As anyone who has staggered through to grand-parenthood knows life is an Elysian field of comfort, prosperity and endless leisure. One of the greater delights that await you if you are approaching this apogee is the Christmas Show. Almost inevitably it is one or other variant of the birth narrative of Jesus, all collated from the gospels of Luke and Matthew; a long tradition of animals, Kings and bolshie inn-keepers. Recently there has been a rather disturbing tendency to introduce aliens or even, I have seen this, social workers. It is all very delightful and if you can survive the airport security style checks to detect hidden cameras (it is well known that half the audience at any show are potential paedophiles, out for photographs of small children with tea-towels on their heads) and can contort yourself to be seated on a tiny chair designed for four year olds, you will be entranced.
[Incidentally for an account of a nativity play to end all nativity plays read John Irvine’s A Prayer for Owen Meaney.]
Time moves on and your grandchildren graduate to more elaborate productions. Dickens is a favourite and to my mind is a great deal more fun as a school play than it is on the turgid page. I have never managed to get through Nicholas Nickleby (the book) but David Edgar’s adaption for the stage, done in the 1980’s, is still the best experience that I have ever had in the theatre (apart from the time when I was accidentally locked in the Upper Circle gents at the Haymarket Theatre and missed the whole second act of a little-known Kazakhstani drama that seemed to revolve around a cow and a pair of long johns. Actually it was a production of Jack and the Beanstalk.)
But I digress. Now we come to The Ballet Show. Many of your offsprings’ offspring will no doubt go to ballet classes. Some will show little prowess but huge enthusiasm, others may be quite good. I have inside knowledge of these shows, being married to an ex-Ballet Teacher. Ruthless are the demands for extra rehearsals, costume production and a general closing down of life until it is all over. Some of these shows are two or three years in the making. The application and dedication is astounding. On one occasion in a particularly cold church hall a mother enquired whether her tiny offspring could wear a vest under her snowflake costume (a very scant affair normally only worn by grown-up girls who do things involving poles). It was like a Bateman cartoon The Mother who asked the Ballet Teacher ….., the reply was adamant. No vests, all was to be sacrificed on the altar of artistic integrity. (The little snowflake survived but had to be resuscitated with warming drinks after she had done her bit.).
And it has to be said that the end result of all this effort is frequently very impressive. Gone is the clunky ballet-class piano, to be replaced with a voluptuous score of Tchaikovsky, broadcast from a CD recording of the LSO or some other majestic orchestra. However there are moments when the producer/choreographer inserts drastic cuts in the tracks which savage the music in a way which would have Pyotr rolling in his grave.
Cut now, if you will, to an impressive theatre on a hill above a large Baltic town. The whole of the vista spread out before you is covered in snow. Fairy lights adorn the building and the trees around. The view over the town square is magical, beautiful buildings lit by carefully concealed lighting.
We are in Estonia. Crowds are flocking into the theatre, small children divested of layer after layer which coverings are replaced with party frocks. The notices display the production, THE NUTCRACKER the archetypal Christmas show. On the walls are photographs of the resident ballet company and, yes, there she is! Your granddaughter. This is the apotheosis of all those previous Christmas productions, angels, snowflakes, shepherds, social workers. This is a professional ballet production and one of the leading rôles is to be danced by the little girl who, at the age of eighteen months, stood in the kitchen and copied her grandmother’s ballet moves as if it were the most natural thing on earth. Now here she is at nineteen, a professional ballet soloist.
The subsequent two hours pass like a tear-filled dream. This is almost more than a grandparent can take. If ever there was a moment at which it was appropriate to die happily, it was this moment.