The Ruffians on the Stairs

Proving once again that I really can complain about anything, I would like it on record that the Hope Theatre is too close to my work.

I stayed an extra hour in the office, walked as slowly as my legs would allow, took a half-mile detour, popped into Boots, and still managed to arrive with fifteen minutes to spare.

At least that gave me time to wrestle with my phone. In the rain. It's now got to the stage where I can't take a photo at all if it isn't plugged into some form of charger.

Let me tell you, if you haven't stood in the rain, balancing an umbrella on your shoulder, a phone in one hand and a charger in the other, than you have not truly experienced a theatre marathon.

Oh yeah, I'm sure it's possible to do this challenge with fully functional technology at your disposal, but is that really in the spirit of the enterprise? No, my friend. No, it is not.

I mean, sure... you would benefit. Better photos, perhaps even better blog posts. They'd certainly be produced by a less stressed blogger. But if my phone didn't crap out and lose my changes at least twice while writing each of my posts, what on earth would I blame my typos on? Riddle me that.

Perhaps we should consider my terrible photos as an external expression of my inner marathon trauma. An artistic series if you will. We can call it: The Downfall of a Theatre Blogger 251.

Fine, we’ll workshop the title later.

Anyway, yes - sorry, I'm getting ahead of myself there. Running down a path that no one is interested in. Certainly not you.

Let's go back to the image of me, standing in front of the Hope & Anchor Pub, taking photos, in the rain.

No, wait. Let's go even further back. All the way to my detour.

Because the truth is - I lied to you.

It wasn't a detour. Or at least not a planned one. I got lost. Well, not lost exactly. I knew where I was. But where I was wasn't at the Hope.

But Max, I hear you sigh. You literally just said this theatre was close to your work. How did you manage to get lost?

Well, I wasn't lost. As I've already told you. I was just... elsewhere.

I walk past the Hope & Anchor a lot. Exactly because of the whole working nearby thing. So when I headed out to go there, that's exactly what I did. I walked past.

I have a lot on my mind at the moment, and... can I blame the rain? Eh. I'm going to blame the rain. It was coming down pretty strong.

Anyway, I caught myself before I had gone too far. And walked myself back.

I must have been looking a bit bedraggled by that point as the man having a cheeky cigarette by the door almost stumbled in his efforts to open the door for me.

The pub was packed, and it took a fair bit of squeezing between tables to make my way to the box office, positioned at the end of the bar.

“Have you been to the Hope before?” asked the bloke manning the box office lapton after I’d been handed my ticket and bought myself a programme (£1).

Ah. He’d sussed me out. Yes, to my shame, this was the first time I had been to the Hope. Over two years of walking past, and I’d never made it through the doors before.

“Right,” he said. “Well, you'll be heading up the stairs. I'll ring the bell when it's time. Its 60 minutes, no interval. And if you leave you can't come back in.”

Nicely done.

Though I think some of the regulars could have stood to have heard that speech. As a few minutes later, I spotted a group heading upstairs. Not wanting to be left behind, I dropped into line and followed them.

The line stalled at the door.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to be up here yet,” came an unseen voice from the top of the stairs.

A queue started forming behind me.

There was no going back now.

We were doing this thing.

Soon the line was winding its way right back down to the pub. I may be a newbie, but this felt very familiar. This was Royal Court Upstairs-style queuing going on right there.

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“I have cheese in my pocket,” said the man behind me.

Not to me, you understand. I was just eavesdropping.

“What a strange admission,” laughed his companion.

A very strange admission indeed, but I didn’t get to hear the explanation for the pocketed cheese as the bell started clanging below.

“The doors are now opening for the Ruffian on the Stair,” called out the box office bloke. I fancied he gave the queue a derisive look but that was probably my imagination. Still, I wouldn’t blame him. There was certainly a collective air of delinquency going on amongst us.

The door finally opened, and we made it upstairs. And after having my ticket ripped (what a joy to actually have a proper ticket getting its stub ripped off. It’s one of those theatrical rituals that is so joyful in its simplicity. A proof of use. Like a stamp getting postmarked) we headed inside.

The stage was so small, the front row looked as if they were part of the set. Like dining table chairs pushed back against the wall because the room is needed for something more important than the business of eating.

The bravery that had gradually been building up this month suddenly evaporated. I headed to the second row, in the darkest corner I could find.

And from my tucked away spot, I inspected my ticket.

I hadn’t given it proper attention before. But the combination of ripping and unreserved seating intrigued me.

It had the logo on it. And the twitter handle. The address and the url.

So far, so standard.

But then on the back:

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“DID YOU KNOW?” it shouted out in all caps (and bold too!). “By purchasing this ticket,” it continued, in a more reasonable font, “you are personally helping to ensure that all actors you see tonight are paid a legal wage. Aren’t you great?”

I preened. I am pretty great.

That was quite the distracting thought though.

Not my greatness. That’s something I have to live with every day. I mean the legal wage bit.

The Hope Theatre is tiny. TINY. And there were three people on stage.

I tried to do the maths, but failed. I… got distracted by the play.

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I’d never seen a Joe Orton work before, and I had really wanted to. I admit it, I was drawn in by story of his demise, a modern-day Christopher Marlowe. But man, that guy could write.

The lady sitting across from me certainly agreed. Her facial expressions as each shocking new line was dropped were magnificent. It was like sitting opposite a live reaction gif. Mouth dropped. Eyebrows raised. She jumped and gasped and jerked back in her seat in perfect time with the action.

I don’t think I have ever loved anyone more than I loved that women during this hour-long play.

May the theatre gods bless and protect you, lady. You are perfect.

Feeling a little woozy from the play and my short-lived love-affair, I had to hold onto the balustrade for balance as I made my way back down the stairs.

The pub was nearly empty now.

I buttoned up my coat, slung on my shawl, and stepped outside.

The rain had stopped by then, and it was snowing.

Rose-tinted theatre

I’m going to like this place.

That was my thought the second I walked through the door of the Arcola.

I don’t know what it was that provoked such a strong reaction. Perhaps it was the pink coloured light that blazed out over the door. Or the fact that it was an easy walk from my work. Or maybe that being so close to an overground station, my journey home was going to be a cinch. The staff, bustling around in their branded aprons, demonstrating open friendliness and scary efficiency in equal measure, might have contributed to my thought process. The £1 playtext sale must have helped. And the huge yellow sign over box office proclaiming “Tickets” which is exactly the no-nonsense, anti-jargon, stance that I can get behind. But between you and me, I think it was the bench.

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There, slunk low, just inside the foyer door, was a long wooden bench. Exactly the sort you would find in a school gymnasium. It conjured up memories of being five years old and doing bunny hops along the full length. Bunny hops were my absolute favourite thing to do in gym. Leaping about from one side to the other, while gripping onto the surface of the bench for support. The feeling of flying as you soared over the bench. The power in your arms as they take your full weight for that fraction of a second. It doesn’t get much better than that. Plus, no one is throwing anything at you and expecting you to catch it.

"Is this for Daughter-In-Law?” asked the woman at box office (or “Tickets”) as I gave my name.

Wait, what?

I looked around. There, to my left was a sign. “Studio 1.”

Shit.

Double shit.

Shit on a cracker.

The Arcola has more than one theatre.

The warm glow that had been sitting in my stomach at the sight of the bench wavered. I had another theatre that I needed to add to the list. 251 theatres in London. 252 now. And this was only number 25.

Shitshitshitshitshit.

I managed to fight through the pain and indicate that yes, I was there for Daughter-In-Law.

She glanced at the ticket.

"Now you'll have to go outside and back in. There’ll be a bell when it's time. I'm afraid no drinks are allowed in these seats."

But I wasn’t paying attention.

252 theatres. I wasn’t even a tenth of the way through my marathon and I’d just found out that another mile was being tagged onto the end.

I could feel myself boarding the Anxiety Express. I needed to think nice calming thoughts.

Tickets (real tickets). Programmes with full-page photography…

Wait.

"I think I ordered a programme?" I posed it as a question, but I definitely recalled seeing programmes for sale during the online booking process and I couldn’t imagine not sticking one in my basket.

"Let me check," she said.

"I mean, I might not have,” I prattled on, suddenly starting to doubt myself. “But I feel very strongly that I did."

She checked.

I had.

Phew.

It was still early, so I took myself and my programme over to the bunny-hop bench and had a flick through (really good by the way. An absolute bargain at only £2 online. £3 at the theatre. Lovely paper-stock. Interesting articles. Recommended).

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As I stood, reading about D.H. Lawrence’s use of dialect, something jabbed at my leg. I tried to swat it away with my foot, but only succeeded in stubbing my toe. I looked down, fearing some creepy-crawly had got my leg.

A massive splinter was sticking out and clawing at the back of my calf.

The bunny-hop bench had betrayed me.

I felt less kindly to it after that.

I decided to go for a wander.

The bar looked nice. But busy.

Staff everywhere.

And on the wall… oh bliss… oh rapture.

Cast sheets.

Free for the taking.

Good lord. Programmes, real tickets and free cast sheets? Arcola, you spoil me, you really do.

See? I couldn't stay mad at this place for long.

Soon enough, the theatre bell rang as promised and people began to saunter out.

I busied myself tucking my cast sheet away in my bag, and by the time I looked up again, the door was banging shut after the last person had left.

I hurried after, heading back out into the street, rounded the corner and headed for the brightly lit door and the other end of the building.

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Hmm. That didn’t look right.

Where did the lady on box office say I was supposed to go again? I hadn’t been paying attention.

Shitshitshitshitshit.

This was going to be another The Wrong Door situation again, wasn’t it?

The Anxiety Train going full speed by this point. I backtracked. I’ll just go back inside, and ask, I told myself. Like a normal, functioning adult. It’s fine. It’s all fine. There’s plenty of time. No need to stress.

I didn't make it that far. 

Just as I was about to head through the main door, I spotted another one. It was narrow. Barely a slither in the stonework, but there was no question, this was The Right Door. 

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I must admit, I'd been a little worried about what sort of seat I'd get. Usually I just buy the cheapest and hope for the best. But this time, I levelled up. 15 quid for a value ticket instead of a ten pound restricted view one. I prayed to the theatre gods that it was worth it.

After making almost the entire length of my row stand up to let me past, I made it to my seat it the front row of the balcony. 

There was a pillar in front of me, but so narrow I forgot it was there within minutes. 

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What I didn't forget was the cold.  

Eighty minutes is a long first act at the best of times, but when you're stuck in your seat, shivering, it can feel like an eternity.   

I thanked the theatre gods that I had remembered to back my shoe grips in my Theatre Survival Kit that morning. The pavements were bound to be icy by the time we got out of there.

Don't get excited. My Theatre Survival Kit, such as it is, is mainly composed of whatever crap I remember to shove in my bag to help me get through these very long days. Snacks and... well, mainly snacks. But also the aforementioned shoe grips on icy days, a folding fan for warm ones, and cough sweets all year.

Speaking of cough sweets... I reached into my bag. I've had a cough since Christmas, one that refuses to go away. It's always made worse when I'm stuck in confined spaces. Like lifts, or the tube, or theatres. I could already feel a small niggle starting at the back of my throat and...Shit. No cough sweets. I had meant to pop out over lunch and restock but I'd... forgotten.

I stuck my hand right down to the bottom of my bag, past my wallet, my book, my Tupperware and shoe grips, and explored the slightly sticky base, feeling in between the empty wrappers and forgotten receipts.

Ew, when was the last time I cleaned this thing out?

After much scrabbling around I found one, lonely, cough sweet. A little bit dusty from accumulated bag debris, but by that point I would have sucked on the contents of my hoover bag if it promised some relief.

This play better be worth it, was all I could think at that point.

How wrong of me to doubt them.

I should have known the Arcola wouldn't do me wrong. 

The first act flew past. As did the second. And I didn't cough once, well... not until the curtain call when I suddenly remembered about my tickely throat. 

Now, Arcola. You need to package this shiz. You and me. We can make a mint. Or rather... a cough sweet (sorry). Arcola's Awesome Cough Remedy: two and a half hours of relief - guaranteed! As approved by the overtired theatre-marathoners of London.

Call me, yeah?

Wet floor, warm hearts

I went to the Sadler's Wells archive in Finsbury library yesterday. It's not a theatre. Just records of a theatre. Stretching back hundreds and hundreds of years. They have massive playbills from the 1840s. And a letter from Margot Fonteyn’s mum to Ninette De Valois asking about ballet lessons for her daughter. It doesn’t count towards the marathon. But it was fun anyway, and if you're interested I have some photos over on my Instagram.

Don’t worry, I did get to a marathon-qualified venue eventually. 

Even if the weather did its best to stop me.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this theatre-goer from the slow completion of her marathon.

Fucking snow.

If you can call it snow.

It was sleet at best. Or perhaps we should just call it slush. Airborne slush. That didn’t even have the decency to land on the ground before becoming dirty and grey and gross.

But I made it through. Me and my umbrella. Battling through the cold and wet to make it to Regent’s Park. Hugging the buildings the entire way to avoid the huge splashes of frigid water that lept up to bite my ankles with every passing car. My boots sliding around on the icy pavements. Unable to see through the curtain of snow that was pounding down on us all.

Turning the corner and seeing the warm lights of the New Diorama Theatre blazing out against the dark square was like being called home to a roaring fire and a pot of freshly brewed tea. I could feel my entire body relaxing. I had made it.

A few quick shots for my Instagram stories and I would be inside. I even thought I might order myself that tea.

I positioned myself in at the other side of the square, balancing the handle of my umbrella on my shoulder and trying hard not to think about chilblains as I peeled the mitten-portion of my gloves off my fingers.

Lined up my shot. Sign visible. Outside not too dark. Foyer welcoming. Nice.

Then my phone shut itself off.

Fuck.

I tucked my umbrella handle under my chin so that I could use both hands to turn it back on again, key in the code and relaunch the camera app.

A few minutes later we were back. The battery half-drained but no matter. I could deal with that later.

Prepped the shot again. Sign. Outside. Foyer. Welcoming. Nice.

The screen went black.

It had turned itself off again.

By this point my fingers were so numb I couldn’t even feel the power-button. I smashed at it a few times and hoped for the best.

Shit. The battery was dead.

Shivering by this time, I fought my way out from under my massive shawl and wrestled the zip of my bag open. There was no need to panic. I had a charger. Finding a black charger, in a black bag, with numb fingers however… tricky.

#GothProblems. Am I right?

My fingers eventually managed to wrap themselves around the wire and I hoiked it out.

Plug in. Smash button. Phone on.

We were back in business.

I got my photos, and sent my Instagram Story. I just hope my Instagram followers know what I go through for them. Ungrateful sods.

As I shook out my umbrella and pushed my way inside the theatre, I realised I wasn’t the only one suffering in this weather. Because there, shuffling around on the floor, where two staff members. I paused, hanging back, wondering what a person was supposed to do when confronted with the sight of two women crouched down on their hands and knees.

“That’s better,” said one of them, sitting back on her feet.

The other kept on going, wiping the ground with a paper towel.

They were drying the floor.

I made sure my feet were safely on the mat and wondered whether I should give myself a shake like a dog coming out of the sea. Or perhaps ask to be hung up somewhere warm so that I could drip-dry in peace.

I waited for them to finish before venturing over to the box office. A real box office! There might even be real... oh.

 "This ticket is recyclable. Please hand it in as you enter the auditorium," proclaimed the laminated pass I was handed.

Recyclable? Damn them. I can't even be annoyed now they've played to eco-friendly card. 

"Are their programmes?" I asked, more in hope than expectation.

I was waved towards a pile of freesheets stacked in front of me on the counter. 

That was something at least. I took two. 

But next to the freesheets was something else. Something far more exciting. 

A little tray. And in the tray... 

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Badges!

I had already spotted them online while booking my ticket. But I hadn't expected them to be quite so big and shiny. 

My magpie eyes stared at them longingly. 

I had almost ordered one off their website. At two quid they are almost justifiable as a throw-in when buying a ticket. But my card hadn't gone through on the first attempt, and when I came round to try again the more sensible portions of my brain had caught wind of my intentions and put a stop to it.

But there they were. All enamely and gorgeous. 

I wanted one.

"Thanks," I said, pocketing my admission pass and walking away as quickly as I could. Stronger, yes. But badgeless. There were no winners here.

I decamped to the other side of the foyer to fold my freesheets and put them away, all the while sneaking glances a the badge tray.

A man came in asking about tickets to that night's performance. He asked a lot of questions. How much are the tickets? When does it start? Where is the theatre? Can I sit here?  (He asked that one twice).

I got the impression this was his first outing to a theatre. 

The woman on box office answered all his questions patiently and clearly. (He could indeed sit there). 

It was interesting to find out what a first timer felt he needed to know. But I didn't stick around to find out what else baffled him because the one and only sofa in the cafe had just been vacated and I was determined to sit on it.

Facing directly onto the floor length windows it was a prime snow watching seat, even if by then it was mainly rain.

Still, a great place to sit and read a freesheet. 

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I was enjoying it so much I didn't realise that the queue to go into the auditorium had been building up until it had filled the entire foyer and was spilling out into the cafe - right in front of my sofa. 

Oops. 

I quickly gathered my things and positioned myself in the midst of all these people. 

For unreserved seating, the house opened very early. Ten whole minutes (in should have been five, but the show started late) for us to sit around getting to know our fellow audience members. A time fully taken use of by my neighbour who insisted on introducing his elbow to my ribs on multiple occasions, despite them already being well acquainted.

The little shit.

He stopped once the play started, clearly too engrossed to waggle his arms about.

Or perhaps I was too engrossed to notice. 

After all the buzz about this play which merges the 1938 Orson Wells radio play, and the spread of internet trolls, I thought that the hype around Rhum & Clay's War of the Worlds might have been fake news.

It certainly would have made a better blog post if it was. 

But I can't fault them for being excellent... can I? No. I can't. Or maybe...? No. Sorry.  

I even have to award bonus points for having the tech team positioned in a booth overlooking the stage so I could watch them in all their glory.

After being so close (and yet so far) back at the Charing Cross Theatre, it was nice to finally get my fix of techy goodness. 

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Now if they could just fix my phone...

Scratch that

7pm starts… man, they are a challenge. I don’t think I’ve ever walked so fast in my life, racing across London to get to the Soho Theatre in time for my show.

Apologies to everyone who encountered me. And most particularly to the poor guy at the box office who had to deal with my puffed-out mess when I finally got there.

"What are you here for?" he asked, when I finally managed to suck back enough air into my lungs to talk and give him my name.

Now there's a question. Who can even remember anymore? It’s a miracle that I manage to turn up to the right theatre on the correct night. Now they wanted me to remember what I was actually there for?

"Err, the scratch night?" I said, feeling like I was about to lose this quiz.

"The scratch night," he concurred with an approving nod. I'd got that one right!

My prize was one of the trademark Soho tickets. They have to be the most distinctive tickets in London. I certainly haven’t seen anything to match them yet. Bright pink. The colour of Barbie's Dream Car. They’ll sear your retinas right off if you look at them too hard.

I tucked it safely in my bag before too much damage could be done and headed to the bar.

One benefit off 7pm start is that I actually do get to see the bar.

The Soho Theatre’s bar is one of those places that I will always agree is great if anyone brings it up, but the truth is, I've never managed to have a drink in it. It's always been heaving to the point of unbearability every time I've been to see a show.

But yesterday, let the record show, at 6.45, I got a table.

I sprawled out on the banquette and luxuriated in the space. 

I can see why people think this place is nice.

Very comfy.

Very cool.

In a kind of show-posters-wallpapering-the-walls-and-neon-lights kinda way.

All the bright young things of Soho draped themselves over the tables as they talked about all the shows they were working on, generally adding to the aesthetic.

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“We should go see this,” said one guy, picking up a flyer to show to girl he was with.

“Oh, yeah. I know him,” she said, jabbing the person pictured on the front of the flyer.

Of course she did.

Five minutes later, a bloke came up and asked to share my table.

Thirty seconds after that, there were three of us perched around the small square.

The dream was shattered. My time was up.

But it was glorious while it lasted.

Oh well.

It was nearly show time anyway.

I made my way back to the foyer.

A small gathering had formed at the bottom of the stairs. Our way bared by one of those thick red ropes, we we corralled on the ground floor.

"Have we got an estimated time of opening?" the usher said into her radio.

The crackly voice on the other end indicated it would be a few more minutes. We waited, stomping about and sighing heavily. The herd was getting restless.

The usher backed her way against the lift, keeping a close eye on us as she clutched at her radio lest we suddenly charge.

Someone tutted. It was 7pm. The show was already running late. 

The radio crackled back into life.

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"The show on the third floor is now open. Chinese Arts Now Scratch Night on the top floor is open," she announced with obvious relief as we bolted for the stairs.

With unrestricted seating, it doesn’t pay to be slow.

"Anywhere in the first four rows," called the usher after us as we rushed into the auditorium.

As I dashed past her, I spotted a pile of paper on the bench outside the door. I lunged and grabbed one, not missing a step as I barrelled into the auditorium and dumped myself into a seat, spreading my coat and bag around me - marking my territory.

I plumped for the third row - the first one with a rake. Very important that. As a shorty, I need me a rake. Not that it was a particularly good one. The slight lift the third row offered only meant that I was given a hint of what was happening beyond the head of the person sitting in front of me. It was a concession to the idea of a rake, an acknowledgement that such things exist, rather than a full and proper attempt to give people sitting there any kind of view.

"Even the first paragraph is a lot. It sounds heavy, doesn't it?" said a woman in the row in front, peering through the gloom at her freesheet.

All those black walls, black ceiling, and low lighting, doesn’t make reading easy.

But I gave it a go, inspecting my own freesheet.

It didn’t take me long to spot the name of the venue I work for.

Written incorrectly.

If I would ever dare give a piece of advice to artists it is this, double check your credits before handing over your biography for public consumption. It’s embarrassing for everyone involved when you don’t know how to spell the venues that you’ve performed at. Especially when you return and I have to correct it for you (because I do actually proofread and edit the biogs that come through me… just saying, Soho Theatre…).

And look, I'm not insinuating that poorly proofread paperwork is my hell, but it was rather warm up there… It was almost like I was getting punished for all my complaining about the cold yesterday. “Oh, you want it warm, do you?” laugh the theatre gods. “Don’t worry, we’ll make things real cosy for you.”

I rolled up the sleeves of my jumper, trying to remember what I was wearing underneath. Or if I was in fact wearing anything underneath.

I was. Heattech. Worse luck. As the festival organiser was already giving us the hosuekeeping speech and there was no time to wrestle myself out of my sweater.

“There’ll be a short interval between the two pieces for the changeover. No time to go to the bar but time to pop to the loo.”

I sat still, thinking cold thoughts, and tried to concentrate on the performers instead,

I must say, I wouldn’t usually think somewhere like the Soho, especially their tiny upstairs studio, is the best place for dance, but it was wonderful to be so close to the dancers. Especially in a piece so focused on facial expression and small movement. 

Even working in dance I don't think I've ever got so close outside the confines of the rehearsal room.

What a treat.

As was the horsey helium balloon in the second piece. 

There was a post-show talk, but I wasn’t sticking around for that.

I snuck out, and offered a smile of apology to the dancers who were waiting in the bench outside. 

I’m sure everyone involved was perfectly fascinating, but I wasn’t losing my chance to be in bed by 10pm (literally all my hopes and dreams revolve around this one goal right now).

So off I went. Buzzed out of the door by the bloke on box office. Race back to the tube. Home via a short trip to Tesco. Fixed a hole in my favourite vintage dress. And in bed my 10pm.

Magic.

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!

The Camden People's Manifesto

"That sounds very communist," said my cake-eating friend Ellen when I mentioned that I would be at the Camden Peope’s Theatre on Thursday night (you may remember her from posts such as my Polka & The Space double-show day blog).

I’d been thinking of the Gettysburg Address: Theatre of the people, for the people, by the people. But a communist theatre right by Euston station sounded much more promising.

But, like with so many things with politics, I found it utterly baffling when I arrived.

There was a box office. I could see that. One that shares its desk space with the bar. Each end appropriately marked up with a sign. “Bar” to the left. “Box office” to the right.

Except, I couldn't get to either. A mass of people had congregated between the door and the counter.

Were they queuing?

I couldn’t tell.

By the looks of it they were merely milling.

Now, I don’t have a lot of experience with communist theatre. But come on, most theatres incline at least slightly towards the left. Surely things down this end of the political spectrum couldn’t be that different. I was fairly certain queuing was a universal concept. I just had to figure out where this one began, or ended.

Someone emerged from the theatre and there was lots of “there he is!” type of calls from the group.

Ah.

I see.

Friends of the playwright.

That made sense.

"You've all got comps waiting for you," the playwright announced magnanimously.

Yeah, well. That’s all very nice I’m sure. But I got a paid-for ticket waiting for me, and I would like to pick it up please.

I edged my way around the group, trying to get past.

“Is this a queue?” I asked someone nearby who looked like they might be a fellow-edger.

“You want to pick up tickets? The box office is just here,” said the lady standing behind the bar-half of the counter.

“Are you waiting?” I asked the other edger.

"You go if you want,” was his very gracious reply.

I did.

I’m not very gracious, so it looks like I may have queue-barged ahead of the one genuine person trying to pick up their ticket. Sorry mate.

The tickets turned out to be playing cards, marked up with CPT (Camden People’s Theatre. Come on now, keep up) on the back and a die-cut star punched out of the corner, lest anyone try to sneak in with a faked up playing card-ticket. Ingenious. I like it. And also deliciously mistrustful. Are there many people out there bent on sneaking into theatres with playing cards? Perhaps I’m just showing off my naivety here, but it that seems like an awful lot of trouble to go to. I don’t know. Maybe there are roving gangs selling individual playing cards with CPT sharpied on the back of them. “Wanna see a play?” they mutter as you pass them on a street corner, checking over their shoulder for any sight of the rozzers.

Frankly, if there really are people out there who are so desperate to see a play that they do go to the effort of putting marker pen to playing card, I say let them in. They deserve it.

“You can take one of those,” said the box office guy, clearly noticing how my attention was now fully taken up by the pile of cast sheets sitting on the counter.

I know. I’m sorry. You are so utterly bored about reading about my obsession with the more papery aspects of the theatre experience. It’s okay. You don’t need to say anything. I can tell.

I have a problem.

But these cast sheets… are really nice. The paper stock. Ooff. Thick. With a nice weight. And a subtle sheen.

If it were me, I would have given them a extra proofread, but… with paper this nice, who’s really paying attention to the use of quotation marks?

Fully stocked with paper, I went to find somewhere to sit.

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There are plenty of tables and chairs in the bar, but they all seemed to be taken. Around the edges however are these funny little benches which are just wide enough to perch on, but still so narrow that high levels of concentration are required at all times to prevent you from losing your balance and toppling off.

I grabbed one and clung on.

Sitting there, unable to fit on my very narrow bench, I couldn't help but think of the conversation I'd had with Ellen last weekend. It didn’t make it to the blog last time, but perhaps I held it back, knowing it would come in use in the future.

I'd mentioned being weirded out by the thought of going to see a kids’ show by myself, and that naturally led to a discussion about feeling nervous going to the theatre. There's been a lot of words, and even more money, thrown about at the top tier of the performing arts, in an effort to make theatre more welcoming. Opening up the building via the means of rejigging the architecture, and offering free tickets for under 18s, are current schemes at our city's two major opera houses.

"But places like that never bothered me," said Ellen, but with far more eloquence than I am able to properly recall. "It's the cool places that puts me on edge"

I had to agree. You can get lost in an opera house. And I don't just mean in the literal sense, wandering about while looking for the loos.

There are so many people there, it's easy enough to blend in. Whether wearing jeans or an evening dress, you'll just be one of the crowd. It's the smaller theatres though. The fringe-cool ones. The ones that served their community so well, they have started catering to a niche as narrow as their benches. That's where I feel my most awkward. 

I was definitely not cool enough to be here.

The seating alone should have told me that.

When the bell rang and I headed inside the theatre-space, I was somewhat alarmed to see that the front row was made up of what looked like those old wooden packing boxes. With thin cushions placed on top as the only concession to comfort.

I quickly bypassed those and made my way to the safety of the third row, where their were proper chairs.

The play was timely. And by that I mean it was about Brexit. Not that you'd know it until the punchline. You have to get through a very surreal first hour before the payoff of the final ten minutes hits.  

Curtain call over, everyone was very slow to move on. There was another play coming up. A double bill. I'd been tempted to stay. Adding the second play to my ticket order would have only have required a few extra quid, but there are no bonus points for repeat views in this challenge. And the idea of being back in my bed by 10pm was just too tempting.

Yeah, when I say I'm not cool, I'm not playing.

So, I was off. Even if this lot weren't. 

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As I started layering up, winding round my scarf and shrugging on my coat, ready to launch myself back into the freezing night, the applause started up again.

I thought the cast may have reemerged but I couldn't see them.

"Max! Max! Max!" chanted the front row.

Err. Thanks? I know my coat is pretty spectacular, but really... applause really isn't necessary.

Then the playwright emerged.

The playwright who was dishing out comps to their mates.

The playwright who is also called Max.

Oh.

So yeah, it is a bit communist but only in the sense that it benefits to be in the inner circle of our great leaders.

All theatre-goers are equal, but some theatre-goers are more equal than others.

WKD Green

Seventh day in a row I’ve been to the theatre and I feel like I’ve had a house dropped on me.

Does taking B12 help? I’m sure I’ve heard that taking B12 helps. I’m not convinced. I was so tired last night that I was sure if I didn’t do something I wasn’t going to make it through Monday, let alone the rest of the week. I needed to take more drastic action. So… I went off to see the Wizard… and by that I mean: I was about to get my Wicked on! It’s been running in the West End for over 12 years. I thought it was about time I saw it.

The only problem was getting there.

Somehow I managed to convince myself that walking the 3-or-so miles from the office would be a good idea. Let the cold smack my face until I woke up.

I hadn’t been to the Apollo Victoria before, but I figured I kinda knew where it was. Head straight into the West End, turn west at Trafalgar Square, then march down to The Mall and you’re there. Right? Right. Except as soon as I reached all those fancy red-bricks that crowd SW1 I got completely disorientated. Over 10 years I’ve been living in London, and I’m getting lost on my way to the theatre. I have literally never been so ashamed. What am I even doing with my life?

Don’t answer that.

And you can keep that opinion of yours to yourself too. I already know what you’re thinking. It’s 2019. Why didn’t I just get directions from my phone once I started getting turned around? To which I can only say: I did. But the more I walked, the more I seemed to get confused. Every corner I turned only took me further away. It was like being in a Bowie movie. Except with less puppets and flatter hair.

By 7 o’clock I was still wandering around in circles, lost in a towering maze of town houses, and I was starting to panic. Google Maps was being worryingly slow, the circle that was supposed to represent me was darting from one side of the junction to the other as if it too couldn’t quite work out if Greencoat Place and Greencoat Row were secretly the same road.

In the end, I picked one at random and hoped for the best.

The great theatre gods must have taken pity on me, because a few minutes later I spotted something in the distance. Something green. Very green.

I’d made it.

With just enough time spare to snap a photo.

The wrong entrance

You may have noticed by now that technology is not my friend. And my phone, traumatised by recent events, decided it could no longer cope with the trials of this marathon, and decided to switch itself off.

As I swore, and growled, and bullied my phone back into the world of the living, I noticed something was going on in the queue.

People were being turned away.

“I’m here, but I need to pick up the tickets,” one woman shouted into her phone. “No, I’m at the theatre. But on the wrong side.”

The wrong side?

Where were we then? Had I accidentally stumbled upon the stage door? Were these people not punters, but autograph hunters?

That was a lot of branding and a hefty queue for the wrong side.

There was a massive poster. And the name of the theatre. And doors. Lots of them.

It looked like it should be the right entrance.

And then I saw it, a small sign posted at the bottom of the stairs.

“For Box Office pleased use the Wilton Road Entrance”

For fuck’s sake.

Wilton Road is around the back. I was on the wrong fucking side.

I sprinted round, joining the closest queue.

The right entrance

“I need to see your bag and your ticket,” said the man at the front.

“I still need to pick up my ticket,” I said, looking around wildly for the box office.

“My colleague can help you with that.,” was his reply, as he peered into my rucksack.

His colleague stepped forward. “Does your email confirmation have the seat number on it?” he asked.

“Ummm???” My phone had managed to switch back on by this point, but it was still dragging its feet. Eventually I managed to find the email. “Yes!”

“Great. Head straight through and show the email on the door. No need to pick up your ticket.”

I made a strange sound. I don’t need a ticket? Then what was I even doing on the Wilton Road side of the theatre then?

“Unless you want the hard copy,” he added, clearly knowing my type too well.

“Right…” I said, still baffled, and made my way inside, leaving the queue for the box office snaking down the road well alone. I could live without a hard copy.

Now, sitting on my bed and writing this in the cold half-light of morning, I am filled with regret. I did really want a hard copy.

Dammit.

If anyone in the Wicked press team is reading this - hook a girl up! I just want a ticket. Not to see the show again (although…), just a actual, physical, hard copy. They looked so pretty with the logo and everything.

Next stop, the merch desk. Or, one of the merch desks. As there seemed to be multiple ones. A myriad even. Everywhere I looked there were stalls. Some selling sweets and popcorn. Others focusing on t-shirts and tat. All of it blazing green. I had walked into the marketplace of the Emerald City. And they were not going to let me out of there alive.

“That’s £8,” I was told as an oversized (‘souvenir’) programme was handed to me.

I tried my best not to look horrified as I stuck my card in the machine.

“I should tell you the role of Glinda will be performed by Maria Coyne tonight,” continued the programme seller as I officially entered bankruptcy.

“Oh?” I said, pretending this meant something to me.

Hard copies of tickets and cast change announcements at the programme desk? I was beginning to get the impression that Wicked-fans are just a teensy bit intense.

He opened a draw under the desk. “I usually have these cards to hand out when there’s a cast change,” he said, showing me a rather fancy looking A4 sheet printed with a colour photo, biog and headshot. He’d got my attention. They were nice! Really nice. Good heavy card stock. 250gsm at least, perhaps even 300gsm, and silk-coated. I pratically salivated. “But I don’t have the right ones. You can ask at one of the other desks and they’ll give you one.”

You bet I would. There was no way I was missing out on one of those beauties.

But that would need to wait until the interval.

Checking that I still had the confirmation email up on my phone to show to any ushers that would ask for it (spoiler alert: they didn’t), I made my way downstairs.

Or tried to.

Half way down the stairs I stopped. And blinked.

Everything was… green.

Green walls. Green lights. Even the carpet was green.

I staggered about, feeling a little seasick.

Green carpet

Green binoculars

Green chairs

As I turned into the auditorium, I had to blink again.

The seats were green.

Row upon row. Of green seats. With green binoculars secured to the backs.

Me, unable to deal with all the green

So. Much. Green.

I know I’ve ranted about shows sticking around too long in individual theatres, but I am in total favour of Wicked living out the rest of its existence in the Apollo Victoria. The show has really made the theatre its home. This is not ‘hoarding the pretty',’ this is making the theatre an extension of the show.

I’ve never been so happy in my all life.

And then the show started.

And I got even happier.

As soon as the last closing notes of Defying Gravity hit the roof I floated back up to the marketplace and headed to the nearest desk.

“Can I have one of those cast change things?” I asked.

“The understudy sheets?” she said. “They come with the programmes. £8.”

I explained I already had one.

“Do you have the receipt?” sounding a trifle suspicious, if you ask me.

“I do!” I replied, remembering how the original programme seller had slipped one inside the pages. I got out my programme and flipped through. It wasn’t there. “Hang on,” I said, reaching into my bag. It must have fallen out.

“Can’t find out?” she asked. The you lying bitch remained unspoken.

She was not letting this go. Good for her.

I had so much damn respect for that.

Or I would have done, if I hadn’t been panicking. I needed one of those luscious cast sheets.

I tipped up the programme and flapped it upside down. No receipt.

Someone else came to the desk. I indicated she should go first. But she was just there to look.

I was getting flustered.

Calmcalmcalmcalm.

But it WASN’T THERE.

Oh god, what was I going to do? I needed one of those cards. I already didn’t have a ticket. I wasn’t missing out on this.

Could I justify spending another £8 to get a second programme? No. I could not. Except…

I went through each page in turn, and somewhere towards the end, I found it. The receipt.

“Ah ha!” I cried out, as if I had just solved some complicated mathematical equation. “I have it!” I waved it about, just to prove it.

She took it from me, and checked it. Yup. The programme was bought that very evening.

She handed it back to me. With a cast change sheet.

Success! But at what cost? I think I knocked a full five years off my life last night.

It’s not easy being green.

On the Origin of Theatre

Nearly a week into the marathon, and I feel like I’ve covered a lot of ground. I’ve visited a smattering of West End venues, watched a play in a fringe venue under a railway arch, and done… whatever the Bridge Theatre is (off-West End commercial? Retirement home for ex-NT artistic directors? Two-fingers up at anyone who ever doubted they could do it?). I felt it was time for something completely different. And as different options go, watching a play in the gargantuan monument to all things animal, vegetable, or mineral that is the Natural History Museum, is an appealing one.

I love the Natural History Museum. Mostly because, well… dinosaurs. But also the building itself is just such a joy to look at. There isn’t a square inch that doesn’t hold some architectural surprise for anyone willing to drag their eyes away from the exhibits for a moment.

I mean, look at this nonsense.

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And as I was there for a morning show, I had the opportunity to wander around before all the hoards of tourists had made there way out of their Airbnbs and into my way.

The theatre itself is located right inside the museum. When I asked for directions I was instructed to head to “the third arch, and it’s on the right.” I found it just after the Dino Store and before the Darwin Centre.

Once you’re in the correct arch, it’s hard to miss, as the doors have been laminated with enough blue and orange branding to scorch your eyeballs, after all the soft greys and softer browns of the stonework and skeletons located in the main hall.

At the box office they expressed surprise that I was only picking up just the one, solitary ticket. As if a woman old enough to have a theatre-going sproglet of her own, going to see a kids’ show at 11am on a Sunday morning, was at all an odd thing to do. I’m beginning to think that I should get some business cards printed up so that I can hand them over in by way of explanation of my strangeness in these situations. I mean… business cards that say londontheatremarathon.com on them. Not one declaring "following affidavits from the midwife and a doctor, I confirm that the bearer is, in all probability, human."

I put on my best intelligent face, hoping they’d think I was a post-grad student researching Darwin or something. I could be. I totally read his lesser known work, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals, while at uni. The fact that I seem to be reading mainly YA fantasy at the moment is besides the point.

Anyway, that expression of surprise wasn’t the last one I was going to get. It followed me to the programme seller. “You want a programme?!” he asked, as well he might as they were 7 quid and I didn’t see anyone else with one once I got inside the theatre.

But before I could make it in, it was my turn to get a shock.

The person on the door, after checking my ticket, asked me to present my hand and then with a gentle, and yet reassuringly firm, touch, pressed something onto my skin.

I’d been branded. With a stamp!

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Now, there’s nothing wrong with the stamp. Stamps are cool. And it’s a… turtle? I think? And, you know, I like turtles. Turtles are great.

But are they necessary?

Stamps I mean. Not turtles. I’m sure turtles are very necessary. As a metaphor for perverse in the face of overwhelming odds if nothing else. Oh wait, it was a tortoise in that race. Nevermind. Turtles are useless.

Unlike the neat little plastic disk system at The Union Theatre, these stamps don’t seem to serve much of a purpose, because the Jerwood Gallery at the National Bloody History Museum has tickets.

How the turtle stamp manages to prove the existence of a ticket better than the ticket itself, I’m not sure. Is a stamp better? I mean, other than being dinky. And cute. With it’s chubby swimming legs, and lovely rotund shell and…

Okay, I get it. Love the stamp. I am in total favour of the stamp.

And while we’re here, can we all take a moment to appreciate that I'm in the Natural History Museum wearing a sweatshirt covered in dinosaurs? This is some quality content that I'm offering you here. I just don't want it going unnoticed.

Wait, is this what I'm doing now? Dressing to theme? Am I going to wear a Viking helmet to the Royal Opera House? Winged sandals to the Apollo? Dress as a Christmas tree topper to Little Angel Theatre? As an old witch to the Aldwych? (Sorry). A ruff to Shakespeare's Globe? (I could actually do this... I totally own a ruff. Because of course I do). Okay, I'll stop now. I'm not going to do that. Still, it would have made going to the Red Hedgehog Theatre extra fun...

Where was I… right, in the Jerwood Gallery. Or the Jerwood Gallery Theatre. Not quite sure what this place is: a pop-up venue in a museum, or a more permanent fixture with more shows to follow. It looks like a pop-up venue. It feels like a pop-up venue. The seating is more suited to a secondary school assembly than a theatre. The stage is a literal black box that looks like it has been pushed into the vaulted gallery, like a kid pushing a chunky wooden cube into a play-set to help them learn shapes, or spatial awareness, or… I don’t actually know what they’re for. None of it gives the impression that it was built for the space in any meaningful way. Which makes me think that it will all be packed up, and the gallery restored to its former use, at some point in the very near future.

I don’t suppose there are that enough natural history-related plays floating about to fill a theatre into perpetuity. But then, perhaps it is a case of “build it and they will come.” I’d love to see a play about Mary Anning here (the dinosaur lady of Dorset). That would be frickin’ amazing.

Darwin’s great and all, but I doubt he could pull off a bonnet like Ms Anning.

In fact, The Wider Earth had a distinct lack of bonnets. Despite being set in the 1820s. It did have a hell of a lot of puppets though. Which seems to be the theme of my first week of this challenge. 3 of the 7 shows that I’ve been to this week have featured puppets. And not just puppets. Animal puppets. We had ensanguined sheep at Don Q, a spider on strings at A very very very dark matter, and an adorable iguana here at The Wider Earth. If only War Horse were still running, I could have gone for a fourfer.

New Year's Heave


Is it normal to feel quite so queasy on New Year’s Eve?

Let me rephrase that.

Is it normal to feel this nauseated before going out drinking?

I mean, seriously. Have you thought about the logistics of visiting every theatre in London within a single year? That’s 5 shows a week, for 52 weeks. In a row. No weeks off to go lie on a beach far away from any soliloquy beyond: can you make me another of those delicious daiquiris?

233 shows. In 356 days.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

And it’s not just the time constraints (although let’s not ever forget the time constraints). There’s so many other things I need to consider. Like… am I ever going to eat dinner again? What is my stance on re-visiting a theatre if they programme a show that I really really want to see? What about immersive theatre? Do I really have to put myself through that? How the heck am I going to get tickets to Hamilton? And do I need to see both parts of Cursed Child? And how am I going to pay for all these tickets?

Oh yeah… how am I going to pay for all those tickets?

That’s not a rhetorical question. I’m really asking.

I guess it’s homemade sandwiches for lunch for the duration.

And let’s not forget the programmes.

Oh my god… the programmes.

I love theatre programmes.

I make theatre programmes.

For a living. That’s my job.

I can’t even remember the last time I went to the theatre and didn’t come away with a programme. It must be years.

There is no a play out there bad enough for me not to want a programme.

The 6 (six) 35 litre plastic containers I own, so filled with programmes that the lids don’t fasten down, are testament to this fact. And now my papery children are about to be joined by another 233 brothers and sisters.

Where on earth am I going to put them?

And more pressingly, how am I going to pay for them?

If each of those 233 programmes costs £5 (a conservative estimate given the price of programmes in the West End) that’s going to work out at… oh god…

£1165.

Over a thousand pounds spent on programmes before the year is out.

I’m going to need a second job.

Or a second mortgage.

Not that I even have a first mortgage. I spent my deposit on friggin’ theatre programmes and avocado toast.

I think I might have just made the biggest mistake of my life.

So, please do excuse me will I barf into this bucket.

And then down a bottle of gin.

Read More

Time to pre-game this shiz

I have a question: what is the proper preparation procedure one should undergo before embarking on a challenge to visit every theatre in London? Some sort of regime based on early nights, a diet rich in protein and fruits, and comfortable shoes is what I’m guessing. Possibly the introduction of early morning runs. For stamina building. And a daily multi-vitamin.

Yeah, well. I’m not going to do any of that. I mean, I take vitamin D every day. But with my need for factor 50 every time I dare venture outside, those little white pills are the only thing that stands between me and my bones crumbling to dust inside of me. Oh, and biotin. For my hair. Not sure if that counts.

Basically, what I’m saying is that to me, healthy habits is just the name of the local convent’s jogging club.

But don’t let that convince you that I’m just barrelling into this unprepared.

Look around you… I built this website/blog thing. Pretty swanky, right?

A website/blog thing, no matter how swanky, is just a glorified diary. Except this one doesn’t have a pink quilted cover with a lock on it. Which is probably for the best. And not only because pink isn’t my colour. The public nature of this challenge, and potential for abject, hideously embarrassing failure is just the thing I need to keep away from the tempting lure of the box set.

So, the website is important. But not as important as: The List.

The list of all the theatres I need to get to over the next year.

I was looking forward to the most exciting step of the entire process. Putting together the spreadsheet. Who doesn’t love some fancy spreadsheet action? Just give me a mug of tea, packet of chocolate hobnobs and a fresh spreadsheet just waiting to be populated with data, and I am set for the evening. So, when Friday night roles around, kettle boiled and the seal and packet of hobnobs teased open I sat myself down with my laptop on my knees and got ready to work my magic on the official list of theatres in London.

Three cups of tea and severely diminished pile of biscuits later I realised the problem.

Did you know that there isn’t an official list of London theatres?

Because there isn’t an official list of London theatres.

I don’t know about you, but I’d expect there to be an official list of London theatres.

I mean, there are plenty of lists. If you google “London theatres list,” there are plenty of websites clamouring to show off their wares. But start clicking on those links and you’ll soon start to notice that though all the lists are all very impressive, what they lack is the one thing I want from them: consistency. LondonNet’s offering doesn’t go much beyond the West End. London Theatre, who you’d think would be the definitive source, seems to have something against pub theatres. While Wikipedia, surely the home of minimally-useful list, seems to also be missing a few. Did you know there was a theatre on the Cutty Sark? Because none of these websites did.

So there was nothing for it. I had to create my own.

All that research. It was going to take days.

Honestly, I’d never been so hyped.

That feeling lasted precisely as long as it took me to insert the COUNTIF formula on my spreadsheet.

213.

That’s a fucking lot of theatres.

There are 365 days in 2019, which means I need to see a show every 1.7 days. Or just over 4 shows a week.

Daunting, but let’s be real. That’s totally manageable. I can even have weekends off.

And then I remembered something. I had a list of theatres. Saved in the expansive personal filing system I call my inbox. I had emailed it to myself back in 2014 (I told you that I had been thinking about doing this damn thing for years). I’d even counted them. There, at the bottom of the list, was the total figure: 241.

Shit.

That’s nearly 5 shows a week. Every week. For a year.

That doesn’t leave a lot of room for, like… illness. Or holidays.

I went back to the list.

It didn’t take me long to realise that things have moved on in theatre-land since 2014. There’s been a hell of a lot of closures. And this list was a lot more generous in its definition of London than I’m being now.

After an evening spent with a red pen in hand, a highlighter sticking out of the side of my mouth like a old man’s pipe, and my fingers busy smashing away on my laptop keys, I managed to put all my lists together and come up with the one you can find here.

That’s it. That’s the list I’m working to. Those are the theatres I’m going to visit next year.

All 233 of them.

Except, perhaps not. The list includes a lot of theatres that are due to, but haven’t yet actually opened. And there may well be some sneaky pop-ups that may, well… pop-up at some point. But for now, that’s the list.

So, yeah. That’s me done. 2019, I am ready for you.

Although, should probably buy tickets at some point. Hmmm.

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