I was invited to a meal today in a part of Theatreland, London. Nothing unusual there – but on walking into the venue (which I have absolutely no intention to name) I experienced something of a temporal anomaly. I found I was existing both in 2014 and circa 1986.
Today’s meeting with my better half and a mutual friend was pleasant, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable. Interestingly though neither of them could have shared the periodic time shifts I experienced in this amazing and very comfortable venue.
Close to a theatre in which I had performed this venue had always been something of an underground hit. Popular with the lovies and thesps of the West End, it was somewhere I had known since my mid twenties. However, ironically, it wasn’t somewhere I had visited more that twice before. Now I can afford to eat and drink there without too much trouble – but in the 1980’s as a struggling actor anything other than a coke (diet coke was still to hit the market widely in the UK) was as pipe dream. But you could make a drink last a while and hope to be seen by someone interesting and important (not that it ever happened).
Perhaps it was because this venue had become something of a special treat symbolising potential future success that I remember it so well. Having a feel rather like Cheers bar (some of the London lovies will need no more to identify it) this bar had it’s own long standing pianist and a myriad of show posters decorating the walls.
It was one of these posters I remember being prominently positioned over the bar in the mid 80’s. A classic poster publicising Follies which was the latest surprise hit from Wythenshaw (where I was I believe lucky enough to see Meg Johnson rock the north west) which looked like it may make it to the West End in due course. Many other posters were prominently positioned until each wall was covered with a scattering of the most successful shows from the past five years. But with it’s orange and blue tones being an amazing counterpoint to the subdued lighting in the venue this poster was seared into my mind.
Now, far away from the bar and in one of the secluded corners of the room, I find myself having a meal some thirty years later. Having been engaged with the conversation I hadn’t really looked around at the details of the largely unchanged room. They – as if reaching back through my personal life I was drawn to an art-deco scroll just out of sight to my right. I didn’t really need to check further but looking at the unchanged poster (now relegated to the wall near the kitchens) it was as if the intervening years had suddenly slipped away.
For an indeterminate amount of time I recalled voices, songs, even the feel of tap shoes past across my mind briefly as they clicked and snapped their triple time steps hopefully across the bar between matinee and evening performance. How strange that such an unexpected collection of memories are what came back to me first.
In part, it felt like a different life, a different me. Some friends now long gone could be heard for the first time in over a quarter of a century and details of the bar I hadn’t consciously noted seemed strangely familiar. At the same time, I never felt more like myself. A home from home and somewhere I felt both welcome and real. It won’t be as long before I return to this oasis in theatre land.