(Merrily) We Roll Along.

It’s hard to watch shows when you’re an actor. Not just because of our conflicting schedules, or our tendency to scrutinise every last moment, but also because we know how it all works.

While others see sweeping set-changes, streaking magically, majestically across the stage, we see the nuts and bolts holding it together and the grunting, sweating crew breaking their backs to make it happen. We can’t help it. When the magician reveals his tricks, the magic is gone forever.

It’s incredibly rare, therefore, that I see a show that really grips me. But it does happen. One such show was ‘Merrily We Roll Along’, a production which boasts the most five-star reviews in West End history and if you’re not overly picky about the source, (David Hunter, The Daily Dave) you can add mine to the batch.

Following the struggles and successes of the show’s three creative protagonists struck me so powerfully that the production has stayed with me ever since.

One scene, somewhere in Act Two, saw the characters performing their own cabaret in a small nightclub, long before they found success in their various fields. The onstage crowd is sparse at best and the reception less than enthusiastic, but the performance is electric. It struck me how happy they were, performing to no one, but full of hope and dreaming of adventures ahead. Over the course of the show, this is perhaps their happiest time.

My mind wandered to Warrington and the months before 'One Man Two Guvnors’ brought me to London and delivered my West End debut. I was scratching around trying to make a few quid without having to do anything too soul-destroying. After short stints working at The London Bridge (a pub) and Puma (the seventh circle of Hell), I decided to put my efforts into something slightly more enjoyable and set up an Open Mic Night with my mate Danny.

Once a week we would rock up to this local bar and play music. We played quirky little covers and a load of our own songs. No one clapped. No one cared to be honest and I yearned for so much more. But it was glorious. Unremarkably wonderful. For a few short hours each week, I sat with my best mate and played music. We made just fifty quid each, ten of which was immediately reserved for a Chinese.

Salt and Pepper Chips.
Salt and Pepper Crispy Lamb.
And a Char Sui Bun for me.

On the all too rare occasions I get to visit home, a trip to Wok2Go is pitched unreasonably high on my to do list. It is the greatest Chinese takeaway of all time and my passion for their menu is unrivalled. My mate Craig says I literally make it taste better. My love for Wok2Go is infectious, people.

And that’s how much I miss the local Chinese. Can you even comprehend how much I miss playing music with my best mate?!

I can’t tell you what joy I felt singing songs in that crappy bar to those disinterested customers on those wet Wednesdays in Warrington. Playing music with Danny is one of my all time favourite things to do. I’ve been doing it since I was a teenager and I would gladly move him into my spare room if it meant we could do it more often.

Not to trivialise that last statement, but I would also do the same for the chefs at Wok2Go.

Now, I’m not saying I was happier back then, I’m not saying I wish I’d shunned the West End and stayed in Warrington. If I had, I’m sure Wok2Go would have eventually lost it’s shine and those less than interested bar-dwellers would have really started to tick me off. And you do NOT want to see me when I’m ticked off. I’m almost mean.

Equally, I’m not saying let’s all stay where we are and never wish for more in fear that we’ll miss what we once had. What I’m saying is…

Enjoy the journey, my friends.

If you’re the twenty-something working at Puma, the dreamer playing songs in a bar, the actor sitting in seat D22 holding up a sodding humous sandwich - enjoy the ride. Because I’m telling you now, there are people you’ll miss, there are places you’ll yearn for and there are Char Sui Buns that just won’t taste the same anywhere else.

Enjoy the journey, my friends.