A Delightful Account of a Child's View of the Old Theatre between the Wars - by 'Miriam'
Was the old Theatre Royal, Worcester, a beautiful place or was it youthful imagination ? I lived in Worcester until I was seven years old. My family was very strict. When out with them, I was hurried past the theatre queue. Always a curious child, I asked what the people were waiting for, and if I could go in as well. There were horrified looks, and I was told that nice girls did not go to places like that.
This only made me more curious, and I used to look hard at the queue, trying to see what bad folk looked like. I thought they looked remarkable like us normal folk.
The first time I went to the theatre was with the Brownies from Pershore, to a Pantomime. It took much persuasion, but being a Sixer, I pleaded that, I had to see that the other girls were alright. I was nearly sick with excitement when the bus dropped us at the door. What lay inside this place of sin ? Sheer luxury. Red carpet all over - wonderful, after rag rugs on stone floors at home. The seats, all red velvet, tipped up and lifted your skirt if you got excited and stood up. You landed on the floor if you sat down and forgot.
The pantimime was Dick Whittington, and Dick was the most wonderful 'boy' I ever saw. The clothes he wore were like nothing I ever dreamed of. His cat, so real, came off the stage and round the balcony, not by our seats though. There were faires in flimsy dresses, and magic in the fact that they seemed to change colour, without being changed. It mystified me. Never had I seen anything so gorgeous. The memory is of a blaze of red and gold and rainbows.
I remember going out in a daze to a smashing tea at the Cadena. We went underground there. I remember long tables, cream trellis, with paper roses climbing up, and the funny feeling when we realised that the windows in the ceiling were part of the pavement above, and the bumps were people going along.
It was several years before I got there again. I was about twelve, the wireless had come, and I suppose a more broad-minded attitude. My brother and I were allowed to go occasionally on a Saturday to see the Arthur Carlton company. Money being tight, it was a real treat. We got the eight minutes to six train from Pershore ( 6d return ), and walked from Shrub Hill, and up a lot of stairs to the 'gods' - 6d each.
The theatre seemed like a different world still. We forgot that we were sitting on hard steps, instead of the plush seats lower down. We actually thought we had better seats than those down below. The plays showed us a different world; the fights and the blood were so real. One believed it all. We usually had to creep out just before the end, and used to listen hard all the way down the stairs, trying not to miss any more than we could help. But the play was timed to finish at 9.15 p.m, and our train left Shrub Hill at 9.20 p.m. We used to leave it till the last minute, 9.10 then run all the way.
I swear the guard used to hold the train for us as we always made it, even though the train was standing waiting, and we had to get over the line. By the time we had run from Angel Street, we had little puff left for all those stairs. But the next train was the 11.15 p.m, known as Drunken Billy ( for obvious reasons) and we had been threatened that if we ever came home on that, there would never be any more outings.
Several years again went by, war came and work was hard. Early in 1944, I had been married six months. My husband, an ex (by then) regular soldier, had been in hospital three months. He was due to be discharged from Ronkswood at mid-day, so I booked seats at the theatre and arranged to meet him there with my four year old niece for a pantomime.
He was not there, so I left his ticket at the box office ready for him. He never turned up. I kept looking around, and this time, the theatre looked so grubby, with peeling paint, and dusty carpets, and tarnished gold. The costumes looked old and tatty, the fairies fat and forty. There was no magic any more. All I could think of was had happened to my man.
As the last bus went early, and I had a toddler with me, I could not dragg all the way to Ronkswood, to find out. I had no change for a phone box, and not enough for a taxi; but I bumped into a cousin just coming from work, and told him my tale. He kind soul, went back into his office and rang the hospital. To my relief, all was well, as my man had not met with an untimely end. The doctor who was discharging him had been delayed, and he was sitting playing cards, He forgot that I should be worried.
So I went back home, nearly in tears. The magic of the theatre had gone for me. Though he came home the next morning safely, the worry had been real, and all the glitter had gone.