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Dreadful Nonsense

"I've read your blog. it's really funny. you should write a column." - Jon Ronson

Your map just touched my face

I spent the full week getting up for work feeling like I hadn’t been to bed, working through the day with a brain that felt like a person that hadn’t showered for two weeks, work up around 6pm on the Northern Line grasping my fourth coffee of the day and feeling normal for the first time, arriving at the theatre to see how many tickets had already sold that night, watched He Who Only… and his boyfriend stride up and down the stage, setting up props and laying out their prison bunks, bucket and stool, baseball glove and ball, half empty crisp packet, straw hat, sunglasses and suitcase, along with the essential lion bar prop that was abandoned after the first night. Then we’d open the doors, I’d count the audience trouping up the stairs, check the final head count with the guy manning the door, close the doors, alert the boys that their showing off was about to begin, alert Mark that the boys were about to start showing off, and then slip in to sit at the back and watch the show. A joy. I love the theatre life.

Having run lines with He Who Only… the preceding week, I pretty much knew the show off by heart before the run began, apart from a few final cuts and additions that were made at the last minute. The best thing about watching a run of shows is that you get to see each night what works and what doesn’t, which parts run smoothly, if the line that worked last night will work just as well the following night, what could be done differently, if another delivery of a line would change the tone and therefore heighten the laugh? Is it too soon to mention Chris Langham? Should the sign be held straight up, or slowly twirled around?

This is an area of comedy I was never privy to when I was merely reviewing shows. I would sit in the safety of the dark room and the surrounding audience and pick holes in what I thought didn’t work and shine light on what I thought did. On the basis of one viewing, I would make my decision and deliver my verdict in the form of one to five stars and then walk away, not thinking about the months of agonies that had been put into the development of the show I had just given three stars to and called mediocre.

The joy of being at this end of the show is that I get to see the placing of the pieces that build up to the complete show. I get to see, each night, which parts work and which parts don’t. I get to join in the agonising and post-mortem after each performance trying to work out why, why in the hell didn’t that big get a bigger response? And why did that bit get such a huge laugh today, when it didn’t raise a titter yesterday? What isn’t working about that moment? Why is that bit guaranteed to go down well, when it’s not even supposed to be a joke but just a way of getting from A to B.

I could happily spend the rest of my life trying to work out why some things are funny and why some things aren’t, and why one audience will fall head over heels for one scene that the audience either side of that night won’t join in at all, but I would never be any the wiser. As He Who Only… so astutely advised me at the end of the second night, it’s best not to try and work it out, because to do so takes away the sparkle. It is what it is. And what it was, for me, was a great, if utterly exhausting, week. And all I was doing was counting heads.


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