Monday, 15 February 2010

Play: Heldenplatz by Thomas Bernard in London

As we knew we were going to see Heldenplatz, Wyona studied the night before, how to get to the Arcola Theatre. Greg helped her. As well, I was out on the internet typing in the “to” and “from” destinations into a London planner. We were venturing into unknown territory: Northern London. 

The route was marked on our map, the tube stops and bus stations noted, and the planner estimated we would be there in 45 minutes. We left early – giving ourselves a full hour.

The bus didn’t arrive in the allotted 8 minutes at the Dalton Station. Nor fifteen minutes, nor twenty, nor thirty minutes.

“Buses run slower on the weekends,” a bystander told us. 

When we got off the bus 40 minutes later, we were in a dark neighbourhood, at a bus stop, questioning other transit riders who were waiting for their rides, “Where is the Arcola Theatre”. Another young student was questioning other patrons on the side of the street as to where the Arcola Theatre was. In retrospect it was not a good idea to follow her. Why would we follow a woman with an American accent, when the fellows who live in the area had no idea where the theatre was? 

We switched groups of strollers to follow, this time picking up with a woman plotting her course with a GPS. She was going to the Arcola as well and took us down a dark, narrow wet alley,-- only wide enough for one car -- and there it was – a backdoor theatre. 

The woman with the GPS slipped into the entry with her tickets. Wyona stood in the line-up for our tickets were vouchers and her name was to be on a list at the door.

The thirtyish fellow who helped us climb over 2 foot high ramp that led to the back door theatre stood beside us in the line-up. I could hear Wyona dialoguing with the ticket taker. “We must be on the list. Look again. If not under Bates, then under Chai Chin.” 

She was not having any luck getting into the theatre.

I could see around the corner into a space that looked like the Big Secret Theatre in Calgary. A cavernous room, a super high ceiling, darkness in every corner, a few area lights streaming down and under them people standing with cigarettes and drinks. One woman in a flaming red satin dress, standing on one hip.

“Would you like a partner for the night,” the young man beside me said.

I have no idea what I mumbled back – whatever the words were, it was not a script I have practised before. Wyona grabbed my arm, swung me around and pulled my sleeve behind her as she walked down the ramp, her saying to me, “We are looking for Arcola Theatre I. That was Arcola Theatre II.

“Wyona, I want to tell you something that just happened to me,” I said.

“I know. I heard. Why did he ask you instead of me? Probably because I was busy trying to sort out tickets at the box office,” she went on.

We whipped around the corner to Arcola I. There the ticket agent told us we were too late: we had to be at the box office by 7:30 to get the tickets we had vouchers for. 

By this time I was laughing so hard I had to sit down among the people finishing their pre-show drinks, since the Arcola I was running two plays that night.

“We will just pay and go to Hens in Knives that is showing in 15 minutes,” she said. “Looks like there is some nudity, but we can do it.”

“How can you tell,” I said, having never heard of that play before.

“Just look at the poster,” she laughed.

The poster? 

You have to be kidding me, I thought. I am just recovering from not being able to be picked up on the streets of London.

“Did you find the theatre,” a lip-pierced young woman on the bus asked Wyona as we were on our way back to the apartment. Wyona had queried that young woman where the Arcola Theatre was on our way to the performance ... on another bus Now we were sitting at the back of the bus in a seat next to her and her boy friend as we were going back home, not theatred out, for the second play had a full house as well.

Wyona had her bus map stretched full in front of her, her arms two feet apart, her nose buried in the map, trying to find the best way back to Oxford Circus. People in every seat around her were offering suggestions to her. 

How does she do it? I watched in Brussels. I watched in China. I watched her as we went through Germany and France. Now in the back of a London bus, people coming treating her as though she is a close acquaintance – more than that, like she is a second-best friend to them all.

But only the people on the back of the bus were that amicable for the driver stopped, turned out the lights of the bus chassis and said, “Last stop. Eveyone out.” 

General grumbling got louder as people stepped off of the bus. “They can’t do this. I am from Italy,” said one woman exiting at the back. 

At the front of the bus there was yelling by two or three men, one banging on the driver’s window and another so abusive that the driver stepped out of his cage and yelled back at them in their own language, gesticulating wildly with both of us arms.

“I have seen this before in London,” said Wyona. “Only the other time the driver stayed in his seat, called the police and in an instant the Bobbies were there hauling someone off in their paddy wagon.”

Well. What can I say. A Saturday night with live theatre on the streets of London. 

Yes, I am still having fun. And too full of adrenalin to sleep, Wyona and I watched a two hour television run on the British Royalty and practised throwing into our vocabulary, two words we heard on the special: ignominious and rapacious. Not easy words to toss off in every day conversation, unless one is in an argument.

Speaking of new words, the tour guide at the Wallace kept using a word that she pronounced inVENtor-ee, with the accent on the “ven”. 

Took me a long time to figure out she was talking about something I love: making lists.


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