This is not the blog post that I had intended to write.
I had other ideas entirely.
I was going to the next stop on my marathon with a friend. One who is a regular theatre-goer. We had dinner, over at Porky’s, quite possibly the least vegetarian place in existence, and even better, within full-bellied staggering distance of the Globe complex where we would be spending the remainder of the evening.
And while I was busy dribbling mayo and crumbs down the front of my favourite dress, Helen was busy dropping interesting thoughts about the art-form we both love so much. She's very clever, you see.
As an example, when mentioning the gender-swapped Dr Faustus currently playing at the Globe’s Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, my reaction on hearing about the girl-kissing was to share how much hotter I found that than hetero-normative theatrical love scenes. Her's was to muse on how they made one look again at a well-trodden tale.
"Ah, yes. That too," I said, nodding along.
See? She’s very clever. An intellectual even.
So, I was sure that she would have lots of interesting things to say that I could... borrow... for my blog post.
That was the plan at least.
Events, however, rather got in the way.
After finishing up our meal (and me having a quick brush down of my dress - everything sticks to velvet), we headed across the road to the theatre. We were watching the Dark Night of the Soul, a collection of new plays written in response to the same Dr Faustus that had provoked my previous, embarrassing, admission.
"Free programme," offered an usher, holding up a couple of said free programmes to show us.
Absolutely, yes please.
I can never resist a free programme. I might have even said that: “I can never resist a free programme.”
Especially not one as nice as this. No A4 freesheets run off on the photocopier here. There are pages and pages, with proper artwork and beautiful typesetting and… oh, I’m quite overcome just flicking through it again as I write this.
Such rapture extended all the way up the stairs and into the theatre itself.
I’ve written before about the cognitive dissonance of stepping out of 2019 and into a space transported over from a previous age. And the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is no less startling even if you expect it.
The white hallway and the bright electric lights are left behind you as you are enveloped by shadows and candlelight.
We took our spaces. Right at the top, balancing on the narrowest of platforms, high above the pit. Spots chosen in a concession to my floundering bank balance. Once bags and coats had been dealt with, there wasn’t much room for feet to be placed.
“It’s a beautiful space, but the sightlines are terrible,” Helen had commented before we went in.
She wasn’t wrong.
It is a beautiful space.
And the sightlines are terrible.
Tucked up against the wall you don’t get much of a view of the stage. But there are compensations.
The ceiling, painted with the images of the skies that they hid, were mere inches above our heads, allowing close inspection of the golden constellations scattered across the angel-strewn heavens.
The curtains leading out into the modern world were drawn shut, and we were left alone in the candlelight, cut off from the outside world.
As the first play started, our row settled into a common stance - arms resting on the bar before us, bums braced against the wall behind, feet positioned wherever our belongings allowed.
The warmth of the candles wafted up, brushing our cheeks.
I leant back, enjoying the feel of the cool walls through the back of my dress.
But the lure of the play was too much and I was soon back on the bar, leaning forward to catch what glimpses of the actors were available.
The air grew hotter.
I ran my finger inside the neck of my high neck of my dress. The satin-frilled collar didn’t allow much in the way of air to get through.
I settled on unbuttoning the cuffs of my sleeves and rolling them as far back as they would go.
For a minute or so.
Could I unzip my dress? No one was behind me. I contemplated the acrobatics needed to reach my zip in such a confined space. Impossible... And let's be real here... super weird.
If I could just make it to the end of the play, I could try and grab one of the empty seats, I told myself. It wouldn’t be nearly so bad if I was able to sit down.
I was sweating. Heat rushed up and down my body. My head swam.
I was going to faint. Or throw up.
I didn’t know which was worse.
It couldn’t be long now. These plays were short, weren’t they?
The air grew thick, condensing over the flames below until it was impossible to breath.
I had to get out of there.
“Excuse me,” I said to the woman next to me.
With a whispered warning about the positioning of her bag, she slipped out of the row and let me past.
“I’m going to faint,” I announced to the usher. I really was.
She swept back the curtain and escorted me outside.
The cool air of the corridor flooded into my lungs.
I breathed it in greedily.
“This way,” she said, leading me back into the modern world. “This lady was feeling faint,” she explained to the ushers waiting out in the upper gallery foyer.
They lept up, sitting me down in a chair and fetching me a glass of water as I fanned myself with my hand.
“Sip that slowly,” said one, wearing a top that indicated she was a first aider.
I did my best, but the urge to tip it all back in one was almost overwhelming.
As the internal combustion engine in my chest gradually lost steam, I began to gather my thoughts.
The first of which, I am ashamed to admit, was: wow, this is quality blog content going on right now. My second, no less cerebral, was: I wonder if I'll make it into the show reports. I've always wanted to be in a show report.
They are such good fun to read.
It would be the audience member equivalent of having a character in a play based on you (quality call back to one of the night’s plays - Katie Hims’ Three Minutes After Midnight, right there).
Do we all know what show reports are? I feel if you are reading this blog you probably do. But just in case, they are basically a debrief on everything that happened that evening. Props that failed. Lines fluffed. Entrances missed. Jokes that didn’t land. Audience members who fainted. You get the idea.
“Here,” said the first aider, grabbing one of the free programmes and fanning me with it until I was back in the real world and not thinking about show reports. We laughed. “How are you feeling now?”
“Warm,” I said. But not likely to faint. Or throw up. Which was a relief. “I think I chose the wrong outfit for this theatre,” I said, smoothing down my velvet dress.
“Yes, I always stick to t-shirts when I’m working in there.”
“Yeah, this was a mistake… I’ve even got heattech under here.”
“Oh dear!” she exclaimed, clearly horrified. “You can take it off. There are loos just through there, if you like.”
That sounded like a good idea.
I headed where she pointed, got lost, but then managed to find the loos anyway.
They were gloriously cool. And empty.
I managed to wrestle my zip down, remove the blasted heattech, and then put myself back together again.
I left my cuffs unbuttoned though, and repaired to the sink where I ran cold water over my wrists.
I felt so much better.
That was, until I spotted my reflection.
Good lord, I was a sweaty mess.
I'd left my bag in the theatre. I had no way if repairing it.
As I was leaving, I saw my first aider chatting to the duty manager, asking about getting the heat down in the theatre.
I slinked away, ashamed at the chaos I was causing.
“You can sit down over here and watch,” said the usher who was still posted upstairs. She waved me into a seat and indicated the screen showing the live feed of what was going on inside the theatre. “I’m afraid the volume can’t go any higher,” she added as an apology for the poor sound quality.
“Do you have a programme?” she asked.
“You can have another if you like. Follow what’s going on.”
For the first time in my life, I turned down the offer of a programme. Just like when you’re car-sick, I believe it’s better not to read when you’re feeling queasy. All that looking down and focusing. Not good.
We sat together and watched.
A few minutes later the first aider returned, and they switched places.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, full of concern.
“Fancy heading back in?”
I absolutely did. Mama didn’t raise no quitters.
“The play's almost over. When the angel comes out, I’ll take you back in.”
We waited, watching the screens. Eventually a winged figure emerged from the doors behind the stage. An angel.
She led me back in, handing me over to the usher on the door.
“You can sit over there,” she said, pointing to a vacant spot on the end of a bench.
The view from there was marvellous. The mirror-like stage glowed under the light of the candles.
I looked back at Helen, who was still stoically standing in her five-pound spot.
I probably should have sprung for a better ticket.
Almost fainting is certainly one way to get a free upgrade, but perhaps not a route I would recommend following.