Against my usual penchant for starting off slowly and then steadily heading for entropy, I went straight in at the deep end this year: my first week back in London (& the first full week of the year) was set down as #MindTheMusicals 2020! That means, of course, I began my theatregoing year by visiting the theatre every day for a week. After that, however, I think I did manage to get a bit more of a balance going (33 different shows, 38 individual visits to theatres) and topped up my theatre trips with 18 miscellaneous events, so 56 in total. This, of course, only really counts for just under a quarter of the year, as opposed to the usual six months.
The shutdown – though it’s obviously been handled appallingly as far as funding is concerned – has actually been rather good to me; I’ve needed a break from constantly being out for a while, but never managed to find a decent time to do it – plus so much online content has been made available that there’s been zero chance of getting bored. Initially, it also helped me become more productive – particularly as far as The Show Must Go Online is concerned – it’s only recently that I’ve really struggled with motivation, but have at least been able to manage my commitments a lot better.
Obviously had I known all this was going to happen, I would have tried to pack in a load more things before everything went dark – yes, we could sort of see it coming by looking at other countries, but by then it was too late for me to adjust my habits (I really needed to have gone full pelt in January and early February). I’m really gutted to have missed Upstart Crow (press night came forward a day without notice and I’d already booked something else, plus day seats disappeared after a week tops so I was struggling to find a decent affordable ticket), and I wish I could’ve gone back to Waitress at least once more – I’m clinging on to the tour going ahead at some point, as I would definitely travel around for that. Also fingers crossed that Operation Mincemeat gets to return, as I’d booked first & last night for that…
Two things top my cry list though: Olivier Awards and Queen + Adam Lambert. I was due to be part of the BroadwayWorld UK team for the Oliviers again, and I’d been so excited to go back having learned a fair bit from last year. Plus there were some great people nominated so I was keen to do a bit more hobnobbing! And what can I say about Q+AL? First thing, I am grateful it’s been postponed rather than cancelled (even if that means another year to wait), though Brian May’s recent health wobbles definitely made me a bit jittery… They are my all-time favourite band, so I simply must see them perform live.
Places to go
Thanks to Romantics Anonymous, I spent three weekends heading to & from Bristol – getting the last train from Temple Meads to Paddington was increasingly anxiety-inducing, but it was absolutely worth it to spend so much time revisiting this gorgeous show. I had still been holding out faint hopes of getting out to Washington DC to see it on its US tour, but as it turns out only the set made its way across the Atlantic… My only other trip outside London for the theatre was an overnight stay in Leeds to catch the very last show in Kneehigh’s UBU! tour; I had really wanted to see it a lot more (including a double day with Romantics in Bristol), but a combination of lack of money & energy scuppered that. It was interesting to see it a) sat down, and b) with a couple of cast changes since Shoreditch last year – and I was glad to share the experience with The Theatre Tourist this time.
I did have the first night of the new Sunny Afternoon tour booked (Manchester in August), though that has been postponed, plus I ditched a potential trip to Stratford-upon-Avon to see what sounded like an incredible production of King John at the RSC as a cinema screening was due to take place in late April – obviously that didn’t end up happening either. I’d also been planning on another Manchester trip for West Side Story‘s return to the Royal Exchange, and Girls Don’t Play Guitars was due for another run at Liverpool’s Royal Court – I had missed both of these first time round (last year) and was determined to right that wrong this year. Hopefully I’ll get another chance in the future…
Shows to see
At the start of the year I mentioned a handful of shows that I either had booked or was hoping to see, and before everything shut down I did manage to tick off Dial M for Murder, Uncle Vanya, Endgame/Rough for Theatre II, Henry VI & Richard III, and (as previously mentioned) Romantics Anonymous. 4,000 Miles at the Old Vic and the Cush Jumbo-led Hamlet at the Young Vic have been postponed, as has Hello, Dolly! at the Adelphi – plus a few others on my ‘maybe’ list.
As far as online theatre goes, you’ll have realised by now that The Show Must Go Online is a big favourite (and the only immovable object in my week); I’ve fallen behind on writing them up, but that’s purely a lack of writing energy on my part rather than any reflection on what they’re putting out. The TSMGO team are genuine digital theatre pioneers and even if you don’t really ‘get’ Shakespeare I’d urge you to give it a go – each show is only around 2.5 hours long and really engaging. #NationalTheatreAtHome has been terrific, and I look forward to the last few weeks of it, plus from that a few other ‘At Home’ series have sprung up (thank you, Bristol Old Vic, for The Grinning Man); I’m rather hoping some of these theatres become able to offer these out as rentals in the future as a financial boost, and I’m looking forward to the rest of the Old Vic’s In Camera programme, after the success of Lungs.
I had been doing really well at getting gigs into my diary, and had been quietly aiming for a minimum of one a month (not lots for some people, but a significant increase for me) – I got up to four before everything shut down (one in January, two in February, one in March), and had three more booked up (March, June & September). This is something else that I’ve managed to supplement online, however, with The Wind + The Wave starting monthly livestreams and the Royal Albert Hall bringing a series of ‘Royal Albert Home’ concerts to the table.
Theatrical new year’s resolutions
I think these will be a write-off this year, to be honest. Even if theatres do start to re-open before next year (some already have confirmed they will stay closed until 2021), I can’t say for certain when I’ll feel comfortable going back. It seems like more of an obstacle at the moment, as I’ve not been on public transport since the 18 March and only tend to be around a large-ish group of people when I go to the supermarket each week – it will depend on what measures are introduced by theatres, as well as the wider picture. Even if I do make it back, I don’t think it will be for long enough to make the resolutions stick.
What I’m most annoyed about is my focus on lighting going to waste; I hope to get a little more added to this when I can work it out, otherwise I might just carry it over to next year. I only managed two monthly updates on it (I barely saw anything in March, so it didn’t seem fair to judge those), and I’d definitely like to keep highlighting designers’ work – I did make some contacts thanks to the last #OVConnect, so we’ll see where that goes.
Despite the lack of theatres, I’m hoping to try out one or two challenge weeks this year; the beauty of getting musicals week out of the way is that I have two perfectly manageable weeks left to cover (theoretically) – there’s been plenty of online Shakespeare, so #MindTheBard is a possibility, and if I can think of a decent tie-in I could also do #MindTheBand. Watch this space, I guess!