Saturday, 24 October 2009

In A Glass Box

Last night Polly, the light of my life, had been invited to perform a couple of pieces at a local arts centre as part of an evening of monologues called A Moment To Mutter. Being a thoroughly supportive husband, and appreciative of the high quality of cake served at this establishment, I agreed to accompany my beloved to the show. And since we hadn't organised a babysitter we gave the boys a late pass and took them with us. We even remembered, at the last minute, to cancel the carers.

The Lantern Arts Centre is located within part of the building that is the monolithic Raynes Park Methodist Church in south London. Over the years it has evolved from an enthusiastically amateur underfunded enterprise into a slickly professional underfunded enterprise. On Friday nights they put on, or invite artists to perform, shows in their Café Studio, a smallish theatre on the 3rd floor. After much fund-raising and lobbying for grants, a few years ago they installed a lift (elevator) which finally made the centre fully accessible to all. The management at the Lantern Arts Centre are committed to inclusivity as is testified to by the huge range of shows and services they put on and provide in and around the local community.

I have ridden the lift to the Café Studio many times in the past, both as a performer and as a member of the audience, I don't have a particular fear of lifts, and this one is essentially a glass box with minimal claustrophobic potential, but even so, my heart rate goes up a little as the surprisingly fragile seeming glass door closes behind me and an electric motor starts to whine. We had sent the boys haring up the flights of stairs that created the stairwell through which the lift rose and Polly and I had entered the lift and closed the glass door behind us. Polly pushed down on the large UP button and held it down and the electric motor engaged. The tone of the electric motor was not that of a contented piece of machinery going about it's business of perpendicularly raising passengers forty or more feet into the air in a safe, reliable manner, but was rather that of a straining put-upon cantankerous piece of groaning mechanical misery. Some eighteen inches into our alarmingly juddery assent Polly removed her hand from the aforementioned UP button and we came to a halt.

People peered over banisters at the new exhibits and I wondered if they were expecting some kind of show. Then it came to me, I could be a mime trapped in a glass box! Polly pushed hopefully at the UP and DOWN buttons but to no avail. Matty and Sam looked down from on high and asked if we were stuck. We assured them it was only for a minute and their angelic little faces turned from mild anxiety to one of sensing an opportunity of freedom, so they headed for the cakes to bat their eyelashes at whoever had the misfortune to be in charge.

Meanwhile the inestimable Georgie Talbot and her husband John, joint artistic directors of the arts centre, leapt into action. John opened a panel high above us and he and colleagues turned some ratchety thing that very slowly lowered us back down to the ground floor.

Various people fiddled with the lift mechanism, trying to reset the wretched thing, but to no avail. Much to Georgie's consternation nothing worked and defeat was admitted. Her fury was heightened by the fact that the centre spends a fortune maintaining the thing and that it had been inspected only days previously. The show, however, had to go on. Fortunately, at that moment, my friend Bob arrived, and within seconds had come up with an action plan. He and I would retire to a local tavern for the duration.

By now the audience was arriving so Bob and I hung around to chat with those we knew, many of whom nodded sagely at the lift and regaled me with stories of the times it had broken down with them in it. Bob, who hates lifts and only ever goes in one with me when we go to the cinema because I can't reach buttons (and even then sort of clings spread to the wall with apparent nonchalance in case the floor drops away) swore he'd never set foot in the thing.

It was also a chance to catch up briefly with Susie, who among her many responsibilities at LAC was tonight manning the box office. Susie, a talented writer, who co-ordinates the centre's children's and youth Theatre Clubs, endures the agonizing condition Lupus, and we have worked together occasionally over the last decade or so, with Susie in particular refusing to compromise because of disability. She had written and was performing two monologues and so, eventually, left Bob and me in charge of the box office while she went to prepare. I later learned that Matty thought her 'growing up' monologue was wonderful.

Once Bob and I had escaped box office duty we made off around the corner for a drink and chat. It occurred to me Polly might want to escape during the interval and get the boys home and to bed so we didn't stay long. As it turned out her second piece was still to come so Bob nipped upstairs to video her performance for me.

Not exactly the evening I was anticipating, but not bad.

Until next time...