Pops, I hope you don’t mind me writing like this. Exceptional times calling for exceptional measures and all that. I watched Brassed Off for the nth time last night. I remember so well our first time watching it and the memories it elicited: you toddling off to Burley brass band rehearsals with your own dad, Grandpa Stan, he with his euphonium slung over his shoulder, you with your cornet. I was instantly transported back to summers on Ringwood Road, the smell of Stan’s tomato plants…
Something struck me, astonishingly, for the first time. I’ve always declared myself the first ‘turn’ in the family; and while that’s technically, factually accurate, last night I remembered the many, many evenings I spent as a child sat in band rehearsal rooms, watching you get to your feet to play a trumpet or flugel solo, every inch the star performer. My first acting gig, playing Nellie in Annie Get Your Gun aged 10 in Singapore’s Victoria Theatre, only came about because you were second trumpet in the band and wangled me an audition.
I was also struck by the comfort the film gave in these times of Covid-19; it was huge reassurance just being bathed in the film’s stoic wit and music. One line in particular jumped out, from Pete Postlethwaite’s gloriously curmudgeonly band leader: “These are worrying times, I know that. But two world wars, seven strikes, one bloody big depression and t’band played on every flaming time.”
I have immense admiration for the artists making and conceiving virtual work for this strange moment in history
Countless articles have evoked the resilience of us artists. Our defining purpose is the show always going on. Art transcends politics, disaster, catastrophe. My thoughts turned to the company of Death of a Salesman moving and reconceiving its show back to the Young Vic last year after the collapse of the ceiling at the Piccadilly. By many accounts that rebooted show was even more vital than the original. I remembered my own experience performing in the midst of terror: in The Laramie Project playing in Soho at the time of the London tube bombings of 2005. All of us involved were desperate for the show to keep going on as soon as the travel ban was lifted.
I have immense admiration for the artists making and conceiving virtual work for this strange moment in history, and for the generosity of organisations like the National, Chichester, Frantic Assembly and countless others sharing shows for free online. But truthfully, I’ve struggled with my own resilience. For me, what we do is all about contact and presence, sitting shoulder to shoulder in dark rooms. It is about being together, not forcibly distanced.
But my resolve collapsed when you tested positive for Covid-19 three weeks ago. When I woke last Friday to the news that you had left us, having spent a week in isolation, none of us allowed to visit you and hold your hand… there wasn’t space for theatre in my heart. At the time of writing, the world had lost more than 110,000 people, including you, my beloved Pops. This is a time of untold awfulness and pretty much all I can do for now is to breathe, listen to the songs we loved and look forward to the day this passes. For now, for me, the show can wait a little while.