12 January 2013

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at The Old Vic Tunnels

The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at The Old Vic Tunnels had "major event" written all over it. That meant moving quickly to get tickets before they sold out, which of course they did.

Having plonked a theatre date in the diary I made a day of it and went to the Wallace Collection first then took a bus down to Waterloo. And that is where the evening's adventure began.

I had been to the Old Vic Tunnels a few times so I knew where they are. I also thought that I knew where the entrance is but the information provided with the ticket made it clear that this time a different entrance would be used, one in Leake Street.

Leake Street was easy enough to find and I entered from the north-west side via York Road. The first impression is not good. The road/path runs under all of the Waterloo platforms and so is long and dark. It was also mostly occupied with youths blatantly spraying on the walls.

A few tentative steps in to the street reassures you that the youths are for more interested in art than robbery and that this art is encouraged. That is why Leake Street is also known as Graffiti Tunnel.

Some of graffiti was just tags and while they were in exotic fonts they were just letters. However, a considerable chunks of it was pictures and some of those were amazing. Like this one.

Even with precise directions the theatre entrance was hard to find.

This is it.

I was pretty sure that I was in the right place but I was still mightily relieved when somebody came out and could confirm it.

That also confirmed that I was the first person in the queue which was unintentional, unexpected and an opportunity that I was not going to let slip.

Other bemused theatre goers arrived and were equally pleased to have somebody to reassure them that they were in the right place and so there was quite a gaggle of us all trying hard to feel comfortable and not to look too much out of place.

The doors opened on schedule and the queue for the main door moved directly to the queue for the theatre. There was a bar and we were frequently encouraged to use it but the only people who did so were in teams where one could get provisions while the others protected their place in the queue.

Having maintained my position at the front of the queue I determined to translate that to a seat in the front row.

Finding the front row was the final challenge.

There were rows of folding seats and in front of those a were a few loose crates. I took a bit of convincing that these were also for sitting on but once convinced I claimed a low on at the very front.

This is the view that I had. All that queueing was worth it.

I was not quite sure what to expect. It was billed as a "performance" but that is such a vague term. Other performances of the written word that I have seen include a straight reading and one where the narrator moved from chair to bookcase occasionally, presumably to keep his circulation going.

This was a true performance. Fiona Shaw acted out the story with some help from a dancer who did little actual dancing but did move very gracefully.

For all but an hour I sat on my wooden box bewitched by what I was hearing and watching. The drama and tension filled the confined space of the tunnels left with nowhere to run except inside the audience. It was a beautiful experience.

At the end the tension suddenly lifted and we fought it back with long rapturous applause. Fiona responded by crying from the emotional effort. We could go home and let the experience swim through us, she had to do it again an hour later.

I was hoping for a special event and I got a special performance in a special venue and that made it an extra special event.

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