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I think I told you in passing that I parted ways with the Squirrels… It happened earlier this year – around March, actually – and there were Reasons. It was a hard thing to do, after a decade with them, and a much longer time, if on and off, with Gemma the Director – but I had choices to make, and… Reasons.

It was a mostly civilised affair: I explained, and teared up a little, and they were mostly quite nice about it, and some of them actually teared up in turn. So I came away, and exchanged calls and emails with Gemma now and then, but never acted on the standing invitation to go and sit through rehearsal with them – because… well, I’d come away. I’d come away, and I had Reasons, and I didn’t want to tag along unofficially – much less to be dragged in again “just this once”…

Until yesterday.

Yesterday morning Gemma called, told me that they were having dress rehearsal in the afternoon for this little musical they are doing together with the local music school, and she was not happy with the lighting, and could I please, please, please go over and have a look at things? Please?

“But… you’re doing dress, Gemma. Isn’t it a bit late? What could I possibly do this late? And most of all, what will your light person say, if I turn up, and…”

Which was, you see, the whole point: nobody seems to have entirely taken my place lighting-wise, and Gemma and the electrician put something together…

“But it’s all very hazy, and I don’t much like it, and Lele keeps asking when are you coming, and you’d make your old drama teacher very happy if you just stopped dithering and dropped by for a couple of hours!!”

Yes well, nobody beats Gemma at emotional blackmail, as I ought to know it from long habit… and yet I can’t resist – so yesterday afternoon I drove to the theatre, and plunged in the middle of dress rehearsal mayhem. Mayhem on a huger scale than usual, too, because the musical has a large cast, two juvenile choirs – each with a director – a choreographer, minders for the smaller children, and quite a few people of less than obvious function – all of them going about in the kind of electric and electrifying chaos of a dress rehearsal. Always exciting… And most of all, it was lovely to see Gemma again, and the Squirrels. There were hugs, and laughter, and everyone asked: do you miss us? Do you? Do you?

And the fact is that yes: I do miss them. I miss them dearly… I miss Gemma, with her bits-and-starts directing style, that may seem haphazard until you see it coalesce into beauty. I even miss her rants about the Otherness of Theatre – much as I used to roll my eyes when she went off on yet another one of them. I miss (almost) everyone else, the air of general nonsense, the last minute bustle,* the constant atmosphere of cheerfully averted disaster…

Then of course there were also the things that I do not miss, and my reasons for coming away in the first place – and I was reminded of those too. In the end, perhaps, the best thing was that, when it came to lighting, I had to do… nothing. I sat at the board with Lele the Electrician, and watched him do his thing through three hours of rehearsals, offering the occasional idea when asked, and reminiscing now and then… He groused a little that nobody had sent him a complete design, and Gemma just told him to “do a bit of this, and a bit of that…” and changed her mind all the time… But the fact is, he did quite well with what he had. He didn’t need me. They didn’t need me – at all.

And believe me: it was a relief. It’s been very nice to go back for an afternoon, to see Gemma and everyone again, to breathe the atmosphere – and tonight I’ll go and sit in the audience for the opening night. But it was also definite proof, if I ever needed it, that the Squirrels are a closed chapter. I may miss them, and perhaps they miss me – but I think we all saw yesterday that there is no way, or need, to go back.  Quite a good thing, for everyone concerned.


* Not that I lack nonsense and bustle with Nina and the Company, mind. It’s just… different. And more organised and disciplined.