Walthamstow is full of surprises. There’s an evening disco for ageing indie kids, an Acoustic Massive that apparently accepts any old blogger and now there’s a haddock-slapping theatre company who want to entertain you in an old cinema. The show is “A Night at the Pictures”, the old cinema is the Wood Street Crown – now the Wood Street Indoor Market – and the theatre company is Slap Haddock, who I first met at the Plaza Park opening party.
But first we were meeting Tammy and Jake for a play in the aforementioned Plaza Park. We did that for a few minutes before the unspringlike drizzle drove us inside the market to kill a few minutes. It’s a bit strange in there at the moment. Developers have bought half of it and are turning it into flats, so there are few businesses left open on that side. I know property prices are booming in Walthamstow at the moment but this kind of development always strikes me as particularly short – sighted. The reason Walthamstow is popular is because of its individuality. ..Take away all the little independent shops and drive up the rents and you may find that no one wants to live in “trendy Wood St” anymore. Unless they’re a viking who needs some chain mail from the viking shop. That’ll never go, right?
So, we explored the market while we could and found a couple of fellow Acoustic Massivers in the process of moving a shop, and the “Toy Shack”, which Tammy warned me sold “grown up mens’ toys”. Ooh-err. Thankfully, it turned out to be collectables and figurines and they had a stack of vintage annuals in the shop, which were for inspiration rather than sale. As well as selling toys, they also designed them and were in the process of designing some 2000AD toys. Nathan would be most impressed.
With all this wandering and socialising (and I’d really like to come back without the kids to look around the vintage clothes shops) it was almost time for the show to begin. We gathered at the front, where some ushers in vintage uniforms chatted to us and tried to blag snacks off the kids. It was a lot like the ushers I knew when I worked in the cinema. There was the cheeky one, the clueless one and the ones who were most concerned about the house rules (clean hands, no chewing gum on the seats, no entry to children who were part skeleton).
And this being a theatre production , they naturally broke into song at the first opportunity (again, that was a lot like my own cinema experience):
And with that, we were led inside to what used to be the Crown cinema and was reopening for one last film. We crammed into a tiny room to watch a “documentary” about the site and the Wood Street film studios (actually the actors through a window) and then the projector broke and so the “staff” had to improvise some entertainment. Again, this wasn’t far off reality….I had some ‘nam-types flashbacks to the third night that “Lord of the Rings” was out.
Of course, it was all part of the plan and we were led out of the room around the market to meet various stars of the silent era – a film noir detective on the trail of a missing dancer, a mad scientist, a starlet and a cowboy who specialised in death scenes. A lot of the film references were lost on the small kids (“I made men into apes and sent them to a planet”) but the adults appreciated them. There was a lot of banter with the audience and improvisation – one of the ushers performed potted versions of “Titanic” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” at the request of the crowd. One Daddy even got to play a cowboy himself, and I think he enjoyed it almost too much.
It was a great use of the space – the gap between units became a dark alley to follow the detective down, an office turned into a laboratory while we were looking the other way - and the constant moving kept anyone from getting restless, even Reuben. There was always something new to engage with and the performance was very intimate at times…I’m thinking of the ending song, where I was pretty much standing under the accordionist’s armpit. It was charming, silly and funny and managed to convey some actual information as well as a lot of made-up stuff (I assume) in a fast-paced and interesting way. Reuben, Jake and Eva enjoyed it, chuckling at the cowboy’s antics and chasing the detective from place to place, although Roo was a bit freaked out by the mad scientist bit and suddenly burst into tears saying “I don’t want to change!”. I assure him that, seeing as he hadn’t drunk the potion, he should be OK.
We wandered back out into the daylight, clutching our free popcorn and went in search of lunch. We considered Cafe Bonito, which looked very cool (records on the wall, Spanish menu) but the kids were after chips and they didn’t do them. So, Moonlight Cafe it was then:
For the princely sum of £7.80, me and the kids got sausages and chips and drinks which was a bit of a bargain. They even had a little garden, on the way to the toilets. Reuben was only there for a minute or so but managed to befriend an ant, which he carried inside and put on his chips to “see if he wanted to eat them”. We had a short and sharp discussion on the role of insects and food areas before Anty was returned to the wild:
Then just one more play in Plaza Park. Mummy hit the wall, but Eva just conquered the wall:
“A Night at the Pictures” is only on for one more day (3 performances) so get down to Wood Street and see it! It’s funny, it’s free and you might even learn something. Did I mention that the troupe put on a free show at a local retirement home? What lovely folk and you should definitely support them. More details here.