Monday, 28 May 2007

Illness and the seaside restorative

Doctor in the house

I go to well over my fair share of theatre performances, and I have witnessed some electrifying drama, delightful comedies and extraordinary musicals (Behind the Iron Mask, anyone?) on stage over the years. But I’ve seen a fair bit of off stage drama too, worst of all being the real life medical emergencies, from a man having to be taken away by stretcher from the slips at The Royal Opera House, to projectile vomiting at The Richmond Theatre. But overwhelmingly the show has not paused for these incidents (apart from the vomiting at Richmond, the elderly matinee audience cleared two rows in record time, and the actor, in a production of The Rivals, was forced to halt the show. He admirably continued from where he had left off after an impromptu interval allowing the ill man to be taken home and the soiled seats to be temporarily cleaned/covered, their previous occupiers now seated at the back of the stalls).

Last week at The Maids in Brighton, and elderly couple shuffled past me, I thought to rather rudely leave, but it soon became clear that the gentleman was in some distress. He was seated by the usher at the back of the horseshoe shaped temporary auditorium, in view of much of the audience (she couldn’t take him outside, as only a long flight of stairs lay beyond the room). This caused great concern for many of us in the audience, we were taken away from the world the actors were creating and into the more critical situation of the ill man. No announcement was made, the actors, who must have been able to see and hear what was going in on in such an intimate space, continued, but a doctor/nurse in the audience got up and went to help the man. He was eventually taken away by paramedics, and or course there is nothing that the actors or the audience could have done to help him further, but I do feel that the drama suffers so much from our divided attentions, plus it feels plain wrong to ignore the plight of a sick person by continuing with our entertainment. I can see that this argument can tend toward the morally vicarious or against the good British stiff upper lip, the show must go on and all, but I genuinely feel uncomfortable watching a play in such circumstances.

I also had a slight variation of that feeling the week before at My Child at The Royal Court, where the radically reconfigured auditorium forced the majority of people to stand. One young woman collapsed halfway through the 40 minute piece, the people around her moved to allow her to sit down on the floor, and the front of house staff gave her water. The displaced people generally stood into the acting space annoyingly blocking my view, even slightly blocking the actors’ ways at times. The woman was not seriously injured and no ambulance was required, so I personally felt it would have been far better to pause the show (again the actors were most certainly aware of this incident) and take the person away; she can’t watch a play in that condition and we couldn’t watch it properly either.

At the 2200 seater Royal Opera House, a serious medical emergency in the amphitheatre is not necessarily going to stop the show (unless the house manager says so), but on the fringe and in intimate spaces, if someone is too ill to leave the auditorium themselves, then stopping the show is the only decent thing to do, be it to remove the person or wait for appropriate medical aid. This brings us to the subject of having to stand in the theatre when there is little or no promenade element to a performance. But I’ll save that one for another day…

Seaside Restorative

Going Brighton did do me some good (and the show was great), despite getting home at 1am from my seaside jaunt.

I arrived in Brighton at 7pm on a Tuesday evening; The Maids was due to start at 9.15pm at a hotel on the seafront. Knowing the town well, I wandered from the station to The Royal Pavilion, I always enjoy seeing this magnificent edifice (but it needs a lick of paint to put it mildly), then I sauntered through The Laines to the sea. Seeing the sea is always a pleasure for me, so I enjoyed a stroll on the pebbly beach, then on to the pier for a single go on a slot machine, and the opportunity to read my book with an even better sea view against the contemplative sunset. What amazed me about this trip was the desolation, even melancholy, of the town, not a single shop (apart from the occasional newsagents) was open, restaurants and bars were empty, the pier was mostly closed up, and there was hardly a soul to be seen on the street. Never has Brighton looked so decrepit and old fashioned to me, but rather romantic none the less. On a weekend or when a big conference is in town, the place seems alive and vibrant (even a bit like London). But without the weekend pleasure seekers and clubbers, the town (or The City of Brighton and Hove as it now is) seems just like many other British seaside resorts, all crumbling faded grandeur. But I actually really enjoyed wandering around the town, it is a mellow place on a weeknight, and a sometimes fraught and crowded one on a weekend. Sitting on the pier with the beautiful sunset, and the excitement of the theatre to come that evening, I was supremely contented (and maybe even a little wistful!).

A few weeks before, on a trip to Chichester, I briefly visited Bognor Regis (I was there under 90 minutes) on my way home, mainly to have a paddle in the sea. Unlike Brighton, Bognor has not metropolitan illusions, it’s a small quiet town and seems to like it that way. I took a photo of the entrance to the pier and main seafront road, not a single person was in shot. But the peace and solitude of Bognor’s beach was wonderful, I sat there alone for half an hour looking out on to the beautiful unspoiled seascape. Also unlike Brighton, there is no mess in Bognor. It may be decrepit as a resort town, but the fabric is kept relatively clean and tidy, no graffiti or dirt which abound in Brighton. I’m afraid Brighton gets me vote any day, indeed I hope my next Brighton sojourn is a bit livelier!


Statler said...

I do understand what you say about illness in the theatre although I've been fortunate enough not to have it occur during any performances I've attended. However, I'm not sure your alternative of stopping the show is always a better option. Isn't it often better to continue with the play even if the audience isn't fully attentive rather than have the whole audience focused entirely on the treatment being given to the patient? If I or a loved one was unwell I'd be horrified to find all those eyes on me/us.

Sean said...

All the people at the small venue could hear the poor man struggling for breath, and most were craining to see him and not looking in the direction of the actors at all (many people made comments to their friends). We simply couldn't watch the play properly, and all eyes were on him anyway.

I agree it might not always be the best to stop a show in larger theatres, but having someone sick in the auditorium has the effect on the play of taking a plaster off slowly, better rip it off and be done with the pain than suffer for a long time (i.e deal with it sensibly). If a pause had been given at the Royal Court, the person would have been removed in a couple of minutes (to sit on a proper chair, not the floor) and we could have watched the play normally.