Alan Fitter is a lover of music and musicals, an Offies assessor and theatre critic. Here he talks about lockdown, its easing and how it’s affecting his theatregoing life.
On March 13th this year, I went to see the Noël Coward play “Peace in Our Time” at the Union Theatre. The following Monday, the Prime Minister told everyone not to go to the theatre and my life changed completely – well the evening part of it anyway. In the first ten weeks of the year leading to the closing of theatres, I had been to the theatre twenty-seven times to assess for the Offies (the Off-West End awards), review for a theatre website or just for pure pleasure. In the time it takes for a theatre curtain to come down, my diary went from full to completely empty as productions were cancelled and theatres all over the country went dark.
At first there was nothing to see or do theatre-wise but gradually previously filmed productions were posted on-line, theatre companies discovered Zoom and Scenesaver was born and hosting the OnComms. I was back assessing shows, albeit sitting in front of my computer.
Then in the past few weeks, there has been a flurry of live productions in Covid-friendly, safe environments both inside theatres and in the open-air so there’s now an option after nearly seven months to return to live theatre. This should have had me rushing to buy tickets and get back out there doing the thing I love but to be honest, it’s not going to happen in the foreseeable future.
It’s not because of any fear of getting the virus even though I’m over 70 and categorised as vulnerable. Having been home for most of the past few months, I have now started going into London to go to art galleries, meet friends etc. so whilst I’m concerned, and have been trying to do all the right things and stick to the guidelines, the reason for not going back to the theatre is mainly because it isn’t the same as it was.
My theatregoing life was planning what time to leave home, were we going to eat before a show (very rare) or get a sandwich to eat during the interval or on the tube home (more likely). Then when we got to the theatre, did we have good seats (when you’re reviewing or assessing you don’t know where you’ll be sitting), would there be enough leg-room for my dodgy knees and would there be someone with a big head in front of my wife so we’d have to swap seats and oh, is there an interval (please no!). Would the production be good, bad or as it sometimes has been, ugly and would we enjoy it? It was a ritual we carried out on average three times a week and something we both loved to do.
So why aren’t I rushing back? I guess the answer is the experience won’t be the same as before (I know I’m stating the obvious) and that fills me with almost more circumspection than getting sick! I’d have to not only wear a mask on the tube (I hate wearing a mask – it’s disorientating and steams your glasses up) but also in the theatre throughout the time I’m there. You’d also have to get there early to make sure there’s an orderly procedure getting into the theatre and the possibility, depending on the theatre, of having to wait outside in the cold and rain waiting to be told to go in. Then there are one-way systems to navigate when you are in and who knows how easy it’ll be to get a drink and then use the toilets? I guess the advantage of socially-distanced seating is that there should be plenty of legroom and there won’t be a big head in front of you but is that enough? For me, it’s all a case of risk and reward. Is the risk of potentially catching the virus as well as not enjoying the experience cancelled out by the reward of seeing a great play or musical and as I write this, the answer for me is no.
I’m desperate to get back to doing what I love and enjoy with a passion, but I want it to be as near as possible to the pre-Covid experience and that’s not going to happen for quite a while. That saddens me a lot, but I’ll live with that decision and stay home until I’m ready to go back and get the thrill and adrenaline rush that can only come from live theatre.
Follow Alan on Twitter @wallingtonal