One of the many things I love about writing is that it invokes all your cerebral bustle while indulging your lazy side. You can for example have the most productive day while propped up by five pillows in old pants, long socks, and a Dolly Parton T-shirt covered in biscuit crumbs. In fact, some of my best work has been done while looking like I’ve just had a breakdown over the last Hobnob.
One of the other things I love is hearing the words I’ve spent weeks of my life writing, transcribed voices that sprung to life from a seemingly throwaway idea on the back of a napkin, spoken aloud by people I love and admire, to a theatre full of laughing people. That is my drug, my joy, my adrenaline shot to the heart.
Last week, my play The Bastard Children of Remington Steele had a run at London’s Leicester Square Theatre. It was a week that will keep me floating into next year. As with anything where you put yourself ‘out there’, you hate yourself for feeling validated by sales and response, but you sort of have to put that out of your head. It is part of it. The gumption to do it in the first place, closely shadowed by self-loathing. They keep each other in check.
In amongst hating the self-promotion and the fear, I allowed myself a rare slither of pride. Turning up with your cast and a trunk in London’s Theatreland is ruddy exciting. It feels official. It makes the weeks of muttering to yourself seem less like madness and more like an investment.
What allowed the pride to rise like a warm bun in my heart as we drove down Charing Cross on our first night was a little thing, really. I glanced out of the window and saw the red bricks of the Palace Theatre and for a few fleeting moments it was my fourteenth birthday again. I’d been spoilt, taken to the recently opened Planet Hollywood by my lovely mum, who afterwards guided me through the west-end with a mysterious air. There, on the corner outside the theatre, stood my dad. I hadn’t been expecting to see him. But there he was, holding a pint and a present. A butterfly locket. He and my mum smiled at me with the stoic partnership that separated parents must work at. They did well; I was blithely unaware of how hard it was for Mum to do that at times. Dad gestured towards the theatre and I realised we were going inside to watch Les Miserables. I almost exploded with glee.
Thinking about it now, my pride last week wasn’t an ugly indulgence. It was only rightful. It was a tribute to the hard work of my parents. It was a thank you. They worked hard to fill me with confidence and the resources to do things, make things. They gave me the sense of entitlement to the world that we should all feel. It is ours to take.
Passing the Palace, and seeing the ghost of my Dad for a moment, made me feel like I was returning to claim a tiny piece of Theatreland that he’d reserved for me.
It still seems so strange to me that a man who eventually chose to end his life could have succeeded so fruitfully in teaching me how to live mine.
I went on stage, felt the lights on my face like a hug from above. I did my play about fathers; their presence, absence, legacies. And I even remembered my lines. How could I not. They were because of, in spite of, and for him.