Something About Growing Old

Queen

Devoid of ideas for today’s blether, I turned to my wife for inspiration.
‘Why don’t you write something about growing old?’ she said. I explained that growing old is what this blog is all about. Three times a week; week in, week out, I write something about growing old.
‘Sounds boring,’ she said.
‘Well, you’d know – if you bothered to read it,’ I said, just this side of petulance.
‘So, why don’t you write something about hobbies?’
‘I do,’ I said.
‘You said that it’s all about getting old.’
‘I am getting old,’ I said, ‘therefore, whatever I do, somebody old is doing it.’
‘Still sounds boring,’ she said. ‘Why don’t you review a book that you’ve read, or a film that you’ve seen?’
I thought about it for a nano-second. Other people do it so much better than I ever could.
‘Well,’ she continued, ‘I don’t know. Why don’t you write about the last time you went to the theatre?’

So I have…

We Will Rock You – Nottingham – November 27th 2019

We went to see the touring production of We Will Rock You. We had seen the West End production some years ago, so I presumed (rightly as it turned out) that the show would be somehow smaller, less bombastic, perhaps less of a spectacle, but that the band and the music would be pretty much the same. I am a fan of Queen, but having got into them many, many years ago, with their first eponymous album, I tend to prefer the early music to the later anthems, but, hey ho, that’s not to say that I don’t love the later stuff. Anyway, I jump on…

Our daughter bought us tickets for the matinee, so that we could catch the train into the city, see the show and get home before dark, without having to stay over. (We’re old; she doesn’t like to think of us being out at night.) We rolled up at the theatre for what turned out to be a completely sold out performance and joined a milling throng of grey hair and bald heads. I have never been in the company of so many old people. I found myself in company that considered any beard shorter than ‘full’ as simply ‘unshaven’. I seriously believe that I was the only male present who did not have Velcro fastenings on his shoes.

We ascended the stairs to our seating level at a pace that could only have become slower by going backwards. It struck me that, should the theatre ever need to be evacuated, they would need several days notice to get everybody out. Once inside the main auditorium, the reason for the standstill was easily divined: with hundreds of people raking through handbags and pockets, in still darkened photo-chromic lenses, searching for reading glasses with which to find their seats and face the very unhappy ‘tutting’ of those who got there first. All around me hung the heavy odour of age: the fragrant collation of damp sheepskin boots, cough candy and Vick’s VapoRub. Without the need for a PA announcement, mobile phones were not only turned off, but securely stowed away in their little padded pouches, at the bottom of handbags and rucksacks. To one side of us, in the midst of a geriatric sea, was a puddle of school children who must have wondered what kind of a nightmare they had been transported into. This is your future, boys and girls, this is your future. Outside, in the atrium, the bars were empty, but the queues for the toilets were massive.

The We Will Rock You audience reminds me greatly of a Rocky Horror audience, but without the dressing up (leather trousers can be incredibly unforgiving in the event of minor leakage) although I suspect that underneath the thick, brushed cotton shirts and jeans lurked many a crisp white singlet and skinny-legged Long Johns. Everyone seemed to know exactly what was coming next and were out of their seats clapping in anticipation. I managed, as ever, to find myself sitting alongside a couple who carried out their own version of Audio Description throughout the show. I so appreciated the detailed explanation of every joke, particularly when delivered at a volume that made it audible on stage.

Right, so, the show. The band were great, although they did replace one of the great rock guitar intros (I Want It All) with keyboards for some reason that I cannot begin to fathom. Vocals were mostly good, but the lead role, on the day, was played by the stand-in who clearly had an earpiece to help him with the unfamiliar dialogue (although he could, conceivably, have been getting his prompts from the couple at my side) which seemed to unsettle everyone else when he was on stage. His voice, at times, managed to soar to the majestic heights and swoop down to the powerful low rumble register of Freddie Mercury, but never quite where it was supposed to. Cues and lines were missed with an unsettling regularity.

The scenery – most of which was projected onto the moving backcloths – worked really well, but what really emerged was a local amateur pantomime, fuelled by Ben Elton’s strangely dated love of the ‘saucy’ pun, full of great songs played really well and accompanied by a troupe of dancers that looked as if they were straight out of Junior Showtime: with all the latent sexuality of an end-of-the-pier, end-of-the-season revue.

The show itself had a mid-session interval, and I will never forget the sound of so many people simultaneously sucking the nuts from their Hazelnut Magnums.

The encore was Bohemian Rhapsody – impossibly daunting for a stand-in – which, sadly, was not great, BUT, the audience was on its feet, cheering and clapping for all they were worth. They had clearly loved the show. Well worth missing Countdown for. Owing to the difficulty experienced by many of the audience in getting to their feet at the end, the standing ovation rumbled on for several minutes.

Eventually the lights came up; coats, scarves, gloves and caps were doffed, and the whole phalanx of geriatrica shuffled, en masse, towards the exits, via the toilets. I have never descended a staircase so slowly in my entire life. The strange sensation of walking out of a cinema or theatre into daylight is as unexpectedly disorientating as waking up on a bus that has already gone past your stop.

The show had overrun somewhat and, having descended the stairs at a pace designed to engender rigor mortis, we had to run to the train in the pouring rain (well, part-run, part-hobble, if I’m honest – with the emphasis on hobble) which we caught by the skin of our teeth, and made it home in time for cocoa and half an hour in slippers before bedtime. Had I enjoyed the show? Well, yes, to tell the truth, far more than I should have. I love a pantomime. I love Queen. How could I possibly not.

So, there we are, I tried my best and, in deference to my wife, I tried to write something about the last time I went to the theatre, but somehow, I just ended up writing something about growing old again.

It is where I always go.

It is what I always am…