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My theatrical want of a bodkin

I am pleased to report that my enthusiasm for Best of Enemies at the Young Vic was shared by the real critics and there have been several 4- and 5-star reviews in the newspapers and stage websites this weekend after Thursday’s press night. Perhaps I’ll challenge myself a few more times and build up a track record. Some confidence in my own opinions would help of course, but I have to start somewhere – and, of course, the seats at previews are usually much cheaper.

I have also been reminded today of something I omitted to mention about my visit to the Young Vic – my mask. Since my visit, the government has reintroduced mandatory mask-wearing in theatres. The Young Vic were already doing this, presumably partially out of self-preservation, not wanting the audience to infect the cast, especially in such an intimate performance space.

Whilst I acknowledged in my review the diligent mask-policing by the theatre staff, I forgot that my own mask-wearing was initially problematic that evening. I entered the theatre wearing an easy-to-put-on standard blue disposable mask, as carried in every coat pocket I now have. Once seated, I retrieved my heavy-duty triple-layer handmade mask from my capacious handbag ready to make the switch, only to discover that the drawstring had come out of the right-hand side of the mask in transit (or more likely in the wash and I’d stupidly not noticed earlier).

This is no ordinary mask. It is of a weird design which uses just one string (in this case a long piece of soft bias binding or similar) which threads up through one side of the mask and then down through the other side. The resulting loop at the top is placed over the head so that it sits on top of the ears (and can be tucked under my long hair so as not to be too obviously silly from behind) and the two ends at the lower part of the mask can be tied together round the back of the neck. This assembly process is, in itself, quite tricky for someone as ham-fisted as myself, but I have become reasonably competent over my many visits to the theatre.

But now, my dexterity – and ingenuity – was tested to the limit. The flimsy bias binding needed to be threaded through the narrow right side hem. Ideally, this would be achieved using what I believe is known as a bodkin. (Yes, I did listen in Home Economics and Needlework classes, but probably now only remember those things which had interesting-sounding names – like ‘bodkin’ obviously, and Spotted Dick.)

I didn’t have a bodkin in my capacious handbag. I had many other important items which I will not bore you with, but no bodkin. I tried a ballpoint pen. I managed to force this upward through the hem-space – just about – so the next step was to somehow attach the binding to the pen so as to pull it back through. I poked the nib through the binding fabric – wouldn’t hold. I trapped the fabric between the nib and the pen case – wouldn’t stay. My fingers, and a large section of the binding, were by now daintily ink-blotched.

I could hear that the audience around me, which had initially been sparse due to the fact that I had arrived at the time stated on my ticket and most people had instead decided to do as they pleased and wait longer in the bar before taking their seats, was nearly at capacity now. I kept my eyes determinedly on my hands and mask. To be honest, it was not helpful to the proceedings that my glasses were still misting a little with each breath under my disposable mask – but perhaps it afforded me a little more perceived separation from my fellow theatre-goers as I could not focus on them anyway.

I then recalled that this mask has a removable wire across the top. My husband folded the ends of about 100 of these little wires when we were helping with PPE back in lockdown #1. Aha! Folded ends! A bit like a bodkin then.

It was a relief to find that the wire was in situ. I have turned up to the theatre before with this freshly washed mask into which I had forgotten to re-insert the wire after the wash – making for a baggy fit and spectacle-fogging even worse, and no doubt the Covid particle barrier less effective. Anyhow, I now eagerly removed the wire, fashioned a slightly different hook from one of the folded ends and shoved it through the already punctured (from the pen nib) binding end. Determined poking and easing into the tiny hem aperture ensued, as I saw out of the corner of my eye the last few punters sitting down and the ushers departing.

And finally – success! How I managed to then re-insert the wire in its rightful place, remove my inferior mask, don the industrial version and tie it correctly, I do not know. But as the house lights went down, I raised my head – glasses still misting ever so slightly now – to enjoy the performance.

Of course, another benefit of wearing a mask throughout proceedings is that no-one can see who you actually are. So the mad woman with inky hands wrestling with bits of wire and fabric in the very middle of the audience on Tuesday will remain just that.

Unless they want a warm-up act for a conjuring show.

Oh, and if you ever come to the theatre with me, please pack a bodkin – just in case.


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