So, apparently, The Tabard is not the pub where all the Globe volunteers go to get drunk after having a hard night corraling Shakespeare fangirls.
I am slightly disappointed about this, but mostly relieved. I really didn't want to have to deal with one of those ushers crying into my shoulder as they swear they are going to hang up their red tabard for good if they have to listen to one more dick joke.
It is a pub though. And a pub theatre at that. And with the paned windows, and facade hanging out over the pavement, it does have that look of Tudor England about it. I might be walking past The Swan, if I weren't in Turnham Green. So, who knows. Maybe I'l get lucky.
The effect doesn't last long though, as I walk past the beer garden and spot the entrance to the theatre.
An external staircase, rising out from between the tables in a tunnel that makes me think immediately of those jetways you use to get into planes.
I stop to take a photo, standing far back on the pavement to get it all in: the tunnel, the beer garden, and a little bit of the pub in the background.
But something's wrong with the picture.
I look up.
Someone's waving at me.
I lower my phone, and he grins.
Do I know him? I don't think I know him.
"It's alright, go on!" he says.
"Sorry!" I apologise, but he just waves his hand in a gesture that suggests I should get on with taking my photo. So I do.
And then I go hide, because I'm now really embarrassed.
But I can't hide forever, and witness protection isn't a thing for theatre marathoners, so off I go, through the beer garden, past the waver, and into the tunnel.
Posters advertising tonight's play, Harbor, line the wall, interspersed with headshots of the cast, and creative credits. So, there's really no excuse not knowing people's names. I dutifully take photos just in case there's no freesheet to be found upstairs.
There's a landing up here, with a low bench under the window. Someone has set themselves up in the corner with the papers and they look very comfortable, I must say. Like having your own personal conservatory, with a pub attached.
I've never been one for hanging out in conservatories though, so I go through the door and find myself in the box office. It's a big one. Big enough for the walls to be lined with counter space, so I'm thinking this is where people hang out during the interval.
I join the queue, give my name to one of the box officers, and get my ticket.
"And there's a complimentary programme for you," she says, handing it over.
I decamp to the corner to have a look at it.
It's not a programme, let's be real. Despite it saying “Programme” on the cover. It's a freesheet. But it's a super-swish freesheet. Professionally printed. Super thick cardstock. Little bit too thick, because that combined with the black background means we've got some cracking on the spine, but that's pretty common with that combo. Which is why you should always spring for lamination when you're a fan of black ink and heavy card.
Yeah, okay. I'm sorry. I'm a print professional. Don't get me started on paper coatings or we'll be here all day.
Inside, there's a nice little biog about the writer. Chad Beguelin is a six-time Tony nominee, apparently. Making him the playwright equivalent of Amy Adams. Always the bridesmaid... Aww. Well, I'm sure his little play is just super.
It's still early, so I hang around in box office, earwigging on all the audience members as they come in to pick up their tickets.
This one sounds a bit upset. She hasn't received any emails from The Tabard in a while, and she's feeling a mite neglected.
"When did this happen? Was it recently?" asks the box officer, all concern. "Because you know, with the introduction of GDPR, the law has changed. We had to start the mailing list from scratch. You should have received an email..."
Never underestimate the public's inability to read an email until they stop getting them.
I should probably go in.
The route takes me past one of those magnificent paned windows overlooking the street, and then into the darkness of the auditorium.
So dark I have to squint to make out the seat numbers.
The bloke in front gets out his phone to use the screen light to guide him to his seat, but I can just about cope without.
The Tabard is on the larger side of titchy. With proper flip-down, raked seats, and a central aisle. The stage is floor level, and the packed set, a fully-furnished living room by the looks of it, is making everyone who comes in super cautious as they try not to trip over a throw pillow between the entrance and their seats.
With no ushers in the auditorium, the guy sitting across the aisle from me has taken on the role for himself.
"This is D," he says to someone eyeing up the seats in confusion. "The numbers go that way."
And therein lies the problem with having allocated seats in small theatres.
"This is D," he says, raising his voice above the Bruce Springsteen that's being pumped in. "I am six, and the numbers are going up."
A bell must have gone somewhere, because there's suddenly an influx of people and I have my own baffled person standing at the end of my row.
"D?" I ask, figuring if the bloke across the aisle can act the usher, then I should probably give it a go too.
"I need two..." she says.
"It's down that way," I say, pointing at D2 and feeling very pleased with myself about the whole thing. I would make a fucking great usher. I can count! I can point! I can be polite. Sort of. The front of house manager at my work doesn't know what she's missing out on.
But half-way through drafting my letter to her requesting some shifts, the house lights go down and we're in a vehicle with Jessica Napier's Donna and Constance Des Marais' Lottie, mother and daughter respectively. And you can tell they spend a lot of the time on the road because Lottie is reading and she isn't even the tiniest bit car sick. Plus, the book she's reading is House of Mirth, so, you know she's smart. I mean, yes. I was a pretentious brat as a teenager whose bookshelf was chocked full of classics, and like, I'm a fucking idiot now. But I never read those books in the car. Reading in the car was reserved for trashy novels and maths homework. Unimportant things that I didn't mind throwing up over.
This travelling pair are off on their way to visit Donna's brother. But the fact that she hasn't seen Kevin in over a decade and he's unaware of his rapidly approaching sibling is something Donna doesn’t think worthy of worrying about.
But, you know, Douglas Coglan's Kevin takes it well. Controls his rage, anyway. As does his husband, Ted. And they become one big happy family. Drinking martinis. Looking through scrapbooks. Getting stoned...
Now, The Tabard is a small theatre, and the curls of smoke soon fill the auditorium.
The woman sitting next to me pulls her sleeve over her hands and covers her nose. I'm just glad that I thought to pop in a cough sweet before the show started.
I'll give Beguelin his due. It's a funny play. Even the silent bits are funny. As a character pauses, I find myself grinning just anticipating their next line. I honestly think he'll go far. So, like, don't give up, Beguelin! Seventh time lucky and all that.
In the interval, the audience buzzes as everyone heads out. No one hangs around in the box office. It's off to the bar with the lot of them.
"It's so good. I didn't know what to expect," says one as she walks past me. And I agree. I didn't know what to expect either. But here we are, and I'm really enjoying it. Even if I am severely troubled by the year this thing is set in. They talk about iPods and Richard Simmons, and don't have mobile phones, which makes me think the early 2000s, but when they go to McDonald's they're drinking from paper straws which doesn't seem right. We were in pure kill-the-turtles mode back then. Very odd.
I use my time to Google the play, and turns out Harbor premiered in 2012 which throws all my theories up in the air and I don't know what's going on or what to think anymore.
When I go back in, I start examining the set for evidence.
Nicholas Gauci's Ted is wandering around the set wearing a party hat and blowing up balloons, but I ignore him. I have more important things to concentrate on. There's a bookshelf and a few volumes are thick enough that I can read their titles. There's a biography of Bill Clinton, which, okay, whatever, that doesn't help. Likewise the Abraham Lincoln. But next to those, is SPQR. The Mary Beard history of Ancient Rome. Now, that I can use. Because I remember all the fuss when that book came out and it wasn't that long ago. I turn to Google. Published in 2015. Hah. Wait. What?
Okay, so, it's fine. Kevin and Ted are super into British historians and got a copy of the first printing. 2015. That's cool. They just don't like mobile phones. Some people are like that. The rays giving them cancer, or whatever. As for the iPod... Lottie is a weird kid. She likes Edith Wharton after all. Perhaps she's into retro music-devices. Like hipsters with vinyl. She doesn't want an iPhone because... who's she going to call anyway? The dad she doesn't even have a phone number for? Ha. As for all the other apps and things that would be super useful so that she doesn't have to borrow her uncle's laptop the whole time... I don't know. Reasons.
Things become even more confusing when Napier sites George Bush as being in charge, but then the fog clears, and I realise what's happening.
The year doesn't matter, because this isn't our world. Smartphones haven't been invented. Trump isn't president. Instead, there's George Bush. No, not that one. George P. Bush. The son. Or grandson, depending on who your 'George' is. Everyone is super green, with even the multinational fast food companies offering up paper straws as standard.
It's a kinder world. A gentler world.
A world where Mary Beard has her rightful place on every bookshelf.
Which makes it all the harder to cope with all those lovable characters not being able to get their shit together long enough to make each other happy.
As it's time to say goodbye, Donna asks her daughter about House of Mirth. How did things end up for the main character, Lily? Because that's what you do when in the midst of a life-changing event. You ask about a book you had a short conversation about three months back. Lottie is happy to oblige, letting her mom know that everything went wonderfully for the main character.
And so everything's great and everyone is happy, and they are all going to live long and fulfilling lives and... hang on. That's not how House of Mirth ends is it? Fuck.