Sittin’ in the theatre, readin’ the program, and waitin’…

I posted the poem ‘Effanineffable’ a little while ago, and in the last few days there have been lots of people coming here because of that post. Not quite sure why the sudden interest, maybe there’s an English class somewhere doing a unit on ‘The Poems of T.S. Elliot’, dunno…anyway, I started thinking about the first time I came in contact with Elliot’s ‘cat poems’.

Even though we grew up in a tiny little town, many, many hours away from ‘the big smoke’ my parents, and, in particular, my mum, wanted to make sure that we weren’t disadvantaged culturally. Not only did we go to every possible theatrical, educational, cultural or musical performance within 200 kilometres, we were also periodically taken on the 7 hour trip to Sydney to see the ‘big shows’ – ‘Les Mis.’, ‘Starlight Express’, ‘Cats’

Every production we went to see was amazing and cemented a love and appreciation of performance which is undertaken with high production values, and I could rhapsodise about any of them, but I’ll confine it to the relevant one.

I think I was about 10, and my brother 6-ish, when we went to see ‘Cats’. (Actually, I just checked the Wikipedia page, and, yes, I was 10.) There’s a moment, right before a performance begins, when you’re flipping through the program, thinking about the possible plot/music/action, looking at the photos of ‘the principals’, and slowly immersing yourself in the experience, when the possibilities seem uncontained, when you get little glimpses into what the next 3 or so hours could hold, and the anticipation builds.

The set of ‘Cats’ is somethin’ else. The immersion of the audience into the action  environment  world is instant, even as you’re clambering to your seats (in the nosebleeds for us 🙂 ). The rubbish dump that houses these ‘effanineffable’ cats is built to scale and encases the whole theatrical space. As humans play the cats in this colony of strays, all of the props are built to dwarf the humans, so the proportions of the empty cans of Coke and the rotting tires and the old newspapers are huge. And, not only is everything supersized, it doesn’t stay on the stage. All of the seats in the theatre are surrounded by piles of massive and intricate garbage, close enough to touch.

As we were ushered to our seats I was truly aware that there would be no wondering in that moment before the start of the production. It was so apparent that there would be no desire to curl up on the floor and fall asleep during this show. I sat, entranced, feeling engulfed by the elaborate stage dressing that had leaked from the stage into the audience. Even though the excitement and joy was immense during that time of waiting, it was not, in any way, to be compared to the excellence of being swept into the actual show itself.

I remember the delight, even as I was not really understanding the ‘plot’, as Webber’s music and Elliot’s strange and magical and detailed words created something. Something that was about an unknown and obscure, but complex, world, that contained depth and mystery and…completeness, I guess.

I might be overthinking, over-remembering, but I can feel myself – 23 years ago – feeling transported and overjoyed at this glimpse of a world.

I wonder if I forget sometimes that, in terms of eternity, I’m still just sitting in the audience, reading the program, anticipating the world to come. The set’s pretty elaborate, and reminds me that the bit to come – the ‘real’ production – is gonna be overwhelming, and all-encompassing, and characterised by high  perfect production values. Effanineffable…

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