This story is just a prelude to a bigger anecdote I am writing which will take about an hour to read and have a spectacular climax.
Someone asked me recently if I was a theatre buff. Nice to have an anecdote involving the word “buff” that doesn’t have the words “in the” preceding it. I do enjoy the theatre but it’s one of a great many things which I never seem to get round to doing enough of. My earliest theatre experience was a school trip to London about age 15, when I saw the musicals Grease and Miss Saigon (starring a young John Barrowman, the guy from the gay version of Doctor Who). Notable for the fact on the coach back, I thought my camera was making a funny rattling sound so I opened it up, accidentally exposing and ruining all my photos from the entire trip.
Naturally I’ve gone to the theatre a lot more since I moved to London. The person who asked me if I was a buff said she had gone about four times in the past month. I’d actually done that myself some years ago. But I went to see the same play four times in a month. That’s the thing about me, I hate the uncertainty of going to see new things so much, I often play it safe and prefer to go see something I’ve already seen and know I like. It’s the same with music and films, I only listen to stuff I already know and I only watch stuff I’ve already seen. That way I can’t be disappointed.
Oleanna, by David Mamet, was the play – starring Aaron Eckhart and Julia Stiles.
I’ve got this poster on my wall still to this day.
It’s a two-person play about a student (Stiles) and university professor (Eckhart); he gives her some extra tuition and help which she increasingly begins to see (quite unreasonably) as sexual harassment, the interaction between the two shifts from a situation where he has power over her as the teacher to the student, towards one where her accusations against him give her the power to ruin his career and his life.
So I went to see this with a friend. It was awesome, and at the time I don’t think I’d seen a really serious, powerful piece of proper theatre before, so it was something new to me. I told my girlfriend how good it was and she wanted to see it, after going on a rant about why I’d gone to see it with a female colleague and not her. That was the thing about this girlfriend, she loved to accuse me of being up to no good with any or all of my female friends – I think it made her feel a bit better about the fact she was cheating on me.
In-keeping with the play’s theme of sexual tension, me and her had a bit of tension of our own during the interval and an argument about who should go and get her ice cream. My clearly unreasonable stance was, I had paid 70 quid for the tickets, she can get her own fucking ice cream. She was the only one who wanted any. As a compromise she suggested she pay for the ice cream but I go and get it. There was a muted but nonetheless heated exchange between the two of us, involving my use of the terms “fat arse” and “lazy bitch” which resulted in her storming off to get her own ice cream, bludgeoning the rest of the people in the row with her ever-increasing posterior as she squeezed past them. The play restarted shortly after, and the second half seemed positively relaxed compared to the tension of the interval.
A week or so later, it was the birthday of a hot lesbian friend of mine – for whom Julia Stiles was a long-time icon (a Stile icon you might say). Whilst it had not been my intention to see this play yet again, she wanted to go see it and I offered to take her for her birthday, and she was determined to meet Julia afterwards. We went, we saw it, much fun was had – we had nice seats, and after the play we gathered by the stage door with other groupies and autograph-hunters for the actors to come out. We were right at the front. As Julia came out with her bodyguards, my friend had the perfect use for her Irish accent, and told her that she’d travelled all the way from Ireland to see her play. This went down well, and she asked for a photo. Stiles was up for it but as the two of them posed, one of the henchmen stepped in and said “no photos”. Arsehole.
I’d been just waiting at the side letting my friend have her moment with Julia, but then she started moving towards me flanked by her bodyguards. Suddenly I was in the way! Her bodyguard started pushing me back as I became surrounded by a sea of groupies, of which I appeared to be the ringleader. I couldn’t move to the side or back because of fans, and the henchman was basically using me like a riot shield, holding onto me and using me to push other people out of the way. I said “Mate, I’m not even fucking in this, I was just waiting for my friend – she came all the way from Ireland!”
Eventually I wrestled free and made my way back to my friend.
The play was closing a couple of weeks later, and tickets were cheap and there were some great seats at the front of the dress circle. I’m not sure why, maybe because this play seemed like a huge part of my life at that point in time, but I fancied seeing it one last time on the closing night. This time I went alone, and ended up sat next to this American woman and her husband. I heard her say to him “I’ve heard good reviews of this but you can never be sure.”
I butted in, “yeah it’s really good, trust me. This is my fourth time.”
She said “Fourth time, is that normal when you live in London?”
“Nah, I think it’s just me. First time, colleague, second time, cheating skank, third time, hot lesbian, and this time, it’s just for me.”
It was the best performance of all the ones I saw, the actors really gave it everything, even smashed up some bits of the set at the end. How rock ‘n’ roll! Afterwards I hung around outside with my bag of souvenirs waiting for the stars so I could get them signed. I had become one of the groupies; I had the poster, the programme, the script book – I even had a pair of binoculars from in front of my seat – I figured, I’ve spent hundreds of pounds on this play, I’m fucking having these.
The actors came out and I rushed to Stiles with my programme; she signed it as her bodyguard gave me a strange look of familiarity – he must have thought I was a proper hardcore stalker. I moved on to Eckhart who was signing various things for people, he signed my programme, then signed someone’s ticket and mistakenly went to hand it back to me instead – this massive bloke shunted me off to the side to grab his prized signed ticket and I almost ended up on the ground.
If there’s one thing I learned from these four trips to see Oleanna it’s that going to the theatre can be a particularly violent experience…