It feels kinda weird getting off the tube at Angel on a Saturday. This is the station I use for work. And now I'm here. During the weekend. This is all levels of wrong and I don't like it. I'm turning right out of the station though. Going up Upper Street. Because tonight, I'm at the Almeida.
I do like the Almeida. I haven't been in a while though. For Robert Icke reasons. I just... can't with his stuff. We've talked about this before. I know you think he's a genius. Everyone thinks he's a genius. Perhaps he is. I just don't get it. And I've given up trying. So, yeah. I haven't been to the Almeida in a hot minute, as the YouTubers used to say.
But tonight, I make my return. And as far as I'm aware, this play has nothing to do with Robert Icke. Which is one hell of a selling point for me.
Better still, it has Tobias Menzies in it. And I adore Tobias Menzies.
I even have a Tobias Menzies story. And that story is that I once ordered him a taxi. And he was very nice.
Hey, I never said it was a good story.
But still, isn't it lovely to find out that talented people are also nice?
I was an intern at the Donmar when he was in The Recruiting Officer, and I was trying to arrange all the cast to get to some patrons' shindig, which I'm sure none of them wanted to go to. So like, he did not even have to be slightly polite to me. And yet he was. So, he made a life-long fan in me.
Anyhoo, enough of that. We're here. As ever, when the weather is good, half the audience seems to be hanging out on the pavement. The Almeida is on a little side street. Almeida Street. Hence the name. So there isn't much in the way of traffic. There's pretty much only the theatre on one side, and a restaurant on the other.
Still, they have some security person standing guard in the middle of the road.
He watches me as I stroll across to get my photo of the exterior. There are too many cars parked on either side, so I'm forced to stand in the middle of the road to take it. The security person does not look impressed with my blatant disregard of all the traffic that is very much not driving down the road, and he keeps an eye until I make my way back to safety.
I go over to the box office that's right inside the door. There's usually a queue for tickets, but I'm early, and as I said, everyone is outside soaking up those rays.
I give my name to one of the box officers sitting behind the counter and she pulls out the chunk of tickets living behind the 's' tab in the ticket box, and finds mine.
"Can you confirm the postcode?" she asks.
I want to tell her that gurl, I am six months and 169 theatres into a marathon right now, and there is no way I can remember my postcode, but some synapse or other snaps into action just in time and I manage to get it out.
"Perfect. That's one ticket in the stalls," she says, and hands it over.
Right then. What now? Programme purchasing time, I think.
There are two programme sellers positioned near the front door, all primed and holding playtexts and programme in their arms like a bouquet of papery flowers, but they are busy talking to someone, so I bypass them and head right to the back, where there's a merch desk.
You might be asking yourself why a producing house theatre in Islington has a merch desk, and that would be a good question. The Royal Court doesn't have a merch desk. The Young Vic doesn't have one either. But the Almeida go hard on stuff. Posters and playtext and programmes and everything to make my little publications officer heart sing.
"Would you like a deal?" asks the lady behind the counter when I ask for a programme.
"What's the deal?" I say, getting excited
"It's a script, programme, and tote bag," she says, pointing to each item in turn. "For fifteen pounds,"
Fifteen pounds? I mean, I love merch, but... fifteen pounds! "Ah, no," I tell her feeling a bit guilty after all my previous enthusiasm. "That's too much. I can't cope with all of that."
So I just get the programme. Which is four pounds. Much more my level.
Although... I wonder if I can come back for the deal after seeing the play. Might be more willing to invest on the playtext side of things once I know if it's actually any good.
Right. Let's find somewhere to sit down and read this thing.
Everyone's outside, so I get a prime spot on the end of the long benches that line the pit-like foyer.
The Almeida foyer is a strange place. With its white walls and glass ceiling, and wipe-clean upholstery, it's kinda like sitting in a fancy sanatorium. An expensive one in the mountains, where handsome young porters wheel you around in bathchairs as you take in the clean air.
Except there's a bar all down one end and everyone here has wine-breath. Which somehow I don't think is part of the hospital's regime.
Then there's the show artwork taking up the big wall overlooking the foyer. Which is usually cool. A photo opportunity. Instagram bait.
For this show, it’s a massive blown-up picture of Tobias Menzies' face, which is lending the space a slight Orwellian-vibe,
There's a great big close up of Tobias Menzies on the front cover of the programme too, which now that I have my back to the ten-foot version of the picture, is very pleasing. But even though I love me some Tobias Menzies, he's not the thing I'm most excited for tonight.
I am actually here for the movement. I page through the programme until I get to the biographies and yup, there he is. Botis Seva. Movement Director. I'm actually currently producing the programme for his show at my work... which I notice his biography doesn't mention. Hmm. There's his Olivier Award win. That's nice. And a few other projects. But not the one that's opening next week at my theatre. Huh. That's rude. I mean, fucking hell - the Almeida is just down the road from us. A fifteen-minute walk, if that. Where's the Islington loyalty? I ask you...
It is mentioned in the Movement Assistant's biog though. Which is something. I suppose.
Enough about that. What else have they got? Three articles. Which is generous. Although with really inconsistent formatting, that makes me think they just dropped in the copy direct from the writers without any attempt to enforce a house style on them. Now, usually, I wouldn't even mention this. But like, this is the Almeida... not some struggling fringe venue, or a money grabbing West End venue who just want to flog programmes without going to the bother of making them. Do they not have a style guide? Someone over there really needs to get a grip on what their quotation marks are even for.
From the corner of my eye, I spot something. Something pink. And wriggling.
I look over.
My bench neighbour has taken off her shoes. Her toenails are painted the colour of a strawberry milkshake and she's swinging her legs like a child in a high chair.
I lift up my programme, using it as a shield between the sight of her naked feet and my eyes.
This is not acceptable behaviour. I think theatres need to start adding that to their pre-show announcements. Switch off your phones. No re-entry after the show has started. And keep your bloody shoes on you nasty people.
Gawd, I fucking hate summer.
Speaking of pre-show announcements, there's one now...
"The house is now open," says a voice over the sound system. I get out my phone to note down what she says, but the rest is lost over the noise of audience chatter. I can't make out a single word other than something about plastic cups.
I should probably go in.
There's a massive queue of people coming in from outside, all trying to get up the very narrow steps to the theatre, so I nip along the long ramp to avoid all that nonsense.
"Show your tickets to my colleague," says the bloke on the door. "Enjoy the show!"
I show my tickets to the next person. And she points me in the direction of my seat. Right at the back. Behind a pillar. Or, two pillars, as I find out when I sit down.
Now, you probably already know this, but the pillars in the Almeida are so not a big deal, and their presence is actually amazing, because the seats that are supposedly restricted by their presence are super cheap. I paid a tenner for where I'm sitting now. Which is a hella bargain. I would always, always, take a pillar seat in the stalls over an unrestricted one in the circle. I've been in the Almeida circle. It's rubbish up there.
I mean, yes - from back here I'm missing the top of the set. What looks like a greenhouse or something. And I don't get the full effect of that amazing brick back wall that makes you feel like you're watching theatre in a monastery, but...
"It's nice having a signature back wall," says my neighbour. I look over at him, slightly worried that he's been reading my thoughts. "It's a good thing to have," he continues. "Other theatres don't have it."
That's not quite true. The Donmar has a great wall. So does the Royal Court, although we don't get to see it all that often. The Globe's is pretty spectacular. And the Rose's is spectacular in it’s absence. I don't tell him this. He's not talking to me and I'm sure he doesn't care about my list of pleasing theatre walls.
A woman comes on stage. She's making an announcement. Is a cast member sick? Has the stage broken?
Nope, the house lights are going down. It's part of the play. Okay then.
And there's Tobias Menzies with his lovely deep voice. And the movement, we’ll it's very Botis Seva.
And... what is this play? I mean, I'd kinda heard people talking about it. But are we really doing this? In the year of someone or other's lord 2019? Is this what we want from our theatre in a post-#metoo world?
And I know, I just know, if we were to ask, we'd get some statement prepared by the press team to the effect of "oh, it's starting important conversations," but like, we all know that's code for "our Artistic Director wanted to do the play and we had to come up with a reason to justify it." And it's so frickin' tedious. Art is not viewed in a vacuum. You cannot hide behind the security blanket of provocation. Not unless you are going to put in the work and guide those conversations yourself. Don't just place a bomb on the table and then run away, leaving the rest of us to work out how to diffuse the damn thing all by ourselves.
Just as I'm getting all riled up, a dog comes out! And all my brain can thing of is doggie-cuddles. Oh, gosh, he's cute. Look at his curly tail! And his snubbed little snout! He's so fluffy. He must have had one hell of a brush down before coming on stage. Aww. What a good boy he is.
There's a crash from the upper circle as someone drops something, and the dog's head snaps up. But he manages to recover his character and is soon back lolling around on the stage, yawning and being adorable.
What was I talking about? I can't remember. It's the interval now anyway.
I get stuck in the queue to leave the auditorium. There's only one door, and it ain't very wide.
"It's every man's worst nightmare," says an old guy in the line in front of me.
Oh, fuck you, old dude.
If that's the conversation this play is provoking, we should burn the whole thing down right now.
I go outside. I need to get away from all this... stuff.
There's a group out here talking about Tobias Menzies.
"I recognise him," says one woman.
"Oh yeah, he's definitely been in stuff," says a bloke.
"Like on TV?" says another woman.
The bloke gets out his phone. "Ah, here we are. Err. Casino Royale? He was definitely in Game of Thrones. He was, err, he was a lord. One of the lords. But, yeah. He was definitely in Game of Thrones."
Now, this is a perfect example of why up-to-date biographies are important.
As we go back in, something occurs to me and I pull the programme out of my bag.
I scan the cast list. Then the production team. Then the creative team.
Huh. That's weird.
I go to the biographies and check there, just in case.
The dog isn't credited. His handler is. But there's no mention of who is playing Max.
What kind of bullfuckery is this? What kind of person doesn't credit a dog given half a chance?
We've got Dying and Breakdown, Chaperones, Masks, Tech week buyer (I have no idea what this is...), Masks, a Safeguarding Consultant (I really don't envy the person doing this role), and, yes, Dog Handler. But no dog.
He's out there. Every night. Doing some spectacular work. And we don't even know his name?
I am outraged and offended and...
The plays starting again.
I sit and seethe until Max reappears. Aww. He really is lovely. I adore big dogs. Especially ones as handsome as this.
Stuart Campbell's character gives him a treat and kisses him on the snout.
What a darling.
The dog I mean.
I swear if anything happens to him...
Oh, you absolute fucking fuckers.