From a very young age, my mind was captured and entranced by the magic of the theatre. Remaining vivid in my memory is one of my very first visits to the theatre; a play of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the age of ten. I had very little experience of visiting the theatre at that age although I already knew something of its magic of panto from precious family visits to pantomimes. I remember as a child, the excitement of arriving at the theatre, looking up with awe at the giant, magnificent images adorning the exterior of the building; the theatre doors welcoming us in as if we were about to enter an enchanted kingdom. The feeling of exiting the familiar, everyday world and stepping into a world of magic. I remember the hustle and bustle of the foyer, the red and gold embellishment of the seemingly towering staircase leading up to the auditorium. The sound of the orchestra tuning their instruments, the anticipation that something exciting awaited me. The excitement of that sound has never left me. As an adult, I will sit in my theatre seat and the same feelings I experienced as a child immediately return. A feeling which nothing else in my life can give me; a departure from the real world into a world of enchantment and wonder.
When I was ten years old, my school organised a school trip to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory in Manchester. It was my first experience of watching a play in the theatre. My anticipation was immense. My panto visits had already instilled in me the excitement of visiting the theatre but this was something different. I was going to see a play and I had no idea of the impact that this was to have on me.
I remember clearly my astonishment at the spectacle that unfolded in front of me. The colours, the lights, the music, the sound, the energy of the actors bringing this wonderful book to life in front of my eyes. I had no idea that such effects could be created in a theatre. Everything was real in front of me yet magic was happening. True magic right in front of my eyes. How could this be? This was no television trickery; magic was truly happening and yet it didn’t seem possible. And the girl…
For the first time in my life, I saw in front of me what I wanted to be. The girl on stage with the most vibrant, powerful energy. He beauty and her tremendous voice as she commanded the auditorium with her strength, power and vitality. A girl filled with confidence, happiness and passion. I remember her clearly; that extraordinary connection as the ten-year old me was struck by the realisation that this was someone she wanted to emulate. The theatre was where she wanted to be. This was where she belonged.
There were several mesmerising performances in the show but this was the one that stood out for me. Through an amazing series of events, I was to link up with this actor years later. And the name of the actor who brought that powerful connection and magic to the stage? Dee Anderson – someone who has since become a great friend and mentor to me. It’s incredible to think that the girl on the stage who made such an impression on me in my childhood was to have such a hugely positive and significant impact on me in later years.
That performance was in 1985. The magic and brilliance of that performance and the power it had on me as a child means that it never disappeared or fade away. That performance lives on to this day in my memory and my heart. It lives on through my own work, as its influence and inspiration has remained with me throughout my life. This is the power of the theatre and those who work in this incredible industry.
The theatre has continued to be central to my life and it started with watching that beautiful, compelling, dynamic performance; it is my happy place. Although I don’t work in the industry, I feel a powerful connection to it. It is the place I belong. It is the place where I can be myself; where anything is possible. It heals, it speaks, it brings people together, it finds those who are lost. Theatre is life.
Courtesy of Alex Shewan