For all the times that the theatre gods have had my back on this marathon, they really fucked up big time over the last week. After complaining endlessly about how hard to was to get to theatres all the way from Finchley, I promptly find that as soon as I shift myself down to Hammersmith, the Camden Fringe kicks off, and everything of any use to me is now on the Northern Line.
And what's doubly annoying, is that I can't even blame the fringe for this afternoon's trip. I'm off to a weekday matinee at the Roundhouse. Which I could have done at literally any time when I was just a tube ride away. But now, I have to wait until I go all the way down to the end of the Piccadilly line to book this one.
I really need to get better at planning things.
My spreadsheets just aren't cutting it at the moment.
So, anyway. Whatever. It's my fault. And not the theatre gods. Need to make that clear. I don't want them to smite me now.
Especially when I'm running super late.
On the tube for over an hour, and I'm belting it down the road from Chalk Farm station. The pavements are clogged with tourists getting their Camden on. I dodge between them, trying to ignore the clunk in my knee that still hasn't healed.
Where was I? Right. The Roundhouse. Been here before. Never for theatre though. Always for dance. Bit of Akram Khan and... no. I think that's it actually.
Getting my theatre in now though. I'm here for The Barber Shop Chronicles which I managed to totally miss when it was at the National.
Thank gawd for transfers, eh? Bit of an unusual one though, coming to the Roundhouse I mean. Not a classic National Theatre transfer location. Their things usually end up going to the West End before they bust them out on the regional touring circuit. I'm not complaining though. Everyone was raving about this show, and now I actually get to see it, and bonus points - it counts towards the marathon. Theatring doesn't get much better than that.
I'm think I'm here now. I can see the familiar round walls of the place coming up. I trot down the steps and make my way to the main door. And with a few minutes to spare.
Thank the theatre gods.
"Have you got your tickets?" asks the security dude minding the door.
"Picking up?" I say.
He points to another door just behind me. "Just that door there, madam."
I mean... I don't want to be one of those old women who complain about being called Madam. But seriously. Madam?
Never mind. It doesn't matter. I've not got time for this.
"That door?" I ask, just to double-check.
"That's it," he says. Very patiently.
Well, okay then. That door it is.
I rush back across the flagstones and push my way in through this other door.
The box office is right in front of me.
Two queues. A sign pinned to the barrier rope tell me that I need to go left.
I go left.
Down the line of box officers, that one right at the end sticks up her hand and waves it, indicating she's free. I make my way down.
She has pink hair and a very familiar-looking face.
"Hello?" I say.
She looks up.
"Oh my god..."
Now, Emma hasn't been on the blog before, but her presence has been felt. She was the one who gave me the tip-off that the Embassy theatre lurks within the walls of Central School of Speech and Drama. And I think I might have mentioned the feather she got me at Ridley's Feathers in the Snow, way back when in the old Southwark Playhouse.
And now she's here. I had no idea she worked here.
"You're here!" I say, still not entirely convinced of the fact, even though she's standing all of two feet in front of me.
"I'm here!" she says helpfully. "I've been seeing everyone come to this one. It's so good."
"Is it?" I haven't heard a single bad thing about the show, but still... after traipsing halfway across London to see it, I need the reassurance.
"It really is."
That's a relief.
"And you're here..." I seriously cannot get over this.
She grins. "I'm back in box office. Mostly music, but today it's theatre."
"And so I'm here," I say, throwing up my arms. Where theatre goes... I follow.
"Err, so... the surname's Smiles," I say, just in case she's forgotten. It's been a while...
She goes off to the desk at the back to look through the ticket box.
"You know, I saw that surname but didn't connect," she says, coming back with the ticket in hand.
"There aren't many of us..." There really aren't. I pause. Should I say something about the blog? I know she knows about the blog. Because of the whole telling me about the Embassy thing. Fuck it.. "You know you're going to be in my blog now..." I say darkly.
She flicks her hair. "I hope you make me sound good."
I laugh. I don't think she needs any help from me there. Emma is the box office queen, handing out feathers and keeping everyone in line. In the nicest way possible.
"I wish we could catch up," she says, very sweetly.
"Is there an interval?"
"No, it's one hour forty-five, straight through."
Dammit. Usually, that would be the perfect answer to this question, but today... today I want to gossip with an old friend.
"They're just trying to keep us apart," I say with a sigh, before biding my goodbyes.
"You'll love it," says Emma. "Seriously.”
Well okay then. That is one hell of a recommendation.
I make my way over to the stairs.
I love the stairs at the Roundhouse.
They go round the house.
And that makes me happy.
Plus, being like, super-wide, and with that curve, they totally play into any Scarlett O'Hara fantasies knocking about in my head at any given moment. Hang on... that's super racist of me. Okay, scrap that. Any Rose from Titantic fantasies I got knocking about in my head. Just like... let's change the ending. Two people can fit on that door. Yadda yadda. You get it.
The stairs are great and deserve to be swept down while wearing a big-arse dress. I am not wearing a big-arse dress. But this is fantasy. And no one is sinking the Roundhouse any time soon.
Right. We're am I going now?
"Rear stalls" is what it says on my ticket. "Area 6."
Theatres in the round always have such confusing zoning, with all those entrances all over the place. It's more than my marathon-fogged brain can deal with.
The ticket checker beeps my ticket (fucking love a ticket beeper/paper ticket combo - Roundhouse is doing it) and I ask where I'm going.
"Go through to the right, and up the stairs," he says.
Seems simple enough.
I go right, and there are the stairs for area 6, clearly marked.
There's another front of houser at the top of the stairs. I show him my ticket.
"You're in the back row," he says, pointing to the aisle just next to us. "Enjoy the show!"
I find my seat as I as take off my jacket and settle down, I try to work out what's wrong. It's all been far too easy.
It's a Thursday matinee. The house isn't exactly full. But still, a tall man manages to take the seat directly in front of me.
I turn my attention upwards. To the iron pavilion keeping up the domed roof. And the magnificent lighting rig punctuated with illustrated adverts for barbershops around the world. I try to read all of them, but I soon get distracted. The cast is already out on stage. As are half the audience, by the looks of it.
Front rowers are being invited out to sit in the barber chairs.
As Lil Nas X takes us down the Old Town Road, the actors fuss around them, pretending to run clippers over their heads before holding up mirrors so that their clients can check out their reflections. They all grin happily at the sight of their utterly unchanged style.
Black-clad stage managers appear to help take photos of audience members in the chairs.
And then the dancing starts.
The front rowers jump up to join in, spinning around to show off their new do to the sounds of The Sugarhill Gang's Apache.
And then they're sent back to their seats, because it's time to begin.
I slip into the seat next to me. Out from behind the tall man. Giving myself a clear view of the stage.
After all the dancing and the tunes, we're in a closed barbershop. It's early in the morning. So early the owner is still asleep on a mattress on the ground. A banging on the door. Someone needs an urgent haircut. They have a job interview at 9am, and it's three hours away from here.
And so we're taken on a tour of shops, all around Africa, touching base with one in London. Thousands of miles apart, they are united by conversations of race, language, the need for role-models, and a deep, ever-present joy.
Some much joy.
Too much to contain on stage.
It out over the audience until you can't help but grin along with these men who are determined to get the most out of life, and look good while doing it.
And through it all, we follow the course of a single joke, told from barber to client, client to barber, shop to shop, changing with the storyteller to suit to location, eventually landing in the lap of a young actor in London.
I don't think I've ever seen an ensemble cast so tight, so connected, so bursting with energy.
I love every single one of them.
I wonder who they are...
I've been doing the fringe-route for so long I'd forgotten there were things you could buy to help with that. Papery things. Look like books but thinner. Programmes! That's it.
As the cast disappear I look around the audience, but there's not a programme to be seen. The ushers don't seem to have any either.
But the cast is back out for one more dance number, and I forget all about it again.
Time to go.
Except, I have an evening show later. I should probably pop to the loo before I leave.
What you've always wanted.
I'm going to review the theatre toilets.
And for a start, the queue is astonishing. Stretching right out the door and into the corridor before I get anywhere close.
We stand, shifting from one side to the other as men come and go through their own door with barely a pause.
A camaraderie forms in the line, as some of the older ladies joke about taking over the men's as well, and we lean against the door to keep it from slamming in any of our faces.
Inside it's clean enough. I have a bit of trouble figuring at the flushing button, but I get there in the end... no wonder the queue is so slow.
One of the soap dispensers is out of order. And there's only one hand dryer. For three sinks.
As I head out, the line is still stretching out into the corridor.
That’s done. I hope you're happy now. Loo reviewed.
Let's hope I don't ever have to do that again.
Back down the stairs, feeling rather less like Rose. I bet there weren't queues for the loos on the Titanic. Although, she probably only ever used the facilities in her stateroom...
Enough of that. I just spotted someone with pink hair. I've got a box officer I need to catch up with!