It’s weird isn’t it, the perspective hindsight gives us?
I had a bit of an emotional day yesterday, certainly exacerbated by my ever-inconvenient menstrual cycle. I was heading into London for the matinee of Black Watch at the Barbican, a show I’d first seen in May 2008 in a warehouse on Salford Quays. When I got dressed I realised that I was wearing the same jumper I’d worn that night, and then I realised that I could remember this fact in the first place because I went to the Star and Garter after the show. My old editor at High Voltage, Ali Beech, was leaving for London so we were out to wave him off, and my mate Mike introduced me to Nick Steadman, who would go on to become a super-super-super amazing friend during my own last year in Manchester. (BRAVE HONESTY ALERT: I became quite depressed before I decided to come to uni in Leicester and start afresh, and to this day I don’t think Nick realises what a great support he was to me.)
So, all I’d done was put a fucking jumper on and I was already full of snot and tears and misty-eyed memories. What a pussy.
It only got worse of course. I arrived at St Pancras right into the line of fire of a Salvation Army band playing bloody Christmas hymns and I was crying before I was even off the escalator. I emptied my entire purse into the woman’s collection tin, and it took me a minute to realise the coins weren’t going down the slot properly because I was also trying to feed in my work desk key.
At The Barbican, Black Watch was incredible as expected. I think sections had been cut, because I remember more singing and dancing the first time around, but then my memory had also put the dead guys on bungee cords and I’m pretty sure that’s not right. I had cried at the ‘final operation’ back in 2008 but there were proper floodgates this time. I was doing that thing where you try not to breathe so you don’t blub like a baby but then just end up snorting and gasping like you’re fucking drowning or something. Obviously, the play is as resonant politically now as it was two, or even four, years ago, but on the way out of the theatre I started to think about the effect it had had on me the first time. I’d got on the tram and gone straight to the pub to meet my friends and raise a glass to Ali. I excitedly told them about the guys who had been lying in a pool table for the whole first scene and could see that they didn’t really ‘get’ it, and couldn’t really imagine getting emotional at a play, despite being the sorts to have out-of-body-experiences at Sufjan Stevens gigs.
At this point I had been working at a theatre for the best part of two years, alongside music journo stuff, but it wasn’t a producing house and my job wasn’t creative. I never had to shout ‘the show must go on!’ or talk into a radio, or use gaffer tape. I did once fax off divorce papers for Faye from Steps, and I watched Leonard Cohen soundcheck, but other than that I just fretted about the payroll system. I had thought at the time that Black Watch was just a really fucking good play, but it wasn’t long before I was sending off for university prospectuses and dreaming of using gaffer tape for real. It was yesterday afternoon that I realised how closely these two things were linked.
(For a brilliant assessment of Black Watch by someone capable of critical distance, check out this from Matt Trueman.)