When I was in my final year of university, I was asked to put forward a 5-year-plan. (Coincidently, this marks my five years and I haven’t done too badly!) In the discussion, the topic of location came up – and I firmly stated I wanted to stay in the North. For me, I had enough going on in Liverpool outside of theatre world to stay; I was involved with a local rugby club I’d helped from the early days, I worked in a small studio theatre which I loved with all my heart, I had my friends and family around me, and I was working with a group of people who liked me, and I liked them. Why would I want to go elsewhere? I was happy where I was. I wasn’t planning to risk that just to say I worked in London. People seem to think that all theatre practitioners aspire to the West End, but I had no such desires. The only time I wanted to be near the West End for work was when Cursed Child was announced – and as time went on and I had to defend myself each time I had to explain why I had no desire to go to London, something inside me grew to hate the idea of working in London.
Earlier this year me and my stage management friends sat down with our production manager and tried to get some idea of what shows we would be working on. We all had an idea of what we wanted, and what other bits of work we had, so most of the shows were allocated with no problems but one show proved a bit tricky to assign. The show sounded like it would be a great learning curve; a new musical, a different cast than we usually work with, a new creative team we’d never encountered before – it ticked all of my boxes. Except, it was a three-week rehearsal process, and rehearsals were in London. Even for a period as short as three weeks, I had no intention of going to London. The idea of going to London overshadowed the rest of the things I was looking forward to in the show, but if I didn’t take it, I wouldn’t have had any work until June, so I had no choice. I took the job.
I didn’t want to go to London – I cannot emphasise it enough, but I’ve nothing against London as a city. I think it’s beautiful, and there’s always something new to see or do, but the idea of being there for work is what scared me. The role I’d taken on was my least favourite role in my department, so the idea of having to do it away from home, with none of my equipment or resources was a constant stress. The fact that I would be staying in a house with a stranger put me off; I’d be invading someone else’s space, I’d have to follow their rules so late nights and loud music were off-limits. I knew I’d get migraines from all the stress – self-inflicted, to some extent, I admit – and I wouldn’t be able to sleep them off, or do my usual thing in work of wearing sunglasses and sitting with my back on the floor and my legs up the wall to reduce the pain, because these were new people and I couldn’t behave that way in front of them. Lastly – I’ve only ever worked in one way. What if London people worked differently? What if they expected more of me, and I couldn’t deliver. What if I was rubbish at my job, and had no friends to turn to for support? I’d conjured up in my head the idea of me sitting in rehearsals all day being shit, everyone hating me, and then going back to sleep in this stranger’s house where I couldn’t breathe too loudly for fear of disturbing them. I didn’t want to leave my flat, I didn’t want to be away from my Dad, I didn’t want to stay in a stranger’s house and have to use a stranger’s shower. Matt was also back on tour, so who would water my plants? Who would look after our gerbil? I spent every hour I had from that point onwards worrying about going to London.
But, I couldn’t pay my rent with fear of London, so eventually the time came when I had to go. I spent three weeks working in London, doing the thing I feared most professionally.
And you know what? I really enjoyed myself.
The family I stayed with were lovely, and my room had an en-suite so I could keep myself to myself, which was a huge comfort. The cast were lovely, and didn’t think I was weird, and they let me wear my sunglasses for two days while I battle an almost-migraine that took the wind out of my sails. The creatives were lovely, the director brought his Nintendo Switch in and we played Mario Kart together (I won, just in case you wondered) and I felt right at home with the choreographer. Performance wise, I think I did okay. It was a huge challenge, as we couldn’t use any rehearsal props, we were very much tied to the schedule of the building we were in (unlike the rehearsal room I usually work in, which is owned by the theatre so you can stay as late as you like to finish your paperwork) and as it was such a new piece of writing, it was being re-written daily, so even if I’d have been in Liverpool it would have been a tough show to rehearse!
On my final day in London, I thought I was so excited to go home. I’d packed my things up, the cast and my CSM helped me pack up the rehearsal room, I made my way to Euston and found all the trains were cancelled – and a tiny, tiny part of me was relieved. I could stay another day in London. I could have another day exploring, and shopping and visiting things. I could have another day swiping into platform 7 in Victoria, and chatting to the man in Greggs. I could stay.*
When I got back home, and even now over a month after I first went, I found myself missing it – just a bit. I miss the idea of going to Marble Arch of a weekend to finish my paperwork in a little café. I miss the idea of my morning commute – a strict ‘no work’ time where I could just stand there and think about nothing. I miss the novelty of being somewhere I was never quite sure if I was walking the right way around, and I miss the way it forced me to always be trying my best, because I had a point to prove – even if only to myself.
Don’t get me wrong, the trains were hell, I don’t think my SouthEastern train was on time once, and I avoided the tube at all costs, happily walking from Victoria to Pimlico no matter what the weather was like. Everything cost so much down there, and I was too scared to use my host’s kitchen so I ate Tesco meal deals every day. I didn’t pack enough socks and was too scared to use my host’s washing machine, so I washed my socks in the shower and it was a disaster; but looking back, there’s not one thing that would put me off working down there again. I was so sure I would hate it, and I didn’t. I’d wasted two months of my life in the run up to it crying of a night because I didn’t want to go, getting snappy with people because I was worried about it and causing myself so many headaches, and it wasn’t worth it, because I loved London. I’m a stubborn person, but London managed to change my mind very quickly. I’d love to go back. In fact, I’d love to jump back 5 years, give 21-year-old me a shake, and tell me to get down to London sooner, because it’s done me the world of good.
But next time, I’d bring more socks and fewer jumpers, and I’d buy a suitcase with four wheels, rather than drag a two-wheel one behind me and trip people up. London is not the place for excess baggage.