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 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?”
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.Read More