I thought I'd made an effort this morning and try a touch of theme dressing. And, as I don't own any dresses with white roses on them, it appeared I had no choice but to align myself with the red rose cause.
Something I only realised might be problematic when I was heading out to vote this morning, as I'm fairly confident that you are not allowed to wear political symbols inside the polling station. I really didn't want to be turned away. Partly because I didn't have time to go back home and change, but mostly because I wasn't even voting for Labour this time around. But, as it turned out, no one noticed. And I got my cross in the box without issue.
Thing is, I'm starting to suspect that Buckingham was not in the white rose gang.
I pull the blue blanket across my lap to hide my shame.
It looks like we're all seated now, ready to go.
This place is small. Long and narrow, with seating on three sides. Nothing interesting there.
But the fourth side. Now... that's something.
As Carding takes her place in the middle of the stage and starts her opening speech, the void of the old Rose theatre glimmers darkly behind her. The architectural dig, covered from the elements by a thinly walled building, is open behind her. The stage effectively a viewing platform for the ruins. Proper ruins. Not like that shitty car park Helen tried to fob me off with earlier.
Carding is a very modern Richard. And it's not just the snappy suit. She's armed with an iphone and she's not afraid to use it. She reads allowed a series of constantly pinging texts, takes a selfie with Lady Anne, and fixes me with an intense stare as she has a phone call with Buckingham.
And no one is safe from that stare.
As Queen Lizzie comes under its forcefield, I look over at Helen. Her fringe is all squashed down by the paper crown. Her face is rapt.
And then the dead-stickers come out.
I was very excited about the stickers. Ever since I saw Carding tweet about them this morning. I love a sticker. Any sticker. But a macabre sticker? Fuck me. That's a whole other level.
I was so excited I messaged this to Helen.
And yes, that avatar I'm rocking is indeed Edmund Keen in the role of Richard III. How very observant you are. Well done.
It's actually from a painting at my work. I love that painting. It's in a part of the building that I call the demon's corridor because it is always freezing there. I like to think it's haunted. Possibly by Edmund Keen. I have no evidence of that. Other than the painting. But I take my theatre ghosts where I can find them.
The king is the first to go. After Carding checks my neighbour's pulse, she declares him dead and slaps a sticker, printed with the word DEAD in big capital letters, on him.
He's not the last.
Stickers are getting stuck all over the place.
Carding orders Lady Anne to be by her side for the coronation. The dutiful wife. She doesn't look happy about it. I'm impressed. She's really good.
I'm ordered up too.
I leave the safety of my blanket behind and walk onto the stage, taking up a spot to the right of the throne.
Carding hands me the paper crown. This is my big moment. I'm feeling both more terrified and more powerful than I ever have in my life. A emotion-combo that probably goes along with the job. I never thought I'd feel close to the Archbishop of Canterburys, but this marathon has been taking me to some weird head-spaces. But I bet the Archbishops of old never had to contend with a paper crown. It's so cold I'm shaking. I'm not sure I can move my hands. I do my best, plonking it on Carding's head, but she has to rearrange it to get it to stay down.
When it comes to it, can someone let the royals know that I won't be available that day? It turns out that I'm not quite cut out for kingmaking.
I'm sent back to my seat and the safety of my blanket.
Carding rolls her chair over to me and asks what we should do about Hastings. I pull a face. What is to be done about him? She runs her finger across her throat. Well, yes. We could do that. I copy the gesture and nod my head.
Carding hands two dead-stickers to a young woman and orders her to kill the princes.
The young woman walks over. "Sorry, you're dead," she whispers to the young boy sitting next to me, as she gently sticks him with his dead-sticker.
I'm feeling very alone now in between all these corpses.
It doesn't last for long.
It's soon time for my execution.
Carding comes over, hunched of back and intense of stare, and sticks the dead-sticker to my left side, just above my heart. She slaps it into place with the back of her hand.
I should be sad, but I can't stop myself from grinning. I really wanted a dead-sticker. I'm so pleased.
Also, turns out my red rose dress wasn't so inappropriate after all... double-crossing demon that I am.
Eventually, there's only one dead-sticker left.
The paper crown slips from Carding's grasp. She reaches for it, but it's too far away. She looks done for. But she has the just enough left in her for one more act. One more dead-sticker.
I hold my breath.
And then a second later, applause.
Carding gets to her feet.
I breathe again.
She grins. All traces of Richard left lying on the floor.
"Please return the placards. The stickers however, are yours to keep," she says, pointing at me.
Yeah, there was no way I was giving up my dead-sticker.
"I can't believe you didn't die!" I say to Helen as we are released from our seats.
"I can't either! I really wanted one."
"Oh, take one. We have lots," says Carding, stepping in to give Helen a sticker. That's fair, I suppose. Elizabeth Woodville is dead, after all. She has been for a good long time.
"Let me take that from you," says a front of houser, relieving me from my blanket. "Are you staying for the talk?"
There's a talk after the show, about the Rose.
"Do you want to stay?" I ask Helen.
"Hang on, the door's locked," says a front of houser, rushing out of the box office in order to let us out.
As the door opens, warmth hits us. I stop shaking.
"Shall we get pancakes then?" says Helen.
I had previously suggested pancakes as part of my post-immersive theatre plan. Interaction really takes it out of me. The slightest sniff of audience-engagement sends me crashing as I burn up every little molecule of adrenaline in my body. And after something as intense as this... well, I knew that I'd need sugar, and I'd need it STAT.
We begin walking, up the stairs to Southwark Bridge Road and off to get us some carby goodness.
"She's really amazing," says Helen. I'm relieved. I knew if anyone would like this kind of thing, it would be Helen. She managed to enjoy You Me Bum Bum Train. Immersive Shakespeare is nothing to her. But still, there's always the worry when taking friends to shows like this. "The way she brings you into the text..."
"You know what I find amazing. That you know what to do, you know? Like, I'm bad at people. We know I'm bad at people. Especially reading people. And yet... it's totally clear what's expected. Like, when she was taking people's hands, and they stood up, I was confused about how they knew to stand up, but..."
"She tells you. Without having to say a word!"
"Like when she handed you the crown. It was obvious what you had to do."
"And that bit with Lady Anne and the gun. Where she said 'seriously, this is going to be messy,' so Lady Anne knew what to do."
"Yes! I don't think I've ever seen anyone so hyper-aware of their surroundings. Playing off everything, and everyone."
"There was this moment, at the end, when she's dying and there was some kind of noise in the distance, and it was actually had this perfect synchronicity because she reacted to it, bringing it in and..."
We're nearly at the pancake place now, so our conversation turns to one of tables and menus and drinks and ordering.
"Are you both alright?" asks the waitress, looking at us with concern. "You are both dead?"
"Yup!" we say cheerfully. We're both still proudly wearing our dead-stickers.
She waits for further explanation, and seeing that no more was coming, laughs and plays along.
"You must be hungry, being dead," she says, taking our order. Two dutch babies. One sweet. One savoury. And two hot chocolates. Laden with whipped cream.
Almost worth dying for.Read More