Another one bites the dust

All around me books are being lowered. Commuters lean forwards in their seats.

Somewhere in this carriage buskers are playing Despacito and we all want to see who’s responsible for this crime against Latin pop. I don't think I'm alone in the belief that if you’re going to be playing a song on the tube, you should probably memorise the lyrics first.

The tube driver agrees with me.

An announcement is played.

“There are beggars and buskers operating on this train. Please do not encourage their presence by supporting them.”

Bit harsh.

People immediately start reaching into their wallets to hand over their change.

That’ll teach TFL.

The lethologic musicians hop out at the next stop and rush around to the next carriage.

I can still hear them playing their intermittently acoustic cover version as I change platforms at Cannon Street.

The rest of my journey is quiet.

Not many people making the journey to Deptford tonight.

They haven’t heard the call of the Albany.

It feels weird being back already. After a gap of six years, I’m now on my second visit of the week. This time though, I’m hitting the main house.

As I round the corner into Douglas Way and find myself grinning.

Not because of the theatre. Sorry, Albs. I find it hard to get sentimental about old workplaces. I’m smiling because it’s dark. Properly dark. For months I’ve been taking my exterior theatre photos in blazing sunshine, and now, finally, the nights are closing in and I don’t have to spend my evenings leaping between the shadows and feverously rubbing sunscreen into every exposed inch of my skin.

Seriously, it’s not easy maintain this maggot-pale colouring I’ve got going on.

I burn. I freckle.

I mean, it’s fine. No one said being Goth was easy. But it’s nearly October, and it’s my time. Sweaters and shawls and coats and velvet: here I come.

And bless the Albany. They have the heating on. I can feel it as soon as I walk through the door. The whoosh of heavy dry air that feels so eternally comforting, and proving that I don’t mind heat, as long as it is entirely artificial.

I join the queue at the box office.

“Is that Maxine?” asks the box officer, turning over her list of names to find me on the back. She grabs a ruler, and a highlighter, and runs a very straight line through my entry.

“Let me just stamp you,” she says once her highlighting is complete.

I offer her my hand, and she places the stamp up on the back of my wrist.

Strange location to pick, but I respect her artistic choices in stamp placement.


My unspecified ringed planet is red this time. To designate the main house, I presume. We wouldn’t want audience members sneaking their way between the studio and stage space without having been properly stamped and accounted for.

“Can I take one of these?” I say, pointing to a pile of freesheets on the desk.

“Oh!” she says, surprised. “Yes, of course.” She grabs one and hands it to me.

The house isn’t open, and I don't really fancy standing out here in the foyer, so I go over to the cafe to see what’s happening in there.


The answer is: not a lot.

People sit quietly at tables, sipping on drinks and waiting.

I find a table all to myself and join in the quiet time.

“Die! Die! Die! OLD PEOPLE DIE!” someone reads dramatically from their freesheet.


I can’t blame her. It’s a really great title. Quite possible the best one of the marathon. Even better than Kill Climate Deniers over at the Pleasance.

I take off my jacket and scarf. It's warm in here.

I’m feeling real cosy right now, and am fully prepared to join the climate deniers this winter if it means we get the have the heating on blast until March.

“Ladies and gentleman!” says a front of houser. “The house is now open for Die! Die! Die…!” he falters, and we all laugh. “Old… people… die.”

Great title. Seriously, fucking great.

There’s a scrapping of chairs as we all stagger to our feet and make our way back into the foyer, and through the doors into the main house, holding up our hands, or wrists, to show the usher that we have been marked by the red stamp.

Through the door and we get a nice view of the undercarriage of the seating.

We walk around, through the arched corridor that circles the space, until we find our way to the front.

The central block of seating is filling up fast.


I pick my way across the stage, leaping over a wire, powering a floor light, with previously unknown grace.

I pick a seat in the third row, as is my preference. But on the aisle, as a concession to this being quite a large space, even if half the stage is taken up by a mountain of seating tonight.

As the audience shifts around, selecting their seats, I get out my phone and try to finish a blog post.


But a gentle stirring around the room makes me look up.

Over there, behind the stage area, peeking from behind a curtain, are two performers. Jon Haynes and David Woods. They’re stepping out. Or at least, I think they are.

They’re moving so slowly, it’s hard to tell what their motivation is.

A few solo giggles sound off around the audience, unsure how to take this snail-like state. Are we supposed to be laughing? Is this a comedy? It’s hard to tell.

The pair cling onto each other as they lower themselves down the treacherous step from walkway to stage.

Then they begin the long walk to their set: a table, and two chairs.

It takes minutes. Multiple ones.

I’m beginning to get a bit bored.

The pair dribble and fart and talk over one another for the next sixty minutes or so, sometimes managing a smile-worthy line, but mostly shuffling around interminably.

I can’t help but think of that Caryl Churchill play where an entire act was dedicated to the dressing and undressing of an elderly man in a care home.

A work of genius to many. Painfully dull to me.

A few people at that onr took the Here We Go title literally, and walked out when it became clear that this cycle of costume changes was not going to end any time soon.

Over here in the Albany, a couple sitting in the second row are having the same feelings, and slip and out with a clatter of flipping seats.

With a loud bang, the show eventually ends, and we are free to leave.

And pay.

I’d forgotten about that.

Another Pay-What-Makes-You-Happy show.

I pull out my purse and have a look at what’s going on in there. Not a lot. No notes at all. I prod at the coins, trying to count up the non-coppers. It doesn’t take long.

But as we make out way round the walkway and out the auditorium door, I spot an usher holding some fancy looking equipment.

“Have you got the card reader?” I ask him.

He has.

He prods away at a few buttons on his phone. “Sorry,” he says. “Sometimes it doesn’t like to connect.”

“I can try to find some cash…?” I say, knowing full well I only have three quid on me at best.

“No, I can try and get it working for you,” he says, but he doesn’t sound all that convinced.

“Are you sure?”


I dither, not knowing what to do.

But then he smiles. Success. “Yeah! There we go. How much would you like to donate.”

“Ten?” I suggest, finding myself wanting his approval. Ten is the suggested donation. It says so on the signs. I gave ten to the other show. The one in the studio.

He doesn’t say anything though, just gives me the card reader all set up and ready, and let’s me do my thing.

Payment accomplished I make my way back to Deptford station.

“I was kinda expecting the handbag to come out at the end,” says a woman also waiting on the platform. “It was still under the rug and he just stood on it.”

That’s true. I had forgotten all about the handbag.

“It was deliberate, no doubt,” she finishes.

I’m sure it was. Just because it didn’t do the business for me, doesn’t mean there wasn’t one hell of a business plan going on.

And anyway, still a fucking great title.

Gone to the Dogs

There's a paper bag lying, discarded, on the ground in Douglas Way. It must have had something very tasty in it not that long ago because three pigeons are now circling it, pecking at it, like overworked nurses attempting to impose hospital corners on a beanbag.

One of them, the one I've been thinking of as the leader of this trio, manages to get its head inside. A second later, its back out again, bringing a half-eaten cookie with it.

The other pigeons stare at this manna from carb heaven in wonder. No manky crumbs for them this evening. They be feasting like kings.

But the dinner party don't last long, because across the road, three dogs have just finished their run around the park and are barrelling through.

One runs on ahead, scattering pigeons in his wake.

It's owner calls after it. "Don't forget, the only reason I have you is because no one else wanted you."

And with that grade A guide to parenting left hanging in the air, they disappear.

It's probably time for me to go to. I've been hanging around for fifteen minutes now. It's not that I'm avoiding going inside. It's just that I don't want to, and I'm putting it off.

I mean, it's not like I don't already know what the Albany is like. I've been here before. Fucking hell, I worked here. This is where I got my first real job in theatre. Well, the first one that didn't have 'intern' in the title. It's where I met Allison, who is now a marathon-semi-regular, so, you know, that's a lasting friendship if ever there was one. And it's all because of this place. This low, long, building, sat squat on the edge of the square that once a week houses Deptford Market. That was probably a great idea at the time. Placing the arts right in the middle of the community and all that. But the bars now criss-crossing all the ground-floor windows doesn't really scream neighbourhood integration.

I head through the automatic doors and into the foyer, trying to get a sense of what’s changed in all the years that have passed since I was last here.

The truth is, not a lot.

The tables and chairs in the cafe look like they’ve been upgraded, but other than that, everything looks exactly the same as I left it. The box office is still taking up that same corner. The counter top as pink as ever. I would even swear that bunting hasn’t shifted since 2013.


It’s all rather comforting really.

I join the queue, and when I get to the front, give my name to the box officer.

“Maxine? That’s one,” she says, using a ruler to draw a very straight line through my name. She flips open the lid to a large ink pad, and inks up a small stamp.

“There you go,” she says, applying it to the back of my hand. “It’ll be there in the Studio. Doors will open in about five minutes.”

Plenty of time for me to inspect my new artwork.


It’s a planet. Or at least I think it’s a planet. One with rings, so that’s Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, or Uranus, if my GCSE Double Science Award serves me well. I can’t narrow it down any further. I flunked out of A-level Physics.

Someone hands me a brochure. It’s for a festival of aging. Not a subject I try to think of all that often. I have a flick through though, checking the venue names to see if there’s anything I missed.

I skip over the page advertising the 48-hour durational work set in an old people’s home. I am absolutely not doing that. No way. Not even for the marathon. I have logged it as an experience, not theatre, and I will not hear another word about it.

A queue starts to build over by the door. Lots of young, cool, looking people with oversized clothing and pastel hair. It’s all very Deptford.

I hang back. I’m not all that fussed about being first through the door. The Studio is a small space. And with a one-man show about dementia, I’m not sure I actually want to be all that close to the front.

Some keen sort rattles the door. It’s locked.

A passing front of houser spins on his heel “Oh! Hang on!” he says, rushing back towards the door. “We’ll open in about five minutes!”

True to his word, about five minutes later, the doors are opened and we begin to file ourselves in.

We all twist our hands round to show him the planets stamped on the back, looking like we’re all throwing the mimsiest gang-sign going.

It gets us in though, and we make our way down the long, dark, corridor which winds its way around the back of the main theatre space, towards the far end of the building.

A sign on the door reminds us that this show is a Pay-What-Makes-You-Happy. “Please donate what you can into the buckets,” it tells us. “We also accept card payments. Suggested amount £10 (or £5 concessions) but feel free to donate less or more!”


Buckets. That’s interesting. I’ve only seen it done with envelopes before.

I go in.

It’s dark in here. Really dark.

The brick walls are painted black and the windows are hidden behind black-out curtains. The only speck of colour are the iron beams painted red.

Chairs have been set up in right-angled banks, fencing off a corner for the stage.

I slip into the end of the third row. There’s no rake, of course. But I can just about catch a glimpse of our performer, sat behind a drum kit.

There has to be a rule, worked out in secret meetings between artists and programmers, that spaces with bad-sightlines should only be filled with sitting-down performers. You don’t catch actors sitting down on big stages with raked seating. Oh no. But as soon as you’re in a titchy studio space, there they are, getting to grips with their floor-work skills.

At least Antosh Wojcik has the excuse of an instrument that needs playing.


The doors close.

The lights dim

We begin.

Drumming away, Wojcik tells us a story. He was in a band. A metal band. He was the drummer. Or one of the drummers. There were two drummers. And that’s it. That was the whole band. Two boys on drums.

He imagines the two of them, in a home together, old and grey, remembering nothing but the music. The pounding of the drum solos.

And he thinks of his own grandfather. Lost in a maze of missing connections as dementia takes hold.

As he plays, ratting out that beat, Wojcik’s fluffy hair bounces in time with the music. He pushes back his long fringe in between sections. Which, I don’t mind telling you, is all very pleasing and troubling in equal measure. As he talks about a deep and personal grief, I want nothing more than to plate up some freshly made biscuits, pinch his cheek, and tell him it will all be alright.

You know, some women out there, they go all maternal in the face of troubled young men. Me? I’ve leapt straight into grandmothering.

Just as I’m about to start searching in my bag for a hairbrush to offer him, a man sitting two rows ahead leans across, lifting his arm over the seat next to him, and blocking my view.

Now I can only hear the words as they tumble over the beat, without the distraction of floppy hair and sad eyes.

Honestly, it’s a relief.

We make it through to the end, with no further issues other than a few broken hearts.

Wojcik leaves us behind in the studio, not returning despite our applause going on without him.

Eventually, the lights come back on and we struggle to our feet.

Everyone is very quiet as we make for the door, and back down the corridor.

At the end, a front of houser stands waiting for us, bucket in hand.

I pull out a note, and slip it into the slim gap at the top.

Not too sure about this method, to be honest. I think I prefer envelopes. Although I imagine this public payment does more to extract funds from audiences. No one wants to be seen to only give a few coins or a half-eaten cookie…