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.