There’s nothing like the theatre to shield you from reality: while the biggest worry in Regent’s Park was whether rain would stop play (again), after a brief downpour meant that the opening night of Crazy for You there had to be stopped and the stage mopped before the second big dance number — London was burning outside. In the parallel universe of the inner circle of Regent’s Park, though, we were in delirious, intoxicating oblivion.
So much so that I got home and immediately set to tweeting my pleasure, unaware that everywhere from Hackney and Croydon to Peckham, Lewisham, Clapham, Ealing, Camden, Bethnal Green, Stratford, Notting Hill, Colliers Wood and Dalston there was a war zone. According to a news report in today’s Guardian, “a 100-strong mob cheered as a shop in the centre of Peckham was torched and one masked thug shouted: ‘The West End’s going down next’.”
As Lambeth council leader Steve Reed comments in the same story, “Somebody described it as gangs of kids doing Supermarket Sweep. It was Curry’s where they were after plasma screen TVs, and H&M and Foot Locker where it was clothes and trainers. It wasn’t about social issues, it was an opportunity to go on the rob.”
So unless they are desperate for tickets to see Jude Law in Anna Christie tonight, the Donmar Warehouse may be safe, even if the shops around it less so. But while we usually carry on our business, whatever that is, apparently safe in the knowledge that others are going about theirs, lawlessness is a (lack of) law until itself. There are no rules, in any sense, to make sense of any of it.
So do we (try to) carry on as usual? Last night I unwittingly did so, posting my review tweets on Crazy for You. It was only when @theatreblogger — whose own profile promises that she tweets “theatre news, gossip, previews, celeb interviews, West End actors’ chat, from a critic and writer” — put out a message to me, “Admire the dedication mate but London is literally on fire….” that I paused, checked what was happening, and posted instead, “Yikes, being in Regent’s Park was being transported to an alternative universe… Now seeing that an entirely different London was outside.” Then I added, “Never mind Crazy for You, the real craziness is on the London streets… One of the dangers of being a theatre critic is being cocooned from reality.”
The replies were instructive. “Welcome back to reality… Strindberg would be proud!” wrote one. Another at least made me laugh: “I was at Shrek earlier - at least you were at something good.” Two fellow tweeters had also been in Regent’s Park: “Having been there as well, I can vouch for the fact that, no, people don’t walk around in the real world with glittery tiaras,” said one; while the other told me, “Left at interval as riots kicking off. But how hot was that tall chorus boy?!”
And with news that the riots last night spread outside London, too, to Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool, there’s real drama - and sickening violence - playing out on the streets of our cities. Police are telling people to avoid Bristol city centre, so that’s going to affect performances of the Bristol Old Vic’s Treasure Island being played just outside the theatre. (There’s no performance at the Bristol Hippodrome till Roy Chubby Brown is scheduled to appear there on Friday). But unless and until a curfew is imposed on the streets in London, I am still heading to the theatre; and yes, I’ll still be tweeting, blogging and reviewing the results.
Next month is the 10th anniversary of 9/11, and like everyone else, I’ll never forget where I was as the world changed forever. It was the opening night of Sian Phillips’s appearance as part of the late, now lamented Divas at the Donmar season (that I incidentally helped to personally originate), and in a curtain speech before the show began, we were asked to keep a minute’s silence for those affected in New York. A friend provided the lightest moment of relief when I told him later: “It’s a pity they didn’t reverse it, and have one minute of singing and two hours of silence.”