Wednesday, July 29, 2015

No longer a lonely traveller

There’s a story Queen Jesus tells in the play that I’m proud of.

Proud of the writing, anyway, and so it’s one that I enjoy telling.

Director Susan frowns a little.

“You’re always off when you do that story”, she says.

She means off centre, my voice not coming from quite the right place. 

Nor the rest of me neither.

Director Susan doesn’t do scathing. She doesn’t even do mild reproach; more a sense of someone waiting.

A sense that this is something I may not want to hear just now. Or maybe something I’m not able to hear.

But one day I will..
The story is a version of the parable of the Prodigal Son. The son discovers she is her father’s daughter, is driven out of home and goes to live in a far country. But eventually comes home and is reconciled to her father.

Suddenly I realise it’s also about me and my dad.

He was always terrified and outraged at my being “sissy” and didn’t quite know how to handle it.

He did his best to be good to me, but didn’t really know how.

I remember once being terrified when he shouted at me after I had stolen a doll; but mostly, like many things that caused him emotional discomfort, he repressed it.

This was what his generation was taught to do.

He died in his early seventies, while we were still estranged from each other, without knowing or understanding who I really was and without even really taking on board the fact I had become successful.

It grieves me that I never could come out to him or that he never truly understood or accepted who I was.

In the middle of discovering all this, we have to move out of the rehearsal room and I leave my stick behind. 

When director Susan retrieves it on the Monday it appears with a label attached.

A cardboard label tied on with string of the kind that always used to be attached to my suitcase when I was a boy. 

And also, when I was sent off to boarding school, attached to me.

My mum used to put me on the train at Cheltenham Spa for the journey down to Swanage, me and my little brown suitcase. With our labels attached.

(And the suitcase, I remember, was the same as the suitcase I carry on stage)

My mother used to hate sending me off on these journeys. She’d try to hide the fact she was crying: but I still saw.

My father thought they were good for me, and could never understand why I wasn’t prepared to send my daughters to boarding school too. “You’ll want to get them out of your way”, he’d say testily.

And so there I was, a small boy of 8 or 9 years old in his school uniform setting out alone on these long train journeys.

And maybe these solitary journeys prepared me, somehow, for the long journeys I was to take later as a writer.

Inner journeys to dark or frightening places, alone, to try to bring back something of value or of beauty.

But this time I have companions. I think of director Susan so thoroughly working on the script; archangel Annabel trying to balance budgets and make sure the right people come; and st. Claire seeking out the right tea lights and towel. 

And I understand there is something very beautiful about this journey that starts at Summerhall a week today and leads to who knows where: the fact I no longer have to make it alone.

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