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Friday, October 22, 2021

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Hugh MacDonald: Theatre is back – and so is the joy of giving it laldy on a big night out in Glasgow – HeraldScotland

THEY say you can’t go back. But this never applied to me in terms of jobs, pubs and primary school classes.

My father, too, had a maxim: “The MacDonalds can go anywhere twice. The second time to apologise.’’

It was with this truth ringing in my lugs that I embraced the chance to go to Chicago. Not the city, but the musical which was to be found at the end of Bath Street last week.

I had been before to see Chicago in New York. I know this is beginning to sound like an Abbott and Costello skit so I will quickly add that the musical was viewed on Broadway by my daughter and myself, and many others. It was a special evening. The piano bar beforehand served my daughter with a sparkling wine and me with a glass of water.

They demanded a ransom rather than tendering a bill. But that was all fine. The joy of going to piano bars on Broadway is piqued by paying a tariff that would supply a striker guaranteed to score 20 goals a week in the English Premier League.

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The show was wonderful. There is always that moment in London’s West End or on Broadway when one realises one is watching the best. There have been shows and dramas that have left me cold but I have always been moved by the talent on show and how Dancer Third From Left is extraordinarily gifted but may struggle to create a consistent career.

Chicago was magic in every way and it was a blessing to wander along Sauchiehall Street on Saturday with said daughter for a second helping.

The ambience was different, of course, from Broadway of a few years ago. Sauchiehall Street is not Times Square or 42nd Street. It is pock-marked by decline. Its retail heart beats quietly at the start and quickly stalls. It gains life as a stretch of pubs spills its customers onto the streets but it is not the grand thoroughfare of old.

My reflections were prompted by the sheer audacity of going for a night out. The experience of going to the theatre seems to belong to another time. The routines of meeting, eating, going, enjoying had to be jarred back into life.

The most wonderful experience, though, was the bald fact of being there. There were the new protocols of checking vaccination letters and wandering about the theatre in a face mask. There was more than slight unease when someone close coughed.

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There was, though, the traditional queue at the bar that suggested that this was not Glasgow 2021 but Russia in the era of state shops and rationed bread. I swore I saw someone further up the line with an Evita programme.

But, marvellously, it was a Glasgow crowd of the right sort. The showbiz graves are marked with the dates of comedians who died in Glasgow.

The city, however, rightly has a reputation as a welcoming venue for arts, particularly for music. The King’s on Saturday franked that perception.

Chicago was played out to loud applause, the occasional gaun yirsel, and the more than occasional choral effort from the stalls. Scenes would end with the sort of roar that once greeted Denis Law scoring at Hampden.

This acclaim was of a different scale to the enthusiastic one afforded in Broadway. Part of the Glasgow tumult is cultural. One can witness it at the Barrowlands as well as the King’s.

It is that ingrained lesson that life can be hard so when it is good, let’s give it a cheer. There were moments when the band glanced at each other in shock and shared gratification at the noise that was greeting their efforts.

The rule for the night was that everybody – audience, performers and band – should be left in no doubt that the purpose of the exercise was to take part in a benign rammy. The odd line would be washed away by a tide of acclaim and the performers might have to rearrange the odd cue, but what is any of that when a good time is being held by all?

This, above all, is why it was good to be sitting in the circle and watching and listening to it all unfold. There were those alongside me who insisted that it was like the old times, just like those pre-Covid nights of shuffling along seats while carrying plastic glasses of wine and having a laugh.

But it was more than that. It was a new, fresh time. And one grabbed in precarious circumstances. Covid is still here. There is a lingering, understandable apprehension among some. Saturday night was back last Saturday. It is this Saturday. But what about the winter…?

This reality did not dampen proceedings. It heightened them. There is no better ingredient for a good night out than a long spell from the last good night out. There is no better recipe for a good night out than to enjoy the moment, balance that plastic cup between your feet and rise to cheer performers as if they had just relieved a siege.

The recent past has invigorated this present, particularly under the glowing lights of a theatre,

It was all raucous, funny, good-natured, enjoyable and fun. The atmosphere descending the stairs on to the street was so powerful it could form a new energy supply.

The doors were open. The street and real life awaited us. We faced the rain stronger in spirit than hours earlier when we had ducked in out of the sun.

Tinsel town in the rain. My kinda town.

Our columns are platforms for writers to express their opinions.They not necessarily represent the views of The Herald


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