Theatre of Dreams

Last night I was at The Shed. It was a very strange place to find myself, considering The Shed is a theatre that no longer exists. Where it once stood on the Southbank, its towering red walls bright within the shadows of the National Theatre that loomed over it, there is now only empty space. The wooden walls have been brought down and cleared away. But my subconscious doesn't seem to have caught up with these developments. Because last night, as I slept, I went back to The Shed.

It's not enough that I spend everyday writing and thinking about theatres, working for one during the day and visiting the rest at night. They've now started to invade my dreams.

It was quiet a nice dream though. I did like The Shed. I'm sad it's gone.

Unfortunately, it doesn't count towards the marathon. On account of it not being a real place anymore, and me dreaming up the entire trip.

Thankfully, I do have a bona fide, genuine theatre, that isn't made of sleep-deprivation and the murkier portions of my imagination, to cross off the list.

For once, I was off to an area of London that I actually knew. A bit.

Hammersmith. It's on the Piccadilly line. And close to the river. And it's home to the Lyric. No, not that Lyric. The other one. The one that doesn't house the source of all my anxieties while holding itself together with duct tape.

The station also has two doughnut shops in it. Which I feel is just the right amount of doughnut shops, and is something TFL should be looking at rolling out across the tube network.

These are all the facts that I know about Hammersmith.

Or the facts that I did know about Hammersmith. I have a few more now.

Like: The Lyric Hammersmith has some excellent signage going on throughout the building.

Yes, it’s all a bit cutsey. A bit… wannabe innocent-smoothie-copywriter-esque. But it’s big. And clear. And there is lots of it. Which is what we want from signage, isn’t it?

I found it all very soothing. It’s like Bach’s Rescue Remedy, except painted on a wall and without the aftertaste of rotten flower petals.

Also: Usually when you buy tickets via GILT (tickets from £10 in the New Year’s sale still available last time I checked), the ticket you are presented with at the theatre is from See Tickets. You probably know the ones I mean. They’re pink and yellow, with a starburst effect. Kinda ugly.

Not so at the Lyric. Here you get a proper Lyric Hammersmith ticket. With their branding. Including a heart watermark, and the title formatted in a brush-stoke styley font that matches the signage. You can tell that they spent on lot on brand consultants, and they are damn well making use of it. Nothing will go unbranded. I bet even the loo roll is printed with some uplifting and adorable tagline.

It might sound like I’m making fun, but that’s only because I am so in awe of this commitment to all things Lyric Brand. Kudos to whoever is the brand guardian at the Lyric Hammersmith. You are doing great work. May the theatre gods bless and keep you safe.

Lastly: There’s a super lovely terrace. And we all know how much I appreciate a terrace. I spent some quality minutes out there, taking photos and contemplating the heads of the people wandering down below.

Sadly, minutes were all I had, as it was time to head into the auditorium.

A few tasty signs later I got my ticket checked at the door, headed down a short red corridor and…

What the actual fuck?

I stopped dead, blocking the doorway. It was only when the person behind me coughed politely under his breath that I managed to gather myself enough to move over to one side. And then I stood some more. Staring.

Gilt? Plaster mouldings? Crazy-ornate ceiling?

Was I hallucinating? Had the lack of sleep finally got to me?

No, I was fairly sure my imagination is not that good.

It was real.

My brain refused to believe it. There had to be some other explanation for what I was seeing. Perhaps, it suggested, firing up some long neglected synapses, I had wandered through a portal to another dimension while making my way down that red corridor. Or maybe, piped up another thought, I had neglected to change lines when I got off the train at Leicester Square, and had made my way to one of the West End houses instead.

But the terrace? I argued.

“The Garrick had a terrace,” snapped back my brain.

But not like that. It was an itty bitty thing. It didn’t have plants.

My brain shrugged. “A portal then.”

I didn’t have the energy to argue anymore.

Final fact about Hammersmith: the auditorium of the Lyric theatre is housed in a separate dimension.

I took a few photos just to prove to myself that I had actually been there, that I had journeyed between two universes, and lived to tell the tale.

After that, I needed to sit down. The cognitive dissonance of stepping from a modern building into an Edwardian auditorium, full of curly architecture, was too much for me.

That may have been a mistake.

One thing that became very clear about this other universe is that the people are missing one of their senses. Either proprioception, or the one of the common variety. I swear every single person passing through the row behind me managed to thwack me across the back of the head.

I mean… maybe they saw me up on the terrace on their way in, and sensed that I was judging the top of their heads and thought I needed a good smack applied to mine. I know not. What I do know, is that I got a bit of a headache after the fifth person managed to introduce the corner of their handbag to my skull.

Thankfully it didn’t stop me enjoying the show.

Leave to Remain sounded very worthy when I booked it. And no fun at all. Thankfully, I was wrong. Very wrong.

It’s charming AF and was the cause of my second standing ovation of the year (my first was, unsurprisingly, at the Playhouse Theatre for Caroline, or Change).

I may have even had a little cry on the tube ride home.

Don’t judge.

I am very tired.

Travelling to another universe will do that to a person.

And might go someway to explaining my dream about The Shed.

Still, inter-dimensional portals or no, I look forward to returning. And I don’t even need to wait until next year on this one! The Lyric has a studio space that I have to see. I might even treat myself to a doughnut to eat on the terrace.

Bread and Circuses

You may be wondering why I'm spending so much time in the West End. "There's so much more to London theatre," you growl at your screen. I hear you. Believe me. No, seriously. Keep it down. I'm trying to write over here.

And yes, I abso-fucking-lutely agree with you. There is so much more out there. But this is January. And no one, apart from you and me that is, wants to go to the theatre in January. We are an elite group, willing to fight against the Christmas hangover and weight of too many mince pies pressing against out waistbands, to head out into the freezing cold and go watch a show. And two people can't fill a theatre. No matter how much they manspread.

So January is prime time for the ticket discounters as they fight it out for what's left in our wallets.

Already not overly stuffed before this challenge started, the current contents of my purse is now primarily made up of cough sweets and scrunched up receipts.

After already seeing 5 shows this week, reason dictates that I should stay at home and wash my hair. Perhaps do some laundry. Eat dinner even.

Reason be damned. I have a marathon to complete here.head

It was time to throw what was left of my monies into the ring and let the ticket discounters wrestle over it.

The champion of them all, heavy-weight prize fighter Get Into London Theatre, had some great offers going on in the new year's sale, and I've stocked up on enough tickets to make me feel quite GILTy (sorry), but there was nothing for Friday night. Or at least, nothing quite cheap enough for me.

So, I went rogue, venturing out to the less distinguished stalls in the ticket-marketplace.

Tickets from £29.95.

Tickets from £35.

Tickets from £63.49.

No. No. And NO.

Eventually I made my way to were I found a very tempting 15 quider going for the RSC Don Quixote at the Garrick Theatre.

But being the naturally suspicious person that I am, I headed over to the the Garrick's own website (or at least, their lord and master's - the mighty Nimax) to see what ticket prices were like over there, and found a bunch of 10-pounders just sitting there, without fanfare, waiting to be bought. So I did.

Which leads me to this piece of advice: don't ever trust the discount ticket websites to offer up the very cheapest tickets. Always double check against the venue's website. They tend to hold those real bargains back. Thus ends my public service announcement.

Anyway, I know two things about the Garrick Theatre.

One is that it has a tiny little door loading door, less than 3 foot across, through which all the scenery and other stage mechanics need to get in and out of every time there's a show changeover.

The second is that it's really hard to get a photo of the exterior that doesn't feature at least one bus.

One bus

Two bus

Half bus

I am already sensing that my failings as a photographer is going to be the running theme of this blog.

But ignoring my dodgy photography skills, do you see what I see?

No! Not the buses. Forget the buses. The buses are not important to this story.

Look at this windows. Do you see what’s in front of them? Perhaps click on the last photo to enlarge it.

Yup. There are people there! The Garrick Theatre has a terrace.

I frickin’ love a terrace.

I enjoy the feeling of power that comes from being able to see the top of people’s heads.

What can I say? I’m short. It’s not an experience that I get to enjoy all that often.

I had to go there.

Don’t worry, this isn’t another aborted ghost-story.

There were no closed door standing between me and my bird’s eye view of all the egg-heads on the street below.

The door was actually wide open. Inviting.

So, there I was, enjoying the view. Admiring the top’s of people’s heads and…

Whoa. What is that!?

I didn’t think it was possible, but there was something lurking inside that was far more interesting than mere head-gazing.

The gold and silver Foyer Bar at the Garrick Theatre

The gold and silver Foyer Bar at the Garrick Theatre

I don’t think I’ve ever see a shinier room in my life.

The walls are silver.

The detailing is gold.

Everything glimmers under the light of the chandelier.

Even the fire exit sign looked like a more verdant shade of green.

It was like stepping into a jewellery box.

I fully expected the proletariat to storm in and drag us all off to the guillotine at any moment.

It was perfect.

It was almost a disappointment having to head into the theatre to watch the play.

There were some compensations though. Firstly, I learnt that one of my Garrick-facts is now dreadfully out of date. The titchy-door no longer exists. Theatre’s drive towards the mundane world of practicality over charm won out, and the tiny door was removed in favour of a more sensibly-sized opening during the Garrick’s recent refurbishment. The second is that the balcony of the theatre has been closed off, making an already petite playhouse even smaller.

Unlike the balcony at the Apollo, which was closed off after the ceiling collapsed mid-performance, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with the one at the Garrick. The stairs leading up to it were merely roped off, rather than boarded up. You can even see up there from the grand circle.


What you can’t see however, is a considerable chunk of the stage.

Like with the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, some theatre architects seem to forget that people will be using their buildings to watch things that are happening on stages. And that not being able to see the entire stage might be a bit of a problem. I feel that this is something quite important about theatre design that needs to be got across to them. Can someone pass on a message for me?

To make matters worse, the RSC have compounded the problem by, what theatre-people like to refer to as, “making full use of the space” - i.e. having the actors bounce around the auditorium, mingling with the folk in the stalls, hanging out in the boxes, and doing their best to make us lot in the audience feel included.

So there I am, unable to see important parts of the action in a theatre so small it’s possible to have a highly effective food fight in it. Which is 1) a descriptor so specific it must have actually happened, and 2) probably the reason the tickets were only £10.

And fair-do’s to the cast. They did their very best to lob bread rolls our way. One even made it into the lap of the person sitting directly in front of me.

Which was as impressive as it was horrifying.

I tend to take the Groucho Marx attitude towards audience interaction. I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member. I have no longing to get in on the action. I don’t want to put my hands in the air and wriggle my fingers. I don’t want to do panto call-backs. And I definitely don’t want to holler when an actor mentions Antwerp in act 2.

Okay, I may be more of a grouch than a Groucho, but these ice-breaker exercises don’t make me loosen up. The opposite if anything. As soon as there’s a hint of audience interaction, I spend the rest of the night in a state of high-alert, heart pounding, breath short, and eyeing up all the exits.

Highly strung? Me? I mean… fine. Okay. You got me. I has the anxiety. Leave me alone.

No, really. If you see me: leave me alone.

Bye then.