Theatre in a shop front

Day 13. My lucky number. My dad always liked to derail superstitions. If I said something was unlucky he would say “Ahh but it’s lucky for Barclays”. He adequately trained me in a wide variety of contrarian ways of thinking which have informed the mess that I am today. But appropriate that the 13th brought me an audition, thus already matching my haul for the last six months in London. And also perhaps appropriate that it showed me some people in this city that I could work with. I went to the theatre.

There are so many places like this in London. It’s a theatre in an abandoned shop front with a load of neon stuck on the outside. There’s art strung to fairy light chains in the yard, and a Mexican street food taco stop just outside the fence doing two great tacos for 5 bucks. Which of course I scarfed down for dinner. Everyone smiles and says yes. The name of the theatre has me worried though. “Son of Semele”… Classics geek break:


Semele was a mortal woman who had lots of sex with Zeus when he was disguised as an eagle. There’s no accounting for taste. She got pregnant. She then messed up by asking to see Zeus as he really is. The force of his divinity incinerated her immediately, but Zeus quickly scooped the unborn baby from the ashes and sewed it into his leg. You would have done the same, right? A bit later he was born out of the leg and became Dionysus the twice born. AKA Bacchus. Half mortal but all God as Zeus is technically one of his mums as well as his dad. He is the God of wine, frenzy, wild careless anarchic parties, and theatre. Bacchus partied lots, rode around on a chariot pulled by leopards, and occasionally tore people limb from limb in vast orgies brimming with priapic fauns, before forgetting all about it the next morning. Standard stuff for a night in Haggerston. When I was at drama school I was called Bacchus. It was a derivation of my surname, Barclay, to Barkers, to Backers. I gave it the last push to Bacchus as at the time I liked the idea of being named for the god of wine and theatre. Now I look back on that boy and think he was a pretentious gobshite. So when I see a theatre named for Dionysus I worry that the play will be a load of academic bloat. Especially as they go one step further to “Son of Semele.”

Thankfully it really isn’t academic. It’s a devised piece in celebration of this city. In terms of my collaborators, it sometimes put me in mind of Fanshen and sometimes of The Factory. It opens with a load of boxes in the space, and actors and audience together fluidly improvising games with the boxes. For the first 15 minutes I was in the space I honestly neither knew nor cared which were the actors and which were the audience, because we were all genuinely playing together. We made forts out of boxes, built towers and kicked them down, created, adapted and abandoned games. I won a dollar blowing down a tower. It was genuinely playful, and allowed them to segue into the story from an effortless playful and fun place.

The show was a mixture of “viewpoints” and set pieces, with occasional frames for the actors to tell truthful things about themselves to the audience. I ended up knowing a lot more about LA. I’m perhaps a little more concerned about earthquakes and jaywalking than I have been up until now. “The big one’s coming.” “That’ll be $175 for the jaywalking ticket sir.” I  also have points of contact for my own sense of alienation in this town, and am much better informed about where to go if I want good meatballs. The actors spoke frankly about their arrival here, and recommended their favourite restaurants. People around me in the house were audibly agreeing with their choices. I went home feeling happy. It was fun open hearted geeky people making something because they wanted to, and making it well. And those are the people I spend my life with in London. Everybody in the auditorium left smiling, and full of yummy tacos. I felt I’d had a lucky Friday the 13th day.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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