…..I was prostrate, out cold. I had expected a jab in the back, I had expected to be semi-conscious for the full 90 minutes. But I was fast asleep throughout. Coming to – several hours later – I felt dreamy, bouyant. I was in bed. At the end of the bed two feet were sticking up from the blankets, pink and very clean. Clearly worth a photograph – I reached for my phone, conveniently on the bedside table.
So if you’re one of several friends who recently received bewildering WhatsApp images of a pair of pink feet, my apologies. I was high as a kite.
Those anaesthetic drugs are mightily potent, thank goodness. During the ninety minutes a distinguished orthopaedic surgeon, Mr Gilbert Railton and his team had been busy with handsaw and chisel, removing a well-worn left hip joint and replacing it with a shiny, cunningly fashioned new one. Amazing stuff. Two days later I was on my way home in my own personal ambulance, having been looked after magnificently by the NHS nurses, physios and staff at Epsom Hospital. I had, if you will pardon the expression, fallen on my feet – for this is reckoned to be one of the very best orthopaedic units anywhere. Having been driven there by two kind neighbours, I found myself in a small very modern ward, with just two other patients – one of whom was a wealthy businessman who had cancelled a booking for private surgery. He’d realised he would be in the same hospital with the same surgeon, with the same degree of support from the same medical team – albeit in a solo room with presumably a wider choice of food – and for which his bill would have been around thirteen thousand pounds!
I realise from today’s news of the advancing Covid Second Wave that I’ve been incredibly lucky to hit a window when the beleaguered NHS still has space for some “non-essential” operations. I’ve been limping about the world for a decade now, an uncertain gait aggravated somewhat by a collision with a bus in New Oxford St a few years back. All I have to do is work through a six-week programme of physiotherapy exercises – then stand back! Is there a dance teacher out there who’d care this autumn to swap some top-level audition prep for a beginner’s course in Salsa?
And meanwhile what of the other, non-operating theatres? Literally non-operating at present, alas, with some brave exceptions. A glance into the media shows a world teeming with actors and production teams desperate to get out there and strut their stuff – and incidentally there has been a noticeable increase in requests for acting coaching on this TYA website – but what of the venues, where crusts may be earned? For sure the film and TV production wheels are turning, albeit fitfully, but the percentage of drama school grads lucky enough to be handed a film or TV contract on completing their course is more neglible now than ever before.
HOWEVER, theatre folk are persistent and dogged, and to a person Micawberists, so ways to re-open are being found. From the tiniest art centres to the biggest West End theatres, things are stirring. For instance, Jeremy Drakes reported performing in September at the admirable if diminutive Old Sorting Office in Barnes, as part of the #briefencounters initiative, to enthusiastic 50-strong audiences seated at tables in groups of no more than 6, where the customers could buy food and drink.
Larger-scale, profit-dependent “commercial” theatres operate on slim profit margins, so to close down hundreds of seats due to Covid social separation is a major challenge. Back in July Andrew Lloyd Webber ran a “test” performance at the London Palladium starring Beverley Knight to get a feel of the impact of the new restrictions. Here’s what the auditorium looked like, with unavailable seats marked with crosses.
Picture: The Stage
You can see the problem. And yet – as of yesterday, campaigning by Lloyd Weber and others has produced a result, as you will have seen in the news, at least with regard to some pantomimes – including the one at the Palladium – as the National Lottery gallops to the rescue.
There’s also a panto planned for the Garrick, but the lucky nine other productions to be awarded Lottery support have yet to be announced. Since producer Michael Harrison has welcomed the Lottery announcement so eagerly, it’s a fairly safe bet that some of the thirty-plus regional venues for which his Qdos company supplied Christmas shows last year – from Aberdeen to Bristol, from Newcastle to Richmond in Surrey – will benefit.
However also, as of next month, unless the Covid Second Wave suddenly triggers a government theatres closure – a horrible thought but hey, keep watching the news – if you want to see a West End Show other than a panto, tickets for some are already on sale. For example SIX, the hit musical about Henry V111’s wives, is selling out fast at the Lyric (opening November 7) and the touring version will set off to visit major theatres throughout the country – with venues booked through till February 2022!
Being a commercial theatre producer always involves taking huge risks – it’s estimated that only 1 in 10 West End shows achieves a profit – so all credit to the managements who are taking edgy decisions to rekindle a crucial part of our country’s creative life. See below for links.
Propping up commercial pantomime producers is one thing – BUT what of the “non-commercial” venues and companies? What of the Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, what of the Brewhouse at Taunton? What of the Bush, the Kiln and the rest of the brilliant London “fringe”? Across the country local producing theatres, companies and touring venues are still nervously waiting to see how much or how little of the Chancellor’s July £1.57 billion “arts rescue package” may or may not come their way.
STOP PRESS NEWS
Since the above paragraph was written, the news has started to come in (October 12) of the new funding allocations. The full list will be issued later today, but as of 9am this morning Keswick Theatre by the Lake gets a “rescue” grant of £878,492, the Bristol Old Vic gets £610,466, the Young Vic £961,455, and London’s tiny Finborough Theatre £60,000. At all of those places you can almost hear the collective “Phew!!!” while many others will still be chewing their nails to the quick. Good luck if you’re one of those – we’ll be watching the news closely today.
Down on the South Bank, the National Theatre has re-configured the Olivier auditorium as a socially-distanced space.
It will open with the Roy Willams play Death of England: Delroy on October 21st, with Michael Balogun following Rafe Spall’s acclaimed pre-pandemic performance in Death of England in February.
Over at Stratford on Avon the RSC is planning productions of The Winter’s Tale and The Comedy of Errors, delayed until the Spring of 2021. This gives us pause to reflect that William Shakespeare would have found the closure of our theatres all too familiar, at a time of recurring waves not of coronavirus, rather then of the horrific bubonic plague. While in post-op isolation I found Maggie O’Farrell’s prize-winning novel “Hamnet” a revelation, a superbly written insight into the circumstances around the creation of his most famous play.
And by the Thames at Southwark, at Shakespeare’s Globe – where Michelle Terry and her team produce amazing work without any government funding at all, the brave sign outside the gate says it all
Other musicals – PRETTY WOMAN, HOME FROM AWAY, THE LION KING etc https://www.atgtickets.com/
DEATH OF ENGLAND:DELROY https://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/death-of-england-delroy
OLD SORTING OFFICE, BARNES https://www.osoarts.org.uk/whats-on
Meanwhile – many professional productions are still out there in Cyberspace, available at home via on-line streaming:
Enjoy the season, keep the faith.
The time will come when why, we shall smile…