I’ve think I’ve only cried twice at the theatre. It’s not a boast – really just an observation. I’ve cried countless times at the pictures, but not because films are inherently more powerful. It’s statistical. I go to the pictures more often.
For the record, the last time I cried at the pictures was when I saw The Red Turtle. The movie equivalent of a gruelling therapy session, without the benefit of a box of tissues or a professional hand on the shoulder.
The weird thing is, both times I’ve cried at the theatre I’ve been sitting next to someone who was completely unmoved. It’s an odd feeling, having your heart put through a mangle, only to find your neighbour not only dry-eyed, but utterly dismissive.
For example: La Boheme at the Colisseum. Admittedly my first time at the opera, so you could say I was a tear duct ripe for the squeezing. But it was an overwhelming performance, and by the time Mimi was flopping back on the ottoman and Rodolfo was holding on to her, howling her name, I was howling too – so loudly even the timpanist was looking up.
‘Well that was a load of old bollocks’ the woman to my right said as the lights came on. She glanced sideways at me as I towelled myself down, like I was a particularly loathsome specimen of Les Naives, and this was why tickets prices had to be doubled to stop anything like this happening again.
Yesterday we went to a matinee of Amadeus at the National. A fantastic performance, swooping from terrifying, back-lit mise-en-scène to the most intimate shared conversation. I was so transfixed by the horror and the madness and the magnificence of it all, by the time Constanze was holding Mozart in her arms…. well, we’ve been here before. The company swept forwards for the curtain call, and I was standing up, clapping loudly, tears shining. Eventually the stage cleared, and I collapsed back into my seat to breathe.
‘Well. Someone obviously enjoyed that,’ the woman to my right said, in the flat tones of someone well-practised in saying one thing and meaning another.
Yes, I said. I said how well I thought they’d staged the whole thing. How fluently and naturally. I said it was a killer combination – fantastic script and wonderful music. How great the performances were, the lighting – that bit where Mozart’s father finally appears as Don Giovanni, or when Salieri looks over the Requiem whilst Mozart writhes on the floor and the orchestra plays and the singers sing and the stage advances…
‘I saw it in seventy-nine when it first came out,’ she said. ‘No-one had heard of Shaffer then, of course. And there was none of this live music. The words didn’t fight the action. Now that was a great production.’
My daughter Martha was sitting to my left. She was standing up and putting on her coat.
‘And what did you think?’ said the woman, leaning round me.
‘Yeah! I thought it was great! The singing was amazing! And the great thing is – we’re going to see Marriage of Figaro next week!’
‘Are you a singer?’
‘I am actually, yeah!’
‘What are you? Soprano, I suppose.’
‘I am. Yes.’
‘High or low?’
‘High. I think.’
‘I’m not sure.’
‘Can you sing all the arias?’
‘I don’t know about all of them.’
‘Or some of them, at least?’
‘Some of them, yes.’
‘I’m a singer and I can sing all of them.’
‘Wow. That’s – impressive!’
I stand up and start to put my jacket on, too.
‘Lovely to talk to you’ I say to the woman, who doesn’t seem to be making any effort to leave, even though most of the rest of the row have gone, including the two young guys who I remembered had turned up to sit with her just exactly as the lights dimmed. She’d turned to them and instead of saying Hello! or Thank god you made it! instead said very icily: Strictly speaking there should be no admittance once the performance has started. ‘We know!’ they’d said. ‘Sorry. The train was late.’
Looking back, I wonder if that was strictly true.