Thursday, 13 June 2013

A Wondrous Place (Part Two*)

(*Click here for Part One)

As I was writing the last post, perhaps imbued with renewed recognition for my own personal landmarks, it occurred to me just how much I wanted to say about the Royal Exchange itself. So much so, that it inspired me to carry straight on and write this post too.

Much like my relationship with food, I can chart my life through the theatre. As a little girl, my mum and I had an annual trip to London, always including a theatre trip as part of our holiday. Starlight Express was a favourite, I still have the soundtrack on CD, and can give you a (painful) rendition of any song at a moment’s notice. I burst into tears at the end of Phantom of the Opera, not understanding how they could all be holding hands at the end – the concept of the curtain call is fairly elusive for a five year old who has been entirely swept away to another world for the previous few hours.

As I became interested in drama at school, with the aid of the most wonderful drama teacher, “proper plays” became the thing, with trips all over the country, igniting a passion for reading, watching, performing and directing. The Husband (who at that time was entirely disinterested in theatre) even wooed me by volunteering to do the sound and lighting for our GCSE drama performances, and was soon bitten by the bug too. As you may have deduced, that does indeed mean that we are childhood sweethearts – altogether now, ahhhhhh.

Sixth form led to acting roles, tech roles, and I even ran a drama club for younger pupils, one or two of whom have pursued careers in acting (though I do not dare to claim any credit, much more likely to be that they shared the same inspiring teacher I had). At our respective universities The Husband (or boyfriend as he then was) both took on roles, me directing musicals in my halls of residence, him becoming tech director for the University Drama Society.

And the Royal Exchange alone charts for me, so many stages. Those first visits with school, the excitement of a trip, seeing studied texts brought to life. I fell in love with theatre in the round, the chance to sit in different seats and see a different side to the same story. As a student I diligently queued for the banquette seats, bonded with new friends over impromptu theatre visits, when spontaneous trips into town were the norm. Even after studentdom, the Cheep tickets made the theatre cheaper than cinema. My mum and step-dad would invariably book for a Monday so we had the option of joining them without breaking the bank. We would sit after and have a coffee in the bar. Often the cast congregated in there afterwards. My mum openly actor-watching, while I tried to be nonchalant, all the while eavesdropping and feeling privileged to see the people behind the performances.

I remember my first trip to the studio, feeling like I might even be verging on cool by seeing a production there. I loved it when the restaurant themed the menu to the current production (theatre and food combined, oh my). I have sat on every tier, and every row at one time or another. I have seen the stage fill with water (intentionally), and whole structures descend from the ceiling. I am unfailingly mesmerised by the contrasting constructions as you enter, the domed ceilings, and the history of the building.

I felt properly grown-up when I was too old for the Cheep tickets, and fiercely independent when I would go, as a student, to watch alone. I have had surprise birthday trips there, and gone for pure escapism when my world needed putting to rights. I have seen plays I thought I knew inside-out, and come away with a completely new perspective. I have been left feeling every different emotion, but always with plenty to talk about. I have always felt at home in the theatre, and nowhere is that more true than at the Royal Exchange. So much of my own history is visible to me there, and I don’t doubt much of my future too.


  1. It's so great that you have so much passion for theater (and how sweet that you and your husband were childhood sweethearts!). I played the piano for a lot of the school musicals in college and it always just made me so happy. Something I miss very much.

    1. I still love theatre, but I'm more an empassioned observer these days than any kind of active participant. Is there no end to your talents - pianist also? I have always been mystified by the piano, I play the clarinet, which is not as elegant, but the piano was always beyond me. Hope you get to play on occasion?