Jodi McAlister explains how trains influenced the play she wrote at age 10: ‘The Six Wives of King Henry VIII: The Musical’. Jodi McAlister is an all-of-the-time academic type, a-lot-of-the-time theatre critic, and occasional playwright. You can find her in many a theatre foyer and on many a Sydney-Wollongong train. This is her post for the ‘A View From Moving Windows’ blog…
I’m one of those people who writes on trains. This has turned out to be quite a useful habit: I live in Wollongong but most of my actual life is in Sydney, so I spend huge amounts of time on the train, tapping away at my computer. A lot of the time, what I’m writing is about theatre – nearly all of my reviews are drafted late at night on the long post-show schlep back to the Gong. But trains and writing and theatre have been linked together for me for way longer than that.
When I was ten and my family and I were in England, my parents took my sister and I on the train to London to see Starlight Express. The train journey took about an hour, during which time I was completely unsociable. I didn’t want to hear about the show we were going to see, because, you see, I was writing a play of my own. We’d been to Hampton Court a few days earlier and I’d been terribly impressed by the story of King Henry VIII and his six wives. I determined on the spot that this story was Meant For The Stage and started writing it (on the train) that same afternoon. This was Day 3, this train journey representing a solid block of writing time. I furiously scribbled in my notebook as the train clacked through Chelmsford, Stratford, Brentwood. I was pretty annoyed when we got to London and I’d only just killed off Anne Boleyn.
The Apollo Victoria theatre is huge, cavernous when you’re ten and (then as now) small for your age. Tracks soared through the air, above the audience, impossibly high. Everything was glittering.
“What’s this show about?” I asked my mother.
“A train race,” she replied. “Put your notebook away.”
I was hooked the second the first actors-on-roller-skates sped onto the stage. Starlight Express blew my freaking mind.
But Starlight Express also posed a problem for me: a major one that I had to begin to rectify on the train journey home, tearing pages out of my notebook willy-nilly. “No one ever told me plays had to have songs in them!” I told my parents angrily.
I was annoyed when they laughed at me. While I know a lot more about theatre now, I’m also glad they didn’t correct me. I still have The Six Wives of King Henry VIII: The Musical, by Jodi age 10, written almost totally on train journeys around England, sitting in a cupboard somewhere, and the ten year old in me is still devastatingly proud of her first play.
I still know all the words to Starlight Express, and even though it’s not exactly hip to be into Andrew Lloyd Webber, it’s still my favourite musical ever. And whenever it comes up on my iPod on one of those long train journeys home – particularly when I’m reviewing a show (whether or not it had songs in it) – it reminds me of everything I love about theatre.
For more of Jodi’s writing check out her blog Theatre From The Back Seat.