When I was growing up, I loved performing in shows. Musicals, comedies, revues and straight plays; angsty contemporary dramas in small rooms and massive extravaganzas. I put myself forward for them all (including Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Company’, from which the song featured above comes).
I loved the buzz of the rehearsal room, the discipline of learning lines and actions, and the closeness that came from spending so many hours with a particular group of people, all working towards the same goal.
After the curtain came down on the final performance (in truth, there was rarely a curtain, but that was the way I thought of it – I took it all very seriously), there was always a period of flatness. As the weeks passed and my normal routine took over once more, I found myself wondering this: when would the day come where the cast could no longer get back together and perform the show straight off the bat? Would mistakes start to creep in after a week or two? Would most people be unable to remember their lines a month on? When was the point of no return?
I never put my finger on the answer (which would have varied from venture to venture in any case). But I do remember, every so often, having a sad certainty some while after a show had finished that the point of being able to revive the project was past. A day would come where I would know that there was no way we could all resume our marks and deliver our lines without help. The play had got away from us. It was well and truly over.
Similar thoughts (albeit on a rather different scale) have been drifting through my mind recently. In the last week, as many European countries have begun to announce a cautious easing of restrictions, the conversation in the UK has shifted in the other direction. The deadline for coming out of lockdown in any meaningful way seems to be moving further and further into the future. First it was likely to be in May, then June. Now, people are setting their sights on the autumn for some sort of resumption of normality, with others looking even further ahead – on the radio yesterday, I heard a pub landlord arguing that those in the hospitality industry ought to receive government support to see them through the next nine months. Boris Johnson’s claim that we could ‘send coronavirus packing’ in 12 weeks feels like a statement from another age.
With this shift in timeframe, a new realisation is sinking in. When lockdown measures are finally lifted, the UK won’t be returning to life as it was, so much as moving on to something new. If society remains frozen for months, a point will come – impossible to say exactly when – when it will be inconceivable for those of us who survive the pandemic to resume our places and go on with the show just as before. The props will no longer be where we need them. The lines won’t come to mind and there will be significant gaps in the company.
If this happens, there will be sad losses. Beautiful and valuable things will fall away. Some people will never recover the prospects they had before Covid-19 struck.
But there will also be fresh opportunities. In time, a new project will take the place of the old. The rehearsal room will buzz with activity once more. And perhaps, in the long run, it will turn out to be better.
Post updated on 30/04/2020 to include the video of ‘Ladies who Lunch’.