29 January 2007

Drama and Nostalgia

Saturday night was strange. I say this because what should have just been a family meal out (it was both my brother's and my mother's birthdays in the last week or so) turned into a nostalgic evening and a meeting with people I'd not seen or spoke to for 10 years.

First a not insignificant factor in this is that my dad and stepmother weren't able to be there due to complications travelling over from Greece. Nevertheless, my brother and his girlfriend were up from London and four of us went out for a meal as planned. In the cab on the way back my brother suggested heading down to our local for a drink and although my mother didn't wish to join us we other three set off after dropping her home.

It was in the pub the weirdness began; shortly after taking seats with our drinks (Guinness all round) we noticed a group stood at the bar and got "I'm sure I recognise him" reactions from each other with regards to one of them. It struck us that it was a guy who we'd both been in a youth drama group, the North Oxford Youth Theatre, with 10 years ago. It dawned, too, that he was with his parents who (if I recall) had had active roles behind the scenes with the productions and that that evening was the last night of the annual Winter play. Turned out he recognised us, too and hellos were said, re-introductions made. A very short while later two more of the old crowd appeared: they'd all come up for the last night of the play; not just any play either: this one had been written especially for its cast at the time... 10 years ago when we'd all been in it. The three ex-members who we bumped into that night had all been principle members of that cast who had been integral to the writing whilst my brother and I, a couple of years their junior, had just been general cast members. One of the writers then walked in; he was (again) doing the music and co-producing and hadn't changed a bit either. We'd known the play was on this year (it had been discussed at Christmas), and we'd half talked about going; it had quickly got forgotten and passed out of mind. When we set off to the Plough that night neither my brother nor I had twigged that that night was the last night of the play.

Still, a large group had thus formed and a quick drink and a bit of a natter later we'd been implored to swing by what passed for the aftershow party. It should be noted that this just meant a bit of a wind-down and chin-wag since the cast were all 17 or under, but we figured it'd be good to see some old faces again (as we'd established many of the people running the group were the same as they had been when we were in it). So we drank up, and wandered by. The Wolvercote village hall is exactly as it was when I'd last been there, 10 years ago. The production team, stagehands, make-up and costume staff were as they were 10 years ago. The only difference was the cast: non of them had been there 10 years ago, as even the youngest from my time there would have had to leave by now. It was odd, but nice; it triggered a lot of memories and it was surprising and pleasant to be remembered by people. We stuck around throughout the wind-up, and my brother and I ended up getting involved in the traditional game of Alfie, still played after all these years.

It was a bizarre experience all told, but rewarding and prompted nostalgic conversation when we got home, too. The main feeling though was that however much things changed, some things had stayed so much the same it was scary. We walked in and it was like we'd never been away. People had aged but that was all, and yet it was a not insignificant passage of time: 10 years is more than a third of my life after all, and longer than either of us were involved in the group for. It is the group's 50th anniversary in a couple of years time and at least two of those working backstage in 2007 had been cast members in the early years, such is the strength of feeling for the activities, plays and opportunities it gives the children involved. I know my brother has stronger feeling for the group than I do but I don't share that will to get involved or strength of feeling for the group. The past is the past, and I've lost touch with a staggering amount of mine, but should I still be around Oxford in early 2009 I might just have to attend any 50th anniversary bash.

Assuming, that is, I remember it is on.

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