I spend a great deal of time talking about the experience of theatre, ethnography of it to use the technical term. The where, when and with whom of seeing something is as important as the what much of the time. If you’ve ever taken someone to the theatre/concert/cinema who really doesn’t want to go you’ll know what I mean.
I’ve just been hanging pictures on my office wall, and by pictures I mean theatre programmes. Going through deciding which to hang was as much about what they meant in terms of the event or the time in my life was just as important as the play or musical (or how pretty the programme is)
So up went ‘What the Night is for’ the first play I ever saw in the West End, starring Gillian Anderson who I loved as a teenager (X files obsession) and Roger Allam, who seems to have followed me ever since-as in I see something he pops up in it, I don’t mind he’s a very good actor.
Then ‘The Boy from Oz’ which was the first musical I saw and the first on Broadway. There’s a direct correlation to the research I do today-the issue of HIV/AIDS was rooted in my mind then and began to sprout a year later when I started to discover other plays. It also began a year long obsession and also made me a few friends along the way. I think of that musical I think of my friend Kathy who I’d never have known without it, I think of the times spent with fellow fans (good and bad) and of course I think of getting a kiss on the cheek (or three) from the wonderful Hugh Jackman.
Next ‘Bent’ a play by Martin Sherman, which to this day I think has had the most profound effect on me in terms of writing, academic interest and as a person. Only every so often something hits all the buttons at the time they needed to be hit and Bent did that for me. If I’d seen it at another time, with someone else (I was alone as it happens) would it have been the same? I’m not sure. Walking around London alone after, nobody to talk to and unable to put things into words, every time I walk past that theatre I still think of that day.
Then ‘Chess’ now this is less an emotional attachment than a sheer love of the piece, and the wonderful memory of calling in sick to work to see it in the Albert Hall, travelling down with my Mum and having a conversation about how people thought we were nuts to do such a thing-travel down for one day to see a show. We knew better.
Finally ‘Angels in America’ I thought long and hard about putting this up-partly it’s about keeping my work and my interests seperate-did I really want to look day in day out to the play I’m spending so much time studying? Really though I knew it was more, it was the first time someone-my MA course leader, pointed out it was important who you went to the theatre with, what was going on around you. That play, that production I should say, reminds me of a very dark time-leaving London, moving back home and a very destructive person in my life. But summoning the courage I decided to exorcise my demons, I love this play it’s part of the reason I study theatre, that I do what I do, that I write. And perhaps it’s a reminder of how far I’ve come. I decided to put in the frame some feathers from the Angel and the tickets from one performance. Yes it looks great, the artwork is fantastic. I put the hook in the wall and lifted the frame, noticed my name is my old name on one ticket. Looked at the other ticket: it doens’t have my name on it. It has the last name I wanted to see.
So it’s not on the wall. I sat for a long time and stared at it. I didn’t cry, I didn’t feel sad or upset. I felt…odd. That play, all of them are so much more than the words on the page or the night on stage. They are stages of my life, perhaps I should take the ticket out and try again, perhaps I should file it away again….