(sort of continued from my last post)

Did you know that it’s now hip and trendy to play ping pong in bars? I hear they do it on Entourage.  I’m not hip or trendy, but I’m not a liar either, and you know what? Playing ping pong in bars is pretty fun (I did it once for my friend Michelle’s birthday).

In London, I didn’t play ping pong in a bar. Instead, I went to pubs for poetry readings and plays.  Does that make me cultured or just old?


On my fourth day in London, I finally had the chance to hear Conor McPherson speak (ok fine, I admit I timed my visit to be able to attend this particular event).  The National Theatre has a great series of Platforms where you get the chance to hear interviews, talks, and quizzes (!) about theatre, with theatre people (like Enda Walsh! Dominic Cooke! Ciarán Hinds! Simon Callow! Ralph Fiennes!… I really wish I lived in London sometimes).

The auditorium was packed for the interview with Conor McPherson, and hearing him speak about his interest in history, the paranormal, and Ireland was absolutely fascinating and the 45 minutes went by in a flash.  When he was asked whether he himself believed in ghosts, he replied “I only have 5 senses,”  but in a really eloquent way.

Then they announced he would be singing books and things.  And when it was my turn to get my copy of The Veil signed, I turned into a blubbering idiot.  I wasn’t my cool, hip, and trendy self.  I was starstruck (which happens a lot, but I’m usually pretty good at hiding it… not this time!)  and managed to say crap like: “You’re my favourite playwright” and “your career is so inspiring.” Stab me in the eye.  He was lovely and didn’t tell me I was an idiot and to get out of his face.  That was nice of him.

After that, I popped over to Clerkenwell, to the Betsey Trotwood pub, to see and hear a handful of extremely talented poets read.  Feel free to play the following song as you read the rest:

I arrived downstairs- a grotto-like room under the pub- at the end of the first half, just in time for a cider break and a little catch up with a few friends I hadn’t seen in ages.  I feel so lucky to have heard Anna Selby read some of her poems (you can see her reading some of her poems here) and to have caught up with Liz Adams (and finally got my copy of Green Dobermans!)  They are poets who make me understand poetry.

Sandwiched by two beautiful poets


Wednesday was the day that I discovered pub theatre.  A bit more fringy than the National Theatre (in that I’d never even heard of it before- but that’s because I’m an ignorant tourist), the Hen & Chickens Pub Theatre is a 54-seat black box above a Victorian pub on Highbury corner, where the Mighty Boosh started.

Hen and Chickens. I didn't take this picture. I should take more pictures.

What I saw was a moving, funny, surprising production of Sense, a play by German playwright Anja Hilling, directed by Melanie Spencer, and featuring a strong, well-cast group of young actors (including Joseph Wilde, a fantastic actor/writer you should probably hire for your next project).

Structured as a series of interlinked stories, each scene of Sense explores one of our 5 senses through dialogues between teenagers about love, friendship, youth and fear.  And because these are teenagers in Berlin, they are somehow cooler and more interesting than any of us, even at their most awkward, angry, disappointed, or nerdy.

Charlotte Spencer and Sophie Streer in Sense. Photo by Steven Kelly

I don’t know why I was surprised at the exceptional talent on stage and professionalism of the production, but I was a bit.  Not really fair of me.  But as soon as it started, I knew my preconceptions were totally off.  Well-observed, dark, and funny writing pulled off in a sharply directed, beautifully designed, cohesive production.  And then downstairs for a pint!

The cast of Sense. Photo by Steven Kelly

For more about Islington and pub theatres, have a listen to this Guardian London walks podcast about Islington’s pub theatres.