The room where it happens

When theatres reopened, I could no longer go. My Saturdays were taken from me by somebody else and here we are, months of prison later with nowhere to go to feel safe and alive and hopeful. I managed to sneak out only twice – or was it three times? – since March last year. I got used to an even tighter prison cell.

And then today happened.

Today a friend who has practically left the country and only spends a few weeks on the island, put up with my inability to commit to any real plans (as I said, somebody else owns my time at this moment) and held on to two tickets for Hamilton we had had for a long time, never actually making it there. Covid- and non covid-related delays and rail works didn’t even scratch our commitment to seeing each other and to go hide in a theatre.

We made it to Victoria palace with the trepidation of young children searching for presents on Christmas morning. Joan knew nothing about Hamilton. “I think it has something to do with the early history of the United States?” – she said. This was perfect. Introducing somebody to an epic show is a delightful privilege, as well as my favourite kind of responsibility. She had no idea what had just happened when Burr walked on stage and I literally -pathetically?- squealed and jumped in my seat, not quite believing it was Giles Terera really there on stage “covering” the role.

Of course there is nothing to review about Ham. Everything has already been said. The show has been dissected to death by musical theatre critics, academics, and random humans. And yet, here I am with all the feelings and the awe and the longing that’s already poking at my ribs when I’ve only just boarded the train back to my prison.

One thought that keeps resurfacing every time I engage with Ham in any form is that I love how it moves from being the story of an ambitious, self-confident man, to being the story of an incredibly strong woman with an uncommon capacity for forgiveness and buckets of courage and dedication. I love how seamless the shift is and I don’t particularly care whether any serious critic would agree. Eliza is an incredible character and Sharon Rose plays it beautifully. To be fair, the whole cast are incredible, but then everyone knows that. Although, I have to say, it does freak me out a little how closely Karl Queensborough’s Hamilton resembles Lin-Manuel’s. It is amazing and beautifully weird at the same time.

I cried all my tears on Wait for it. No surprises there, right? God forbid I make it through a show like a fully grown, competently self-regulating human. Never. I just could not hold it in. The pandemic, the loneliness, the heartbreak, the children, the friends in pain, it all came crushing down and poured out of me in the form of shameless sobs (turns out face masks are quite handy in these cases). I actually did not expect that. I imagined I would last until the more heart-wrenching stuff in the second act. But nope, Terera’s voice went straight to where the pain was sitting and that was that.

I have watched Hamilton on screen a few times. How can anyone compare that to being in the room is incomprehensible to me. Granted, it is great to have the filmed version, absolutely. Please make more of those. But being in the room, I can never describe what it does for some of us. I am not sure it can be described, actually. It’s a wavelength thing, I guess. And my goodness, every song, every line, every intake of breath, it was all so mesmerising. It made me want to hide under a seat and wait for the next show. Leaving a place of safety and life and heart knowing there will be no safety or life or heart for quite a while really pulls at one’s guts from the inside, you’ll find.

But then when the lights came back, and reality was switched on again, Giles was still stood there on stage, talking. It was a bit like being at stage door. It was the closure of the circle I love so much, when the person and the character are both there hanging to one another. Giles/Aaron spoke the beautiful and grossly under-acknowledged truth of how swings and covers make the West End happen every single day. Despite everything. Despite injuries, and sickness, and covid, and omicron, and childcare fails, and whatever else. My brain went all fuzzy again, grateful for the humility of these amazing humans in period costumes, working harder than I ever have to create and re-create this space of freedom and possibility curtain call after curtain call after curtain call.


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