Letter from Margaret

Letter from Margaret

It must have been between my 10th and 11th birthday that the Festival put on Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Empire Theatre, the site of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre. 1948 comes to mind.

My aunt gave me a ticket, 5 shillings, for a stand only space at the back of the stalls. I assume it may have been for a matinee. Certainly I used the no. 5 tram from Morningside station up to Churchill, along by the Grange and down towards Thin's where I was told was my stop. I knew Thin’s. Some school books were bought there, and the Christmas and birthday book tokens spent.

Previously, my mother, a widow, had taken my older sister and me to the pantomime at the King’s, then to the slightly more acceptable Christmas shows at the Lyceum. She enjoyed theatre and with a group of teaching friends used to go to the Wilson Barrett Company plays.

But on that August afternoon, I was alone. I stood wearing my Sunday best coat. Gripping the rail and hoping it would be better than the pantomime.

The complicated mess that the lovers were in annoyed me. But I savoured some phrases. As a child often called ‘peelie wallie’, I heard a hero say to his sweetheart with infinite tenderness, ‘thy cheek is pale my love, how chance the roses there do fade so fast?’. Oh that someone would one day look at me like that, and speak such words.

The antics of the workmen annoyed me. But how could one not be delighted by a Fairy Queen stroking a donkey’s ears, ‘my gentle joy.’

The fairies were, I think, played by children from Sadler’s Wells. Certainly Titania was played by Moira Shearer, Oberon by Robert Helpmann. And … amazingly, magically, at the end they flew. Yes flew from front left to far right.

Certain phrases lodged in my memory for good. ‘The iron tongue of midnight hath told twelve. Lovers to bed. Tis almost fairy time.’ Years later, after homework duly finished, a family game of rummy or snap, and a bed time story, I would announce, ‘The iron tongue of eight has struck. Children to bed. Tis almost bath time.

And when we moved from India, then Sussex, finally back to Scotland, we arrived in the summer, and...The Dream was playing at the Assembly Hall on the Mound. We took both the children, aged 9 and 11. Titania stretches her arms and with sleep still in her eyes murmurs, ‘What angel wakes me from me from my flowery bed?’ Catriona, aged 9, announces with shrill precision, ‘That’s what you say to me when I come and wake you and Daddy up on a Saturday morning.’

Margaret Forrester

Tags: From Audience