For someone who used to be in theatre, I am rarely in a theatre. I just am too lazy to go, but last night I bothered and I’m glad I did. Jerusalem has transferred from the Royal Court to the West End, and I should have been early to meet my husband, but instead I was late, bombing it up St James’s Street in the freezing cold, lightly sweating and swearing at 7.20pm watching my pre-theatrics drinkie disappear before my eyes.
I didn’t look attractive; my rheumatism was kicking in to my left hip and I was cross and unkempt. Anyone who runs wearing heels looks like a giraffe in difficulty. Imagine my surprise at getting wolf whistled at, whilst I was running like a rheumatic retard along Piccadilly. I got to the theatre in the end, my husband was early – and I was late.
I am a firm believer that you shouldn’t watch theatre sober. It’s completely unnecessary. I just don’t think anything can be gained by it. I don’t believe in the Tennessee Williams trick of writing plays once you’re several sheets to the wind, but watching it sober? No No No No No. I haven’t acted drunk, but I did once act with a hash hangover that made me walk around the stage v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y and made me forget my lines. Fortunately everybody was in Victorian costume so everyone walked slowly. Had it been Starlight Express I would probably have rollerskated myself into the wall. Plus, the play I was briefly in was in rural Suffolk in front of twelve people and a chicken, so there was no one there to notice. As a theatregoer, however, the punishment should fit the crime; so the play should suit the drink:
Shakespeare : Pewter mugs filled with frothy beer from ye olde country fayre
Sheridan : why on earth are you going to see Sheridan? see something else. No alcohol can help you, dear.
Ibsen / Chekhov / Northern European others: Vodka, what else? Drinking wine whilst watching Russian plays makes you maudlin. Champagne is too flippant for these types of plays. Fire yourself up with concise, sharp vodka with bitter lemon and develop desires to go to Moscow in the middle of Act II.
Shaw / Barrie: Red wine or port. Something soft, grounded and decadent to sip to counteract the harsh political soap-boxing you are forced to endure whilst sitting still in a theatre for three hours listening to dreams of utopia and proto-feminism.
Coward : Go 1930s with G&T. After three of them, you will think you are actually in a Coward play. The great thing about gin is you will laugh hysterically at the funny bits, then you will go home and sob dramatically for no apparent reason.
Eugene O’Neill: He deserves his own section. His plays go on for weeks. Babies have been born at the beginning of Act I only to emerge from the theatre at the end of Act III filling in their University applications. A Long Days Journey Into Night is like a recurrent dream that never leaves you. It will scar you for life. It lasts five weeks. To get through a performance of this a sweet and sticky rum (for comfort) and coke (to keep you awake). Prizes are given for those who manage to get through O’Neill’s plays without snoozing.
Classic Musicals : NB Anything before 1970. If it’s a Cole Porter thing with ladies on a ship wearing shorts and singing about trying to kiss a chap called Sandy – go native with American cocktails. Sidecar, dry martini, Angels Wings, Brandy Cocktail. Never attempt more than two. You have been warned.
Modern Musicals: After 1970. Absence of tap-dancing. Musicals turn into series of medleys of pop groups, the popularity of which turns everyone into an Abba fundamentalist, or makes everyone go on Saturday night shows to audition to be Andrew Lloyd Webber starlet. Pretend it’s your own hen night. Smirnoff Ice and Baileys chasers. Yes, it’s the dumbing down of culture. Yes, it’s got nothing to do with theatre and everything to do with a large gig. Yes, there are people in the audience wearing John Barrowman T-shirts. You cannot fight this. It’s massive. There are thousands of women descending upon the West End nightly, pounding down Shaftesbury Avenue to relive the Jersey Boys of their youth. Get into the swing of it all and sing along with the rest of ’em. Feel deliciously sick the following day, having overdosed on Irish cream and good cheer.
But, last night, the play was so excellent that I didn’t notice I hadn’t had time to get a drink, having not wanted anything other than water after I had given myself a cardiac arrest by galloping up St James’s Street like a heffer. And when the wine arrived, courtesy of lovely husband in the interval, it was in hugely generous portions and ensured I thoroughly enjoyed the second half, only I became deeply nostalgic and distracted on the subject of England and it’s Romantic heritage. One of the side-effects of drinking wine on a stomach that has had nothing in it except half a crumpet since lunchtime is that you are suddenly struck by a desire to remember poetry. Or at least remember that you have to learn some. Either way, it was a splendid piece of theatre, enough to restore your faith in something, and to make us Londoners feel very lucky at the quality of what we have to accompany our drinking.