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Am I just making it all up?

As I hurriedly took a photo of the Old Vic stage from my seat, and feverishly posted it on FaceBook with an over-excited message that ‘Yay, I’m back in the building!’ I wondered briefly what in fact was I doing?

Three years ago, I would have said that I liked going to the theatre. I had already embarked on my ‘see every show at the Bridge Theatre’ habit because it was so convenient for work and it was a way to see a mix of productions rather than always plumping for comedy, or Shakespeare or whatever. But to describe myself as passionate about theatre, a theatre nut or connoisseur would have seemed daft – and frankly, a bit over the top for an otherwise rather unassuming person.

So, have I just invented this supposed passion? Am I really thrilled to be back in the theatre post-Covid, or am I just jumping on the social media bandwagon and hyping it all up for the likes?

Always a great one for self-doubt, I feared the worst. For sure, I enjoy seeing a few of those little thumbs-up, hearts or other Fb emojis on my posts – although not so much that I keep my phone on during the performance, heaven forbid – and a sure-fire way of getting my Tweets viewed and liked is to tag a theatre because they love to re-Tweet anything complimentary, especially if it has a nice picture with it. So, is this just an attention-seeking fictional fad?

Well, no, it’s not. I get genuinely excited at the prospect of a play, and a thrill on arrival. I love it when the lights go down. In this latest case – Harold Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter with Daniel Mays and David Thewlis – there being no curtain, we had a short silence and deep darkness while the actors took their marks. I strained to get the first glimpse and then settled back into my seat as they appeared. I remember being on stage myself as a teenager at the start of a play, checking that we were all present and correct before curtain-up. There’s so much adrenalin and some of that has perhaps imprinted itself somewhere. It is quite definitely not the same as watching a film, or a pre-recorded production. Anything could happen, in the same room as me, just there. And I just love that. 

I don’t always enjoy what we see, of course, and I am as prone as anyone to ramming my finger nails into my palms to stop myself from nodding off if I am truly uninspired – although I don’t recall this happening in the past few years; I have been lucky. Even when it’s not so enjoyable, there’s still something to take from it, although certainly I’d prefer these occasions not to have been the most expensive seats of the year.

The Dumb Waiter is a very short play. Due to Covid restrictions, every second row was empty and there were unoccupied seats between each party. So there weren’t many of us there, and in fact a large part of the stalls was taken up with camera equipment and mixing desks for the simultaneous Zoom broadcast to the world. All of which meant that it took almost no time at all to exit the building afterwards, individually thanking all the staff profusely as we passed them, congratulating them on the theatre reopening and generally behaving in a completely luvvied up fashion. “It’s just so wonderful to be back! Thank you SO much. Marvellous.”  We had even whooped at the curtain call, despite it really not being that kind of play. We were being theatrical ourselves and carried away in the moment. (And nothing at all to do with possibly being on the Zoom broadcast.)

So, we were quickly back out on the pavement. And here’s a thing. It was about 8.30pm. The evening sun was making even the Waterloo area attractive. The Old Vic looked resplendent with its fresh paintwork and neon Back Together sign. It felt special knowing that this was only the second day since March 2020 that there had been a crowd (albeit smaller than in the past) milling around this end of The Cut. I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to stay there, or perhaps go up to look at the river and mingle with other people enjoying the sunshine, or find a little place to eat. To be a part of a re-emerging London. Part of the drama itself. 

Pretentious old bollocks, huh?

Yep, gone too far there. 

I was on the next train, checking the likes on my Facebook.



Important parts of Daniel Radcliffe

Despite the dismal weather yesterday, we found some excellent entertainment.

We had lunch in Soho in celebration of my offspring’s birthdays. A long and lazy, and ultimately cocktail-fuelled, few hours catching up for the first time since Christmas.

In the evening I had tickets for a preview of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame at the Old Vic. PwC tickets at a tenner a go. Just for my husband and myself, but I don’t think our son and daughter minded too much. Their conversational contribution was to wonder whether Daniel Radcliffe would be naked (remembering Equus which I don’t think any of us actually saw, but still) and we agreed to let them know, thinking no more of it.

The Old Vic was heaving: it looked like a full-house, inspired either by the big names in the cast (the glorious Alan Cumming starring as well as the aforementioned Mr Radcliffe, Jane Horrocks also featured), or the availability of cheap seats.

Colourful Old Vic on a damp January night

The play was preceded by another short Beckett work: Rough for Theatre II. I find Beckett challengingly weird as entertainment, but there was plenty to think about and enjoy. Alan Cumming was exceptional and not hamming* things up at all – I have probably only seen him in comedic roles or being his flouncy self in the media, so I’m not sure what I was expecting.  He was probably more camp in the role than many others have been but toned down from what I might have expected.

Jane Horrocks and Karl Johnson performed from the neck up only, emerging just occasionally from two wheelie bins. (I recall seeing this before – probably back at school – but all other memory of the play seemed lost in the mists).

Daniel Radcliffe did some impressive physical stuff: standing jumps up onto a window sill in Rough; repeated stiff-legged climbs up, and weird jolting or sliding descents from, a tall and wobbly step-ladder in Endgame – which had me ready to shout out ‘Be careful’ (kids would have laughed at me for that). But, unbelievably, he also lowered his trousers to give us a rear view of his thighs whilst he treated his privates with flea powder. No need to look at my husband – we each knew what the other was triumphantly thinking. Not quite naked, but good enough.

I messaged the family WhatsApp group on my way home to say that trousers had been dropped. After a short pause, my daughter’s response was simply “How big?”  I’m afraid I snorted before I could remember I was in a busy carriage. Ah well. She claims someone else wrote the question on her phone, and I claim I had no interest in looking.

*despite his main character being called Hamm. Sorry.

F*** Fleabag

I was as captivated with Fleabag Series 2 as everyone else at the time it was aired a few months back. I watched several episodes more than once and briefly followed the press and screen coverage of the marvellous Waller-Bridge. I joined in with the nation’s gasps over the Hot Priest whilst relishing the delightful awfulness of the soon-to-be-Oscared (ok, for another role, but still…) stepmother and enjoying the whole ensemble piece. It was fantastic and, like so many other people, I re-watched Series 1 and congratulated everyone on all of it before moving on. Hurrah. No, seriously, proper hurrah, I am in awe Ms Phoebe.

But now, it must be a couple of months past and I had indeed moved on, until I – by an almost accident – ended up in the front row of the Old Vic for a preview performance of Noel Coward’s ‘Present Laughter’ with Andrew Scott (the erstwhile HP). Now, I’m not going to pretend I didn’t know he was in it; to be sure that was one of the reasons to go.  But I had not expected to be as impressed – indeed quite mesmerised – and now I’m really annoyed because it has reawakened my interest in him and also in Phoebe, such that I have spent most of today looking at Youtube clips and interviews of each of them when I should have been completing a serious article. Which is now not done. I’ve thought of a few other subjects to write about as a result (e.g. here’s my review) but that’s not the point.

By the way, I love the way the Old Vic publicity on Twitter for ‘Present Laughter’ includes renaming Waterloo as Water o’loo in an Irish accent, but Mr Scott’s performance is delivered in impeccable Coward English. 


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