That’s my mum talking.
I spent a ridiculous number of years trying to get my mum to like me. The irony is that I think she fundamentally did, and still does. In an undeclared sort of way. But when I was a kid so many people, including her, kept repeating the story of how disappointed she was her first child turned out to be a daughter rather than a son. The son came not long after me, thankfully. But then what could have been pretty straightforward family dynamics and textbook jealousies turned into bitter and twisted forms of side-taking and things became a little complicated. As they do.
My mum’s insistent “you’re just like your father” -so heavy with contempt (they didn’t get on, my parents, and broke up, and became best friends a few years after that – go figure!)- became a particularly defeating statement to disentangle myself from. I automatically came to despise everything my dad liked, from fish for dinner to classical music, opera, musicals. I moulded my taste in everything onto my mum’s. Boy, it took quite a while to get out of that one!
About ten years ago one of my mentors at work -a philosopher by trade- told me about his deep love for musical theatre. He explained what a special place musicals could be when life got a little too real. At that point I only had experience of seeing two musicals, and I had dutifully and thoroughly filtered both through my mum’s intolerance for anyone ever breaking into song in the course of a story (speech is plenty of self-expressing for my mum – tidy, organised speech; music and dance are unnecessary distractions). Nope, I had never thought of musicals as a special place.
And there was also the language thing. You’re a foreigner in London with little money to spare. Sitting far up on the second circle to witness performances you’ll grasp at most about a tenth of is NOT a good way to go about any free time you may be able to scrape here and there. Fast-forward to fifteen years later and I am sitting in the stalls at the Cambridge Theatre in Covent Garden on a Saturday afternoon waiting for Matilda to begin. My mentor and his wife are sitting next to me – one they had not seen yet, Matilda. What a perfect place to start.
Trepidation, that’s what I felt. I liked Minchin’s work too much, I really wanted to like Matilda too. I also loved my mentor and his wife dearly, and didn’t want them to be disappointed. At intermission I found I was still unsure as to how to relate to the form altogether. My mentor’s wife took one look at me and whispered: “it’s all about suspending disbelief”. Oh, so this is about letting go, is it? Oh, but then I know how to do that. It’s what you do at rock gigs, when you’re the crowd and the crowd is you and together you’re the music and reality is a distant fucked-up mess.
So, here’s the thing, I bloody love musical theatre.
I might be more of a Jesus Christ Superstar than a Mamma Mia! type, but who cares. I’ll come and watch any musical. Especially if you’re the one getting tickets. What I like the most is the ridiculous amount of talent in the room. The incredible combination of onstage and offstage skill coming together and creating magic for me. For ME!!!
Well, yes then, on this one I guess I’m just like my father.