Wyrd Smells

This seems to be the week of controversial theatres. It was only last month that the Courtyard Theatre was getting dragged across The Stage for late payment of artists and “unclean working conditions.” There was mention of mice, but I think you’d be hard pushed to find a theatre in London without them. At one of the theatres I worked at, we could feel the mice running across our feet all day while sitting at our desks. And that wasn’t some crummy arts centre or dodgy fringe venue. Quite the opposite. It was a rather fancy producing house. The type that has West End transfers on the reg. So, you know, not sure complaining about mice should really be a thing. Late payment though… yeah, that sucks.

Anyway, it’s a return visit for me. Done the Main House already, and now it’s time to tackle the Studio. And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy. I’ve been checking the website every week since January, looking for a show in this space. For months, there was nothing. Just the odd music gig, which doesn’t count. But finally, finally, I got one. A play. In the studio. On for one night only, but no matter. I switched my plans around and got myself booked in.

The fact that it’s Shakespeare. And even worse, Macbeth, hardly seemed worth worrying about.

Inside, down the green stairwell, and I'm thinking that not much has changed since my last visit other than a switch up in the posters stuck to the wall, but no... I was wrong. I turn the corner and stop. I can't go any further because there's a queue taking up the last few steps. A queue leading to the box office. The proper hole in the wall one. Not just some front of houser with a clipboard.

We shuffle our way down the steps as we get checked in.

"It's a company ticket?" says the girl in front of me as the box officer tries to find her name. "My friend organised it."

"Ah!" He switches to a different list. Nods as he finds her, and hands her a freesheet.

She immediately opens it and turns it upside down. "Oh wow! He's actually in it!" she exclaims, before heading off to the bar with a big grin on her face.

They're clearly very close.

My turn.

"Is it company tickets or did you buy them online?" asks the box officer when I give me name.

"I actually bought a ticket," I say, with the same tone you'd use when admitting the designer gear you're sporting is fake. "With money," I add, just for added clarification, that yes, it's from a dodgy market stall and definetly made by child labour.

"You bought a ticket?" he says surprised, switching from the handwritten list to the printed one. "Great! Can you remind me of the name."

I spell it out for him again. "S. M. I. L. E. S."

"Smiles," he says, finding it on the list and drawing a line through it. "There you go." He hands me a freesheet.

It's rather handsome. Black cover. A red sword-tree hybrid thing going on. And the title, in a pseudo-Mackintosh font (Charles Rennie rather than Cameron) that shouldn't work, but kinda does. Must be some deep underlying Scottish aesthetic connection.

I don't actually know where the studio theatre is in this place, but I do know where the bar is, so I go there. This place is a warren of corridors and stairwells. The type of place where you have to be lead about by a front of houser, who have all presumably spent decades training so that they know the different routes. Ushers at the Courtyard are the sherpas of the theatre world.

It's pretty busy in here. This surprises me. Somehow I didn't have a fringe Macbeth performed in a studio space for one night only being much of a hot ticket, but look at all these people, drinking and laughing and... reading their freesheets upside down.

Hang on. That's weird. Even for Shakespeare audiences.

I get out my own freesheet.

And immediately turn it around the other way.

Ah, I see the problem. They forgot to switch the printer options to flip on the short edge rather than the default long edge. An easy to make mistake. Which is why you must always do a test print when making folded freesheets.


But, you know, apart from the printing snafu, they're alright. They even have a spoiler section in the synopsis, which is frickin' adorable on a four hundred year old play if you ask me.

Plus, a two hour run time. Which suits me just fine because I am so tired everything is starting to look a bit fuzzy around the edges.

More people are coming in and there's lots of kissing and hugging as they all recognise one another. I try to get a photo of the bookshelf wallpaper that covers one side of the bar, but there are too many people in the way.

"Do you know someone in the show?" a woman asks a guy she just got talking to.

"No, we just thought we'd check it out," comes the reply.

She nods slowly and stares into her drink. "Niceee," she says before quickly walking away.

"Ladies and gentleman," calls a voice from the doorway. "The house for Macbeth is now open. If you'd like to make your way through the door here."

I sling my bag up over my shoulder, ready for the long trek through the building, but the front of houser has only taken a few steps into the corridor and is now holding a door open that leads to the room right behind the bookshelf wall.

It's dark in here. Really dark. And filled with haze.

I'm vaguely away of a railing on one side of my, leading me around the back of the room and down a ramp.


At the bottom of the ramp I blink into the glare of a spotlight and try to make sense of the space. There's a wooden floor. A low ceiling. The walls are black. A single rows of chairs on each side, and multiple rows at each end.

I'm not sitting on the sides. That's all front row, and while Macbeth isn't usually interactive, you can never trust studio-based Shakespeares to stick to the script.

I'm going to the far end. Second row. The third row is up on a platform. A really high platform. I think it might actually be the stage. Which is taking the rake a bit too far if you ask me.

Anyway, from my second-row seat, I can see straight through the door that leads backstage, and I keep on getting glimpses of tartan, which is rather pleasing. And what looks like a tin bath full of bricks.


It is warm though. Very warm. We are basically in an underground heat trap. The low ceiling and intense spotlight aren't helping.

Everyone starts wafting themselves with their freesheets.

I dig around in my bag and pull out my fan. Two hours down here is going to be a bit of a challenge.

More people come in, shading their eyes against that intense light.

The seats are filling up.

A group of women walk down towards my end of the room and examine the stage situation. They can't work out how to get up there. One brave soul slings her bag onto the stage, and then using her knee to heave herself after it, crawls her way up with a grunt.

The things we do for theatre.

The seats are all full now. Well, not quite. There's a few strategically placed reserved signs dotted around. A girl comes over and looks at the one in the row in front of me. And then looks around elsewhere. There's nowhere left for her to go.

Using a well of logic that I've never had access to, she slips behind me and sits herself down on the edge of the stage.

Right then. We're ready to begin.

Macbeth. Act one.


You'd think this would be the perfect Shakespeare for me. What with the dark themes and murder and intrigue and strong women and daggers and tartan and misty backdrop. But no, I think it's super dull. And while I'm not hating this production, the source material ain't doing anything for me.

Also, I'm noticing a strange smell. Musty. And damp. Like a swimsuit that's been shoved inside a suitcase at the end of the holiday and never unpacked.

Is this part of the design? An olfactory layer to the play? I have another sniff. It's not there all the time, but it comes in strong waves whenever one of the actors wearing tartan appears. Oof. Poor them. That must be really unpleasant to be wearing. Like having a wet dog deciding they want to sleep on your lap all evening. Petrichor, but like... gross.

As the story moves to the feast, actors filled the reserved seats so that we are all sitting around the table, staring Macbeth freaks out at the sight of Banquo and his gory locks.

As soon as the actors clear the stage for the interval, I bolt back up the ramp, through the bar, up the green staircase and outside.

It's still really warm out here, but I lean against the outside wall in bliss, enjoying what little breeze there is.

Soon I'm joined by all the smokers in the audience and from their chatter it becomes very clear what type of people I'm spending the evening with.

"My mum directed him in a play."

"Yeah, so I got accepted into that playwrighting scheme."

"Are you taking it to Edinburgh this year?"

"We did a show together at university."

One of the front of housers comes around the corner holding a carrier bag, looking for all the world like he just popped into the corner shop during the interval. "Anyone for Macbeth, the show will be starting again in a few minutes," he says as he wanders back through the doors.

We all follow him.

The theatre is almost empty. Everyone is still up in the bar.

There's some stormy, drumming, atmospheric song filling the space, which my phone assures me is Helvegen by Wardruna.

One of the actors appears and starts removing the reserved signs from the seats. We're done with that part of theatricality.

A bell rings. A proper theatre bell. And soon the audience begins to make it's way back down from the bar.

And we're back. This time with swords. And I'm betting they came from the same place they got the tartan because those fuckers look heavy.

As the blades clash, a woman in my row jumps, her feet creeping up onto her seat as she hugs her knees and leans back as far the fuck away from the stage as she can least she get stuck by a flying weapon.

The three witches take up spots in the corner of the room, breathing through open mouths, almost growling like dogs as they weave their spell around the characters, leading off the dead to have their wicked ways with the entrails offstage.

And then it's over. And I can go the fuck home.

I hurry out, aiming for Old Street station. Straight up the Northern Line and home by 10, that's the plan.

I get out my phone to check the time. 10.15pm. Ten-fucking-fifteen.


But to be fair, it's my fault.

You should never trust a Shakespeare play that claims to be only two hours.

But you always knew that you'd be the one that work while they all play

"Can I check your bag?" asks the bag checker.

You sure can, my good man.

I open the zip to expose my fresh haul of cough sweets and hayfever tablets. Let me tell you, I am having a swell time this summer. With the itchy eyes and runny nose to add to that neverending cough of mine, I sure am the ideal theatre-goer at the moment. And I'm carrying it off so well. Really, I've never looked better. I've always though watery eyes were a hard look to pull off but I think I'm making it work.

He doesn't flinch.

Perhaps three bags of bright yellow cough sweets aren't the weirdest thing he's come across lately.

Search complete, he steps back and lets me through.

The foyer in the Leicester Square Theatre is tiny. A metre square, if that. With a proper hole-in-the-wall box office. My favourite kind.

There are already two people ahead of me in the queue. So I hang back, lest we end up getting a touch too cosy for so early in the evening.

"What's the name?" the lady behind the window asks.

"Err," he says, with a pause that goes on way too long for that kind of question. "The initials are KJ? I don't really want to say."

Blimey. Either he has a really dodgy name, or there's a new papering club that I haven't heard of.

Oh, yeah. I should probably say. I don't use any of those theatre ticket clubs for my marathon. Not because I don't want to, you understand. But because I'm not allowed to. Nothing to do with the blog. It's my job, you see. Can't become a member if you work in the industry. I mean, I suppose I could lie. But I'm kinda on record of working for a venue, so, yeah, that's out.

Anyway, good luck to this man and his ticket acquisition skills. And no shade meant to any venue or show that needs to fill a few seats. We've all done it. Trust me.

Mr KJ gets his tickets and moves on. My turn.

Now, I have a perfectly normal surname, so I just give that, and after confirming my first name, get my ticket.

After that, I go down the stairs. The walls are a deep, dark red. Which seems to me to be entirely the wrong colour to paint the walls of a stairwell that takes you down into a basement. But perhaps that's just because I'm watching Stranger Things at the moment. I’m primed to see monsters lurking behind every corner.

And it's not that scary down here. Yes, the walls are still red. But there's a massive concession counter taking up one wall. And things can't be scary when there are sweets on sale. I mean yes, Hansel and Gretel. But that witch wasn't selling and those kids were just little arseholes.

Anyway, there's a ticket checker on the door here.

"You're through this door," he says, pointing at the one just next to us. "There are bars inside."


"You're welcome," he says, handing my ticket back.

Aww. So polite. Bet he never stole gingerbread from an old lady.


Down a few more steps and I'm in the theatre. It's larger than I expected. All on one level. With a high stage. Which is a good thing, as when I sit down I discover that the rake is really terrible.

Without the benefit of anything happening on stage, all I have is a bloody good view of the backs of all the heads of the people sitting in front of me. Bent down as they read their programmes.

Hang on. Why don't I have a programme?

I look around. There aren't any programme sellers anywhere.

Perhaps I missed them at the concessions desk.

There are bars though. Two of them. One either side of the auditorium.


And both of them are branded up. With the name of the show emblazoned on the wall, and the merch covering every surface.

Right then.

"Hi, is there a programme?" I ask the bloke behind the bar.

He looks at me with confusion. Behind his head, draped across the back shelves are Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare t-shirts. Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare tote bags. And Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare hoodies. Surely it isn't too much to ask for a Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare programme?

"Err," he says. "They should be on the seats?"


"Are they not?"

I turned around to look back at my row. If there are programmes, they must be Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare invisible. "No?"

He reaches under the bar and pulls one out.

Honestly. Good thing I asked.

As I return to my seat I notice that all the front rows have the things balanced on the armrests but my row? Nothing. Programme-less and empty.

We're being denied programmes just because we sit at the back of the theatre. As if we don't enjoy a good programme just because we are last-minute ticket buyers. Which is very untrue. There is no one in the world who loves programmes more than me.

To tell you the truth, I'm a little offended.

Especially because these are like, super nice programmes. They’re shiny. Very shiny. So shiny the words “wipe clean” pop up in my head and refuses to go away.

I decide very firmly not to think about the significance of that.

Instead I turn to the contents. My favourite thing in the whole world is when programmes reflect the show they're made for. And if this programme is anything to go by, Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare is going to be full of drunk humour and dirty uncle jokes.


They even have the grown-up equivalent of when you add “Earth, The Milky Way, The UNIVERSE” to the end of your address when you're a kid - providing carrier pigeons coordinates to their contact us details. Coordiantes which, according to Google, are in a wind farm off Herne Bay... I may have typed it in wrong.

Let's try again.

51°44'26.67"N 1°13'52.35"W


Okay, that sounds much more likely. Drunk Shakespeare. Yup, sounds like Oxford to me.

Shame though. Rather liked the idea of them all getting pissed in an off-shore wind farm.

"Hello! Are you looking forward to this evening?"

I look around. There is a woman with the most extraordinary glittery eyeshadow standing in the row behind me. She's wearing a top hat and tails. Oh my...

"Oh, yeah," I say, as the only appropriate answer when asked this question by someone wearing sequins on their eyelids.

"Is this your first time here?"

I admit it is. As someone who likes neither Shakespeare, nor drunk people, Sh!t-Faced Shakespeare is not a show that I would naturally gravitate towards.

"How did you hear about it, if you don't mind me asking?"

Oh… Am I doing this? Fuck it, yes I am.

"It's a bit of a strange one," I say. "I'm doing this challenge..."

And I tell her, all about this fucking marathon of mine.

Her eyes widen and her expression turns into what I like to think of as The Marathon Face. Slightly shocked, but mainly fighting between the twin emotions of horror and amusement. A kind of: oh god, who is this crazy person, and how can I get away from them, but also, can I get that URL?



"How did you think of that?" she asks, leaning back against the chairs as she tries to take this information in.

I give her my potted answer. Had the idea a few years back... yadda yadda yadda. You've heard it.

"So, how many have you done?"

"160. Ish." The truth is I've forgotten. It's somewhere around there.

"And how many are there?"

"About 300." Yeah. About. I don't know the answer to that one either. In my defence though, it keeps on changing. Do you remember back when I started, and my original count was 231 theatres? Those were good times.

"Are you getting deals? Because that must cost a lot!"

"Yeah..." I sigh and tell her about press tickets and all that shit. I may not have access to papering clubs, but I have contacts... Not that I even have time to use any of them anymore. It takes... so long. Like seriously. It's so much effort. All that back and forth and negotiating dates and ergh... I don't... I just can't...

Still slightly baffled she heads off, probably feeling a lot more content with the way her own life is going. My marathon tends to have that effect on people.

I go back to the programme. And yup. There she is. Natalie Boakye. Favourite drink: Processo Rose apparently. And the worst thing she's done while drunk? "Thrown up in my hands, in a club, before midnight on NYE."

I try to think what's the worst thing I've ever done while drunk. Sitting my Chemistry A-level was always my go-to answer on this one. But I think we have a new winner now: going to Magic Mike Live.

I won't be forgetting that in a hurry.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. This evening’s performance will commence in two minutes," comes a voice over the sound system. I don't think I need to tell you who that voice belongs to. "May I remind you that any recording if this performance is strictly prohibited. Anyone caught going this may be asked to leave the building."

Wow, intense. I'm glad I've got all my auditorium photos done already. I don't want another Mountview situation.

Two minutes later, my top-hatted friend is up on stage, her sparkly eyes flashing as she whips up the audience.

"Cheer if it's your a first time," she shouts. The newbies duly cheer. Yes, including me. I can't let my new friend down now, can I?

"And if you've been here before..." She puts her hands up in twin claws and the Sh!t-faced Sycophants growl in response.

She explains the concept. One actor in the company has spent the past four hours getting drunk. With the finesse of a magician's assistant, she whips back a cloth and shows us what they've had.

A bottle of vodka.

I mean, okay. That's a lot. But sitting there, alone on the little trolley, it doesn't look all that impressive.

But never fear. There's more.

She brings out a bugle. "Who wants to have a go blowing on my horn?"

Someone in the front row volunteers. He isn't very good at it.

"Don't worry, you've got an hour to practice," she says.

Hopefully it won't take an hour, because that horn needs to get blown as soon as our drunk actor starts to sober up. On the sound of the horn, they get given another drink to down.

Next up, a gong. That goes to an audience member down the other end. Same rules.

Then there’s the bucket. A very large bucket. The sort they'd use for laundry in a bleak drama set in a mining town.

I don’t want to think about the bucket.

Not the wipe-cleaness of the programmes.

But just in case, our host has her own weapons. Which she'll bring out if the actor is either too sober, or... too far gone.

She runs off, giving way to the cast and... is that... is that Imagine Dragons? A... a slightly medieval sounding version of Imagine Dragons? It is! It's Believer! And the reason I know this (and I swear, if you tell anyone this, it'll be the end of you) is because I actually really like Imagine Dragons. Yeah, yeah. I know. They don't really mesh with the whole... whatever I've got going on, But look, some days I just need more from my tunes than Amaranthe can deliver. And Imagine Dragons does the business. Now you, shut up or I'll start commenting on what you have on your Spotify playlist.

Anyway, those banging beats done, we're off. Hamlet. With Hamlet himself played by David Ellis in a post a bottle of vodka capacity.

It doesn't take long for that bottle of vodka to make itself known, and Ellis is soon sucking Saul Marron's finger and making incest jokes with Claudius.

"We need a Polonius!"

Oh yeah. They don't have one of those. Turns out even when you cut down Hamlet to an hour and change, you still need a Polonius.

The audience is called open to provide, and a brave soul is brought on stage and given a hat to wear.

"Can you remind us what your first name is?" they ask him, in possibly the cruellest move that has ever happened on stage.

"Err, yes?" says the newly hatted Polonius, probably having GCSE English Lit flashbacks right now.

"Yes? Ah! The old Dutch name, Yaass," says Madeleine Schofield's Gertrude.

He's soon dismissed back to his seat, to enjoy an evening of Hamlet newly set in Broad City.

A few minutes later, the bugle sounds. Or at least, there's a spluttering whisper which I can only take to be an attempt on the instrument.

"You thought this was going too smoothly?" Ellis asks the bugle-player, and Boakye comes back onstage to pour out a bottle of beer and hand the pint to our Hamlet.

Ellis takes a break in drinking to tell us that when he's not being an actor, he works in a restaurant, and he just got fired tired.

Someone awws in the audience and he points in their general direction. "Someone went there. Thank you."

When we get to that speech, you know the one. The speech. The soliloquy. It's taken as a run-up and collapses into laughter halfway through the first line. We all hold our breaths as Ellis attempts to force the rest out in a single stream, and the relief when he gets to the end is released in a massive cheer.

The gong goes.

More beer!

Ellis wanders on and off stage, the pint glass in hand. Even when he's in the wings he manages to distract his fellow actors, as they react to his off-stage antics.

Boakye keeps a close eye on him. Replacing his dagger with a stuffed snake ("Nagini!") so he can't hurt himself, or anyone else. Although to be fair, he does his best. Even chucking the poor creature in the direction of the front row.

As for Yorrick, Ellis picks something out of the skulls eyesocket. "Sorry," he tells Beth-Louise Priestley's Horatia. "I stuck some chewing gum in there earlier."

But no amount of picking can save the ill-fated Ophelia. Or what's left of her anyway.

When her shrouded body is carried out on stage, Ellis makes a grab for it. "She's light as a feather," he announces. "But not stiff as a board." And with that, he lobs the corpse into the audience.

"No!" says Boakye. "No throwing things."

Ellis looks suitably contrite.

He still can't be trusted with a sword though. As Ellis and Matthew Seager's Laertes prepare to fight, Boakye runs on stage to grab the weapons, returning a second later with a pair of inflatables.

"I've got a stiff banana," yells Ellis as he attacks Seager with it.

Well, quite.

After that, it's only a matter of time before everyone is dead.

And as the cast all stick their middle fingers up at the audience, we get some more Imagine Dragons to play us out.

Ah, fuck yeah. It's Warrior. Yasss. I mean, yes!

What a fucking tune.

... Just don't fucking quote me on that.


Into the Witching Hour

It's 10pm and I'm at home! This is very exciting. Being at home at 10pm is the holy frickin' grail for me right now. Being at home at 10pm means being in my pyjamas, it means cup of tea in bed, with... and I don't want to go crazy here, but what the hell, it's 10pm and I'm at home... biscuits.

At least, that's what it would usually mean.

Tonight however, things aren't going that way.

It's 10pm and I'm at home, and I'm staring at my clothes wondering whether it's socially acceptable to leave the house in pyjamas when you're not a student anymore. Because I've got a show to see this evening. Night, even.

What does one even wear to a midnight matinee? I need to be comfy. That is high on my list of priorities. And warm. Or possibly cool. I don't understand what's happening with the weather at the moment.

So I pick the only outfit that makes any sense to me: a sheer black, ankle length skirt, and a t-shirt that thinks the Hanson brothers were in Nirvana. In my bag I stuff a cardigan (in case it gets cold), a waterproof jacket (in case it rains), and my sunglasses (in case I need to have a nap).

That works.

Right, let's Robert Frost this bitch. I may not have promises to keep, but I sure as fuck have miles to go before I sleep.

I get to London Bridge just after 11. It's Friday night and the streets are thrumming with people not entirely able to walk in straight lines. I'm having a bit of trouble with that myself, the sheer force of my yawns is sending me off course. I am so bloody tired.

Eventually I fall into step behind a couple heading for the Globe. I know they are heading for the Globe because of their shoes. They are both wearing very sensible, and very comfortable-looking shoes. Now usually I'd say they were tourists, and the shoe-choice was a result of all the pavement-trekking they were intent on doing, but they don't stop to gaze in wonder at the ship, apparently docked in the middle of a backstreet, nor do they pause to take a photo of the glittering silhouettes reflected in the Thames. They've seen it all before. The only explanation for these damn ugly shoes, is that they are intent on standing on a hard concrete floor for the next three hours or so. They are Groundlings. I can feel it.

And sure enough, they turn onto New Globe Walk and step below the huge red O hanging overhead.

Stopped at the door to get my bag checked, I lose sight of them as they got lost in the bustle of excited looking people.

No matter. I'm done stalking them.

"Nope!" says the bag checker, spotting someone trying to sneak in a bike. "You're not bringing that in!"

"It folds up!" protests the bike owner, but he's not having it.

"Well, take it back outside and fold it up then. You're not bringing it in like that."

I leave them too it. I need to go pick up my ticket.

There's a bit of a queue, with three people darting about behind the long counter, rushing from the ticket box to the computer to get through everyone as quickly as possible.

Soon enough I've got my ticket and I'm left to find out what is happening with the programme situation.

You see, I don't know what play is being performed tonight.

And for once it's not my dodgy memory to blame.

I don't know what play it'll be, because no one else does either. And no one will, until it comes time to actually start the damn thing.

So, that's the question isn't it: how do you sell a programme for a show that hasn't been decided on yet?

I get in line at the concession desk to find out.

Looks like I'm not the only one intrigued by this puzzle.

The bloke in front of me has got hold of a copy and is paging through the programme with great interest.

I wait.

The programme seller waits.

But the bloke in front is still reading, apparently unaware that a queue has formed behind him.

The programme seller catches my eye and I side-step this avid reader, hand over a fiver, and walk away with my prize.

No time to celebrate quite yet though. I've got another queue that needs joining.

I go upstairs and make my way over to the doors that lead outside, and show my ticket. "Stand wherever you like," says the ticket checker, nodding me through.

It's busy out here. People buying wine and renting cushions from the concession stalls around the outer wall of the theatre. I don't have any time for that nonsense though.

I make my way around the curved wall and towards the door marked Yard & Lower Gallery.

Yup, I'm a Groundling too tonight. I mean, you've got to, haven't you? If you're doing to Globe, might as well do it proper like.

The queue starts here, hugs close around the white walls, back towards the brick building behind. Stops. And then restarts.

I look at the two woman standing several feet from the end of the queue.

"Is this a gap in the queue?" I ask, wagging my hand between the two points.

"Yes, they asked us to leave a break," says one, pointing towards the glass doors that lead to the loos.

"That makes sense," I say, falling into line behind them.

There's not much to do now but wait. I get out the programme to see what I've bought myself.

Turns out, it's programme covering all three play options for tonight. Ah, ha. I see. The show, whatever it is, is being performed by the Globe's touring company. So all that had to do was put the touring programme on sale. Makes sense.

The queue grows and grows, snaking back on itself.

And then the doors open.

I mean...

As first impressions go, Shakespeare's Globe has got it down.

That painted canopy of stars, glowing against the inky black of the midnight sky.

It's a little bit magical.

The first people in line race to take up the prime spots, right in front of the stage. That's what they waited for. And that's their reward.

The front edge of the thrust is all taken up by the time I get in. A second row is already beginning to form.

I have a choice: good view, or leaning space.

It's nearly midnight and if I'm to have any chance of getting through this, I need something to lean on.

I walk to the far end of the stage. There's no one down here. Except one of the red tabarded stewards.

"Is it okay to stand around here?" I ask her.

"Go for it!" she says.

"I just never like being the first..."

"It's always good to be first."

Well, she's not wrong. Being first means that I can tuck myself in next to the stairs that branch off the side of the stage. Not a great view. There's a bloody huge pillar taking up a huge amount of the sight-line, but it does mean that I can wedge myself in between the stage and the steps.

The yard fills up. The seats in the surrounding balconies too, but not nearly as much. You have to be a hardcore fan to want to do Shakespeare in the middle of the night. Those people like to be close to the action. Even if it means they get owie feet in exchange.

A group of girls arrive and take up position next to me. They've wearing glitter on their faces.

"What happens if someone does a speech right there?" asks one of them, pointing at the pillar.

"So what? Get over it," her friend replies.

Music starts. Coming through the Groundlings as the performers make their way to the stage.

They're all wearing variations on the same outfit. Blue and greys, with what looks like a cross between Tudor hose and a pinafore dress, making the lot of them look as if they just escaped from the prep school assembly.

Everyone giggles as Mark Desebrock twangs a strange vibrating instrument, and cheers as Andrius Gaucas does the splits.

Their tune ends, and it's time to pick a play.

How are they going to do it? Well, they're not. We are. The audience.

Oh god. There's going to be shouting, isn't there?

We have a test run.

"I'm going to say a play, and you pretend you really want to see it..." says one of the performers who has introduced himself as Eric.

Everyone cheers and claps.

"Come on," says Beau Holland. "Let's wake up the neighbours: Cinderella!"

More cheering and clapping. A few people pound on the stage to really show their enthusiasm.

But who will be analysing the data? Well, the team have a solution for that.

A beach ball appears.

"The first person to catch it will throw it to the second person. The second person will throw it to the third. The third person will be our independent adjudicator."

Sounds simple enough.

The beach ball is lobbed into the yard. Someone grabs it and bats it onwards. Again it's caught and passed on. And then promptly disappears. Sinking below the line of the crowd.

We all groan.

But no, someone's got it.

"What's your name?" asks Eric (or Eric Sirakian to give him his full name).


"A round of applause for Tash!"

And then it began. The choosing of the play.

"Who wants to see Comedy of Errors?"

The girls next to me scream. They really want to fucking see Comedy of Errors.

I stay silent. I really fucking don't. Fucking hate that play.

Next up...

"Twelfth Night!"

Palms pound on the stage and the night air is filled with hollering.

I join in with the clapping. I do like Twelfth Night. I mean, I've already seen it once this week. But it's a good play. And frankly, anything is better than Comedy of Errors.

"And Pericles!"

You can almost hear the tumbleweed blow through over the sound of polite clapping.

"Come on guys!" says a bloke near me. "Pericles is really good."

Yeah, whatever mate.

A few more people join in. Getting louder and louder as they realise it's all up to them whether they win this thing. The Pericles contingent may be small, but they have some lungs on them.

It's over to Tash now.

"Per-i-cles! Per-i-cles! Per-i-cles! Per-i-cles!"

"I think some people want to see Pericles?" she says, doubtfully.

A round of boos is turned on Tash.

Eric and Beau are pressing her for an answer.

"Twelfth Night?"

The girls next to me groan.

"Cinderella!" shouts the Pericles guy.

Someone rushes on stage with an orange robe and holds it out for Evelyn Miller. She's to be our Orsino.

"If music be the food of love, play on..."

And so we're off. My second Twelfth Night of the week.

Actors start to reappear on the stage, now wearing costumes over their pinafores. Andrius' Olivia in a jewelled veil. Mark Desebrock’s Malvolio in a smartly tailored coat. Beau's Sir Andrew in a plush green doublet that I just want to rub my cheek against, it looks so soft.

The characters begin the business of getting themselves all in a tangle.

I'm really glad I've seen this play before. I'm even more glad that I saw it four days ago... or is it five? I can't work it out. Either way, I'm glad. Because my brain is starting to slow down as the cool night air drifts down through the open roof.

I am so fucking tired. I cross my arms on top of the stage and rest my chin on them, allowing the actors' voices to lull me to... nope. Got to stay awake. I haven't fallen asleep in a theatre yet and I'm not about to start now.

I push myself away from the stage, swaying slightly on my feet before I fall against the sturdy side of the steps, and there I stay, sometimes leaning my back against, it, sometimes just my hip. But always in constant contact. May the theatre gods bless and preserve those steps from woodworm for ever more.

"To be up after midnight and to go to bed then, is early," says Colin Campbell as Sir Toby Belch, staggering up those same steps before throwing a beer over my head and into the yard. Natasha Magigi's Feste follows on behind, belting out a note that blasts my ears.

In the interval, people sink to the ground, putting their knees at risk for the sake of their feet.

I'm about to join them but someone has plonked themselves down on my steps, and if anyone should be sitting on those steps its me.

I go sit next to her.

A steward comes over.

"Sorry ladies, you're not allowed on the stage."

I heave myself back up and find a spare patch of ground to sit on.

I'm worried about what the rough floor will do to my sheer skirt, so I lay down my jacket first, feeling very Walter Raleigh as I do so, and sit on that.

"You need to keep an eye on those stairs," one steward whispers to another, as if we're a litter of naughty puppies who have to be kept away from the Sunday roast.

The young girls next to me seem to have got over their Comedy of Errors loss and are now eating sandwiches.

A steward comes. "Hi ladies," she says to the young girls. "Are you enjoying the show? It's time to get up now."

Shakespeare, it seems, cannot be taken sitting down.

We all struggle to our feet. And it is a struggle. 

It's cold now. Properly cold. I put on my jacket.

My feet aren't too happy about being called on again so soon. I am not wearing ugly-comfy-sensible shoes tonight. They'd be alright, my feet, in my stompy boots, I think. But after 150 theatres they finally gave out on me. A huge crack has split the left soul. So I'm wearing inferior boots. And they're fine. But they are letting me know there's a good possibility that they won't be find in the near to immediate future.

As Cesario gets caught in a scrape after the reappearance of Sebastian, I shift my weight foot to foot, and cross my arms to keep my jacket close.

On stage the characters all work it out. True love reigns. And the company do their closing gig.

But we're not done yet. Mogali Masuku steps forward.

"Thank you, you wonderfully insane people," she says. This gets a cheer. Everyone likes being thought of as slightly insane, don't they? Or at least vaguely eccentric. That is surely most of the appeal of midnight matinee - the ability to shock your friends when you tell them about it afterwards.

"Thank you for playing with us this evening." She pauses. "This morning...?  I don't want to keep you much longer, but this year is the centenary, one hundred years since the birth of Sam Wanamaker." She pauses again for the audience to react. "By the sound of that cheer you haven't heard of him, but he created this beautiful place." She sweeps her arm around to encompass the circular beauty of the Globe. "Without government funding. And it's still like that now. No funding from the government, and we're trying to raise a hundred thousand pounds. The stewards, who are all volunteers by the way, will be standing with buckets. We hope you might throw in a few pennies... or a few pounds, of if you're really tired, perhaps some paper notes too.

"Thanks so much for playing with us tonight and good MORNING!"

And with one final cheer from the audience to chase the actors backstage, they're gone.

And it's time for us to leave too. 

Struggling to stay awake on the night-tube, I finally emerge back in Finchley just as the sky is beginning to lighten. I walk the rest of the way home to the sounds of the dawn chorus, and crash into my pillow face first.

Read More

Stone Penge


I don’t know what this place is, or even exactly where it is, but I’m enjoying saying the hell out of it, and have been doing so ever since I found out how it’s pronounced. About five minutes ago.

“This train is calling out New Cross Gate, Brockley, Honor Oak Park, Forest Hill, Sydenham, Penge West…”

Penge, Penge, Penge, Penge, Penge.

It’s a great name. I’m very much in favour of places with great names. Even if it does feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere when you get out the station. There’s a lot of green stuff out here. Trees, I think they’re called. You don’t get many of them round my way.

According to Google Maps I need to turn right to get to my next theatre, and… oh, is that it? I can literally see it from here. Well, that was easy.

I stroll down the road towards the pub on the corner.

It’s very quiet. The only cars on the road are the ones parked along the curb.

I look both ways to cross. I need to get some distance for my exterior shots. But I end up standing in the middle of the road to take the photos. No car comes. I'm there for quite a while, feeling the power of standing still in the middle of the road thrum through me, until someone walks by on the pavement and gives me a funny look, and I feel embarrassed so slink back over in shame.

Still, Bridge House is a handsome building. And I say handsome because it’s very masculine, not that I want to get all gender-normative on a pub, but that’s the energy I’m getting. A sophisticated man, to be sure. Black pepper aftershave and a saddle tan leather weekend bag lifted straight out of the Vogue Christmas buying guide ‘for him’. Anyway, in building terms its red brick and black-painted stucco. And boxy. Like a child’s drawing of a building. Almost completely cuboid.

And lots of writing too. Not that I think writing is inherently masculine, you understand. I mean, obviously. I’m just mentioning it. As a totally separate point.

There’s information about the next pub quixz up on the wall. A rundown of the events in some local festival painted on the window. A warning about the deck being slippery placed under the window. And a rather pissy note about not putting cigarette butts in the plant pots over by the door.

Inside it’s all dark walls and rugged wooden tables. There are antlers on the walls and a chandelier hanging from the ceiling. It’s also very quiet.

This is my kind of pub.

On the left, white sheets screen off a room. The sign stuck to the fabric warns of a life drawing class happening on the other side. Clipboards and art supplies wait on the table outside.

Sadly, I’m not here to get my charcoal on, so I head in the other direction.

Up the stairs, towards the bar. Except, not quite yet. I’m going to pause here a moment. These stairs need to be appreciated. Wide and deep with a little hint of sweepingness to them. These are the type of stairs that Scarlett O’Hara would make full use of if she was here.

I’m so glad I wore a long skirt today. Long enough that I have to pick it up at the front to go up stairs, so I don’t trip over it.

Look, I’m not saying I want to live in the Victorian age. That would be terrible. But I do harbour the conviction that I would be pretty darn good at it if somehow u did get flung back in time. As long as I was rich. And able bodied. And educated. Had control over my personal fortune. Was unmarried. And… hmmm. Okay. Maybe not. But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy having a good sweep up some nice stairs when I have half a chance.

Up here is the bar. But I don’t need to go there.

There’s a table set up right at the top of the stairs and it looks hella box officey. There’s even a sign advertising £1 programmes, which is a bit of a clue.

I give my surname and get checked off the handwritten list and given a lilac admission token.

Just as I’m reaching for my purse so I can grab one of those one pound programmes, the box office man hands me a sheet of paper.

“And here's a free cast sheet,” he says.

“Oh, lovely,” I say surprised. You don’t usually get cast sheets, free or otherwise, when there’s a programme that needs selling. But, now that I look at the desk, I can’t actually see any programmes, one pound’s worth or otherwise. Perhaps they keep them under the counter. Perhaps the content is a little to risqué for public viewing. There might be children about after all.

I consider asking, but I’m happy with my cast sheet, and anyway, the conversation has moved on and I am rapidly getting left behind.

“We’ll be opening around twenty past,” says the box officer. “You know, first night, technical things.”

No need to explain, good man! Twenty past seven is a perfectly reasonable time to be opening up a theatre above a pub. Especially one with unallocated seating.

“You can go to the bar, take drinks up. We’ll make an announcement, but don't wander too far.”

Right, noted.

Time to explore then. But not too far. Obviously.

There’s a beer garden, but I’m not overly committed to this weather, so I find a table and plonk my bag down.

The tables around me begin to fill up. Everyone is clasping little lilac admission tokens.

“Welcome to the Bridge House and Bridge House Theatre,” comes a loud voice over the tannoy. “Tonight’s performance of Twelfth Night will start at 7.30.  If you have tickets for tonight’s performance make yourself known at box office, or if you'd like to buy tickets, also make yourself known at box office.”

If the bouquets of lilac admission tokens are anything to go by, the entirety of this pub has already made themselves known at box office.

“Good evening,” comes the tannoy again. Then silence. Then a splutter as it kicks into life again. “Welcome to the Bridge House and Bridge House Theatre. Tonight’s performance of Twelfth Night night will start at 7.30.” There’s a pause. Except, not quite a pause. I can still hear him talking. Just very quietly, somewhere far away. “If you bought tickets on line please go to the box office situated on...” Here the microphone gives up again, and so does the speaker.

The pub lapses back into quiet chatter.

Some ladies at the table next to me start turning around in their chairs, looking back at the bar. “Have they gone in?” one asks. “It looks they’ve they’ve gone in.”

I turn around too. It does look they’ve gone in. The bar looks curiously empty.

“I’m just going to…” says one lady getting out of her chair. She pauses, and grabs her drink, and her admission token. “I just don’t want to be sitting here and…”

She goes off, in search of answers.

Seconds pass. Then minutes.

She hasn’t come back.

Chairs scrape as the other ladies get to their feet and they also grab their drinks and their tokens and follow on behind.

I look after them. Should I go too? It’s not 7.30 yet, but we’re close. Really close.

The ladies return, silently placing their drinks down on the table and taking their seats.

“Welcome to the Bridge House and Bridge House Theatre… The house is now open.”

The ladies almost groan as chairs scrape and drinks are picked up again.

“Please have your tickets ready at the top of the stairs. Mind the step as you come in.”

By the time I make it back towards the bar, there’s already a queue coming out the door to the theatre.

Whatever they are putting in the drinks at Bridge House, they should weaponise it. These people are speedy.

“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” says the box office person, holding the door that leads back to the theatre and checking the lilac passes as they come through.

Inside, the walls are painted. Trompe l'oeil (I took first year Art History at uni, okay?) woodgrain on the doors, Christmas cartoons running up the stairs, and a clock waiting for us up at the top to show us the finish time. Very nice.

Plus, I still have my admission pass! Double nice.


Oh. Turns out I do have to give it back. Oh well. At least I have my cast sheet.

“Mind the step,” says the person on duty at the door to the theatre space.

I immediately stumble over the step.

In my defence, I was staring at the theatre.

It’s a black box. So, don’t get too excited. I mean, it’s a nice black box. The walls don’t have that strange crumbly consistency that you so often find in these places. Someone knows a good plasterer, is what I’m saying.

But more importantly, instead of having a boring bank of seats facing a stage, chairs have been placed all along the walls and in the middle… is that a beach?

It looks like sand. In a neat rectangle taking up most of the floor space. And there are those wooden posts tied with rope that you always see by the sea, that I'm not sure of the purpose of, but possibly it’s to do with keeping the beach pinned to the ground so that it doesn’t roll into the waves or something. There’s also some twig-based matting going on.

There isn’t much room between the sand and the seats, what with people’s bags and all, so I pick my way along the matting to get to a spare chair.

A front of houser comes around holding a switch-ya-phone-off sign. He walks slowly, holding the sign at eye height, making sure each one of us has seen it before moving on.

Right then. No excuses.

I better check my phone.

Airplane mode initialised. We are ready!

I’m quite excited now. I’ll admit, I was a little wary about Shakespeare in a pub theatre. I’m not, well, ‘into’ Shakespeare. Shakespeare and me don’t get on. Frankly, I think most of his plays are crap. Too long. Too many sub plots. Way too much showing instead of telling. And don’t even talk to me about a Midsummer Night’s Dream. He was basically trolling the audience in that one. In the modern sense of the word. But Twelfth Night… ahh, I do like Twelfth Night. Just the right amount of improbability, balanced out by a good dose of self-awareness.

And look how young and sweet this cast is, with their fresh adorable faces and boundless energy as they rush on and off the stage, slipping between roles with off-stage commentary to cover the costume changes.

And what costumes. I’m having a serious case of costume envy here. Orsino’s shiny satin dressing gown definitely belongs in my wardrobe, as does Olivia’s black wrap coat. As for the Feste’s pink Lennon glasses, I’m eBaying that shit as soon as the interval hits.

A phone goes off.

Vibrating loudly inside its owners bag.

She jumps and reaches down for it in alarm.

Sat on a wooden post, while receiving Orsino's words of love via a messenger boy, Miriam Grace Edwards’ Olivia turns her head and gives the owner of the phone an imperious stare. At least I presume it’s an imperious stare, I can’t actually see. She’s facing the other way. But the back of Edwards’ head sure looks imperious.

“Where lies your text?” she asks Eve Niker’s Viola.

Where indeed.

In the interval, we’re all ordered out.

“See you in a bit, mind the step,” says the man on the door.

I promptly stumble over it. Again.

My table is still empty. I dump my bag and myself in its comfortable embrace. It’s beginning to feel like home.

“Welcome to the Bridge House and Bridge House Theatre,” comes the voice over the tannoy. “This is your three minute call for the second half. Three minutes. Please start to make your what back the the theatre.”

“Welcome back!” says the man on the door.

My foot catches the step as I pass.

The mobile phone sign is making another round, bouncing up and down so that we definitely don’t miss it this time. It pauses in front of the phone lady. Her neighbour points at her, dobbing her in. And the sign pumps in and out. We all laugh. Oh dear. Poor lady. She’s taking it well. Laughing and nodding along. She definitely won’t be making that mistake again any time soon.

We’re ready to begin again.

And oh gosh, I’d forgotten just how long this play was. All that bit with the letter and Malvolio in prison. And Sir Toby Belch. Just, all of him. I wish there was a retelling radicle enough to cut him out. But we’re zipping along all the same, only pausing long enough for a song before we’re off again.

Opposite me, two people take up a corner with notebooks resting on their laps, and for once I get to pick the first option in my game of Director or Blogger. It is the first night, and well, technical things.

Although which of them can claim the role I cannot quite decide. I wanna say the bloke but that's just the old gender normative social conditioning again. And I just spotted a third notebook on my left, and a laptop to my right, which is throwing everything up in the air.

The lady in the corner is laughing a lot though. And she did jump when Niker started waving around that blade while hiding in that corner. Perhaps she is a blogger after all.

The cast gather for the final song, and stretch out their arms to clap in the universal gesture indicating that we should join in. I try, but, you know me and rhythm. I ain't git none. Still, bless them. I can't even be mad.  They're all so... heartbreakingly wholesome. I'm utterly charmed with the lot of them. Even Fayez Bakhsh's Sir Toby Belch.

Last time crossing the threshold, and I don’t trip over the step. I’m feeling pretty damn smug right now, I can tell you.

A front of houser is positioned at the top of the stairs, wishing everyone a good night.

“If you know anyone who might like it, please tell them!” he says.

Hmm. I mean, I did like it. So consider yourself told.

Right, I've got a staircase that needs sweeping down.

Read More

Cover Me In Dead Stickers

"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.

They open.

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?"

"It's Smiles."

"Name please?"

"Max Smiles?"

"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."

"Oh my..."

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.

I'm next.

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.

Helen's next.

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.

She doesn't.

We leave.

"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.

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Exeunt, In Pursuit of Rylance

"Is this for Shakespeare in the Abbey?" someone asks, indicating the queue.

The person positioned at the end of it, a woman wearing a red tabard that makes her look like she's a hospital cleaner who just popped outside for a cheeky cigarette but actually is one of the Shakespeare's Globe crew, nods. "This is for Shakespeare, yes."

"Is it for tickets?"

Tabard-lady's brow creases. "That," she says, with a dramatic pause. "I can't tell you."

The question asker joins the queue anyway. I do too.

"I'm just making sure that people know what they're waiting for so they don't think they're getting into the abbey," continues to Tabard-lady.

I very much hope we are, in fact, getting into the abbey. That's why I'm here. Shakespeare in the Abbey. I'm rather banking on the title being an indication of what I'm getting. Because if not, I won't have a venue to check off this marathon.

And as venues goes, this one is bloody impressive. The pavements are blocked solid all the way around as tourists try to capture the perfect selfie with the rising towers of Westminster Abbey in the background.

Usually, in order to get those images of a venue's exterior that go up on my Official Theatre List after I've visited them, I'll cross a road so I can fit the entire building within the frame. But there was no chance of that here. I'd have had to catch the ferry to France to get any hope of fitting all of that Gothic goodness in one picture.

I did my best. And I certainly captured a certain something. The essence of the abbey. With a hint of the moody sky above and the swam of tiny little people below.

The queue shifts forward, taking me through a pair of doors so massive a double-decker bus wouldn't even need to fold in its side mirrors to get through.

There's someone only the other side with one of those plastic boxes that are made to keep recipe cards in, but literally no one keeps recipe cards in. The type of person who actually writes recipe cards is the type of person who will also decoupage their own damn box for them. So, instead these boxes are used by theatres to sort the night's tickets ready for pick up.

I give my name, and get my ticket, and a nice recipe for choux buns.

I keep on going. Through the shadowy gate-way and out into the brightness of a large courtyard.

There's another tabard-wearer stationed out here, pointing people in the right direction and handing out free programmes. Which in this case, is left.

I'm already feeling lost.

Westminster Abbey, which looked like such an imposing monolith from the outside, now appears to be a jumble of buildings nestled together for warmth when seen from the back. Like turning over a beautiful piece of embroidery and seeing all the messy stitch-work.

But I don't get lost. There are tabard-wearers at every corner. And then, at the metal gate that will whisk us inside, a very fancy security guard. He has a gold badge on his hat. It matches nicely with the gilding on the gate.

I don't know whether you've ever been before, but Westminster Abbey is fucking old. Like seriously. I mean, I knew it was old. Intellectually. But I don't think you really understand how fucking ancient it fucking it until you are there, standing on the same flagstones that people literally almost a thousand years ago also shuffled their way across.

Frickin kings have walked over these stones. And not just any kings. All the damn kings. And the queens. Especially the queens, I imagine. Stilettos can pox-mark a wooden floor within seconds. Just think want they can do with centuries of heel action.

There are grave stones set into the floor that have been walked over so much that their lettering has been smudged into oblivion.

The corridor starts to fill with Shakespeare-seekers, adding to the smudging of the stones beneath our feet.

Especially my feet. I'm not feeling particular light on them today. Top tip from an experienced theatregoer: if you are planning on attending a promenade performance in the evening, don't order a Chinese takeaway for lunch. And definitely don't consume six slices of sesame prawn toast on top of the curry you were convinced was a good idea when your coworker told you she had a free delivery voucher on Uber Eats.

Oh man. That sesame prawn toast is weighing heavy on me.

I really want to sit down, but I'm pretty sure that if I allow myself to do that I might as well snuggle up with one of the skeletons under the stones as I won't be getting up again any time soon.

I start reading the programme in an attempt to distract myself.

There's a welcome note from Mark Rylance. "You are about to meet many much-loved characters from Shakespeare," it reads. Blah blah blah. Whatever Mark. I skip down a few paragraphs. "As if by chance, you will find actors sometimes even when you aren't looking for them." Blimey. Am I finding the actors? Or are they finding me? Is that a threat, Mark Rylance?

"They will be speaking Shakespeare with you in a random, intimate, and improvised manner. In return, you don't have to do anything other than listen, respond if you wish, and move where your heart takes you."

Respond how I wish?

I don't know, man. I'm not big on improvised responses. I think I'll be skipping that one. As for moving where my heart takes me, Mark Rylance - you think my stomach is an idiot? Wait til you meet my heart.

Oh well. There's no backing out now. It's not like I haven't prostrated myself at the altar of immersive Shakespeare before. Might as well do it in an abbey.

Eventually, the doors open, and we slowly begin to filter in. At first I can't work out what the hold up is. I thought this lot would be bursting to get their Shakespeare on. But as it's my turn to walk up the stone steps and pass through the ancient wooden door, I finally understand. It's hard to move with your neck craned up as far as it will go, gazing at all the wonders of that spectacular vaulted ceiling, hundreds of feet above you. And then, just as the crick is about to become permanent, my eyes lower, following the lines of the fluted stone, down the walls, past the windows, circling around all the impossibly delicate looking twiddly carvings and then finally back to earth, and those uneven flagstones.

I keep my eyes on the flagstones. I can handle the flagstones. Focusing on them feels right. They're about level with us mortals. I feel comfortable with the flagstones. I understand the flagstones. Worn by the years and carrying the load of too many people.

I wonder how Mark Rylance would feel about me standing here, communing with the flagstones. Somehow, I don't think this is what he meant by "move where your heart takes you." For a start, I'm not moving.

Everyone is else. Now that the initial shock of this grand old building has worn off, people are scattering in every direction, in search of Shakespeare.

I turn left. Attracted by the pretty blue colour of the backing behind the rows of seats in what is, according to the programme, called the Quire.

I pass under a golden arch and then the abbey opens out before me into an impossible high and improbably wide space.

Scientist's Corner is on the right, and there's a small group over there inspecting all the carved memorials on the walls. But there's an even bigger group up ahead. A huge circle gathered around two actors. A man and a woman. I get closer, drawn by their voices.

"If I profane with my unworthiest hand," says Romeo. "This holy shrine, the gentle fine is this. My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand to smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss."

He kisses her.

Goodness. Is that allowed? In a church?

A little girl dressed head to foot in pink covers her eyes and presses her face into her mother's leg.

Her mother laughs and strokes the girl's hair.

They go through the rest of the scene. The girl slaps her hands over her scandalised eyes as lovers kiss again.

"You kiss by the book," says Juliet, before rushing out of the circle and off towards the Quire. A grinning Romeo follows close behind.

Just as the circle begins to disband, another pair emerge, as if from the crowd.

I don't recognise this scene. I can't tell what's going on. I decide to follow Mark Rylance's advice and move on.

There's a smaller gathering further back. Only ten or so people have made it all the way down here. There's one actor, dressed as an RAF officer and speaking so quietly he's almost drowned out by the pair near Scientists' Corner.

He's holding a toy plane.

He looks up and I see his face.

It's only Mark bloody Rylance.

He's doing Richard III. I've seen him do Richard III. But not like this. Not so softly. So gently. So damn close.

He walks towards us, reaches out, and strokes a woman's cheek.

She looks like she's about to faint. Or possibly implode.

Before she manages either, he moves away, walking around a grave. I look down. It's the unknown soldier, surrounded by a garland of paper poppies.

Rylance knees down next to it, flying his toy plan over the inscription.

He pauses. Silence.

And then he walks away.

I decide it's time for me to move on as well.

I've seen something in the programme maps and I want to check it out.

Back through the Quire, across the Lantern, through the North Transept, pausing for a moment to peer into the shrine to Edward the Confessor (very tricky, the barriers are super tall, I had to stand on my tippy-toes to catch a glimpse), up a short flight of stone steps, and then through a small and utterly unremarkable looking door. So unremarkable, I thought I might have taken a wrong turn, and was heading into some side office, or possibly an ancient cleaning cupboard. But no, the award stone corridor ends and I emerge into a palace of white marble. Every inch of the walls is carved into thousands of fluted channels and intricate flowers. And in the centre, a massive black tomb, surrounded by black railings, decorated with gold roses and initials.

I recognise the initials. Its the same ER I see on post boxes every day. But these are older. Much older. The OG ER. Elizabeth the fricking First.

There's an actor in here too. She's dressed in khakis. I don't know what she's reciting. It's not terribly interesting. I wait for her to finish and go away, and then plunge forward to inspect the tomb.

There's a stone effigy laid out on the tomb. A white marble head, wearing a white marble ruff, resting on a white marble pillow. She's wearing a crown. It doesn't look very comfortable.

I look around. I'm alone. "Ignore the haters," I whisper. "Donizetti was a moron."

That's a lie. I don't do that. But I think it. Very hard.

I check the programme. My next stop was on the other side of Lady Chapel.

I squeeze myself through the crowds.

I can't even get into this room.

I wait, as an endless procession of slow-moving people files out.

I must have just missed a performance.

Eventually, the clown-car joke comes to an end and I'm able to enter the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots. Another marble effigy. Wearing another marble ruff. Resting on another marble pillow. The only difference between the two is the lack of a crown.

Even in death, they are the subject of comparison.

I look around for a sign as to why Mary Stuart is buried in London, but there's nothing.

That done, it was time for more Shakespeare. It didn't take me long to find it. In the next tomb is a young woman, dressed in a long blue gown. She's crying, gazing at a man with beseeching eyes. He looks really uncomfortable. His wife is finding it hilarious.

I see the same actor a few minutes later. She's not wearing the blue gown anymore. She's stripped down to a white shift. She's carrying what looks like a bunch of meadow grass and wandering around as if half in a dream. She stops a woman, and hands her a stem.

That must be Ophelia I think, hanging back to watch her with a professional interest.

She walks past me and catches my eye. She does not give me one of her meadow grasses.

I walk around again, catching sections of The Dream and Taming of the Shrew as I go. Young people wearing red or white roses circle the abbey, muttering about those blasted Montagues or Capulets as they go. Occasionally I see them sitting down with an audience member resting their feet on one of the chairs around the edges. Further in Ib spot two of them flirting with a woman via the medium of a sonnet - bouncing the rhyming couplets between the two of them as they take it in turns trying to win her hand and mock each other's attempts.

I'm retracing my steps back to the tombs. I fancy another look at Good Queen Bess. As I make my way, Martha Plimpton tries to rush past me with a basket, and asks me very sweetly to move aside.

I circle back round to the Quire. There's a huge crowd. As I get closer I can see why. There's Mark Rylance. He's doing a scene with Martha Plimpton and the basket.

It's Winter's Tale.

As they finish and hurry off and man sighs. "He's gone again," he says, before starting off after Rylance. He's not the only one. It looks like Rylance is now the head of a convoy of adoring fans.

I decide not to go off in pursuit.

But a minute later I'm bumping into them again. Rylance, Plimpton and the basket, at the unknown soldier's grave.

A trumpet sounds in the distance.

"Something is happening," says Plimpton, looking at us all. "Come," she says urging us forward a few steps, before turning around to stop us.

The Montagues and Capulet's come storming in, followed by the rest of the audience.

Plimpton guides us into a circle. "Can you see," she asks someone, before channelling a space and pushing them through to the front.

Rylance is doing the same.

He reaches deep into the crowd and pulls out an old lady. Her friend follows behind, taping her on the shoulder, her face scrunched up in glee. This is their moment. The rock star yanking them up on stage. The pair of them will be talking about that-time-Mark-Rylance-pulled-her-out-of-the-crowd for years to come.

Plimpton is now gesturing that the audience members in the front should sit in the ground. No one dares question her. They ease themselves down onto the cold flagstones.

The Montagues and Capulet's are batteling with words. Not Shakespeare's though. These are original words. They urge us all to shake hands and make friends. The actors walk around our circle, clasping the audience's hands as they do so, before leading a procession, out through the huge doors.

A song strikes up. And Pharrell Williams' Happy chases us out into the last of the day's sunshine.

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Over My Dead Body

A couple of my friends have a running joke that on the 31st December they are going to put on a one-woman play in one of their living rooms, sell tickets... and then not tell me about. Thereby bringing down my marathon at the final hurdle. Now, they would never really do this. Firstly because they are not that mean. And secondly, I'm fairly confident that marathons don't have hurdling involved (I could be wrong though, I don't follow sport).

Anyway, as I arrive at my next theatre on the list, I begin to wonder whether perhaps I had stumbled on their plan a little ahead of schedule as Drapers Hall didn't look anything like the image the name had conjured in my head and instead looked like a pleasant suburban bungalow. Albeit owned by someone with severe privacy issues, as the garden is almost hidden behind some very heavy duty black gates.

If it hadn't been for the poster board outside, I would have presumed it part of the estate that it lives in.

Which I suppose is the point.

The homely atmosphere extends in off the street, as the hallway is full of people shrugging off their coats to hang up on the rail, wandering around clutching steaming mugs of tea, and flopping down on the sofas.

I grew suspicious. Perhaps it really was a home, and this entire trip had been a meticulously planned prank from my friends. It was a little late for an April Fools', but it was all too perfect. If I were going to send me off to a fake show in a fake venue, then an immersive Hamlet would be exactly the sort of thing that I would plan in order to torture me.

Confession time! I've never seen Hamlet. Well, I've never seen it all the way through. I've seen bits of it. A touch of Tennant's while it was on TV. A dab of to be or not to be, acquired through cultural osmosis. I’ve watched that Tom Stoppard Play. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. And The Lion King. Seen that one. The film. Still have to make it to the musical. Although the countdown is on to get to that one…

As for immersive... well, you should already know my feelings about that by now.

I do my best to shake off the feeling. My friends wouldn't do that to me. They couldn't possibly be so cruel. Not least because one if them was supposed to go with me, but had to back out because she needed to go to some academic thing I didn't really understand that was happening at Yale... Oh.

I'm a cynical old bag by nature, but this conspiracy theory was a touch too extreme even for me. Still, I am so struck by the feeling that I have literally just wandered into someone's living room that it takes me a moment to realise that I should be checking in.

This is done, via mobile phone, and my name is instantly recognised.

Now, that isn't unusual. My name is very memorable. But sadly, this isn't the Smiles-effect at work here.

"You were supposed to be here..."

"Last Friday, yes."

That was true. I had booked to go last week, but the lovely people at BAC offered me the chance to crack through three of their spaces in one night, and when it comes to marathons, three theatres beats one every time. It's just basic maths.

Thankfully the people at Drapers Hall are even lovelier, and allowed me to switch my ticket to a different night.

"There's tea and food in the kitchen just round the corner, in exchange for a donation."

Well, this needed thorough investigation.

There really was a kitchen around the corner. A proper kitchen. Not some little pokey corner-room with just enough counter space to fit a kettle balanced on top of a microwave. There was an oven, with five hob rings. A chopping board lay ready to use next to it. I could have knocked out a Sunday roast in that kitchen if needs be. But there was no shortage of food. Beside the still steaming kettle, there was a plate of custard creams and an array of milks and fruit teas. And on the other side, there were crackers and houmous and hot cross buns and crisps and apple juice. No one was going hungry tonight.

“Follow me!” comes the call when the doors are opened. “You can take your drinks in, if you like.”

Many people do like, and they go through, clutching their cuppas for comfort and leading to the bizarre sight of ten or so people trying to work out what do with their mugs as they take their seats. The rest of us join the circle without the benefit of a soothing hot drink, and try not to look anxious.

The space is a small one. Not round exactly, but hexagonal - or one of those other geometric shapes that I can’t remember the name of - with high vaulted ceilings that stretch up into a sharp point above our heads.

It’s dark. There are wood panels. Kinda like a sauna. I’m certainly sweating out my nerves.

In the centre, sat on the floor, is Emily Carding - a name you will be familiar with if you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, as this is the third time her name has popped up in my posts (now beating Shakespeare by a single entry).

The doors close, sealing us in. That’s it. It’s happening. There’s no escape.

Emily Carding leaps up, ready to shake hands and greet us. Are my hands sweaty? They’re probably really sweaty. I hope they’re not sweaty.

No time to think of that. Carding is explaining what’s happening. We’re actors. We’re going to be given roles. Scripts are handed out.

First up: Horatio. That goes to a man sitting across the circle from me. Carding explains that it’s an important role. A speaking role, no less. He nods. He’s up to the challenge.

Next up… Carding comes over to me. “Will you be my Ophelia?”

Err. “Sure?”

Now, I may not have seen Hamlet, but I’m pretty sure that Ophelia is a significant role. Hamlet’s love interest, no less. Carding warns me that it’s going to be tough going. I’m going to get spoken to with some not very nice words. I smile nervously, trying not to show my fear. That was apparently the right thing to do. We were on. The role is mine.

As the other roles are handed out, I look at my script. I’m to take a letter and hand it back. Stand up. Sit down. Listen as people talk to me. That all sounds okay. I can deal with that. I stand up, sit down, and listen to people every day.

I keep reading.

I have a line. No, two.

Well, alright. Speaking is fine. Been doing that for years.

I keep reading.

Oh. Oh! I had forgotten the thing about Ophelia. The very important thing about Ophelia. The one thing that ends up defining Ophelia.

I was going to have to die.

I read the instructions. Then read them again just to make sure I understood them.

I say instructions, but this was no IKEA step-by-step breakdown of a theatrical suicide, but rather a guideline. Firstly, I was to tear up my script. Fine. Nice. I like it. But then I had to crumple the pages into flowers. Poetic. Nice. I like it. Except… how?

Carding gives our Laertes a stage combat less with invisible swords. She’s amazing. She’s got the stance down. She reveals she’s done this before.

Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear ohdear ohdearohdear.

We have a trained pro in our midst.

Don’t fuck up, Max, I order myself. And don’t you dare show fear.

A thought occurs. Perhaps showing fear was exactly what I was supposed to be doing. Is that why Carding picked me? She could see the raging anxiety behind the eyes? I didn’t know enough about the role to tell. This Ophelia-chick is clearly not having a good time of it. Perhaps I should be all shaking-nerves. In which case, I’m nailing this.

As the play kicked off and my fellow audience members began performing their assigned parts, I tried to figure out the problem of the flowers.

I could tear my pages in half. That would be very dramatic, I thought. And then perhaps roll each half into a tulip, twisting the length into a stem. No. That would take far too long. And besides, the script said to crumple.

Polonius and Laertes come over to sit with me. “He’s mad,” says Laertes. “Completely bonkers. Wouldn’t you agree, Polonis?” She ad-libbing, and she’s great at it.

I nod. My script says I’m supposed to listen to them, but I chance a weak “right…” of agreement.

Hamlet’s writing a letter. Carding looks up and locks eyes with me.

“Doubt thou the stars are fire, doubt that the sun doth move, doubt truth to be a liar, but never doubt I love.”

I mean… oof. That Shakespeare could write a mean love letter. No wonder Ophelia went barmy over this bloke.

I take the letter. My hands aren’t just sweating now. They’re shaking. I blame the contents. That is a damn inferno of words being held in them.

I hear my name. Ophelia’s name, even. That’s my cue. I get up. I’ve been told to return the letter to Hamlet. Carding won’t take it. I try again.

This is it. The scene I’ve been warned about. The letter is crumpled and tossed away. It looks so sad and pathetic on the ground. Like a child’s discarded homework.

“Get thee to a nunnery,” Carding orders.

I clutch my script. It creases under my grasp. That feels right. I try to leave, but Carding shifts to block me.

I’d always fancied that I’d make a rather good nun. I look great in black. But Carding says it with such venomous. My heart is thumping. Eventually, Hamlet is spent. The tirade is over. I’m allowed to return to my seat. I collapse into it.

Things aren’t going well for Hamlet either. He asks to sit in my lap while we watch a play, but Ophelia isn’t having it. A sentiment I can only sympathise with.

Hamlet kills Polonius and shouts at his mother, which is one hell of a day to be having.

“Tell Ophelia that Hamlet has killed you,” Carding orders the audience-member-formerly-known-as-Polonius.

This he does.

Oh god.

It was time for me to die.

I tear off a page of my script, crumpling it up and twisting the end to form a flower.

I offer it to the woman sitting next to me. She hesitates, then takes it.

The next flower goes to Laertes, sitting on my right.

I get up, crumpling the third page as I walk across the circle and hand over another flower. The fourth goes to Gertrude. The fifth and final page, the front cover which bears only the word OPHELIA, is given to Claudius.

I have no more pages left.

I go lie in the middle of the floor, crossing my arms over my chest, and close my eyes.

I try to channel Millais’ Ophelia. All wafting hair and serene expression. But I fear I’m more Elizabeth Siddal, freezing to death in the bath because she’s too frightened to tell the artist that the oil lamps keeping the water warm have gone out.

I can hear my fellow actors moving about. Eventually, Carding touches my arms, and I am released into the world of the dead, free to enjoy the rest of the play as an observer.

The invisible swords are back. Hamlet and Laertes are fighting. All rather exciting now that I’m a ghost.


Death after death follows. Laertes falls to the floor. Gertrude too. Claudius slumps back in his seat.

As Hamlet proclaims his final words, Laertes twists round to watch. Different rules apply when you’re a ghost.

Exeunt Hamlet.

We applaud, but Horatio steps forward to stop us. There is one speech left. He thanks us for our cooperation and bids us to applaud one another. This we do.

“You had a really tough role,” says Laertes as we pull on our coats.

Not quite as tough as hers. Making flowers is a lot less scary than sword-fighting.

“And your dress was so perfect!”

I look down. Oh. Yeah. I’m wearing my Forsythe dress. So called because it was once admired by the choreographer William Forsythe, and I like giving my favourite dresses names. Although it should more accurately be called the “Over my dead body” dress, because that’s what it says - right across the chest and down the arms. The arms I’d crossed over my chest while everyone had stood… over my dead body.

“That’s probably why you got picked as Ophelia.”

Probably. It must have been quite the sight when I was down on the ground being dead.

Hamlet may have escaped, but Carding doesn’t get away that easily. As we emerge back into the bright and welcoming light of Draper Hall’s foyer, we all queue up to thank her.

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My Pally Ally

I made it a whole 85 days without seeing any Shakespeare. Quite the achievement when I’ve seen 86 shows in that time, all in what has to be the most Shakespeare-centric city in the world. I used to joke that watching Shakespeare in London was unavoidable. Even if you don’t go to theatre. It’s everywhere. If you wanted, I’m fairly certain you could watch a live Shakespeare performance play every single day of the year (except, possibly, Christmas Day) and never have to cross the M25.

Actually, if anyone wants to give it a go, that sounds like a great blog, and I will fully support your endeavour…

Anyway, yes. Shakespeare. 85 days free. That’s one hell of a run in this environment.

I once managed a year of not seeing any Shakespeare (I’m not a newcomer to the year-long theatre-challenge), but when you are intent on visiting every theatre in London, and at least one of those theatres is dedicated to the work of that most over-produced of playwrights, well… I was going to have to go to one eventually.

Step forward the Alexandra Palace, which, for a very short time, contained the newest theatre in London. They are currently playing host to Headlong’s Richard III, which everyone and their dog has been raving about.

Once that decision was made, it was only a matter of selecting the right person to go with.

“I’ve already thought of a blog title,” I told Allison as we waited to get our bags checked and enter the theatre-foyer. We’d already had a good wander around the main foyer of the East Court. A vast space with curved glass ceilings and massive stone pillars that makes you truly understand why this palace is called a palace.

“Oh yeah?” she replies, demonstrating the kind of polite interest that only a true friend can pull out in the face of being told about a blog post title.

“Pal Al at the Al Pal,” I say, feeling very pleased with myself. “Or perhaps My Pal Al…?”

“My Pally Ally!” she crows back.

“Shit, that’s better than mine.” I mean, it is, isn’t it? And she got there in five seconds flat. I’d been crafting mine the whole way over. And while I’m not saying that I invited her just because her name is Allison, the fact that her name is Allison and she lives within stumbling distance of the Ally Pally was a thought that had crossed my mind.

At this point she pulls a tissue from her pocket and blows her nose delicately.

Ah yes. I’d forgotten to mention that. Allison is sick. With a proper nasty bug. And I’d dragged her out of her bed, on a freezing, dark night, to watch Shakespeare with me, because her name has great punning potential.

Never let it be said that I’m not a truly terrifying friend.

“Order you drinks for the interval at the bar, ladies,” advises someone as we step through the doors. “They’ll be a massive queue, I guarantee it.”

“Do we want drinks?” I ask Allison. But she’s ill and I’m not fussed so we head inside.

“It’s nice that they have a proper foyer. Theatres in London never have proper foyers,” says Allison. “There’s no where for everyone to go in an interval.”

This is so true. Outside of places like the Barbican, there really aren’t many foyers in London theatres. No ones that can fit more than four people and their respective umbrellas at the same time.

Through the next set of doors and we are plunged into proper theatre lighting. That is to say: it’s dark.

“You’re over there on the left,” says the ticket checker, and we head off to the left.

A few more steps and the modern sleekness, the shiny newness of it all, suddenly stops.

Here the walls are bare not because they have never been painted, but because they have been painted so long ago the colour has long since sloughed off.

“Please keep this area clear,” reads a sign. We do as it says and move on down the corridor. But we don’t get very far.

If Wilton’s is the mother of decayed theatrical elegance, then the theatre at Alexandra Palace is the grande dame. Wooden slats peak through the holes in the ornate ceiling, while bare brick walls compete for attention with the carved mouldings.

Strategically placed lights highlight what remains of the plasterwork and send the gargoyle features of the twin cat faces gazing out from either side of the old doors.

“Hmm,” says the ticket checker. Our third ticket checker of the evening. “Well, you’re in row N, which is right here,” he says, indicating the row. “But you’re way down the other side.”

We all look at the row N. It’s a very long row. And there’s some sort of sound desk in the middle.

 “Shall we go back round?” I suggest?

 “Yeah… that’s probably easiest.”

We go back out into the foyer and start again, this time going in the right direction, which is the right direction to take.

“For such a big venue, there’s not a lot of signage,” I tentatively suggest. Where other theatres might post a sign with some sort of indication of the seat numbers that can be accessed through each door, the Ally Pally posts people.

“Row N, just over here,” says our fourth ticket checker as we make our second attempt at entering the auditorium.

The seats are wide and covered with a peach coloured velvet which feels like moleskin. We all know my feelings about velvet. With seating this new, I almost manage to convince myself that giving them a quick pet isn't all that creepy and disgusting. There probably isn't even chewing gum stuck to the bottom yet.

"Are those mirrors," I ask, eventually managing to stop stroking the chair I was sitting in and start paying attention to the set.

"I think so," Allison croaks. She really doesn't sound good.

This play better be good or she's never going to forgive me.

Turns out they were mirrors. Six of them. Pointed into gothic arches and used as doors and windows through the performance. There's an article in the programme about Shakespeare and his use of mirrors in the programme (£4) which is well worth a read.

There's also lots of stuff about the history of the Ally Pally and its restoration, which is all rather fascinating, but doesn't answer the one question that I had about this place.

"What sort of work did they have here?" I asked during the interval, twisting around in my seat as I attempted to take a photo that would capture the sheer enormousness of the space. "Like music hall? Or plays? Surely not plays. It's way too big. Maybe opera?"

"Operetta probably," says Allison, demonstrating once again that even in the grips of the most nasty of colds she can still outthink me. Operetta does seem the most logical thing for the Ally Pally of old. Those fun-loving Victorians must have gone mad for a bit of Gilby and Sully in this room.

Thankfully with the benefits of modern technology, we could enjoy a proper play without the actors having to scream their lines at inappropriate moments.

"You know, I've never been much of a fan of Richard III, but I really fucking loved that," I said as the applause faded. We sat back in our seats as the audience began to file out. "I don't think I've ever seen it played that that. Actors usually amp up the evil, but he was pure cheeky chappy. I liked it."

I did like it. The Richard III ravers have all been going on about the physicality of Tom Mothersdale's performance, and yes... that's great. He moves those long legs of his like a dancer, propping his elbow against his knee and pushing down his full bodyweight as he leans in to whisper his plans to us. But its the whispering, not the leaning that does it for me. With a side-eye lifted straight from Fleabag we are let into the secrets of a very naughty schoolboy. This is Just William grown up and gone to the bad.

"If I go to Ally Pally station, can I get a train to Highbury and Islington?" I ask as we eventually heave our way out of the plush seats and head for the exit. I'd walked from Highgate to get there. It was a nice walk. Google Maps had sent me through some woodland which I always enjoy. I grew up with a wood on my doorstep, and I've always felt at home in them. The woods is a great place to go when you feel down. No one can hear you cry in the woods. But as the sky got darker, and the shadowers denser, I did question Google's thought-process in sending a woman walking through the woods... After all, no one can hear you cry in the woods.

Allison stuffs her tissue away. "I'll take you to the bus," she says, walking me out to the correct stop and rattling out instructions on how I need to get home.

Honestly, I really don't deserve my pally ally.

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