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Going back to the theatre

I cannot claim, even in my BC (“Before Covid”) years, ever to have been a regular theatre-goer.

From birth, by instinct and inclination I was never one for seeking the spotlight – and here I’d hesitate to go near the words “show off” in this context because they carry with them a whiff of disrespect/disapproval which is not my intention.

Rather I am content to admit that, whatever attributes the good Lord awarded me, the ability to learn lines or routines and a penchant for imitating luminaries of the performing arts (music, dance, acting) were not among them.

As a result, while I was perfectly happy – whenever the opportunity arose – to watch and suitably appreciate the skills and occasional genius on stage of anyone who did not possess my limitations, my own rare appearances before a live audience were at school, enforced rather than voluntary, and unremittingly wooden, stilted and awkward.

Fittingly perhaps, my finest of a very few hours indeed, was a brief stint whilst at prep school in Seaford, Sussex, in a production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night Dream (at Act V, Scene 1) in which on ‘a play within a play’ (Pyramus and Thisbe) is put on by some minor characters.

In this epic I played the wall [in this case a slim cardboard box painted with bricks worn across my shoulders, with my head poking up amidships] between which the lovers of the title whispered their sweet nothings.

Hamlet at the Old Vic it most certainly was not.

Nevertheless, as it happens, yesterday by good fortune I attended the 2.30pm matinee performance of a new production Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific at the Chichester Festival Theatre in West Sussex.

On the back of Monday’s much-heralded – but in many quarters denigrated – “Freedom Day” from the UK’s confinement within the tenacles of the pandemic, in prospect I had viewed this as a suitable “test run” for my personal emergence “into the sunlight of normality” in terms of congregating in public with the rest of humanity.

In the event I suppose it was very much as expected.

Despite the theatre’s obvious extensive precautions to make the return of its audiences as Covid-safe as possible – even as we sat in our seats waiting for the lights to go down staffers were parading along the aisles holding placards entreating everyone to wear their masks – in practice my own “lick of the  finger” impression was that the congregation had divided as to 33% wearing masks continuously, 33% wearing them half the time (and half not) and 33% boldly choosing to “go completely naked” in the mask department.

What the reader will now behold is not a review of the performance.

Although I believe that in my past I have watched the movie version of South Pacific on television, until yesterday neither had I seen a theatre production of it in the flesh nor could I remember any details of the storyline.

Yesterday this impediment mattered not a jot – why would it when you have such a number of classic songs with which to entertain the onlooker?

This Chichester production was presented with a genuine degree of inventiveness as regards scenery and staging, an invigorating sense of brio and enthusiasm, some classy group dance/set piece routines, uniformly excellent performances by the romantic leads and their supporting lieutenants and – last but not least, and appropriate in the circumstances – a dollop,  shared by both the cast and audience, of the “Let’s put on a show!” spirit of the kids (Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland) from the 1939 movie Babes In Arms.

At the end of proceedings the auditorium – which, contrary to my expectation, to these inexperienced eyes seemed at least 85% full despite the “planned for” social distancing arrangements – immediately erupted in its acclaim of the performance – a celebration that, as the cast and musical director came on stage to accept their due “in reverse order”, effortlessly grew into a genuine and heartfelt standing ovation.

A worthy theatre visit indeed.




About Arthur Nelson

Looking forward to his retirement in 2015, Arthur has written poetry since childhood and regularly takes part in poetry workshops and ‘open mike’ evenings. More Posts