Well what an adventure we have been on this week.
All four children have been performing in Billy Elliot at the prestigious Alhambra theatre. Those regular readers will know that it has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride for us all.
To begin with, it was my eldest’s baby. She is the one with the stage in her dreams but I wasn’t sure that auditioning was the right thing for her to do, coming on the back of the four big shows that she had already done this year. I soon changed my mind. Then she missed the auditions because she was away with school. More tears and trauma. Then she was too tall for the part she wanted, which promptly went to her younger sister. Stoical acceptance on her part and great maturity shown all round. Then her little siblings, having strut their stuff in the panto earlier in the year, were invited to take part and her little brother stole the show by being the smallest on stage and delivering his appalling swearword line with great aplomb. Not easy for a hormonal teenager to deal with. But she did.
The trials of casting completed, we then moved on to rehearsals. Complicated schedules which took over Sundays and ate into great chunks of the rest of the week so that other things had to be sacrificed. More tears as commitment to the show was explained and difficult decisions were accepted by them all. It got to the stage where they might as well have dragged their mattresses up the road and moved into the Upstagers’ Barn.
In and amongst all the preparations, they also competed for a place to perform at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London’s West End. We had a long day and a late night attending the heats in York and then the bittersweet news that Upstagers had been chosen to perform but the scene concerned only contained the Little Ones. More tears and tricky moments.
And then it was show week. We all suspended the rest of our lives and I ferried backwards and forwards to Bradford, shoe-horning meals in where possible and plaiting hair and mopping brows in my wake. The children were excited and nervous and anxious to do their best. Backstage the atmosphere was tense.
But the opening night was a triumph. The appreciative audience laughed and cried their way through and showed their delight with a standing ovation, the first of many that the show received. Comparisons were made, by people in the know, with the West End production and the children buzzed. The night that I was chaperoning backstage I was struck by the team work of the whole cast and crew. The older ones, none of them more than 18 but with a maturity beyond their years, focussed on the task in hand but still had time for a smile and a ruffle of the younger ones’ hair as they flew past each other for costume changes. Even the primary aged children dealt with the long periods in their dressing rooms between scenes calmly and without causing trouble.
They played to full houses and standing ovations and as the word got out about how good the show was more and more people flocked to Bradford. Even Billy Pearce, long-standing star of the theatre’s sell out annual panto, donned his ‘Coal not Dole’ sticker and expressed huge admiration for the show.
And now the run is over. My children are wandering about my kitchen as I type looking more like zombies than theatre stars. We will now have a sharp descent as the adrenalin fades and all that remains is the bone numbing exhaustion. Today will be a parenting challenge. But nothing can replace the experiences that they have shared this week. I hope that the confidence that they have gained will stay with them and that they will be able to hear those cheering audiences in their heads for the rest of their lives.