Goodbye London’s Dress Circle, the oldest showbiz shop in the world which, on February 9 2013, closed its doors for good.
It will continue as an online business, which sadly seems the inevitable fate for the future of the CD and DVD store.
For me, it is not about the specific business circumstances which have led to its closure, but the heartsick feeling I have for what this little shop has meant to me since discovering a love of theatre as a child and from the first time I ever set foot in the shop on a trip with my parents to London from my home town of Norwich.
Dress Circle helped fuel my theatre interest
From that day onwards, it helped fuel my theatre interest and its loss is perhaps most keenly felt not simply as a first-class specialist independent music store with a knowledgeable staff but in the way that over the years it has provided a community for so many, and for me personally, a place where I have made friends who share the same passion and interest in theatre as me.
Back home, virtually no-one I grew up with had an interest (or certainly obsession) in theatre as I did. At my comprehensive school, you could not even take drama as a GCSE subject; therefore, theatre for me was a private passion but Dress Circle provided me with a place where you could come, share, meet and learn from others and their interest undoubtedly helped to encourage my own.
From walking into the shop in its last week and seeing the number of people who were coming in to say “goodbye” and have one last look around, I also know that I am not alone in the influence and encouragement Dress Circle has had on so many others either working in the industry or, crucially, as theatregoers.
Influences, especially in the early stages of our lives and careers, can be of enormous significance. Sometimes when it’s a person, you sadly do not always realise that until it’s too late. For me, aside from Dress Circle, my biggest single theatre influence in my own life was the Norwich Theatre Royal where I saw my first show at seven years old and from 13 years old onwards, on Saturday afternoons each week, I could see a different production. It became my classroom all the way through until I turned sixteen, when I left school and headed to London to start work in the theatre. Those early theatre experiences were crucial and hugely influential for me and why my own belief and passion in the vitality of regional theatre is proven by the fact it can literally change lives.
With Valentine’s Day just behind us, perhaps this column has taken on something of a romantic feeling. But I am not caught up in nostalgia. Things like the end of an era for Dress Circles, learning from a great mentor, or these worrying economic times that our regional theatres are facing, remind me that you should never take anything for granted.