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Thursday 25th May 2006

Why pay to go to the theatre when you can watch drama free every single day for nothing? That is my question to you.
I was working in the cafe at the British Library with things at last starting to tick over on my Channel 4 script (I am such an idiot: as usual I have wasted so much time failing to get this done) when two women sat at the next table to mine. They both sat on the same side of the table, so they were facing me as I was sitting at the opposite side of mine. They then proceeded to have a very loud conversation only feet away from me, which I was able to sit back and watch and enjoy. To be honest if I had paid to see this play at a theatre I would have been disappointed as their converstaion was quite dull (even now, less than 24 hours later I can remember very little about it), but I hadn't paid which meant that I was more than satisfied with the dull dialogue and slightly over the top performance. The characters were good and very realistic. They were both academics, one a quite sophisticated Jewish woman of about 50 (she was married to Michael, I do remember that detail) and the other a much more dowdy and nervy (though not nervous) woman with thick glasses, who I imagine lives with several cats. I sensed from the way she wittered and chatted away that she was someone who spent a lot of time working outside of human company. I recognise this from my own experience of being locked away writing, though I think this woman was probably like this most of the time. She was charming and sweet with it, but very much one of the jittery borderline autistic academic type that you will be familiar with if you have spent any time in a University or the British Library. I am not judging her for that. In fact if I was I would say that I liked her. She was funny and herself and happy in her unusual skin, just like those Dr Who fans from all that time ago. If Catherine Tate had been performing this extraordinary woman she would probably get a BAFTA, but this woman who has to live in the skin of this character gets nothing. She had even lost out on some academic post due to some political issue (I remember that much).
What was interesting for me was the way I was able to just sit back and observe and blatantly watch and listen, almost as if I wasn't there or that a fourth invisible theatrical wall divided us. As a writer I enjoy listening in to and observing other people and even though this free play was a bit rubbish, it was still better than some of the stuff I have paid to see in the theatre.
Later I myself took part in a free piece of theatre. I was doing a gig at the offline club in Brixton. It's an evening of poetry, bands and comedy in the back room of a pub, where entry is free and where acts get paid with two beers. It's a bit anarchic and ramshackle, but a really great night out. I saw a poet with a furious scattergun delivery and a musical act in which a woman played a hurdy-gurdy (which isn't something you see every day). You should support this place if you are local enough to get down there. There's a great atmosphere and it's free and better than watching two eccentric academics discussing their careers. I thought I would struggle a bit in my set, as I was going on late and was the only comedian and the audience was drunk and I was on my fourth pint of Guinness, but although there were some dodgy moments and I couldn't really see anyone, it was raw and exciting. One man bought me a whisky to down in one and another after hearing my story about the Hand Job centre, slithered his way up on to the high stage (I compated him to Tooms from the first series of the X Files which had a surprising level of recognition from the crowd) to tell a story of his "friend" who had fallen asleep on a bus and then woken up to find himself being masturbated by a stranger. We then had a dialogue, passing the microphone from one to the other as we discussed whether his interruption was relevant or appropriate. It was a really lovely bit of fun, very good natured and experimental and after a few exchanges he slinked off again.
A terrific night of fun. Do go to the next one.

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