Praise the theatre gods, I got a new phone!
No more will you have to suffer through my dimly lit snapshots.
I’m sad to see my HTC go, but it was time. He was suffering. He couldn’t stay awake while not supping on a charger, and his camera whirred and clicked every-time he tried to use it. It was a cruelty to keep toting him around with me to the theatre every night. RID, my friend. Rest in a drawer.
And, not to sound cruel, but once I’d made the decision to let him go, I didn’t hang around for long before getting a new one. I was off to Argos before work and treated myself to a Pixel. Gen 2. I’m not made of money. But still, they’re known for the quality of their pics taken in low-lighting, which is just what I need for this marathon. Theatres tend to be dark places.
And, oh baby. What a difference it makes. I spent the entirety of my walk to Wilton’s Music Hall taking pictures of, well everything - street signs, architectural details, graffiti…
What? Okay, okay, okay. I hear you. No, seriously, I do. “What are you blathering on about, Maxine?” you say. “is this a sponsored post? Are they paying you, Max? Have you sold out? Stop with the corporate shilling and start writing about Wilton's Music Hall. I love Wilton's Music Hall!"
Yeah, well. I already knew that.
And you know how I know?
Because everyone loves Wilton's Music Hall. It's the default emotional setting when you think about that place. Not loving Wilton's Music Hall is like not liking puppies. Or chocolate. "Do you like Wilton's Music Hall?" is probably one of the six questions on the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale (the other five are just: Are you sure you don't like it? No, but really? Have you even been there? Final answer? Okay, but what are your thoughts on puppies?
You know what people said when I told them I was heading off to Wilton's for the evening? "I loooovve Wilton's."
Every. Single. Time.
And every single time it was said exactly like that. With the elongated looooovvvve.
After a while, I began to feel like I was stuck in an episode of Russian Doll, but with less dying and smaller hair.
So what I’m saying is - don't be thinking you're original.
We all love Wilton's Music Hall. It’s the pumpkin spice latte of theatres. Mostly because it turns us into a gaggle of overexcited Valley Girls when we talk about it.
And don’t worry. I’m not exempt from the love fest. I’m right there with you. Metaphorical iPhone in hand (I told you about the Pixel, right?), and not quite so metaphorical Ugg boots on my feet.
When I finally traipsed all the way over the Whitechapel I spent countless minutes taking photos of the exterior, with its heavy red-painted shutters, huge double doors and flipping massive carriage lamp.
Everything about Wilton’s seems oversized. Even the alley it lives in is as wide as a boulevard. Standing outside it you feel like you’ve been transported to a model village, where the scaling is just ever-so slightly off. The details made too big to accommodate their maker’s clumsy human hands.
Feeling like the Major of Toy Town, I pushed the door open.
Inside, low ceilings combined with bare stone walls and a creaking staircase to give the air of a provincial castle. Iron bars block off wall apertures that could surely have imprisoned a witch in another age. Shadows dart around corners, giving the constant nagging thought that there’s a sword-fight happening just out of sight.
Perhaps they were, as I was there to see Pirates of Penzance, there might well have been some last minute rehearsals going on backstage.
Although it’s hard to imagine anyone smashing a sword on a person's head in this place. Everyone is so damn happy.
Whether I was blocking their access to cupboards, or sneaking into the balcony so that I could take some photos from up there, everyone went out of their way to be kind and gentle and apologetic.
Apologising to m. As if I wasn't the irritating twerp with a new phone, getting in their way.
I was beginning to think the powers that be at Wilton's, Mister Wilton if you will, must be putting something in the water.
I was there on a press ticket, and with it I’d been given a drinks voucher.
Did I dare use it? Would I come out of there humming Gilbert and Sullivan and wishing my gallant crew a good morning?
I really should, I thought, trying to convince myself. It’s all part of the experience, ain’t it? If I can review interval pie, then I should damn well review pre-show wine.
But I like pie. And I don’t like wine.
I stared at the voucher a good long time before deciding I wasn’t going to risk it. I was heading straight to my seat.
“Row G,” said the lady on the door as she checked my ticket. “You’re just there on the left.”
She beamed, her smile as wide as a Pret barista. “Just past that twirly pillar over there.” I looked over and found the pillar. It was twirly. I must not have looked confident about the existence of the twirly pillar, because she carried on. “Do you see that girl with the white shirt? You’ll be near her.”
“Got it,” I said hurriedly, before she started offering to take my hand and personally escort me to my seat.
By the time the interval rolled around, I understood.
It was the show.
Happy shows make for happy audiences. And happy audiences lead to happy ushers.
It’s just maths.
And Pirates of Penzance is a very happy show.
The type of happiness that can only be felt when everyone involved is faking it.
Fake moustaches. Fake eyebrows. Fake ladies…
Ah yes. The fake ladies.
Is there any greater sight than an entire ensemble of dashing young men swishing onto the stage wearing crinolines? If there is, let me die in ignorance of the existence of such a spectacle, because it would surely kill me anyway.
Still not trusting the wine, I spent the interval roaming around and pointing my Pixel at everything in sight. But what I should have done was switch my microphone on. Everywhere I went, men were humming refrains in their wives’ faces. “Are you converted yet?” asked one with a laugh. It turned out she was, as she hummed the next line right back at him.
The humming continued right into the theatre. As I stood on the edge, trying to capture the sloped floor (if you ever want to know what it’s like to perform on a raked stage, may I suggest getting a seat at the back of the Wilton’s auditorium? You’ll soon learn the footwork required as you shuffle between the rows) different tunes clashed in a battle of hummers as the Gilbert and Sullivan acolytes filed back to their seats.
The emergence of the cast for act two did nothing to detract them, and the quieter moments were often punctuated by the echo of the fading notes as the hummers joined in.
And strangely, I found myself rather enjoying their contributions. With the pros on stage doing their stuff without the aid of mics, and the single pianist providing the accompaniment, it had the casual air of a boozy pub sing along. A very sophisticated sing along, for sure, but it felt... real.
What an alarming thought.
Thankfully it didn't last long. Built to Victorian fire safety standards, it takes a while to get out of Wilton's. And as I waited to exit I had the opportunity to examine the beautifully desicated walls from close range.
The distressed paintwork was not peeling, but Pollocked.
It was all a charade. An illusion. A theatrical set.
It was... fake!
And that’s something really worth praising the theatre gods for.