I’m back at the Young Vic tonight.
And no, we’re not talking about all that stuff going on. I’m not getting involved. I don’t know what’s going on and I refuse to have an opinion on the matter.
Not that I haven’t been thinking about it. A lot. And talking about it. A lot. It doesn’t help that one of the upcoming shows at my work features a dancer in… that show. I mean, how do you credit that in a biography without sounding like you are taking sides?
No. We’re not talking about it. Not here.
The controversy doesn’t seem to have damaged attendance figures though. The Cut is absolutely thronging with people having a last drink and a cigarette before going in. That Death of a Salesman is a juggernaut, and nothing can get in its way.
I’m not here to see that though.
“The surname’s Smiles,” I say to the lady behind the box office. “It’s for Ivan and the Dogs,” I add hurriedly as her hands reach for the larger of the two ticket boxes on the counter. I allow myself a smug smile. It isn’t often I manage to remember the name of a play in these situations.
She nods and digs out my ticket. “Maxine? You’re in the far corner,” she says, pointing off to the other side of the bar.
Ticket in hand, I launch myself into the crowded bar and head in the direction she was pointing. And find myself back in the exact same place I queued for Bronx Gothic on my last visit. The signage, stencilled onto the brickwork, is on the same patch of wall. And the arrow is pointing towards the same door.
I begin to panic.
Don’t tell me that I booked into the same venue twice. Please don’t tell me that.
I check my ticket.
Nope. It’s the Clare. Not the Maria.
Okay then. We’re alright.
There’s an usher on the door. Sorry, scrap that. There’s a member of the Welcome Team on the door. But no one else. It’s too early for the queue to start forming. And I’m not about to start it.
I turn around and go outside, finding a spare patch of wall to prop myself against and check my emails.
I seem to be leaning against some posters. I look over my shoulder to see what they are advertising.
Because of course it is.
“Are you watching the show tonight?”
I look up. It’s a Welcome Teamer.
“Death of a Salesman?”
Ah. I see. “No. No. No,” I assure here. “I’m here for the other one.” Which I’ve already forgotten the name of.
“That’s alright then,” says the Welcome Teamer, and she’s soon off rounding up any other wall-hangers. “Are you watching Death of a Salesman? Are you watching Death of a Salesman?”
I wait a few more minutes, until the start time of the main house show has safely passed, then I go back in.
The bar is empty.
Well, relatively. Can the bar at the Young Vic ever be said to be truly empty?
At the far end, there’s a queue under the Ivan and the Dogs sign.
Not a big one. But then, it’s not a big venue. I hurry over and join the end of it.
A Welcome Teamer makes his way down the line. “I’m going to tear the tickets now,” he explains. “Make it nice and easy when you go in. The show is an hour and five minutes, and no interval.”
I give him my ticket, and he rips off the stub. And a large chunk of the actual ticket. But no matter. I may be precious about getting paper tickets, but what happens to them afterwards doesn’t bother me. I probably don’t need to tell you that I am the sort of person who cracks the spines of her paperbacks and folds down pages to mark my space. Adds character, you know.
The line is growing, almost reaching the box office now.
We wriggle and flow, breaking apart and shivering back into place, as people squeeze past us.
“Beep, beep!” says a staff members pushing a flat trolley. “Sorry! Sorry!”
The queue goes into Red Sea mode, parting for him and then splashing back into place as soon as the Deliverer of Trollies has passed through.
I jump aside for people going to the loo. For a waitress returning plates to the kitchen. For Welcome Teamers. More piss-takers. And more bar staff.
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you,” says a waitress as she moves nimbly through the queue up towards the bar.
Honestly, the Young Vic really need to get this queue situation sorted. It’s impossible. I hope it’s next on the list after… well… you know.
I use the time to massage my hands. Work is really doing a number on me at the moment. I thought it would be the marathon that would kill me, but now I think my job might get in there first. Eleven pages of programme amends typed up before 10am this morning, and my hands are cramped the fuck up.
“Hi guys!” says the Welcome Teamer on ticket duty. “If we could make a little room for my colleague here,” he says, leading the way for the trolley pusher, now with his vehicle laden with two huge bins full to the brim with empty wine bottles.
We all shuffle out of their way, reforming the queue in their wake.
“Have I ripped you?” asks the Welcome Teamer as the trolley pusher disappears through the doors. We all nod. All ripped round here.
As one, the two Welcome Teamers open up the double doors with such ceremony I almost expect there to be a trumpet player on the other side ready to launch into a fanfare.
Instead the cry of “Has everyone been ripped?” reigns out as we walk through.
“Just remember to turn off your phone,” comes the voice of a Welcome Teamer as we make our way down the hall. “Straight down and to the right.”
I try to work out were we are in relation to the Maria, but it’s dark and this place is a labyrinth. I just focus on following everyone else and not getting lost.
Straight down. Turn right.
And there we are. The Clare. Bright and shining after so long in the dark.
A Welcome Teamer in a red polo shirt is handing out freesheets. “Wherever you like,” he says, indicating the multitude of options there are with seating.
The stage is a small square, set in the middle of the room at an angle. Around in, on four sides, are four matching banks of seats. Two rows. Seats set into wooden fortresses. The same colour as the walls, which look like someone has been having a lot of fun with panels of plywood and a nail gun.
I pick a seat in the second row, on the end, so that I’m forming a point of the diamond.
The seats begin to fill up.
“If you’re holding drinks,” announces the Welcome Teamer, “keep hold of them and don’t put them on the floor.”
“What did he say?” asks my neighbour.
“Don’t put your drinks on the floor,” her friend replies, with an audible roll of the eyes.
I say fair enough though. There isn’t much legroom and cups are liable to get kicked down there. And with all this pale wood… well, I wouldn’t envy the poor sod attempting to scrub red wine out of it.
My neighbour gets out her freesheet and starts inspecting it. “This doesn’t tell you what it’s about,” she says. “It’s just who’s in it.”
I open up my own to have a look for myself. She’s not wrong. There’s a cast list. And two biogs. One for the writer. One for the director. Nothing about the actor… which seems like a strange decision to make when there’s only one of them.
No dogs I notice. I do enjoy a dog on stage. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it’s one of the top things I enjoy seeing. I’ve even been known to book a show on the strength of its canine casting. I would say the same about cats, but I think I’ve only seen a cat once on stage. In an opera. She was called Girlie and she was very talented. Really captured the essence of ‘cat’ by sleeping and then running off stage.
“They’ve added in these seats,” my neighbour continues. “I wonder if they had complaints.”
Yes, I was wondering about that. Not the late addition of them, I’ve never been in this space before. But their arrangement. Actual chairs, sunk into wooden structures. Their legs hidden in the box below. “Before you just sat on it,” she explains.
That doesn’t sound all that comfy. This arrangement is much better. Even if it is a little bit odd-looking.
The actor, Alex Austin comes out and perches on the edge of the stage. He looks sad. I’m not surprised. Probably got a look at those freesheets.
The Welcome Teamer is hanging out the door, peering down the dark corridor, on the lookout for latecomers.
Someone does come in.
She takes one of the reserved seats, just across from me. She gets out a notebook and positions it on her lap.
Time for another round of Blogger or Director? Nah. I recognise her. No missing that fabulous hair. So shiny. Straight out of a Pantene ad. She used to work at my work. And now look at her! A fancy director.
The lights dim.
Austin gets up. He’s ready to tell us a story. A story of fists and fear and running away. A story of hunger and hiding. A story of dogs.
He pauses, grinning as he looks around the audience, after telling us about how the white dog ate his potato.
We all aww in response. A couple sitting across from me look at each other and smile.
We are all utterly charmed.
The lights flash back on. I’m left squinting against the brightness. Austin turns around, holding our stares, not allowing us to blink.
I curl round my shoulders and try to hold his gaze against the onslaught of the light, suddenly feeling very vulnerable.
Just as my poor eyes grow used to this blazing light, the theatre dims once more.
Austin finishes his story. A few snuffles make their way around the audience.
He’s moved on. Started a new life.
And at the end, it is the empty stage that gets the spotlight.
Our applause brings him back though. He bows in one direction, and then the other, before bouncing off the stage and out the door in a gigantic leap that he must have learnt from the dogs.