Handel’s Messiah. If you were committed you could watch a different version of it every day throughout December. You would be in bright school halls festooned with ribbons, you would be in pubs in small islands where four tipsy friends and a fiddle hack out Hallelujah. If you were lucky you would have found a ticket to Theatre Royal Drury Lane for this evening. Tonight and tonight only. I booked this on 30th September, believing at the time that I would not be able to go because of Christmas Carol, but trusting some deep inner pessimism, sensing on some level that the show was gonna get pulled. I rarely book tickets so far in advance. Learnt the hard way. I had to give away my tickets to Peter Brook’s Hamlet. Loads of things I have had to give away. Loads of weddings and parties I’ve had to miss. My life makes sense to ME, but it requires immediacy and responds badly to advance planning.
As we took our seats there was whispering from the speakers almost entirely drowned out by audience noise, but evidently a beginning of trying to use this very traditional space slightly differently. Perhaps at some point in the creative process there was a thought that the audience entry and exit might have been populated, perhaps by cheap actors or installations. This was not to be, but the stage was very populous indeed.
Lou has managed to comp me to Glyndebourne so much in the last few years that I’m better at watching concerts than I used to be. We saw a semi staged Tristan and Isolde there which tested my endurance for a long show like that. I was ready to become interested in the choir and the musicians, and I know the piece very well. It was while we were rehearsing it for the school choir that my voice catastrophically broke over about a month and went from high open soprano, through wobbly alto and strident tenor to a very confused and very loud bass. At least I didn’t have the anxiety of not knowing what to expect. We settled in.
It’s all about Jesus, as you’d expect, but we had a big screen centre stage running often beautiful and striking moving light displays suggesting comets and suns and stars, crowns of thorns and stigmata and crosses and fire. A whirling display and always something to look at. Not that we needed it with Greg Batsleer as an animated and involved conductor, getting great sound and clear telling from the choir and orchestra. And for me the icing on the cake was three dancers, lighter than air, so free and controlled, whirling on the apron somehow in complete understanding of every movement they made. Absolute joyful weightlessness, the epitome of hard work looking easy. Truly beautiful and free next to the principal singers coming out of the opposite connection – a voice that soars and shines out of grounded still bodies.
This is why people occasionally punt a whole truck of money at a ticket to the theatre. This one wasn’t too bad – certainly for the venue and the experience. About eighty quid the pair of us. We both came dressed up. We went to Busaba beforehand after giving up on the Dishoom queue.
For forty quid each, a whole load of people worked really hard to entertain us, and we heard loads of songs about Jesus. They even make the word “Amen” last about ten minutes. It’s cracking if you like watching people singing. We sat in a great big swanky theatre full of Pre-Raphaelite art and sculptures. Some of the devout audience members even stood up during the Hallelujah chorus. They’ll be the ones with front row tickets to The Second Coming when Jesus finally gets his shit together and makes that show.
We finished up. We were full of joy. I caught Rebecca in the foyer, but a rushed tube to Sloane Square as it was already past ten. Another old friend next to us on the tube. London, innit. And then off off off back in Bergman eating up the miles and full of conversation about the joy we had just witnessed all the way home to Brighton and Lou’s. And here I lie, with a cat and a Lou sleeping beside me. It’s cold in the world. But I’m buoyed up by a lovely impulse buy and a bit of CULTCHA. I’d say “go see it” but you can’t cos it’s over. Shame. It really is awfully Christmassy… Lovely to see it sold out all the same.
Humbug? None of that to be seen.