Boo Who? A sob story about crying at the theatre. 10 October 2011

I have a vivid childhood memory from when I was knee high to a grasshopper (so, pre-heel-wearing days, maybe 12 yrs old?) and I saw my dad cry for the very first time.  

We were watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame on TV.

OK, so we were watching in the privacy of our own home, and it was the one starring Anthony Hopkins as Monsiuer Modo, but to cry at a movie in front of your kids and be a grown man, their dad no less– isn’t that a big deal?

It rocked me.

It’s possible that it’s part of the British tradition to hide one’s emotions. We're more stiff upper lip than quivering bottom lip.

Maybe more universal is the sense that shedding tears is a sign of weakness and vulnerability and is only permitted in public if you are at a funeral or in a great deal of pain.

Well I say bollocks to that.

I don’t like being upset in real life. Laughing and smiling are two of my favourite pastimes.

But when the lights go down in the theatre or cinema there’s nothing I enjoy more than a good cry.

And no, it’s not an ‘under cover of darkness’ thing either, at least I don’t think it is.

In fact it’s partly the communal aspect of it, being with strangers who are experiencing the same or similar emotions as me, that makes it all the more powerful.

And so what if there are naysayers amongst them, when are you ever going to see them again anyway?

I’ve had some great times blubbing at the theatre.

I want to be moved. I want the rug pulled out from under my feet.

My most recent experience of this was at Frantic Assembly’s production of Abi Morgan’s new play Lovesong down in Plymouth.

Without giving anything away, this was a show that had me in tears for all kinds of reasons, kind of like the opening sequence of UP did.

But most extraordinary was how the entire audience was affected by it, even the teenagers, who arrived with their noisy bags of MacDonalds, shut up and found themselves on the same page as me.

There was a chain reaction, like when one person vomits on a plane only less smelly. Everyone was in tears. It was brilliant.

I couldn’t get to the wash basin in the loos afterwards for girls re-doing their mascara.

Is it the saddest thing I have ever seen? No, I think Breaking the Waves holds that title; in fact I think Lovesong is a celebration.

Although I felt mildly traumatised and needed a stretcher to take me out of the Drum Theatre after the show, one of my first thoughts was how much I wanted to see it again.

I’m not a sucker for punishment or someone who revels in misery at all, I just love it when theatre moves me and that’s something that doesn’t happen anywhere nearly enough, tears or no tears.

Clair Chamberlain


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