From Shakespeare to Sondheim: Six years in the audience at the ADC

From Shakespeare to Sondheim: Six years in the audience at the ADC

Regular theatre-goer Paula Meyer reflects on her and her daughter's experiences over the last six years

It took me an embarrassing amount of time to start going to the ADC Theatre. I think somewhere in my head I thought it was only for students, even though there was absolutely no evidence for this, and that I would look positively elderly if I dared to go. Total nonsense, obviously, but the fact remains that I moved to Cambridge in 1995 and didn’t start visiting until 2014. Though I like to think I’ve made up for it since. (When we were feeling low in lockdown, we cheered ourselves up by cataloguing our collection of programmes. Its size surprised us, but we were quite proud!)

It was Into the Woods that started it. I’d loved it in the West End, and suddenly here it was on my doorstep! My daughter was twelve which felt like a good time to encounter Sondheim, so off we went, not knowing quite what to expect. And it was brilliant! We were genuinely impressed at the production values and the talent involved, and the fact that a group of young people accomplished it all by themselves. And as we’ve visited more and more often, that’s always the thing that amazes us. That there’s all that talent, and all that love for theatre, in our city. That it’s affordable, and of such high quality. We feel very, very lucky.

Poster from the 2014 production of Into the Woods

Slowly, the ADC became a huge part of our lives. My daughter saw her first ever Shakespeare there (a CAST production of Much Ado About Nothing) and adored it. It felt like an incredible privilege to be able to introduce her to so many different genres; we’ve seen Shakespeare and Shaw, Chekhov, Lucy Kirkwood, Alan Bennett and Alan Ayckbourn, and too many others to list. We saw the first ever preview of Six - The Musical, before it went off for its first stint in Edinburgh and then watched in awe afterwards as it took theatre by storm. (Obviously our presence had nothing to do with its resulting success, but we came out saying it was one of the best things we’d seen in years, so that won’t stop us feeling smug about having been there.) We saw a play about the invention of the vibrator, and let me tell you that’s a test for the mother/daughter embarrassment threshold I won’t forget in a hurry.

And we’ve seen the pantos, which are now as much part of Christmas for us as tinsel and mince pies. Our first was The Emperor’s New Clothes, when I was slightly concerned about how much of the innuendo the daughter would pick up on. And we never miss the Footlights Revues (where at the most recent, our positions were reversed as my daughter, then seventeen, gleefully explained a ‘young person’s joke’ to me. It may be her proudest moment.)

We were at The Producers when a stage gun suddenly fell apart, leading to much corpsing and then some ad-libbing that a professional company would have been proud of. We saw a matinee of The Hunchback of Notre Dame panto where absolutely everything went wrong and the cast handled it so beautifully that it remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in a theatre. We’ve seen both parts of Angels in America, where the scope and the ambition and the creativity was absolutely astounding. And we were at the Friday, 13th March 2020 performance of Guys and Dolls, performed by a cast who knew it would be one of their last performances before the inevitable shutdown, and who sang and danced out of their skins. If I had to say goodbye to live theatre for months and months to come, I can’t think of a better way to have done it.

Pictures from the 2017 productions of Six (photo credits: Johannes Hjorth) and The Producers (photo credits: Alex Power)

Perhaps for me it’s an extra special place because I home educated my daughter until a couple of years ago, and it was somewhere we could go together and just be two people out for the evening, not a parent helplessly trying to explain how to add fractions or talking about the Wars of the Roses, nor a teenager tutting about how she could not see any future in which she would need to do a simultaneous equation, and why learn how to spell ‘manoeuvre’ when there was autocorrect? It is quite possible the ADC kept us both sane.

And when the daughter went off to sixth-form college, within a few months she was making plans to direct her own production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which she did the following year and it was (if I may say with all the skewed vision of a parent) amazing. I honestly believe she wouldn’t have done that, if it hadn’t been for the years of going to the ADC and seeing what young people can accomplish when they love something, and have the support to achieve it.

Pictures from the 2019 production of Angels in America (photo credits: Lucia Revel-Chion)

It makes me very sad to walk past the building now, and see it all shut up. But if six years of seeing innumerable productions there has taught me anything, it’s that the young people who act and dance and produce and direct and work backstage and run the whole place will roar back stronger than ever, because they are amazing, and I never leave any production there without feeling huge admiration for all of them. I love how everyone involved does so much - a young woman we’d seen play Shylock in The Merchant of Venice zapped our ticket as a steward a few weeks later (we wanted to tell her how great she’d been, but didn’t because we didn’t want to seem creepy - if you’re reading this, you were wonderful!). We want to thank everyone who’s ever been a part of any production there, for the sense of community you create, for your enthusiasm and your skill and your sheer love of what you do - you are inspirational.

When the theatre closed for its refurbishment in summer 2018, I asked the daughter what she would miss most. She said ‘The smell. It smells of theatre. And slightly beer.’ We can’t wait for you to be open again, smelling of theatre, and slightly beer!

Paula Meyer

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