Bollocks to the Planet

I’m on my second trip to The Pleasance, and I’m on a mission.

You‘d think that after 118 theatre trips since the beginning of the year, I’d have any preciousness knocked out of me, but you’d be well wrong. There are some things I will never get used to not having: tickets and freesheets.

What can I say? I love paper.

Okay, not paper specifically (although, I do love paper. As anyone who has seen my desk at work would know. If you ever want to keep my occupied for a few hours, just drop my in a stationary shop and I’ll be quite content until you come back to drag me away).

I just love have something tangible to take away from an ephemeral experience. Something that I can place carefully in a box, store for years, and then on a sad, wet, Sunday afternoon, open the box, sit on the floor, and take them all out to relive every blissfully painful memory that they conjure up.

Mostly these come in the form of tickets, programmes, and freesheets, but sometimes I get a real score from my trips.

I have a couple of balls from the ball pit in Teh Internet Is Serious Business that accidently fell into my handbag (the fact that I left my bag sitting wide open in the front row is neither here nor there). I have the paper flower I made from the title page of my script in Hamlet (An Experience) (which I’m fairly certain I wasn’t meant to take home with me). I have the West End Company sweatshirt from my days working at Shrek: The Musical (not sure I’m actually meant to have this either). A playing card from Alice’s Adventures Underground. An empty crisp packet from Fatty Fat Fat. A single sequin from Wolfie. Heart-vision glasses from L’elisir d'amore (another thing I wasn’t supposed to take home). Badges from Come From Away and Cursed Child. And probably lots of other stuff that I can’t remember right now.

I’m a hoarder. And Marie Kondo is not welcome in my home.

I just love stuff.

Especially theatre stuff.

On my first trip to this Islington venue, I was offended, outraged, and incensed when I saw other audience members flashing their paper-tickets, with braggadocios swagger, to the ticket checker, while I had the indignity of being beeped through the doors by barcode.

This time, I’m not having it. I’m going to get my hands on a damn ticket.

I time my arrival perfectly.

They have two shows starting at 7.30pm. Mine isn’t until 7.45.

I push my way through the doors at 7.31pm. The first two shows should have cleared by now, meaning I will have plenty of time to plead my case at box office.

Oh. Okay. There’s a bit of a queue. No problem.

When I’d booked to see a show in the StageSpace I’d figured that it was a tiny venue. From my endless browsing of The Pleasance’s website, it looked as if they programmed comedy and whatnot there. Things that don’t require a lot of, well, stage space, and usually have limited seating to match. So when a marathon-qualifying show came up, on a Monday no less, I leapt on it quick-smart. By which I mean I logged it in my spreadsheet and promptly forgot about it until this morning and realised I should probably buy that ticket.

Alas, too late to have it sent to me. But no matter. I was here. I was in the queue. I was going to get that ticket. Or cry trying.

There are signs on the counter saying that the QR code in our confirmation emails will serve as a ticket. I purposely look away from them.

It’s my turn.

I give my name.

“Do you have a confirmation email?” asks the guy on box office.

“Umm,” I say, to fill space as I get out my phone. It’s all a performance. I know damn well that I have a confirmation email.

He clicks away on his computer as I scroll through my email.

“Yes,” I admit, finally giving in.

“You can use the QR code to get in,” he says. “You don’t need a ticket.”

“But I like tickets,” I say, my voice turning into a whine. “I hate QR codes.” You can’t lovingly store a QR code. You can’t alphabetize a QR code. You can’t pet and stroke and touch a QR code.

“We’re saving the planet,” he counters.

“Bollocks to the planet,” I say.

I don’t mean that. Not really. I recycle, when I remember. I don’t own a car, or a cat. I buy vintage clothes. I walk.

But fuck it. Can’t a girl get a ticket?

It’s not like they don’t have them. They can’t plead planet-saving when other people are walking around with the damn things. What does a girl have to do to get her paper-loving hands on one?

The box officer gives me a strained smile. It’s no use. I’ve lost the battle.

I retreat to a spare corner to lick my paper-cuts and feel sorry for myself.

And then I see it. A big yellow machine tucked in next to the box office. A man comes up, sticks his card in, and then a streamer of tickets flies out into his hand.

It’s a ticket machine.

They have a fucking ticket machine. Spurting out tickets. To anyone who wants one.

I look at the box officer. I would have to walk right past him to get to it.

Do I dare?

I waver.

I really want a ticket.

I really don’t want him to see me.

I wimp out.

Of course I do.

I’m a coward.

A useless, ticketless, coward.

The crowds clear. Turns out the house opened late for one of the other shows.

There’s only a few of us left now.

A family try to head up the stairs. A ticket checker glances at their (paper) tickets. “Oh,” he says. “This one hasn’t opened yet. Two or three minutes,” he says, sending them away.

The older lady in the group stays on the stairs.

Her daughter tries to call her down with the promise of a drink, but the older lady shakes her head. She wants to stay. Make sure she’s first in the queue to get in.

“Mum,” says the daughter with a sigh. “You’re not going to miss it. There are like… six people here.”

But the older lady isn’t having it. She begins her slow creep back up the stairs.

Two or three minutes later, the ticket checker returns, and the six people traipse up the stairs towards the StageSpace.

I bring up my confirmation email and get present it for scanning, feeling like a failure.

I go in.

The StageSpace is pretty small. And dark. And kinda looks like a barn. Except smaller and darker.

It has those wooden vaulted beams that you see in fancy barn conversions.

And underneath, standing at the back of the stage, all hulking shoulder and blazing eyed, is... well, I don’t know who that is. I don’t have a freesheet to refer to.

As the show starts, he lumbers forward.

“Hello,” he says.

One person in the front row chances a “hello” back.

He grins. “Thank you,” he says. “Let’s try that again. Hello!”

I sink in my seat, I hate audience participation.

A second character comes out. Her hair is black. Her dress is too. She’s wearing a black velvet clock. I want to bury by face into it. And then snatch it off, before running all the way home. Wearing it.

She poses with a tea light, the tiny flickering light casting shadows across her face. She unfolds herself gently as she readies herself to tell her tale. What to do with the tea light though? She shoves it in the direction of an audience member, who duly relieves her of it.

She begins. Her story is a woeful one. And we are lucky to hear it.

The hulking fellow in the badly fitting suit turns out to be Podrick, and he will be assisting in the telling, playing all the characters in this tale of tragic beginning and eventual triumph. A journey that starts with a baby called Blanche, and ends with our heroine, the great Hertha Greenvail.

“Why do you wear black?” asks Podrick, in the guise of a homeless man the great Hertha meets on the street. He asks it as if the answer wasn’t perfectly obvious. “Is it that you’re frightened people will reject you like your mother did, and so you push them away before they get the chance?”

What the…?

Get out.

Right now. Out. Further out. All the way out. Keep going.

Nope. Not having it.

You’re wrong. So completely wrong, you wouldn’t even be able to fathom just how wrong you are.

Firstly: no. Secondly: how dare you. And thirdly: … look. You’re just wrong.

I don’t even know why I’m bothering to argue this. That’s how wrong you are.

I don’t push people away. I’m not insecure. I don’t fear rejection. It’s not like I’m some kind of useless… ticketless… cow- arghhh.

Hertha comes back on stage.

She’s not Hertha Greenvail. She’s Mia Borthwick. The writer. They’re taking the show up to Edinburgh and…

Oh god. I know this speech.

On cue, Podrick (still don’t know his name) capers out from behind the curtain at the back of the stage with an orange carrier bag from Sainsbury’s.

“Please give us you money,” he says, lumbering up to stairs and plonking himself in the back row, carrier bag open and read to receive funds.

I apologise to him on my way out.

“No, no, no, don’t worry,” he says, so sweetly that I’m immediately plunged into a hole of guilt.

Unfortunately the hole isn’t quite deep enough for me to turn out my purse into his carrier bag, but it’s def there. For sure.

Perhaps The Pleasance could donate the few pennies that they saved by not printing my ticket to them.

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Cold beans and etiquettes

Can I start out by being a bit sentimental here? Just briefly. It won’t take long, I promise.

I just wanted to say thank you to, well… you. And to all the others who have been reading along as I crash around London watching far too much theatre. Knowing that there are hundreds (and hundreds!) of people out there, rolling their eyes at my exploits, makes seeing eight shows a week that bit easier.

Yes, eight shows.

With a double-show day on Friday, I could by rights have taken Sunday off. Taken it easy. Caught up on some much needed sleep. But no.

A few days back I recalculated the number of theatres I need to get to before the clock chimes midnight on New Year’s Eve. And unfortunately it went up, rather than down. I added all the venues in the Vaults Festival, the studio of the Little Angel (missed that one, oops), a few newly announced site-specific spots, and ended up with a figure of 251.

Still doable. Just about.

Don’t worry, I’m not giving up yet. But it will be a while before I allow myself the luxury of a weekend.

Not that I’m trying to guilt you into coming back, but… don’t leave me alone here. I need you to hold my hand, and like… maybe, if it’s not too much to ask, perhaps also stroke my hair and tell me I’m pretty. This is hard work. I’m just after a bit of validation.

With all that in mind, I put on my most vibrant red lipstick and headed over to The Pleasance for the 5.30pm performance of In Lipstick.

This wasn’t part of some suggested dress code, in case you were wondering, but I figured I might as well get into the spirit of the thing.

It has just occurred to me that The Pleasance is my first proper north London theatre. Which, as a north Londoner myself, is pretty exciting. That, combined with a 5.30pm start and a 90-minute, no interval, show, meant that I would be back home in time to make a proper dinner. Now that was really was exciting. I couldn’t remember the last time I had a proper, hot dinner.

These are probably the wrong type of thoughts to have when going to watch a play.

Especially a play which features a picnic. Doubly especially when the picnic is packed full of M&S goodies.

Conventional wisdom goes that one should never go food shopping on an empty stomach.

The same can be said about going to the theatre.

There’s nothing worse than watching an actor joyfully chow down on a mini pork pie when you’re hungry.

I could easily have clambered over the three rows in front of me and hoovered up the entire spread laid out on stage.

When I’m in charge of theatre, I’ll introduce and then enforce a rule that states that theatres need to start offering packed lunches with a sample of the foodstuffs that the actors are consuming. Nice food, obviously. In reasonable proportions. We don’t want a Cool Hand Luke situation going on in the stalls.

I anticipate some push back. Yeah, there’ll be some fuss about the noise. And possibly the smell. And I’m sure the cleaners won’t appreciate my new initiative, but I think if we pitch it as part of an immersive experience, it’ll get through even the most hardened members of the Theatre Etiquette Crew.

No? Not into it?

Okay, the lack of dinners may be focusing my thoughts in the wrong direction.

A cup of tea wouldn’t have gone amiss though. It was freezing in there. I had to use my scarf as a shawl and I was still shivering. Even then, I wrapped my arms so tight around me that when I got up to leave, my muscles had frozen into place and I feared I might be stuck like that forever - like a human pretzel.

Thankfully, the lack of heating was the only unpleasant thing about The Pleasance.

This is a theatre that knows how to appeal to me. It has great signage, a proper box office, a bar full of packed bookcases, and the signs for the loos actually say 'loos' rather than 'toilets,' which I think we can all agree is the nicer word.

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Even better than loos, they have playtexts to purchase in place of programmes.

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Now, I love me a programme. You already knew that. I’ve made no secret of it. But a playtext-programme? That’s next level excellence. Because 1) if the play is good, you get to relive the best bits on your tube journey home, or conversely 2) if the play is bad, you can check to see how far you are from the end and prepare yourself accordingly.

It also meant that I had something tangible to take away with me in lieu of a proper, papery, ticket.

I don’t know what I did wrong, but I managed to turn up with an e-ticket. Which meant that when I got to the box office, there wasn’t a real one waiting for me to pick up.

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“You can just use your phone.”

What? But I don’t want to use my phone! My phone sucks. It keeps on switching off and losing battery and is basically the scourge of my life right now. What am I even supposed to do with an e-ticket? I can’t store it in my ticket box, and I can't get warm fuzzies from looking at them. And I like warm fuzzies. The world needs more in the way of warm fuzzies.

I considered asking for a printed ticket anyway, but working box office is hard enough without the added problem of dealing with me and my obsessions. So, I let it go.

I didn’t take me long to regret that decision.

While everyone else heading into the auditorium was getting their lovely tickets torn, I was sent away, dismissed, and directed to another usher, to get my phone scanned and beeped. Ergh. As theatre experiences go, getting pulled out of a queue and being beeped lacks a certain romance.

I didn’t put on lipstick special just to be beeped, like a tin can of beans.

A cold tin of beans at that.

God, I need to stop thinking about food.

And seeing shows with so much of it, kept tantalizingly out of reach.

Sausage rolls. Macdonald’s chicken nuggets. Scotch eggs…

Hang on. I’m just going to stick a slice of bread in the toaster. Be back in a minute…

Right. That’s better. I’m properly carbed up now. And I’m also running late. Great. Let’s wrap up then. Both figuratively and literally, as it is friggin’ cold out there today.

I’ll be heading back to The Pleasance a couple of times to check out their other spaces, and I’m not even slightly upset about this. But… perhaps I’ll leave it for when it’s a bit warmer. And I’ll be sure to select 'care of box office' when booking my ticket.

Beep!