And so to Leopoldstadt… I’ve got a reasonably good hit rate for seeing Stoppard plays in the West End first time round. I like words and arguments and well framed thoughts. I also tend to have worked with the sort of people who end up in his plays. And somehow I just seem to luck into tickets. Kitcat messaged me this morning with a spare.

There were supposed to be two friends of mine on stage this afternoon, but it all got very complicated. One of them was sick and the other one was understudying her part so got bumped up into the larger role. I was oblivious to the adrenaline that must have been pumping through her veins as I watched her effortlessly play a part she’d barely ever played before, hungover and with about an hour’s notice. Brilliantly observed physicality, muscular vocals, excellently observed and rendered. My friend the legend.

The problem was the soundscape in there. At first I thought I had tinnitus again. Constant high pitched whining… But it was relentless, and it was higher and louder than anything I’ve experienced after banging out truss poles with no earplugs. It was when I realised that Kitcat could hear it as well that I started thinking maybe it was the soundscape. “The sound designer should be shot,” I found myself thinking, following a line of argument that told me that somebody had deliberately crafted a hostile soundscape for artistic reasons. It was often impossible to focus on the scenes through the high pitched constant howling… Not even consistent enough in pitch to be forgotten. Relentless, hellish falsetto screaming. Whyyyy? (It wasn’t the sound designer of course.)

I still got pulled in to the material. Nothing remotely close to how I might have been able to listen had we not been bombarded by constant electronic screaming. Was it the dimmer for he chandelier? No. Is it a dodgy connection? Surely they’d have noticed it… Streetscapes, and an offstage struggle at one point, levels going up and down, switching on and off, never free of that high pitched banshee scream. I was weeping at the end from an earnest and simple device well rendered. Just a list, but closing all the human stories we had been told. And still, under and over my tears, that electronic screaming, stealing the edges of every moment.

And then abruptly it was gone. And I saw the old couple directly behind me unplugging something from their ears.

The audio loop was fucked.

It’s possible that the couple behind me were not the only ones causing such screaming at the edge of hearing throughout the show. Certainly the post show discussion in my area of the audience was entirely devoted to the sound we had all been exposed to. “What the hell was it?” “I thought I was dying!”

We barreled out of the theatre and with some careful questions established that it could be heard on stage as well. Oops. Hard enough to engage with arguments. Having them whilst wondering if you’re having a stroke? No thanks.

We had dim sum in a place that wasn’t screaming high pitched hell. We broke down thoughts and feelings that had been woken up by this very clear and sharp work of traditional theatre. I’m happy to enjoy such a piece – to attend and be moved by a theatrical story with great eloquence and heart, employing so many people. The theatre was well filled for a matinee. It was lovely just to sit in the audience watching friends and colleagues work – and even through the hellscream of that badly calibrated hearing loop, to be breathing as part of an audience in the West End again. I rarely get to go, because of the ticket price. This was a rare treat and wonderful despite the fact that now, in the peace of my own bedroom, I can still hear the sound of that loop. It has awakened my old tinittus, but only because I’m thinking about it. Probably now I’ve made you think about yours. Sorry. Just lost the game.

I’ll go to sleep. A lovely day. Many other things happened. But in keeping with my experience, the screaming of that loop takes over it all, seeping into every attempt at quiet, battering all the contemplation. I have no idea how much money my friend paid for last minute tickets to that show. But despite the whining I’m glad she got us in. And I’m proud of her for not joining what was probably a very large line of grumpy people demanding their money back afterwards. Sure, they kinda need to sort that shit out. It’s nasty.. But let’s not take any more money from our industry. It’s been a hard year. We all need the work in a hostile environment. Fatima’s next job could be in cyber. My next job? Something like this:

One man. One stovepipe hat. One voodoo stick. Casual.

Author: albarclay

This blog is a work of creative writing. Do not mistake it for truth. All opinions are mine and not that of my numerous employers.

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