Only a month since it's opened and the Troubadour White City Theatre has already lost its crown as the newest theatre in London. The Troubadour is old news. There's a newer theatre in town.
I can't tell you much about this newer one. The website for the Turbine Theatre is still in its infancy by the looks of it. I know the theatre's in Battersea. I know they are currently showing Torch Song. But other than that... nothing. They don't even have an email address or box office phone number on there. When I tried to get some contact deets out of them on Twitter, no one replied.
Which is like, super helpful and really promising. Nothing says 'you're going to have a great time here' like a theatre ignoring you. And everyone else it seems. Questions about e-tickets, pleas for help with online booking, requests to know if they sell food, all left floating around unanswered, lost to the wilderness.
So, with my mental state ready tuned to the Fuck You Turbine Theatre channel, I make my way across Chelsea Bridge to see what's up with this uncommunicative newcomer to the London theatre scene.
I find them under one of the railway arches.
It looks nice enough.
Tables and chairs have been set around aside and people are enjoying their pre-show drinks in the evening sun. Through the large window I can see the long counter taking up the length of the foyer. One side marked up as the box office, the other as the bar.
But just in case there's any confusion, they have a man posted on the door to welcome us all in. He's wearing a taupe-coloured apron that wouldn't look out of place in one of those hipster coffee shops decorated solely with exposed pipe-work and man-buns.
"Have you got your tickets yet?" he asks.
I tell him I need to pick them up and he directs me over to the box office, just a few short steps inside the door,
I barely have to make those steps before another man in a taupe apron is ready and primed with the ticket box in hand, asking for my name.
I give it.
"Maxine?" he asks, pulling out the ream of tickets.
Yup. That's me.
Tickets in hand (there's a lot of ticket stock going on here) I take a quick circuit of the foyer to see what's going on. The bar is busy. It's a warm night and everyone needs a drink. There's a screen on the far wall advertising what they have. Wine. Spirits. Good selection of both. I'm not really interested in any of that. My focus goes straight to the last portion. The snacks.
Cookies. Flapjacks. Macaroons. Crisps.
A macaroon does sound good. I don't think I've seen them offered in a theatre bar yet. Could the Turbine Macaroon be the next Bridge Madeleine? I try to sneak close to get a look, but the cookies and whatnot seem to be pre-wrapped in paper bags and stacked up in a way that means they're not visible for drive-by drooling. I pass.
I turn my attention to the decor. It's very train-tunnel-chic, with a modern chandelier of bulbs sticking out from an upturned crinoline hanging from the curved brick ceiling. The designers, who have clearly noted the trend for bookcase-wallpaper in fringe theatres, has gone one step further and made a book-bar.
It's pretty nice looking. I like it.
Still not sure what the connection between theatres and bookshelves are, but I'm happy to accept it as a thing, and welcome it into my life.
And no, I'm going to stop you there. They aren't playtexts. Or books about theatre.
Unless A book of Archeology is the name of the a Tom Stoppard play that I managed to miss.
Whatever. It's cool. Theatre people tend to also be booky people. It's all good.
But by the looks of it, theatre people aren't, or at least Turbine Theatre people aren't, programme people.
I can't see programmes anywhere. The front of housers don't seem to have any. And none of the audience members do either. I consider asking if there are freesheets, but it's much too warm in here and I really want to go stand outside for a bit.
So I do that instead, trying to breathe in what little breeze there is, before I start seeing movement through the window, as everyone gets up and begins the gentle march towards the auditorium.
I join them. Walking down the corridor behind the box office. The walls are lined with mismatched mirrors on both sides. I stop to take a photo, before realising that I'm wearing the exact same outfit I wore the last time I paused to take a theatre-mirror-selfie. I quickly put my phone back down and carry on.
The wall-of-mirrors breaks up as the hallway leads off into mini side passages, where such mysterious locations as staircases, the accessible loos, and countless other wonders live.
We keep on walking. The corridor stretching out longer than I thought train tracks were capable of being wide. So long that I begin to wonder whether all these mirrors are playing tricks on me, and I'm being lead deep into the Turbine's lair where I'll be forced to spend the rest of my days chained to a smartphone, replying to all the tweets they get with the faux-jovial tones of the professional content person. "We're open from 10 today for all your pre-matinee brunching needs. Try the macaroons!!! [insert heart eyed emoji x 3]"
But no, there's the end of the corridor, and an aproned-up usher is tearing tickets.
Through the door and everything goes dark. Black curtains line one side of the corridor, and moody lighting highlights the brickwork on the other.
Over the sound system, a woman begs a man to stay close at hand, and if he doesn't stay forever, she'll understand.
"It's Dusty!" says the man in front in tones of wonder.
The curtain ends and we stumble into the theatre. Another aproned usher checks my ticket and directs me to the front row, but I take a moment to hang back, and look at the space.
The roof of the tunnel curves above us. On one side is the stage, small. On the other is a bank of raked seating.
In the middle, are four rows of chairs. The first two set at an angle, mirroring the pointing stage. The next two straight across.
Four rows. That's a lot to not have a rake between them.
I thank whichever theatre god it was who pushed me to by a front row seat. That's never my first choice. But somehow, for this theatre, I knew.
Because here's the thing. This theatre has flat pricing. Every seat in the house is £33. (Well, 32, with a one quid booking fee, but same-diff). And flat-price seating is great. Allocated seating is also great. But having a combination of the two is tricky unless you are really sure you haven't got any duds in the house. I don't want to be turning up to find I have the back of someone's head in my sightline, if I know for a fact that they paid the same as me to sit there, blocking me. If you're going to flat-price, you better be damn sure that every seat has a similar experience (like, say, the Jermyn Street Theatre), or seating should be unallocated in order to reward those who turn up early and are prepared to queue for the best spots (like upstairs at The Royal Court).
And I mean, it would be fine if the tickets were cheap. I guess. But like, properly cheap. Not fantasy-cheap. Not the cheap we are told to consisder cheap. But real cheap. As in, I don't have to think twice about spending this money type of cheap.
£33 is not a cheap theatre ticket. I know people who run theatres like to think that £33 is a cheap ticket. But they're wrong. They are wrong by about twenty-pounds worth of ticket. If I've going to be sitting in a restricted view space, and I'm not in the West End, I better not be paying more than 15 quid.
But today, that's not my problem.
I find my chair in the front row, and deal with the business of removing my jacket and trying to cool down.
It's really warm in here.
I get out my fan and give myself a good blast.
"Oh! That fan's great," says my neighbour as he catches the tail-wind of my efforts.
"Shall I keep going?" I ask, just to check. I'm not very good at telling when people are taking the piss.
"Yeah, don't stop!"
Well, alrighty then. I do my best to keep a steady stream of cool air going over the both of us, until the theatre has filled, the lights have dimmed, and a slim figure wearing a pale pink sheer robe emerges in our midst.
He strikes a match, lights a cigarette, and saunters on stage, ready to tell his tale.
He's a drag queen. Prone to falling in love. Seemingly always attracting those men that can't quite give him the commitment he craves.
As he disappears off stage, we get a glimpse into his effect on men as our next character stands alone on stage, enchanted, and part of a one-sided conversation. The words of our drag queen lost to the ages.
When he finally reappears, the makeup is gone. As is his admirer. Lost to societies expectations of straightness.
Through the open wall behind him, I see actors running around in their underwear, preparing for the next scene. The neon signs above the stage switch over. We're in the second part of the play, the stage pulls out into a massive bed, and we have a new lover for our favourite drag queen.
Someone in the row behind shouts "bravo, bravo," through the applause.
We appear to be in an opera house.
A sign lights up on the wall.
... an American opera house.
But there's no time to worry about that. I need some fresh air.
I escape back out the hall of mirrors and head back outside.
And there I stop. Staring at something.
Someone is holding a programme.
Where the hell did they get that?
I go back in, looking around, and there I see it. A programme. All blue and yellow and Great Gatsbyish in its artwork. Propped up on top of the box office.
Shit. Okay. There's no one at the box office. Not now. But I guess I can queue at the bar.
It's already curling it's way all across the foyer.
I join the end.
It's moving very slowly. This might take a while.
I start looking around. My eye catches something. A Great Gatsbesque something.
One of the front of housers is holding a stack of programmes.
Wishing the queue a mental so-long-suckers, I tap out and go over to the usher. He's chatting to two blokes, but as I approach he looks over.
"Can I get a programme?" I ask.
"That's two pounds fifty."
I dig out a note from my purse, and I notice one of the blokes riffling through his wallet.
"Oh, sorry," I say. "Did I just queue barge?"
"Ah, it's alright," says the usher with a dismissive shrug.
Oh dear. I scuttle away shamefaced. At least I have a programme now. Which means I can tell you that the drag queen is played by Matthew Needham, and the pair of actors in their pants were Daisy Boulton and Dino Fetscher, and the new love interest was Rish Shah.
That was certainly worth the wait.
Back in the theatre and a stage manager is stirring a pot on a stove that has suddenly appeared during the interval.
The air is filled with the smell of cooking.
It's a very familiar scent. Almost sweet.
With a tap of her spoon, she disappears. And a new stage manager replaces her, peering into the pot and giving it a good stir before he too disappears.
I don't know what it is, but I really want my dinner now.
"Smells like onions," says someone coming through the door.
Yes! That's it. Onions.
My stomach rumbles.
As the play restarts, Fetscher takes over cooking duties. Cracking eggs and adding them to the concoction, before adding a very healthy dose of salt. My kind of cook. As he replaces the salt on the shelf, he does a little spin, a neat pirouette.
"Bravo," calls the man sitting behind me.
But the bravo-man's approval is fickle. As Fetscher scoops up the shells and tips them into the pedal bin, the bravo-man tuts. "Health and safety," his whispers.
After that, there's just enough time for my heart to be broken a couple more times (damn you Jay Lycurgo), and experience some mild flashbacks of dealing with my own Jewish mother (thanks Bernice Stegers) and then we're done. We're out. And I'm walking over the river feeling a little bit shakey and disorientated. But whether that's due to the play, or all those mirrors, I cannot tell you.