Swoon-worthy theatre

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.

That helped.

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. 

Oh well. 

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.

“I do.”

“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.

“Much better.”

“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.

This is how the world ends

I have something to admit.

I took a day off. No theatre at all for me on Sunday.

I stayed at home. Did laundry. Watched that James Graham Brexit thing (it was good). Painted my nails (now my programme-selfies won’t look so… chipped). It was good. I don’t know why I don’t do it more often. Oh, yeah. Marathon. Fine… moving on.

Look how good my nails look! I predict they will be chipped again by the next programme-selfie

I was back in the West End yesterday. True West at the Vaudeville.

I hadn’t intended to see this one. Nothing against the play, Johnny Flynn or Kit Harrington (or even his hair), but I really wanted to see the Globe’s Emilia, which is next up at in the theatre. I mean, an all-female cast in a play about a seventeenth century poetess? Yes please! But damn GILT got in the way with its pesky ticket offers. You know how it goes. Not that I’m not grateful. Please don’t stop, GILT. I need you!

Monday night and I was off to the Strand. Took photos. Picked up my ticket. Bought a programme (£5. Articles. Rehearsal photography. Acceptable). Took more photos. Went to the bar. Then the other bar. All fine.

The route up to the grand circle is a little… bare. Made me think that perhaps a separate entrance had been integrated into the theatre, but no one had told the decorators. Still, not quite as prison-chic as the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, so let’s not linger too much on that. There were show posters hanging up on the walls. Fine.

In fact, everything was fine. So fine that I was beginning to panic.

What on earth was I going to write about?

I’ve been worrying about this a lot lately. 233 theatres. Even accounting for double-show days, that’s a lot of blog posts. Was there really enough to say? What if every theatre I visit is… fine. Things can’t happen on every single trip. I don’t want them to happen on every single trip. My anxiety, you know. It’s very stressful. But what’s even more stressful is the thought of having to sit down the morning after and pull a thousand words out of nowhere.

And that’s the most likely scenario, isn’t it? Nothing happening.

I’ve seen a lot of theatre over the years. A lot. And the amount of truly blog worthy incidents that have happened in my vicinity can be counted on one hand. I mean, there was that time when a notable character actor swatted a woman across the back of her head with his programme at The Old Vic because she wouldn’t switch her phone off. That was pretty intense. But unless I intend to put said character actor on retainer, I couldn’t rely on that happening again any time soon.

Such worries fluttered away however when I met the usher in the grand circle. As soon as she tore my ticket, I just knew there was going to be trouble. Perhaps all those years of theatre-going experience are finally kicking in, but I sensed we were not going to be in for an easy ride.

What’s the theatrical equivalent to spidey-senses? Well, whatever it is: that.

The Vaudeville looks like it’s been recently refurbished. Or at least, recently repainted. Either side of the grand circle, right on the edges, where slips seats might usually go, are a pair of wooden scaffolds, to hold spotlights. Now, I have nothing against spotlights, nor the sinister-looking constructions required to house them. But they are rather big. And if you are sitting right on the aisle, they manage to obscure the view of a good chunk of the stage. Which is ironic. Given the purpose of lighting and all.

So it was unsurprising that when the house lights dimmed, the woman sitting on the end of my row, slunk out of her seat and sneaked forward, into the empty front row, where presumably the view was considerably better.

She didn’t get to enjoy it for long.

A few second later, the usher hurried down the stairs to the front row and after some heated whispering, the interloper was removed. She meekly returned to her designated seat.

Except, the usher wasn’t done.

And the front row wasn’t empty.

There was someone else there.

I hadn’t noticed him before.

The usher leaned in. Some more fervent whispering followed.

He whispered back.

The usher wasn’t having it. She stood to the side of the row, waiting for him.

He didn’t move.

The tension strained taught between the two of them.

Who would break first?

Something was happening on stage but I wasn’t paying attention. This impasse was far more interesting than anything our playwright could possibly come up with.

I sat, watching, utterly gripped.

The usher dithered. I could see her thinking. She shifted her weight from foot to foot. Holy shit. It was her. She was going to give in.

The man in the front row stared resolutely forward, watching the play as if all the rules and orders of theatre weren’t tumbling down around him.

Then, she walked off. Leaving the man in the front row… in the front row.

He’d won.

I almost gasped.

In fact, I might of actually gasped.

Was this the end? Had this age of polite theatre finally come to an end? Where we going to return to a time of throwing tomatoes at the stage? Would actors need to start shouting over the din of the audience’s nattering? What about booing? I feel booing is due for a comeback. Why do opera and panto-goers get to have all the fun? I want to boo too!

After that, it was hard to concentrate on the play.

Kit Harrington displayed some excellent floor-work, kicking his legs and arms up like a baby grasping for his mobile. While Johnny Flynn tackled a loaf-full of toasted bread with such enthusiasm it made me quite hungry.

And the woman sat at the end of my row?

She’s a fighter.

As soon as the lights went back down in act two, she made a second attempt at the front row.

This time the usher didn’t stop her.

What was the point? Chaos had won. The thin velvet line had been breached. There’s nothing for it but to hide behind the bar and chug the gin and wait for the reinforcements to arrive.

Audiences of London! We will no longer we shackled by the conventions of theatre. The ushers have no hold over you. Talk! Eat! Lean forward if you so desire! Because a new age has dawned, and we will not be contained in our allocated seats!

As the curtain closed I leapt up, ready to launch myself into this new world and reclaim my power as an audience member. I could see it all: Audiences pouring out of the theatres and congregating in Trafalgar Square. There was going to be a march. And banners. And quite possibly a few bins kicked over. We were going to graffiti the theatre doors and disrupt the day-ticket queues. We would build a bonfire of theatre programmes! Okay, maybe not that last one. That’s taking things too far.

I headed out of the side door, towards the staircase leading down the outside of the building, and breathed in the night air. Ah! It smelt like a riot about to happen.

And something else.

Something slightly more acidic then the rising up of theatre-goers.

Unless the rising up of theatre-goers smells of piss.

As we left the alleyway, a lady with an American accent piped up behind me. “Did you notice that? That smell was urine, I think..."

Yeah, I think you’re right.

As we emerged onto the Strand, the smell, like the rebellion, dissipated.

I went home.

Okay… so my little tale is not quite well-respected-character-actor-hitting-woman-with-programme good. But we’ll work on that. Perhaps I’ll start leaving my phone on during shows. See what kind of reaction I can provoke. Leave it with me kid. You want drama. I’ll get you drama.

Vive la revolution!