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CONFESSIONS OF A CHILD THEATRE ADDICT

A sad but true story.
Names and dates have not been changed to protect the innocent.

Like most kids in Britain, I first got hooked when they offered me a little "Joseph and Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat". "Techies" were all the rage in 1970's junior school. Amateur stuff being manufactured in school auditoriums - a tidal wave of dreams; and I was swept away with the rest.

In London a professionally produced version was available. Pure and powerful, consumed by up to 600 addicts at one time. Outside may have been Christmas, but in our little world only "Techies" mattered.

Shortly afterward, bright colours and a short red dress caught my attention. What the signboard offered, I took. That was how I caught "Annies". It made me feel very light hearted at first. The whole world had problems, sure, but after two hours or so it didn't matter so much. The sun would come out the next day. Meanwhile my body enjoyed the rush of tunes. I was only ten.

For the next three years I attempted self-treatment, as many "Annies" sufferers do. "Olivers" proved ineffective, as I would fall asleep before the dose was completed. "Mikado" - a Victorian treatment for fighting "Annies" much loved by the older generation - failed to do anything but increase the levels of "showtunes" in my blood. In fact, it started a craving for aural injections of as many older tunes as possible.

By age 12 I was doing Hammersteins and Kerns, Bocks and Harnicks, even a Sondheim when I could get it (physically and intellectually!). The only bad reaction I recall was to a "Sound Of Music". The nausea following the sugar rush was overwhelming, and for the first time I dried out using "Porters". The dose of sophistication saved me, but "Annies" sufferers can only manage their disease. Cures are rare at best.

By 1981 a new temptation was around. "Blockbusters" were nothing new but this was huge. The media labelled it "Cats". Supplies were very hard to come by, but worth it. Taking one immersed you in a whole new world. The seats moved as a completely new dimension materialised - out of all proportion to my own. Taken aurally it did little, but combined with visual ingestion it made an impact that an "Annies" sufferer could not fail to respond to.

And so I survived for another year. By age 13, "Cats" were forgotten as I ditched my old "commercial west end" pusher for the delights of the "subsidised" ones. Yes, I was offered a "Guys and Dolls" by a bunch of people who hung out in a grey building by the river at Waterloo. And they had plenty more to offer.

It was fatal, just so big. They had eight or more different things going at the same time and I could try all of them. Neat samples at £2 each. If I liked it I could go back for more, if not, they would have something else to try. Needless to say, as 13 became 14, became 15 I did the lot.

"Shakespeares" and "Ibsens", designer cocktails of "Stoppards". "Millers" quickly became a favourite. Most of my pocket money went on this stuff, and I became adept at lying to get ever-greater supplies. I was a student really - even if it was at school, not university, so why couldn't I pay the same prices they did. A Greater London Council project for young addicts assisted me, and I was devastated when they later lost their funding and the organisation closed.

I guess at the time I was doing some "commercial" too. The pushers had invented "Les Miz" by 1985, and though it failed to capture the market instantly there were plenty like me who adopted it early and became hooked. As the market expanded we found it harder and harder to get near it for a fix, but when we could, it was worth it. I still remember my first low immediately after taking it, then the soaring high lasting days afterwards. Rarely even now do I find anything to match it.

My needs expanded all the time. I could feel the "Annies" tunes running through me. I was growing up and needed to explore new worlds, other perspectives. "Frayn" helped. The headiness caused by doing "Benefactors" haunts me still. Reality dissected by fiction. The mental clarity that follows doing a quick "modern play" is quite extraordinary.

Ten years of hopeless addiction. The 1990's dawned and I was still there. "Annies" and years of exposure to all manner of material had eroded my youthful idealism somewhat. The cynicism had set in and only the extremes affected me. "Bernadette" was memorable. A rush outrageously funny, grippingly, embarrassingly awful. Painful and amusing by turn it flushed my system. For a long time after, I shook my head and knew that however bad the effect of other substances, I could at last measure my problems against those of coming off "Bernadette's" - and laugh.

My diet over the last decade has been more of the same. Sarah Kane offered me "Blasteds" but tragically died before her magic formula could be extensively reproduced. My "showtunes" levels are lower now than in the 1980's as fewer and fewer dealers offer a decent fix. Street prices are rising too, and without subsidy I find it harder and harder to satisfy my cravings. Somehow I always find something to fill the gap, and I go on. "Annies" sufferers are resilient and the Internet helps me share by offering communication with other victims.

 

There is really little more to tell. I still have "Annies". Perhaps I always will. Now in my third decade, and second as a theatre addict, I can reflect a little on what has happened as my addiction progressed. 

I became hooked in school, yet was often left to my own devices because of an unimaginative approach to theatre. Self-management and a lot of luck let me deal with my problems in a positive manner, and I have grown stronger and more self aware through it.

Many kids get "Techies". Sadly, they may never go on to develop full-fledged "Annies" - or be left unable to do so through lack of opportunity. We should address this problem by testing them for the habit. "Annies" can be one of the greatest life enhancing problems a child will ever deal with. I know, because it happened to me.

Favourite All Time Plays
1. Othello
2. Benefactors
3. Wild Honey
4. The Spanish Tragedy
5. Medea

Favourite All Time Musicals
1. The King and I
2. Guys And Dolls
3. Les Misérables
4.Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street..
5.  Carousel

Worst Plays of All Time
1. The Duchess Of Malfi
2. Some Americans Abroad
3. Rough Crossing
4. The Government Inspector
5. One For The Road (Russell)

Worst Musicals of All Time
1. Bernadette
2. Which Witch.
3. Barnardo
4. Valentines Day
5. Out Of the Blue

Favourite Theatres
1. Vaudeville
2. Donmar Warehouse
3. Olivier
4. Her Majesty's
5. Open Air, Regent's Park

Least Favourite Theatres
1. Strand pre-2005
2. Whitehall pre-2004
3. Adelphi
4. Barbican Main auditorium
5. Theatre Royal, Drury Lane

Best On Stage Mistakes
1. 'Annie' Falling down the stairs on her final entrance

2. Dame Maggie Smith getting blacked out during 'Three Tall Women'

3. The stage floor failing to appear during 'Which Witch'

4. Phillip Schofield being asked what was under his loin cloth during 'Joseph and his Amazing' etc

5. The old lady with the Zimmer frame upsetting the chorus of 'Me and My Girl'

No actors were particularly badly harmed during the compilation of this list

Pet Theatre Hates
1. People compiling top five lists
2. Mobile Phones
3. Talkers during the show
4. Eaters during the show
5. That total dork who used a powerful giant Maglite to read his programme during the play. He knows who he is. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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