Thursday, 26 February 2015

A small love letter to the Royal Exchange Theatre.

I watched the film Cloud Atlas for the first time recently. And found that a particular scene from the film stayed with me, and resonated deeply.
(Please note - the following contains spoilers.)

One of the intertwined threads of the tale follows Ben Whishaw's genius composer Robert Frobisher - whose story is told in flashback, through a series of letters to his lover, Rufus Sixsmith. 
Frobisher endures a blackmail attempt - and after an accidental shooting,  eludes the police and eventually goes into forced hiding and lives in poverty  - his physical health rapidly deteriorating. But not before completing his musical masterpiece. He eventually takes his own life - while first writing his farewell in a last letter to Rufus. 

On the morning of his death, Frobisher first climbs to the top of Edinburgh's Scott Monument, and sits in silence, smoking a cigarette, watching the dawn and the light grow across the city.

Sixsmith. 
I climb the steps of the Scott monument every morning and all becomes clear. 
Wish I could make you see this brightness. 
Don't worry, all is well. All is so perfectly, damnably well.

Finished in a frenzy that reminded me of our last night in Cambridge. Watched my final sunrise. Enjoyed a last cigarette. 
Didn't think the view could be any more perfect.

(Still from Cloud Atlas found here.)

I found this surprising, reflective moment to be deeply moving. 
Sadness and serenity and acceptance all in one instant. How everything suddenly stops moving and rushing and becomes still. And how all weariness falls away at the sight of such profound and uncomplicated beauty. 

It instantly transported me to the Royal Exchange Theatre - my most treasured place on earth. 
That stillness. And Frobisher's expression. 
Which is exactly how I feel each time I walk into the Royal Exchange's outer hall.

Aside from the gorgeous alchemy, connections and creativity that exists inside the actual theatre pod itself - (where stories are spun and audience and players join together to make entrancing illusions) - the hall is a remarkable space of such beauty and character in its own right. And something quite extraordinary.

Rose-coloured marbled pillars soar to the roof, adorned with gilded gold tips that curl and blossom. Domes of blue-purple arch across the ceiling, cathedral-like in their grandeur. Rainbow-hued panels set amongst the walls cast a playful, delightful, soft sheen across the foyer. And in spite of the grand, imposing theatre pod that stretches out from the centre, there is a refreshing sense of air and space and freedom.

Tables and chairs scattered unobtrusively around the hall allow for informal gatherings, for individuals to sit and sip coffee, to read, to rest, to draw, to write - or simply to sit and be.
 There is no obligation to purchase a ticket to see a play or buy refreshments from the cafe - in the hours before and after performances take place, one can come and simply sit, undisturbed and unquestioned. As I have done many times.

The hall is rarely noisy - the high ceilings echo and bounce voices, but seem to soften them in the process. 
There is a an enduring sense of utter calm, of serenity, of right-ness. Everything running with smooth efficency and unhurried quiet. 

(They also have a resident bear.)

Like Frobisher's tower, this is a place where man-made design and the natural elements elegantly, effortlessly intersect. Where angular architecture catches and disperses shafts and beams of light. Where the natural world - with its ever-changeable sunbeams, light and air - and the fixed consistency of the solid structure - complement each other perfectly. Where you can sit and observe the world from above, with gentle detachment - like Frobisher, climbing the many steps to the peak of the Scott monument - you can wander along the balcony gallery that runs around one side of the Exchange hall.



I always think of Holly Golightly's observation from Breakfast at Tiffany's, when I am there. Whenever the 'mean reds' kick in, Holly finds reassurance and stability in an unusual and unique space: 

...the blues are because you're getting fat and maybe it's been raining too long, you're just sad that's all. The mean reds are horrible. Suddenly you're afraid and you don't know what you're afraid of...  What I found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany's. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there.
~Truman Capote

The Royal Exchange provides me with that same reassurance. The quiet, proud, inviting, unquestioning welcome of the place. Everything else falls away.

Find me beneath the Corsican stars where we first kissed - writes Frobisher. 

And so you will often find me contentedly sitting quietly at the Exchange - my very own Tiffany's, my own Scott Monument.

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