Theatre, like all the best addictions, is a habit for life.
Theatre, like all the best addictions, is a habit for life. The sad facts of class and social immobility mean that that you’re far more likely to become a regular theatregoer as an adult if you were taken to the theatre often as a child, but it’s not because theatre is merely a social pursuit favoured by the upper-middle class, or even that theatre need be economically exclusive compared to other entertainments. (I challenge any reader to find a theatre in London where every seat is more expensive than a Premier League football ticket.) Thanks to the National Theatre’s partnership with Travelex, more than half the seats at the National this year cost a mere £12. (Compare that with Arsenal, where the cheapest adult seats cost £34.)
No, the real reason that childhood experience of theatre matters is that it teaches children that theatre exists in the first place, and that it’s more of a total escape than even the best bedtime story. A child can be so entranced by the imaginary world unfurled on stage – when young enough to just about believe it – that every adult trip to the theatre, from one’s twenties to one’s nineties, becomes an attempt to recapture that moment of magic.
I can still close my eyes and see the colours on stage as actors from Tara Arts played out the ancient Sanskrit story of The Little Clay Cart at the National’s Cottesloe Theatre. I was five, and the experienced changed my life. Every time I take my seat in the theatre, I’m pursuing that initial thrill: the buzz of simultaneously observing a story from outside and feeling an integral part of it from within.