I haven’t been on a pilgrimage before. But if I ever do, I imagine the journey’s end might hum with the same collective love, which bathed the Everyman during their last days before the wrecking balls roll into Hope Street.

After more than forty years of entertaining the public from its famously snug stage and award-winning basement bistro, the theatre has certainly performed numerous roles for its hordes of fans. But until it has been rebuilt and reborn the Everyman is closing, which has, very unfortunately meant that jobs have been lost, too – unwanted casualties of change. And I’m sure we all wish them good luck for the future.

So it was with joy, sadness, nostalgia and, it has to be said, trepidation for some, that hundreds of people, (Everyman pilgrims?), alighted upon the theatre to pay their respects and take a shared – and quite probably, solitary – walk down memory lane.

The ‘Every Memory’ notebooks that people have been scribbling in, sharing their defining recollections of time spent at the theatre made for a brilliant read. Inevitable references allude to  countless memorable plays, great actors and direction, experimental productions, youth theatre, tasty Bistro tucker and to much more personal accounts of dating, break ups and babies.

One person called John wrote:

Came here!
Drank here!
Ate here (a lot!)
Studied here!
Lived here!
Worked here! (Best pot washer!)
Left here!
Came back here!

Thank you – amazing times.

Another person, anonymous, but known to ‘Marty’ I assume, wrote:

Marty, I love you; why don’t you return my calls?

Only in the Everyman! Only in a place steeped in richly creative history that’s provided a much-loved, well-trodden venue can prompt this sort of worshipping at its theatrical altar. And let’s not forget the hundreds of actors, directors, musicians, artists and creatives who may have not just performed there but hung out in the Bistro to eat before shows and drink after them, too. Actor, David Morrissey, the Everyman’s last Macbeth, being one of them.

The other week I bumped into a former colleague, (as you did at the Bistro), who was just leaving with his wife and he proudly said, “We had our very first date on the table you’re sitting at 28 years ago so it’s really sad it’s going to go! We’ve come to say goodbye to it.” And on my last day, it was lovely to meet Tristan and Delia Brady-Jacobs who had used the Ev as their romantic rendez-vous in the early 80s as two young artists. Delia even had the pleasure of walking the stage: “A unique experience that really connected you to the audience,” she recalled.

My afternoon there became a series of ‘last times’. The last time I’d say hello to a friendly doorman in ‘that’ doorway and descend the Bistro’s wide, sturdy stairs, which I nearly always thought I’d fall down. And the last time to dip my head as I passed beneath the low ceiling in case I hit it, which I’ve never done, even in my highest heels.

No more arriving in the eye-wateringly bright rooms searching for friends amid the sea of chattering faces until hands shot up to wave their location. The fresh-as-you-like salad piled high onto its canteen chunky white plate. The last piece of quiche, (‘Everyman quiche!’), the cutlery grab, then tray in hands, a faltering but barely perceptible trip up the incliney bit, which joins food room to bar room – and hoping no-one saw.

For old times’ sake, I even cadged a cigarette from my friend so I could have one final smoke leaning against one of the columns that’s going to go. Any excuse you might say to an ex-smoker but it felt good, like youthful pastiche and a tiny bit naughty – and very Everyman.

Everyone associates the Ev with being outré – that’s its stock-in-trade, the reputation it’s wanted and continues to retain today. I had a particularly outstanding introduction to this experimental side when my uncle and aunt treated my cousins, mum and me to what was then a really outlandish panto in 1980. And that was the late great Ken Campbell’s The Disco Queen with the recently crowned Disco Dancing Champion of the World, Julie Brown, which brought audience participation right into the stage to dance – unbelievable, back then! As a young child, I was dazzled and hypnotised. So that was my first time; all very disco!

But back to 2 July, 2011 when I shared another last something with a perfect stranger in the fragrant confines of the ladies’ loo. An elegant older woman dressed in purple walked in first and with a glance back to me, threw her hands in the air with that knowing ‘here we go!’ gesture. And just as we prepared for action – she in her cubicle and me in mine – she said out aloud: “Ah, the last pee in the Everyman loos.”

“But I won’t miss them,” I said, because I can’t bear those grotty loos. “They wouldn’t have to do much to improve them in the new building.”

“One of the few things we girls won’t miss!” replied my neighbour. “They’re so old-fashioned. Always leaking, aren’t they? Apparently, the men’s aren’t anywhere near as bad as this!”

So, for all the sadness about saying farewell to the theatre, there are certainly positives to look forward to, which sounds wrong somehow because of course, the first visit to the revamped ladies isn’t the only thing we should be excited about. Hell, no! And I, for one, am excited, though I do hope the new build eschews that tedious clinical look and feel – you know the one: all high white walls and chrome bits and an earnest atmosphere  – for something more, well, let’s put it out there: Gaudi. Seriously though, sources have said it would be difficult to sustain the Everyman’s long-established reputation if they kept the current building as it is – such is the critical need for architectural reparation.

Talking of which, the acoustic devilry of the Bistro’s low ceilings when it’s packed to the rafters and noise can’t travel anywhere is also very Everyman. “I SAID… SHE SAID…THE DIRECTOR WAS… HIS PERFORMANCE HAD… SAID WHAT?… THEN HE WENT… HIYAAAA! … RAH-RAH-RAH-RAH…”

You couldn’t help but join in the conversational crescendo until often, late at night you’d return home hoarse as well as happily pissed. And it was reasonable to assume that people you met there were predisposed to fall in with the political undertones of a theatre called ‘Everyman’. Where high-hatting snobs could be drawn into debates then ceremoniously stabbed with swords, verbally that is.

Both of the friends I shared the afternoon with went to theatre groups when they were younger. One went to the Everyman Youth Theatre, the other went to the Playhouse but both agree their involvement instilled them with creative confidence. Writer, Lisa Symonds recalls her memories:

“I was 12 years old and thought only posh, rich kids could get into acting. Then I heard about the Everyman Youth Theatre and all the amazing performers who’d passed through its doors.

“Fat, shy and ever so nervous, I walked into the foyer and said, “I want to join the youth theatre, please.” I walked away with a membership card and – unbeknownst to me – 27 years’ worth of beautiful memories-in-waiting.

“The Everyman – as a theatre – made me feel like anything was possible, like I was invincible. The courage to be creative that the Everyman gave to me has never faltered and I have just written my first play, [Reflections of Projections for 2toned Theatre]. I had dreamt of seeing my writing performed on the old stage but that dream, like the Everyman’s, will move with the times. The building may be shiny-new, but I truly believe the soul – and all the theatre stands for – will remain the same.”

Upstairs in the auditorium as it hosted its last audience, fans filled the aisles and rickety seating to simply sit and breathe in their Everyman finale. Kitted out with headphones, some listened to the oral memories collected from people eager to be part of its history. Others made their first entrance onto the stage to read the (beautifully symbolic) travel tags carrying people’s written memories, suspended from the ceiling on long pieces of string. If you found a blank one, you could add your own.

It was quite extraordinary, really. The atmosphere spangled with collective unity, child-like wonder and I’d say, Ev ownership. But there was also an air of traditional mischief maybe? So while I was wallowing in lots of ‘last moments’ I also had a first-time-for-everything, only-in-the-Ev moment when a rather attractive, bold guy, (that’s bold with an ‘o’) asked me, very seriously, if I’d like to go to a tango class with him. Intriguing! (Hope he wasn’t that heartbreaker, Marty.)

It’s human nature that we often only truly appreciate something in its absence and I suspect the Everyman is no different. The good thing is, it’ll be back! And if the incredible success of artistic director, Gemma Bodinetz and executive director, Deborah Aydon is anything to go by, we will all be clip-clopping down Hope Street again when the curtain rises on the new Everyman – whenever that may be. Until then, we have our memories.

The End, (for now).

Words: Tori Hywel Davies
Pics: Mark McNulty

(tags picture: Lisa Symonds)





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