Crying in the Theatre

17 Sep
Image by JoeyBLS Photography, Shared Under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by JoeyBLS Photography, Shared Under a Creative Commons Licence

I was inspired to write this post after reading A Girl In the Dark’s wonderful piece, Crying On the Tube.

As Edinburgh doesn’t have a subway, and because I’ve never cried on the bus, I decided to write about the two times that I’ve cried, and I mean, the two times that I’ve really cried, in the theatre.

I’ve experienced a lot of different reactions to theatrical performances over the last few years, from giggling myself silly at the antics of Late Night Gimp Fight, to being incandescent with rage at Ontroerend Goed’s Audience. Good theatre should evoke a reaction from the audience, and even I am not immune to its power.

The first time a production turned me into a snotty, sobbing, heaving wreck was when I reviewed Jo Clifford’s Every Onea piece about death and grief that was based on the loss of Clifford’s beloved wife, Susie. The play looks at the death of the main character – a wife and mother – and examines at the impact of the bereavement from all sides, including that of the deceased.

As you might expect, it’s a highly emotional play, not just because of the subject matter, but also because the play was based on a true story, which made it more powerful. I saw the play six months after a good friend of mine had died suddenly, needlessly and far too young. In normal circumstances, six months is a long time, but when you’re grieving you’re on a different schedule to everyone else; you’re constantly trying to catch up in a race that you will never win.

As we neared the end of the first act, I could hear a few sniffles around me, as theatregoers doted about the auditorium cried. I remember that I had tears in my eyes then, too. By the end of the second act, it sounded like every single person in the auditorium was sobbing into their programme, including me. I cried, my then-partner cried, and the air in the building was heavy with sadness. The production created a mass outpouring of public grief, and we sobbed together as a collective. We cried and let go of some of the pain that we’d all been carrying.

It was cathartic. It was beautiful. It was liberating.

The second time was later that same year and occurred a few months after I had split up with my long-term partner. It was October, and I was trying to watch a production of Carrie’s War, and forget about the recent breakup. It’s quite a light-hearted play, but it has an underlying sense of guilt that resonated with me. I was sitting in the stalls and I was aware that the chair next to me, the chair my now ex-partner would have normally sat in, with his hand on my knee, was empty. In fact, the chair next to that chair was also empty, and so was the chair next to that one. In a theatre where everyone else was packed in like sardines, I nearly had half the row to myself.

These days I would be quite happy about having half a row to myself, but on that day I was unbearably alone in a venue where I had never attended without my ex-partner before. That night, as I sat isolated in the auditorium, the realisation that they weren’t there, that they were never going to be there hit me like a fist. I had failed because I walked away from the life we had built together. I had failed because I couldn’t fix our problems. I had failed because I was a failure.

I started crying over all that I’d lost in the past year; one of my oldest friends, my partner, my home and everything that I’d worked hard to create. I cried throughout the first act of the play, but managed to pull myself together for the interval, where I sat as still as possible and tried to look like someone who hadn’t been crying for an hour. Because if you sit still enough, I reasoned, no one can see you and if they can’t see you, they can’t ask why you’re crying.

As the second act began, and grateful for the darkness, I continued leaking hot, stinging tears sporadically like an old, cracked sponge. When the show finished, I left the theatre and I cried all the way home, taking the back streets so I could to avoid anyone and everyone on the walk to my cold flat that was now home. But that flat could never be home for me, because it was full of boxes that I couldn’t bring myself to unpack.

In fact, a lot of those boxes remained unpacked, because I moved from that flat to another one, and then on to the place I now call home. The place where I began to empty those boxes and grieve.

It was cathartic. It was beautiful. It was liberating.

Next time I cry in the theatre, I won’t be hiding it, I’ll just remember to pack some tissues in my bag. If you’ve ever been inconsolable because of a piece of theatre, let me know, I’d love to hear your story.

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2 Responses to “Crying in the Theatre”

  1. Owen Garth September 17, 2013 at 11:52 pm #

    I won’t judge you, my friend. Great art inspires emotion and vice versa.

    I don’t attend the theatre, but the last piece of cinema that made me shed a tear was Akira Kurosawa’s full length monochrome masterpiece, Seven Samurai (1954). It is a very moving story, and I couldn’t help but get emotional.

    • trashtaylor September 18, 2013 at 12:04 am #

      Thanks, my friend, I knew you’d understand!

      The last film I cried at was Blancanieves (2012); a very beautiful retelling of the Snow White story.

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