Written on day 46 of isolation

Thursday 5 March: weekly supermarket shop, then to Live Theatre in Newcastle for a preview screening of Open Clasp’s latest work, Sugar, created for film but performed like a piece of theatre. Really enjoyed both it and being part of the invited audience which included so many friends from the theatre world.

Woke up next morning half-asleep, with all my blankets (well, duvet) in a heap, but no yellow roses scattered all around me. Instead I was coughing, sneezing and spluttering, with a runny nose and a sore throat. The worst cold I had had for years!

It just got worse, and worse. I knew it was going to take time to clear up so I cancelled five shows I was supposed to be reviewing in the following week and decided I would stay in the house. I was sure—well, I hoped—I’d be OK after that for there were a few other shows I really wanted to see, but I wasn’t, so I had to cancel them too. It wasn’t until Saturday (21 March) that I began to feel a bit better so I left the house for the first time in a fortnight, popping out to the corner shop, 200 metres down the road. That was the first time I’d been out for two weeks.

And it was the last. I received a letter from the NHS telling me that I am deemed “someone at risk of severe illness” if I contract Coronavirus—I am 76 and have COPD (emphysema and chronic bronchitis)—so I must stay at home and avoid all face-to-face contact for at least twelve weeks. I’d already been stuck in the house on my own (except for that one 15-minute trip to the shop) for 15 days. (Insert miserable emoji of choice.)

Twelve weeks! 84 days! On my own…

People were talking about how Shakespeare is said to have written King Lear in 1606 when theatres were closed and people avoided going out in public because of the plague. Doesn’t work for me, though, and not just because WS was a genius and I’m not. I have two plays in development and what have I added since I first isolated? Precisely nothing! Oh, I’ve looked at them—sat looking at them on the screen for ages—but not a word have I written.

Haven't even changed a word either.

One night, about four in the morning, I woke up with a good idea about one of them. Guess what? I hadn’t left a notebook by my bed and so I’d forgotten it by the time I got up and it has never returned.

The notebook thing never works anyway—I can never read what I’ve written the next morning!

No North East news stories for the BTG (I’ve covered all the online stuff) so perhaps I should review some of the online performances?

This is the worst thing; I just can’t get into them. My mind wanders. For God’s sake, I’ve been involved in theatre in one way or another for more than 60 years and yet I can’t settle to watch an online production. What on earth is wrong with me?

I think it may be because theatre is more than just the production I’m watching. For me, at any rate, it’s the space—even if it’s just Peter Brook’s “Empty Space”, it becomes a theatre for the duration of the performance; it’s the other people sitting in the audience around me; it’s the connection with the actors; it’s the theatricality, the lighting and all the other technical stuff; it’s the fact that if you let your eyes drift away from the actual performance area, you’re still in that magical theatre space; it’s the buzz in the bar at the interval and the buzz as the audience is leaving; it’s the contrast between the world which you’ve been part of for a couple of hours and the mundane, everyday world you’re returning to as you make your way home by car or public transport; it’s…

It’s all this and more, and no matter how good the performances, sitting in front of a screen at home is a pallid reflection of the reality of theatre-going. You’re just watching a TV programme, nothing more.

And that’s sad.

So, what have I been doing? I’ve been looking back at my years in theatre, writing some of these memories down and sharing them with friends on Facebook. They seem to enjoy them and that’s good and makes me feel good.

But living in the past… I know that’s what we oldies are expected to do, but it is so frustrating!

Somebody asked me what’s the top three places I would go to once my incarceration is finished. That’s easy (apart from doing some food shopping, of course). I’d head for the bar at Alphabetti Theatre in Newcastle, the bar at Live Theatre, also in Newcastle, and the bar at the Customs House in South Shields. Not for the drink—I’ve got plenty of wine and single malt at home—but for the company and conversation of like-minded theatre-lovers. For I have missed all that so much.

Bring it on!