A weekend in the country/ Is delightful/ If it’s planned…..

Mark ShentonInclude in homepage slide?, Thought of the dayLeave a Comment

In A Little Night Music, Fredrik tries to persuade his new bride Anne to head to the countryside to spend the weekend with his former lover Desiree Armfeldt and her mother at the Armfeldt family manse (as it’s referred to).

He suggests:

A weekend in the country
Would be charming,
And the air would be fresh

And then Charlotte — the wife of Desiree’s current lover — in turn tries to persuade Anne to go, too:

A weekend in the country
Is delightful
If it’s planned.

My husband and I have been contemplating a move to the country, not for a weekend, but for a wholesale move, for a while now — we first put our London property on the market three years ago, so it was long before Covid meant that a lot of people started considering why exactly they were living in London after all, but failed to sell owing to the price drops that followed uncertainties after the Brexit vote.

Last year, we tried again — but this time, after finding a buyer, couldn’t actually sell it, as the cladding crisis has caught us in its slipstream, and until those issues are resolved, we won’t be able to.

Of course as theatre has been mostly off the cards for the last year, it would have been lovely to have been away from London for that; but it wasn’t to be.

And now it looks like theatre may be coming back: this has been a VERY busy week for theatres announcing their re-openings, many of them a month today (the “not-before” re-opening date originally announced by Boris Johnson back in February, as I outlined here at the time).

I’m having a devil of a job keeping up with it all, to make sure I can update my weekly list of re-opening and new openings that I re-publish every Monday. And of course, as a self-confessed theatre addict, I’m absolutely thrilled that I’ll be heading back to the theatre next month.

At the same time, my husband and I yesterday found ourselves the home we’ve been looking for in the countryside — it so happens that (assuming the timetable is kept to) theatres will start re-opening on Monday May 17 – and we will move to a cottage in a village on the South Downs in East Sussex on Wednesday May 19 (pictured below)!

Now it may seem counter-intuitive to be moving OUT of London just as things start happening here again, but fear not: first of all it’s eminently commutable, but I plan to be in London for at least one overnight stay a week — and then back in town on alternate Saturdays as well (I need to maintain a commitment to a 12-step recovery group I’ve just helped set up that happens in Victoria — and, as it happens, my new train service will come directly into Victoria, too). This will mean that I can see at least four or five shows a week — a matinee and evening on each of the days that span an overnight visit, and another on Saturdays when I come back to town.

People who know me will know that I think nothing of going to the theatre anywhere between seven and twelve times a week in normal times. There’s hardly a night that I take off, and then cram in additional matinees whenever I can.

But moving to the countryside is an attempt to bring more balance into my life, as well as fresher air. I will be forced to concentrate my London theatregoing into more limited window, and four or five times a week is probably enough for anybody sensible.

However, I will also have a new range of regional theatres within shooting distance instead: I’ll be swapping Southwark Playhouse and the Menier Chocolate Factory as my immediate local theatres for Chichester Festival Theatre — which you have to admit is not exactly a bad trade-off.

There’s also, within easy striking distance, a whole range of South Coast places like Brighton, Worthing and Hastings relatively nearby, and inland theatres, with Horsham’s Capitol Theatre pretty local, as well as Canterbury’s Marlowe.

We all need to recalibrate our lives in the wake of what has happened this last year. It can’t be business as usual.

And part of my intention not to go back to before is to maintain the slower pace I’ve become accustomed to. I’ve discovered things like television — I’ve never really had time to watch it before, but during this last year, I’ve found it a lifeline to satisfy my need for storytelling on a more intimate, hyper-realistic scale than most theatre can provide.

Living in the countryside will make me appreciate London even more when I come back. It’s always too easy to take it for granted when you live here, as I have done for the last 42 years, since I first arrived as a teenager from South Africa.

I’d swapped South Africa’s largest city – Johannesburg – for one of the world’s greatest cities; and apart from a four year stint going to university in Cambridge – have been here ever since. Eight years ago, my husband and I also acquired a second second home in Manhattan, a few blocks from Times Square; so we were at the heart of the two great world cities for English speaking theatre.

So stepping aside to move to the country is a very conscious decision to live differently. We still have our place in New York, but haven’t, of course, been able to travel there for the last year. And I’m missing it badly.

But the future that’s opening up is going to be different for all of us. And it’s time to start making those changes.