The great theatre of it all

Ella Williams shares what she is most excited for about the reopening of theatres later this month

Ella Williams
24th May 2021
One of the last live theatre shows I went to was an “immersive” production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre in London. “Immersive”, in that this was less a play and more a carefully choreographed night club, where the stage spindled out into the standing audience on moving platforms. Giant inflatables orbs, floating foam baths and scantily-clad trapeze artists soaring above brought the play’s woodland frolicking into a cramped basement auditorium; it’s almost like they knew this would have to see me through over a year without the hustle of a live theatre.
Bridge Theatre, London. Image: Ella Williams

It’s not really the performances themselves I miss- I’ve been watching National Theatre’s recorded productions on YouTube to dimmed living room lights and mugs of salted peanuts no end. But nothing captures to the whole ritual of “going to the theatre”: it’s the pre-show drink, the row of powdery noses in the loos, the tipsy interval debrief and the rushed excitement when the bell chimes for the second half.

Bottom and Oberon in A Midsummer Nights Dream, Bridge Theatre. Image: Ella Williams

When theatres reopen later this May, we will arrive early, eye-lined and high-heeled, and march straight from the rotating doors to the refreshments stand. We will perch on some steps as we sip on our wine in plastic cups because all of the tables will be full. We’ll be flipping through our overpriced program when the ding goes for the audience to take their seats, and have a last minute panic-pee even though we don’t really need it.

We’ll have to shuffle along a line of side-angled knees muttering scusemes to reach our seat at the end of the row. Then we’ll scan the room to calculate the fastest route to the nearest toilet, poised for the interval rush. The program will reemerge, alongside a tub of weird crackers with no flavour. The orchestra will rouse to an indistinct hum, and we’ll all loudly hush each other because “it’s starting!”. Half a scale on a flute. One last echoing cough in the big silence. The seats will be velvet but scratchy, and we’ll be thrilled to discover that the tallest man in the room has decided to sit in front of us.

From the pre-ordered drinks for the interval, to the table booked for the post-show meal, the buying of extortionate ice cream to the sipping of aggressively acidic wine, theatregoers know exactly what to do at every step; the whole experience is as well-rehearsed as the scripted plays we’ve payed to see and, like the extravagant routine of trapeze artists at that Midsummer’s production in 2019, I am counting down the days to be immersed into the great theatre of it all again...

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