One seems to, if one is as carefree and juvenile as I am, find the humour even in the most depressing of times. Being made redundant back in July was a shock to the system (however much I saw it coming, and I was far from alone in losing my job) but there was still an element of, “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I’m free at last!” Indeed, I now find myself working from home in a temporary job where nobody really cares what precise time in the morning I start and what precise time in the (early) evening I stop, as long as I get my hours in and the work gets done.
And boy, the work gets done, especially when in lockdown, and there isn’t much else going on. Stubborn mule that I am, I still haven’t subscribed to Netflix, or to Disney Plus, and I can’t see myself doing so any time soon. I have, more than ever, taken to doing online surveys (thanks to the relentless adverts for survey filling ‘jobs’ on Reed, CV Library and other places) – I’m sitting on a £20 Tesco gift card which I keep forgetting to bring with me when I pop out for groceries. Online market research doesn’t pay well at all, but in this economy, one must do what is necessary to get by.
Being out of work for so long did allow me to get a grip on other aspects of my personal life: years of correspondence, stuffed into various drawers and piled up in miscellaneous places around the house, were duly gathered and sorted through, with bags and bags of paper having made their way through my trusty cross-cut shredder. At one point, as soon as the refuse collectors had been and gone, my outside bin was duly filled up again.
As you will be aware, theatre reviews didn’t stop just because the theatres were closed for a large part of the year. This was the Year of the Stream, which began as monologues in lockdown and culminated in the likes of London’s National Theatre and Leicester’s Curve Theatre making available Dick Whittington and Sunset Boulevard respectively (I didn’t care much for the former and utterly adored the latter).
Then, of course, there were the socially distanced productions that managed to go ahead with an audience – the press reps behind The Comeback were particularly keen for me to reschedule things and see that show in the West End before Tier Three came into force in London in December (itself swiftly followed by Tier Four) but I simply had too many other things booked in. Mask wearing rules were enforced with rigour at the London Palladium and at Cadogan Hall, and rather less so at The Crazy Coqs.
Practically everything from job interviews to consultations with my diabetes consultant to church services went online: somewhere online there’s a video of a priest who accidentally activates the video filters on his smartphone while live-streaming a Mass. My next door neighbour continued the weekly Clap for Carers into, I think, thirteen weeks (it officially stopped after ten), and I found myself giving far more than anticipated towards somebody’s Movember Foundation charity fundraiser.
Black Lives Matter came to the fore, with people attending marches and protests despite concerns about the spread of Covid-19 – as the actress Audra McDonald put it, there are two pandemics going on. For the first time since I care to remember, I’m not shelling out a huge amount of money in one go for an Annual Travelcard. I don’t miss commuting, frankly, even if it did give me breathing space at either end of the working day.
I ended up blowing much of the redundancy money on repair work to the house – the ceiling in my front room started leaking, and what was initially a gutter replacement job turned into a much bigger waterproofing and roof repair project. I discovered mindfulness, and still occasionally do ten-minute meditations on the Calm app, and while it’s not for everybody, it’s certainly helped me to focus and be calmer than I otherwise would have been in a world that has well and truly lost the plot.
I also started a side hustle as a social carer on the weekends. I’ve chosen to keep doing it for a while, even though I’m back in full-time employment – I retrained (as it were) and it’s a stream of income. I’m glad I did, even if it’s for entirely selfish reasons: looking after the elderly in their own homes pushes me further up the queue to get the Covid-19 vaccine. My employer has already put me forward and I’m waiting to hear back from the NHS. We’ll see. But whether I get it sooner rather than later, the medical advice (for me) is a strong recommendation to have it if offered. If it kills me, or indeed if the virus does, I offer the same rebuttal I’ve used for decades in the face of death: dead people don’t pay council tax. (Unemployed people don’t, either, as I discovered earlier this year.)
I’m grateful to the other members of the Sharon Sexton Fan Club – there’s a fairly busy WhatsApp group to which we contribute – for letting this acid-tongued theatre reviewer continue to be part of their (online) ‘bubble’. (I wonder if they know I once two-starred Wicked.) It’s been many years since I had this many Christmas cards from people (mostly from said fan club): I honestly thought that was a thing of the past. Oh, and on a separate note, my energy bills are higher this year than they have ever been. Anyway, here’s to 2021. Love, laugh, love and all that.
There’s a shouty man on the staff of the Cadogan Hall that likes to, well, shout at people. Except the Covid-secure guidelines discourage shouting, so all he could do was gesticulate wildly at me as I had to walk past the usual door I go through to nip to the toilet at the hall before a show – like many places, the hall has one-way systems in place. I managed to order a drink on my phone – without the need for yet another app, but the £46 ticket price did seem a little steep for a gig that barely lasted 85 minutes (including bows and encore). My own fault: I suppose I could have booked to sit in the gallery rather than the stalls.
“We’re in a theatre!” exclaimed Killian Donnelly, who will probably always be Huey Calhoun in Memphis to me, especially when, like tonight, he shared a stage with one of the Felicia Farrells of that show, Rachel John. We were in a concert hall, really (imagine Cadogan Hall with a safety curtain coming down at the interval!) but we’ll overlook that – after all, the line-up comprised musical theatre actors (the other singers being Oliver Tompsett and Louise Dearman), so much of the audience was made up of theatre patrons. When host Pippa Evans (she of Showstopper: The Improvised Musical fame, as well as Sunday Assembly) asked if anyone present didn’t like musicals, only one person dared to admit as much.
Altered lyrics to ‘It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year’ name-dropped ‘bubbles’ and other corona-related vocabulary. Mercifully, this didn’t become a running theme. In the first half, Rachel John was handed classic Christmas tunes – hymns, if you like, blowing the roof of with sensational renderings of O Come, All Ye Faithful and O Holy Night. By contrast, Louise Dearman was allocated Frosty The Snowman and Into The Unknown (from Frozen 2). Given the running time, and Evans’ comedy routines at various intervals, the show did remarkably well to rattle through seventeen numbers.
The background vocalists (Alex Conder, Sadie Harris, Callum Henderson and Phoebe Williams) got their own number, The Christmas Song. All are 2020 graduates from the Guildford School of Acting – the theatre industry has, as far as is feasible, supported recent newcomers, with Henderson already having completed a run in October at the outdoor Garden Theatre in a production of the musical Next Thing You Know. Overall, there was quite an eclectic mix, ranging from Joni Mitchell’s River to Elton John’s Step Into Christmas. The inclusion of Fairytale of New York, with unaltered lyrics, was, Evans admitted, controversial – I personally take the view that it should be performed as it was written, or not at all.
It was, I think, the best job that could have been done in the circumstances, and with so many Christmas concerts cancelled this year, to have witnessed this one go ahead is itself a remarkable achievement.
London lad, loving life and all that it has to offer.