So there I am having my haircut and the conversation turns, somewhat inevitably, to plans for the week.
I mention that I am heading that night into Leeds to see Opera North’s production of The Magic Flute directed by the Leeds Playhouse’s James Brining.
The woman cutting my hair gives me a look that says: “Ooh, get you.” She then looks at me in the mirror and says: “Ooh, get you.” I understand the reaction. I don’t look like what you expect an opera fan to look like.
In writing that, I am buying into a ludicrous stereotype and one against which I kick as often as possible. I deliberately wear a hoodie and jeans when I go to the theatre because when I was growing up I believed that’s the sort of thing one shouldn’t wear when one goes to the theatre. And it’s certainly not what one should wear when one goes to the opera.
Opera, you see, is not for what Tony Harrison called the likes of ‘Uz’.
The woman who was cutting my hair was surprised that I was going to the opera and the surprise came from the fact that it isn’t supposed to be for the likes of ‘uz’.
The conversation then turned to the last time the hairdresser had been to the theatre. It turns out that she took a trip to London to visit the Royal Albert Hall to see a show by Cirque du Soleil a couple of weeks ago.
Why is it that a trip to the Royal Albert Hall to see a circus performance – something I would struggle to afford – is entirely within my hairdesser’s sphere while a production by Opera North, which is on our doorstep, is without?
It’s perception. Perceptions that are completely skewed, incorrect and which I will challenge every time I am given the opportunity – like in this column. Opera North is a publicly funded company, which means my hairdresser already pays just as much for it as I do – and indeed, as much as you do.
It means the work created by that company – and any publicly funded theatre company in the country – belongs to all of us.
It’s important for us to remember that. At The Magic Flute on Wednesday, I was blown away by the work on stage. The way Brining has created a piece of work that is so accessible, funny and, frankly, a bit weird, is to be applauded. What I particularly enjoyed about the performance though was seeing the people in the audience. A lot of people looked like me. It wasn’t all posh folk in fancy frocks, there were a lot of ‘ordinary’ people there, just like me and just like my hairdresser.
The theatres who stage work on the stages that we own are doing a great job of making shows accessible. It’s our job to claim the prizes that are now on offer and to spread the word that they are there and available to us. All of uz.