… or what would you give for magic?
There wasn’t much in the way of theatre in Frimley. It’s a small town, smooshing into it’s neighbours to make a kind of suburban sprawl that grants every Englishman a small and homogenous castle.
I know my dad was a fan of Shakespeare, I know that because of the VHS tapes of every TV Lear and the battered Complete Works (which is now on my bookshelf). I don’t remember seeing much in the way of live performance growing up, the Yvonne Arnaud might have been a mite too far away; and the Camberley Civic Hall is more Mrs Lorna Timms Dance Class Spectacular than nights of Beckett and new writing.
What did happen with blessed regularity was that my mums BFF would take us up to the big city to see A Big Show sometime between Christmas and the New Year. Typically these were West End giants (I don’t remember many details – the terrible David Essex vehicle Mutiny seems to have stuck – its splendid revolve getting nods of approval from father and son even whilst we itched to slink away). We snuck in some ballet too: a rapt teen, wide eyed with breath held tight witnessing Nureyev’s Romeo and Juliet (which would make me a Prokofiev snob for decades).
Somewhere in there the performance magic stuck, imbued me with its wonder, vital and valued.
So when I came to return the favour, to take my brother’s children to a Big Show in the Big City, to take them somewhere where the enchantment could take hold and for them to see something they’d never seen the like of before (e.g. an awesome revolve) there really was only one choice. BAC.
My disjointed family danced in the Grand Hall: In an interval filled with marvellous melody, the fanciest of fancy dress, and a thunder storm of children – hand claps just about keeping in time. Somewhere brimming with love, laughter and a multitude of balloons. (The teenagers finding themselves caught between embarrassment and joy – not knowing quite where to land).
Much later, once again in the Grand Hall, this time at Little Bulb’s Orpheus, I’d see my nephews eyes so wide it was like he couldn’t open them more; and my niece grinning like the cat with all the cream.
There are precious few places with this much energy and power; where creatures of the imagination live and play. It’s a creaking, crackling, multi-chambered heart – pulsating with glitter, blood, passion and hope; pumping out into the world sometimes a balm, sometimes a virus. It’s also a coffee shop, cafe and meeting place – and through doorways and up stairwells I’ve glimpsed mums, dads and kids, bespeckled professor Yaffles, scarfed students and staff – all kinds of folks of all ages just getting on with stuff.
I haven’t visited as much as I’d like; but enough to know the place is enchanted: It’s where I saw Lemn Sissay’s incredible Something Dark play to its first London crowds, where I first met Megan, where I bumped into Jon Spooner at a matinee and where we slightly uncomfortably tried to work out which of these young’uns around us were each others kids like we somehow should have known, where I saw Chris Brett-Bailey smash a glass to death and where I was taken into the dark and felt the furniture re-arrange itself around me.
It’s a home and a working place to artists of all stripes, a natural London springboard for ground-breaking projects such as A Nation’s Theatre and youth empowerment scheme the Agency. I’d be surprised if there was a performance maker, programmer or critic in the country who’s first thought on hearing the word ‘scratch’ is anything to do with an itch.
On Friday this precious dream took a punch to the gut. It burned, but did not up in smoke. By Saturday, the Grand Hall all but destroyed, the front of building was already open once again. The show did go on (more than one as it turns out). There’s a big road to travel, as Mary Halton writes here, but there are supporters everywhere – filled with love and belief. David Jubb’s message, in the wake of these events, is both presidential and revolutionary – the new chapter starts here and it starts now.
I’m writing this on Mothers’ Day, when every year we’ll send a token of love, support and esteem to someone you wouldn’t be here without. Thanks to the National Funding Scheme (NFS); this is where you can give money to help the #BACPhoenix rise.
I doubt the idea of ‘pay what you think it is worth‘ has ever been stronger.