Sunday, October 28, 2012

Creative Aloneness - and Why I Won't Be Going to the Theatre Again

Two rare things happened last night. 

One, I went to the theatre. 

Two, I walked out of the theatre before the end of the play.
The first happened because I met the delightful and very talented Gary Pillai, who was appearing as Don John in Much Ado About Nothing, alongside Meera Syal, playing Beatrice. I love Meera – as a writer, actor, presenter, person – but had never seen her on stage. The production, set in India, also sounded interesting. It was the last night, and I am so rarely in London I wanted to take advantage of one of the city’s obvious main attractions.
My theatre going experience in general has not been good. The brilliant critic Jack Tinker was a good friend and I was always amazed that his passion for the genre never wavered. I used to go with him to shows not to see them, but to watch his enjoyment and his eagerness to file his copy. So great was his enthusiasm, he once failed to notice that I had fallen down a manhole on our way to Joe Allen after a play.
I also used to go to the theatre with Keith Waterhouse when we both lived in Bath. It’s a strange city in which to watch a production. The theatre’s front row is invariably packed with old ladies, who express their disappointment vociferously if what they see on stage does not match up to the picture on the front of the programme. At the start of a very trendy production of A Country Wife (programme: green fields, white people in nice frocks), their response to the black actor coming on stage and delivering a monologue not in the script was: “Oh, no.” Together. Like a geriatric Jedward.

Blood Brothers was ruined for me by a coach load of people from Wales, who collectively screamed: "Ooh, 'e's gonna shoot 'im!" at a key moment (Apologies to those who have yet to see it - is there anyone who hasn't?)
It’s not just my theatre history that made me doubt whether I should venture into this dangerous territory once more; I had endured an awful few days. Filthy hotel, underwhelming conference at very grubby college, screaming child in pub . . . Oh, I could go on. And will. Ugg boots. Cup cakes. People who wear woollen hats – any hats, come to that – indoors. I was having such a bad anger management day, I tried to get #whatsthatallabout trending on Twitter. 

No one joined in (Mean buggers - #whatsthatallabout?) . . . Celebrities whose new fashion accessory is a cardboard coffee cup (why don’t they just drink the sodding thing in the café?) . . . Chinese restaurant staff who say to single people: “We only do tables for two or more” (yes, that really happened). So, I thought I would treat myself.
More problems - not least, when I tried to book online and predictive texting kept changing “Ado” to FBI (#whatsthatallabout?). Much FBI About Nothing. Really?
So. The queue for tickets was huge, with two minutes to go before Curtain Up. But after a nifty bit of manoeuvring, I managed to make it to the front. “Senior citizen discount?” asked the cashier.
What? I have a birthday next week. I will be 54. The last time I was asked my age was when a supermarket was reluctant to serve me alcohol. I was 28. When did I get to look so old? 
Having procured a ticket, I took my seat. So far, so good. The woman next to me was also a late buyer and clearly a theatre enthusiast.
Then, more problems started. The sweet wrappings, the crunchy chocolate, people arriving late, finding aliens in their seats, and debating the issue with the usher. And, worst of all, the seven year old behind me whose mother had to keep explaining who bloody Benedick was and why he was dressing up pretending not to be Benedick.
The last time I got so angry with a child in the theatre, I had to be moved. The production was Scrooge, in Bristol, and responding to every damned person who came on stage, the child next to me asked her mother: “Is that a ghost?” After about two hundred non-ghosts, I couldn’t contain myself any longer. “There are only three ghosts, okay? THREE! And I will tell you every time they come on!”
The mother said that I clearly didn’t have any children, at which point I lied and said I had three and, were they to come to the theatre, they would not be obsessive irritants who think they are seeing dead people. The management thought it best to move me. To a box. Alone.
A Bollywood version of Shakespeare takes concentration – I loved it, but it required silence from the people around me. So when, in addition to the sweets, chocolates and child, the theatre’s air conditioning came on right above me, I made a decision. Go. Now. And did.
I was sorry to miss the end of the play (yes, I know the ending, but that’s not the point) and was very honest with the cast when we met up later on. I was thrilled to have seen some new people making their RSC debut (Anjana Vasan as the maid – Wow! Brilliant!). And, as always, I left with enormous respect for actors who strut their stuff for peanuts in order to bring pleasure to the rest of us.
But why can’t people go to the theatre and just STFU?! Social networking has made interactive viewers of us all. We Tweet, we Facebook, we Zeebox – there is an audience not only for the shows, but for our own opinions, on a 24/7 basis. We have lost the art of sitting in a dark place, enjoying the company of others in our imaginations. Creative aloneness.
Maybe that’s why I love TV so much. Give me a 50 inch screen, people I have never met, pretending to be people who have never, in reality, existed, and I am so, so happy. 

Especially if there is not some brat behind me asking why there's a man dressed in a frock.

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