The Wanderer Returns

It occurred to me while I was walking through Old Street that I was doing the exact opposite of what I used to do all the time a few years back. Walking from Bethnal Green to Angel was a regular habit of mine, as I left work at Rich Mix and went to see a show at Sadler’s Wells. Now that I work at Sadler’s, I find myself doing the reverse journey, down City Road, past Moorfields Hospital, round the Old Street roundabout, through Hoxton, past Box Park and the chain link fence covered with padlocks, up to Sainsbury’s, across the scary road I was convinced would be the death of me one day and… there it is. The place that had been my home for a-year-and-a-half back in the day.

It had been quite the traumatic journey. Seeing all the things that had changed (and even worse, the things that hadn’t). The newsagent that used to sell the most delicious, and yet worryingly cheap curries didn’t seem to be there anymore. But the car wash operated by staff a little too enthusiastic with their hoses still was (my feet remembered to cross to the other side of the pavement long before my brain did). There was the printers where I used to run down to hand-deliver my mock-up of how I wanted a flyer to be folded (now I do it via emailed clips, filmed on my phone - how times change), but it was shut so I couldn’t go in.

As I stood outside Sainsbury’s, on the opposite side of the street, I tried not to pick out all the ways the building at changed since I was last there. But, I couldn’t help it. Those vinyls are new. And the light-up poster-boxes have from the windows. I wonder if… I had to check. I ran around the building to look at the back. There’s a wall on Redchurch Street that runs along the length of Rich Mix’s backside. When I worked there it got painted with the name. It was pure Instagram bait, and I wanted to get hooked.

The words Rich Mix were still there, but they were different. Gone where the bright and blocky 3D typography and instead there was a more old school graffiti lettering going on. Metallic silver against a dark blue.

Change is weird. I don’t like it. It shouldn’t be allowed.

Oh well, there was no use crying over lost street art. It’s time to go in and face the box office.

There is already a queue to get into the main space down on the ground floor - usually given over to the music performances that most people know Rich Mix for.

I ignore that. We aren’t here for a gig. Not tonight.

“I’m here for Stolen?” I said. I don’t know why I said it as a question. “Surname is Smiles,” I added, as if I was just a regular punter who hadn’t worked here for 18 months. Thing is, according to the box office system, I was a regular punter on a first time visit. I actually had to create a new account. Well, who needs to book tickets online when they have a box office a couple of doors down?

“The doors won’t open for another ten minutes or so, but you can hang out down here or go to the cafe,” the guy on box office suggested. I plumped for hanging out down there and busied myself admiring the new poster designs - so much better than the ones I put together during my time there.

The cushioned bench seats that line the front window were the same though. Still as ratty looking as I remembered. Comfy though. I perched, and edited my Theatre 503 blog post while I waited for the house to open.

By the time I got to the end it was 7.23 and I was pretty sure the house must have opened. Seven minutes before start time is cutting it close. I looked around. There was still a queue to get into the main space. And another one for the lift. Had there been an announcement? Did Rich Mix even do announcements? I couldn’t remember. I doubt I ever listened to them even if they did. With a staff pass, open times is just a bad pronunciation of the German banking family.

I scooted past the list and headed for the stairs, following the red line that is laid out on the floor in true hospital-style to lead cinema goers through the convoluted route up a level, past the popcorn and then around the main space’s gallery before reached the cinema-wing of this cumbersome building.

After the first floor however, the line peels off, and I am left to do the long walk up to the fourth floor alone. Really alone, as every level I pass looks dark and deserted. Still, nice views though.

The door at the top of the stairs takes you to the foyer outside of the fourth floor loos. If you’re quiet you can hear the bangs and screams filtering through from the cinema screen on the other side of the wall.

We have no time for second hand car chases though, so I turn left, through the double doors, past the lift and… there we are. Theatre space on one side, and the bar and more, shall we say flexible space, or the other.

“Sorry, can I tear your ticket?” asks one usher as I grab a freesheet from the other. Always doing things in the wrong order, me.

The theatre is already packed. These people are better than me at gauging when to go upstairs. There clusters of people sitting on the aisle end of the bench seating. No one wants to sit at the ends. Which is silly. The benches are all of three metres long. They only sit six bums or so at a time. Middle or end, it doesn’t make much difference.

“We’re pretty full tonight so move down,” says a lady who very much doesn’t look like an usher. “If people don’t move down for you… make them.” Golly. Hard line. I like it.

“I don’t mind squishing through,” I say to the three people sitting close to the central aisle. I really don’t.

They stand up, but that doesn’t help much with the whole getting past them as now their legs are in the way.

“Oh, sorry - I thought you wanted to go to the end?” says one.

Well, yes, but…

But they are already moving down the row. Oh well. Middle seat it is for me, then.

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Yeah, but do they serve milkshakes tho?

Right, let’s keep this one short, shall we? I’m wearing a rapidly hardening face-mask right now which promises to return my pre-theatre marathon glow. Not in so many words you understand. The marketing blurb wasn’t that specific. But I was reading between the lines. I’ve been looking decidedly rough lately. Late nights do not agree with me. I’m old. I should be tucked up in bed by 10pm at the very latest. So something that promises to brighten and exfoliate and plump and tighten is very much in need right now. Still, I don’t want to leave it on too long. My face will probably fall off.

Anyway, enough of all that. That’s not what you’re here for. You don’t care about my skin-care routine. You want drama. Or at least theatre. And I am here for you, ready to serve up fresh theatrical anecdotes. You’re welcome.

So on Friday night I headed to The Yard.

Another first-time trip for me, and we all know what that means. I should change the subtitle of this blog to: Max gets lost in London.

This is worrying. I feel like the message that I’m putting out onto the ethernet is that I’m an idiot who can’t locate a theatre in a world where websites and Google Maps exist. The fact that I am an idiot who can’t locate a theatre in a world where websites and Google Maps exist doesn’t help matters.

So, there I was, standing outside Hackney Wick station, reading and re-reading the “Your Visit” page of The Yard’s website, and flicking back and forth to Google Maps, and not knowing which way to go.

Perhaps it’s the strain of going to the theatre for 11 days in a row. Or the fact that I had spent the whole day snacking junk food and couldn’t remember the last time I had consumed a vegetable. But no matter how many times I read it, “we’re right around the corner from Hackney Wick Overground station” failed to make any form of sense to me at all. Which corner? I could see at least three. Is it just me? Is that a truly helpful direction to everyone else in the world? Please tell me I’m not alone here.

In the end I turned left, as that looked the darkest and most scary of the options available. If I have discovered anything on my adventures, it’s that dark and scary places are where fringe theatres are most likely to live.

I’d also spotted some fairy-lights strung up in the distance that looked promising. Fringe theatres also tend to love fairy-lights. Fact.

But the closer I got to the string of lights, the more it looked like a pub, and not a theatre. Now, these two things are not mutually exclusive. There are plenty of pub-theatres (and even a few theatre-pubs), but The Yard is not one of them.

Going any further was prevented by the little matter of a canal, so I turned right, struggled blindly up a metal staircase (did I mention it was scary and dark down there?) and back onto a road. Huh. Okay. That wasn’t right. I may not have known where exactly The Yard was, but I was fairly certain it was in, you know, a yard.

Right again then. Past a few very industrial looking buildings, until there was another opening on the right. I’d just done one big circle.

Except this time, I could see it. A great shining light calling me home. I’d found The damn Yard. I’d walked right past it the first time. Go me.

Once I’d rounded that corner, everything suddenly became easy. With blazing signage everywhere. There was a massive ENTER HERE painted on the entrance, so even a complete moron like me managed to find the correct door. The box office and theatre were also both lit up with signs posting the way. While the loos were pointed out with big, easy to read lettering on the walls. “Toilets” over one door, “Toilets & Urinals” over the other. No Ladies and Gents nonsense here. The Yard is gender neutral when it comes to your waste-expelling needs. I like it.

I also like that there are freesheets with the casting details, which were left next to the box office. Although I didn’t spot them at first, and it was only when I saw other people walking around with them that I realised they existed. Apologies to everyone in the queue that I barged in front of in order for me to get that sweet, sweet paper. There was no way I was leaving without it. The Yard doesn’t do tickets. Not the sort you can take away with you. So I had to get my hands on whatever they were offering.

Talking of paper. I was there to see a staged reading. One of those things where the actors stand around holding their scripts while they do their thing on stage. I am a big fan of these. I love seeing the pages turn and knowing exactly how far we are through the play. I’m not saying that I am willing them to end, just… that I like knowing when that end will be.

In fact, I would like it on record that one of my favourite theatre-based memories is watching Noma Dumezweni perform, script in hand, at the first preview of Linda at the Royal Court, having taken over from Kim Catrall at short notice. Like, the way she wielded that stack of pages - as if it were notes on her desk, or her kids’ homework - just heaven.

I’m not sure I entirely understood the concept behind the reading. It’s part of a festival that’s something to do with Brexit. There’s various plays written by playwrights from around Europe. At the end of the play you’re meant to guess whether it was written by a European or an artist based in Britain (that’s how it was worded in the little explanation at the end of the play - ‘based in Britain,’ not British, which even further confused the meaning of all this to me). There were even little Union Jacks left on our seats to enable your voting via the medium of flag-waving, which was I thought was cute - even if the whys of the whole thing were lost on me.

I got it wrong. Because of course I did.

At least I know how to read signs though.

Remember that door I mentioned? The one with ENTER HERE painted on it?

Turns out the other door opens straight into the theatre.

Know how I know this?

Because mid-way through the reading, it opened.

The actors stopped. They looked to the door.

We all looked to the door.


As one, we wondered, “is this meant to be happening?” No. It wasn't. 

"Hello?" one of the actors posited.

The door quickly closed.

More silence.

Then a giggle. Then proper laughter.

The actors returned to their scripts.

The play continued.

It was very satisfying.

I may not be able to find a theatre. But at least I know which door to go through.

And on that note, my face-mask is now so hard I can no longer feel my forehead.

I’m going to wash this thing off.

Until tomorrow! Hopefully next time you see me, I’ll be looking proper beautiful for you.