The massive soft spot I have for the Watford Palace Theatre is likely to be replicated by the many theatre lovers around the country who are currently worrying, with good reason, for the future of the buildings and institutions that originally lit their personal fires.

I do have to give a certain degree of credit to Starlight Express for getting the ball truly rolling at the age of 12. My mum had taken me into London for the day to try our luck at securing some day seats. I had no idea whatsoever what ‘day seats’ were. There was obviously something that she saw in the piano playing youngster who spent more time ‘air conducting’ to The Kids from Fame Album than playing football in the garden, that encouraged this particular excursion.

The box offices for Cats and Evita yielded no results. But two stray seats in the back row of the stalls, usually bagged by the ice cream seller next to the ‘train tracks’, were ours.

But That was it. It was decided. Theatre was for me.

What better next step than to spend a hard-saved £25, or thereabouts, on an ‘Early Bird Season Ticket’ for the balcony of my local theatre.

I was thirteen by this point. My peers were doing all sorts of other things with their time I’m sure. But I really didn’t care. I had tickets for A Doll’s House with Sarah Lancashire and an adaptation of JM Barrie’s Mary Rose a little later in the season.

My love affair was, in the context of my life now, brief. But for those years when I remained steadfastly uninterested in other kids’ weekends of parties, sports and supposed passions for one of the worst decades of music that the century arguably saw, I had a place to go. A place to go, wedged between a kebab shop and an estate agents, where I forged a passion for Simon Gray, Arthur Miller, Tony Slattery, Henrik Ibsen, Maria Friedman, Jerry Hall, Noel Coward, Sara Kestelman and some sweary cross dressers recreating a sitcom about a wool shop.

Support your local theatre by the way. It’ll change lives. It’ll probably save one or two too.

Roger Baker

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