Wednesday 17 April 2013

A4 : S6 - 'Faces' by Florentine

To be honest, I think Florentine and Ariella are the only people I actually miss when I'm at University. Everyone else I can just catch up with here and there, but with them it just never seems to be enough.

Because there's something that the three of us share, something which I have not seen in anyone at University, or really in anyone aside from them .

And this is discontentment.

The frustration, annoyance, irritation and just plain exasperation of being trapped in a mundane and average life, gliding through day by day, without direction or purpose. The absolute earth-shattering need to adventure, escape and break free from the grey, only dulled by the repeated slog of the daily routine.
I don't get to see them often, but to be honest, I think that's the way it should be.

Because it's in those moments when you feel so swamped by the oppressive grey of other humans, getting lost in a myriad of deadlines and dramas, or the lack of anything at all,  losing sight of any idea of what you are actually doing on a daily basis... when through the choking mist of swirling grey comes this faint but burning, bobbing silver light to chase away the tedium, chase away the normality, chase away the grey.

And nobody else seems to get it. I guess that's what makes us so close.

Another thing which no-one really understands is our sense of humour. Florentine and I spend hours talking about the most ridiculous scenarios, and jokes, sending each other pictures that would only ever be relevant to us.

One such of these jokes was when a misspelling of a word, of which we have both now forgotten, randomly autocorrected to 'ONIONS'. It was so completely abrupt and out of context of our serious conversation, that we both found it utterly hilarious.

What then ensued was four hours of us constructing this imaginary scenario script between a middle-aged paranoid agoraphobe called Cathy who refused to leave the house, and her best friend Mike who takes her to Debenhams where she has an episode in the middle of the Menswear department screaming her safety word 'Onions, Mike! ONIONS"


"So I've... I've entered a competition." Florentine said to me, a few weeks ago.


"Yes. A Playwriting competition. I'm sick of the old ladies at work asking me what else I'm doing with my life."

I knew Florentine was an incredible writer. She'd always been very keenly involved with the theatre, and had shown me some of her 'Future Me' letters she'd written to herself from the past. I'd lost count of the amount of times I'd begged her to start a blog.

"And... I've kind of got down to the final. My play is being put on in London in April. I have a casting director, a director and professional actors. Exciting huh?"

I genuinely could not contain my surprise, excitement and most of all, pride. But at the same time, I kind of felt crestfallen. I hadn't even know she'd entered. I swore on my life I was going to go, and last week, that was exactly what I did.


I jumped on the tube at Victoria, excitement bubbling in my stomach. I genuinely don't think I've ever felt prouder of someone in my life. I knew the vague basis as to what her play, called 'Faces', was about, but she hadn't given much away, including an elusive surprise she'd hinted about.

 The rickety train rattled on through a few stops, with the carriage getting increasingly busier. Then a boy in a burgundy beanie, a light blue anorak and a beard jumped on, and was forced to stand in the only cubic centimetre of standing space left on the train; directly in front of me.

Within less than a second it was awkward as hell. We were facing one another and so cramped together, both standing in the fearful knowledge that one unexpected jolt of the train would have sent us tumbling into one another.

Then without being to stop myself, I just began to giggle.

I tried looking at the floor, biting my lip and even squeezing my fists together, but I just could not stop snickering.

Because it's just funny, isn't it. 

We were two strangers, thrust right up in each other's personal space, desperately trying to look anywhere we can to try avoid acknowledging each other, whilst both clearly and painfully aware of the others' existence.

Perhaps we were both trying to pretend that if we didn't acknowledge the other, then we didn't have to acknowledge the awkwardness of it either. Our bodies could not have genuinely been closer without touching, and we were still acting as if we were not even aware that the other was stood there.

Maybe it's just what us British people are like, or maybe it's just a human trait, like when you go into a public toilet, and you see someone in there, perhaps by the sink or looking in the mirror. You might give them a polite smile or mutter a little greeting, but soon as you step into the cubicle and shut that door, you're on your own, buddy. You can hear people on either side of you, but you daren't acknowledge their existence for breaking these unspoken social boundaries. Can you just imagine being in the middle cubicle with strangers on either side of you, and amid the painfully awkward trying-to-pee-as-quietly-as-possible silence, just piping up "So...anyone done anything interesting today?"

Social etiquette is such a funny thing.

So, in my peripheral vision I could see this boy looking at me, but I upheld my part of the unspoken bargain and refused to look back. Then, in a veritable dance of dares, I slowly went to look up at him, only to just catch his eyes quickly flicking away from looking at me. 

So, apparently the rules were now that we were allowed to acknowledge one another, but we weren't allowed to be caught acknowledging the other. It just made me laugh more. 

Finally, as the train pulled up to my stop, I finally broke the rules, looked him right in the eye and grinned as I stepped off the train. He smiled at me sheepishly.

I strutted off through the Underground with a happy little face; boy oh boy, I do love strangers.

My smile only vanished when I went to get on my next tube connection, and in the same carriage, sure as hell, he got on too. That's not how you play!

So, with a whole new level of super-stranger awkwardness we continued a few stops before I hastily jumped off, heading for my final connection on the DLR.

And low and behold, who do I find already in the carriage when I alight the train? I decided to break the barrier.

"Look, I promise I'm not following you... Just putting it out there."

He smiled at me with a whimsical expression.

"I.. I didn't think you were."


I leant against the side by the doors, retrieving my phone to tell Florentine I was on my way, and for Marcus to get my ticket for me.

"Where are you headed?" He said. I surveyed him momentarily.

"Greenwich. I'm off to the theatre."

"Ah sweet. I'm going to my friend's gig in Dalston."

"Oh cool. Do you play?"

"Yeah, a whole host of instruments. I'm in a band. Do  you?"

"I play ukulele and sing."

"Ah, sweet."

I felt a twinge in my soul. Lady Silver was awakening and I knew that if I left it there, then that would be it. We'd part lives forever, this brief encounter soon forgotten. I knew that if I took a chance, then something ridiculous was going to happen. I could feel it in my bones. I couldn't shake the feeling that this was meant to happen.

"Tell me," I said to the boy, "Are you silver or are you grey?"

He blinked at me. "...Sorry?"

"Are you silver, or grey."

"...I think I might be silver?"

"I think you might be too."

There was a pause.

"...Well what are you?"

I raised an eyebrow and gave a wry smile. "Honey, do you even need to ask?"

He laughed. "I guess not." He muttered. 

"Listen," I said, feeling adventurous, "What are you doing after your gig?" I said. The rolling LED sign told us that the next stop was his.

"Uh, nothing."

"Wanna do something crazy?"

"Uh, yeah... screw it. Yes. I do. This is what London is all about" he laughed.

"Come here." I said, as the train began to slow. I grabbed a pen out of my bag and hastily scrawled my number on his hand.

"Call me." I said as the doors opened, and I gave him a gentle shove toward the door. He smiled in absolute bewilderment and with a courteous nod, disappeared onto the platform. The doors closed behind him, the train departed, and I looked around to see everyone in the carriage staring at me with small smiles on their faces. I grinned to myself and sat down. Boy oh boy, do I love strangers.


Marcus met me in the Theatre lobby with an affectionate "What's up, slut", handed me my ticket and together we went through to the main auditorium. It was a lot bigger than I'd expected and the crowd were absolutely buzzing. There was a thrill of excitement in the air.  I spoke to Florentine briefly, then we took our seats.

If the play had been written by anyone else, I would have absolutely adored it. Because it was written by her, I was full on head over heels in love. Regardless of bias, it was genuinely one of the most beautiful, thought-provoking, insightful and hilarious pieces of theatre I have ever had the pleasure of watching. 

And what the play was about? Strangers. Her play was called 'Faces', examining the strange idiosyncrasy of humanity, in which we put on our blankest most unreadable faces in public, despite the incredible, strange and unique stories, dramas and tales we all have behind us. Every single person you walk past in the street has been through things you could never possibly imagine, and after that fleeting second in which they interact with your life when they may accidentally knock you with their bag, or your eyes may meet, they are gone forever, and you will never see them again, and never know their story.

I thought back to the train and it just made the whole thing seem ten times funnier. Florentine was either psychic, we were twins or she was just a bloody marvellous writer. I concluded it was all three.

And the elusive surprise?

About half way through, before I could stop myself I let out an audible gasp before slapping my hands around my mouth and shrinking down low in my chair. Because in the middle of Florentine's play walked onto two deeply troubled and complex characters called Mike and Cathy, one an unbearable agoraphobe, and one desperately trying to help her. And they had the most bizarre safety word, which set the whole audience hooting.


After congratulating and cooing, soaking up the cultural atmosphere and telling Marcus about the most curious incident which happened on the train, and having heard nothing since, I hear a voice.

"There you are."

And I turn, to find standing in the lobby of the theatre, miles away from where he was supposed to be, with a big black cross on his hand, the boy from the Underground.

To be continued...