I was 15 when I first saw John Neville, who died on Monday, aged 86. The obituaries rightly mention his magnificent Richard II, which I saw on that occasion; but they don’t mention that the following night at the Nottingham Playhouse, he gave an equally compelling – but wholly different – performance as Willie Loman in Death of a Salesman.
These were life-enhancing, indeed life-changing, experiences for me. For the first time, I appreciated the power of performance: the power to educate, elucidate and transform. It was a lesson which has stayed with me, as have those two seminal performances, throughout my life.
I have read most of the Greek tragedies and comedies in translation, but only when I saw Thesmophoriazusae by Aristophanes at Epidaurus did I get it. I have no understanding at all of ancient Greek, but it didn’t matter: the power of performance in that beautiful theatre was more than sufficient to communicate the absurdities and subtleties of the Old Comedy.
I have thousands of hours of Grateful Dead shows, but none of them can compare with the experience of that first live concert in April 1972 at Wembley.
I have almost everything Dylan has ever recorded, but would exchange them all for the opportunity once again to stand a yard away from him at Hammersmith Apollo as I did on Sunday.
These days, I can and do watch almost every Sox game on mlb.tv. But to be present at Fenway for a single game is to experience something profoundly and fundamentally different: something visceral.
I can remember vividly the churning of my stomach, the heart palpitations, the nervous apprehension as Jon Lester came out in the 9th to complete his no-hitter against the Royals back in 2008.
In such circumstances, one is not merely a witness to the action, a detached and disinterested observer of the play, the band, the game, the spectacle.
One is an active participant. The involvement is not intellectual, but physical.
Today is Thanksgiving. I am listening to one of the great Thanksgiving shows – The Band’s Last Waltz. I have – thanks to a wonderfully generous American friend – part of Scorcese’s 200 page lighting cues script for that concert, and I am listening to the complete four hour plus show on number 211 of a limited edition of 3000 from Cool Daddy Productions.
But what would it have been like to be there? To be one of the 5,000 who ate Thanksgiving dinner, and then took their seats, not knowing who The Band’s guests were? And then to be present at one of the great shows of all time, with legend after legend taking the stage?
I don’t usually quote Van Morrison, but:
“It was pure situation. That show couldn’t be done – it was something that happened.”
Happy Thanksgiving to all our friends in and from North America - especially Michelle with whom we shall be eating and celebrating this evening. I suspect it will be quite a performance ...