Jodi McAlister

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… 

Photo Credit: Jodi McAlister

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.

Gavin Roach

Gavin Roach has travelled to lots of places during the tour of his one man show ‘Confessions of a Grindr Addict’. He’s gone to Melbourne, Newcastle and even Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but he still has a soft spot for Parramatta and…

The Space Inbetween 

Gavin’s house in Newtown. Photo Credit: Gavin

I live between two worlds. Parramatta, familiar and full of childhood rich memories and Newtown borderline new with shades of independence. Both I feel at home in, both ground me and inspire, and since moving to the Inner-West five years ago, I have spent many hours traveling between the two.

The journey between can, for some, seem cumbersome and long. A journey not as straight forward as it would seem and one that has a tendency to abruptly stop for extended lengths of time between stations. But for me the trip has an almost romance to it.

After boarding the train at Newtown station, I usually like to head straight upstairs and grab a window seat. Sometimes on the right, other times on the left. The height gives me the perfect vantage point to watch the ever-changing landscape.

The station gives way to compacted terrace house, clinging together, saturated with old world charm. The scene is often dotted with plush new apartment buildings that is testament to the rapid gentrification of the inner-west. I count the houses I’d want, the changes I would make and the dwellings that I would discard, head shaking at the décor choices.

As the train speeds to Ashfield the houses slowly let go of each other, yard sizes increase, bikes with training wheels dot the front gates and cultures clash in harmony.

As we pull out from Ashfield the scene changes again, we glide rapidly through forgotten suburbs, areas of outer Sydney that have been neglected from limited station use, streets littered with cracking buildings and peeled paint. Faded reminders of a once prosperous time.

One can never get too settled on the journey though, as when the train arrives at Strathfield its time to alight and try with all your might to defy the speed of sound and make it to the connecting train in time. If the train is missed however, which is often the case, the station does provide a temporary inhabitant a true reflection of Sydney’s true diversity. Here all walks of life meet, pass each other, journey together. This is Sydney in its purest form.

Once settled on the train to further west, you can’t help but feel the push of the express service. The train gathers speed as houses briskly change to industrial land and back again. Suburban landscapes wash the windows; pillars of industrial glory rise and fall. Construction and change hurl into view as your eyes try to keep up with the train.

Familiar shades of suburbia fall upon me as we roll through Granville. A silence whispers through the carriage, a knowing of what once happened here. And there in the distance, just around the bend is home, is a childhood memory, Parramatta.

We all alight and go on our way, myself I continue on to a bus, ready for a new vantage point, a new burst of scenery, all the while holding the memories made from the space in between.

To read more of Gavin’s writing check out his Huffington Post blog.