I’ll be there for you, probably…

Last week we went to see the current West End production of “Merrily we roll along” at the Harold Pinter theatre in London, and very good it was too (catch it if you can).
We even had the amusement of seeing a completely dolled up Dame Barbara Windsor in the foyer surrounded by a rabble of hangers on – surprisingly perhaps, mostly young women. We carefully walked by. By all accounts she might have played the dreadfully clichéd big busted blonde airhead for most of her career but she is not someone to be taken lightly, and certainly she was projecting the “I’m smiling because I’m the boss here” aura quite markedly.
The show both she and us had come to see is a Sondheim musical that had us talking a lot afterwards both in terms of how good it was – and it is very good, and in a small theatre like this one, also quite an intense experience – but also about the recurring themes in it.
It is quite a small story really about three friends who, at the beginning of the show you see have lost each other; and then the show goes backwards, showing how they got to that point.
As you might expect, there is a sense of melancholy undercutting the whole play, but at the same time it is fascinating to see that what finally happens is inevitable due to the attitudes, dreams and ambitions of all three of the main characters, and that no one person is to blame.
For me, one of the themes about this piece is friendship and what that means – and how it goes wrong. Usually there is a lot of fluff around about friendship, and it feels to me that it is often portrayed as the safe relationship zone. Your family you are stuck with, you choose your friends. Romantic relationships on the other hand are seen as being the intense emotional minefield – but if they go wrong, well, at least you still have you friends don’t you?
But I think this denigrates the importance of friendships and how hard they are to maintain. No matter how close we are to another person, we still have to remember they are a different individual with a different set of ambitions, dreams and values. They are on a different journey from us even if we can walk with them on the journey for stretches. In “Merrily” the issue is that the three friends are unable to recognise that.
One recurring concept is that of “growing up” – but when characters do “grow up” they of course change. Suddenly, the others don’t want that anymore, they want to be back “the way it was”. But the reality is that it can never be like that again. I was reminded again of that watching The Great Gatsby at the cinema this week – the attempt to recapture the past is doomed to failure.
I had a whale of a time at University and I have great friends forged in that time, but it will always be different now, twenty or so years later. We are all so different. When you go back to reunions, some people you thought were friends will blank you, others you hardly spoke too suddenly have a lot more in common and are more on the wavelength you are on now, at this different point in your life.
Only the friends you’ve seen on a regular basis seem similar but you’ve changed with them (rather than there have been no changes).
You have to grow up and change with your friendships, grow together or accept that you will grow apart.
In the play, fractures appear, widen and then shatter the relationship, and for two of them at least, in a way that has made them terribly unhappy. It happens a lot in real life too and of course it’s also a major factor in divorce. But my point is that it applies to friendships as well as between lovers.
So I feel the need to examine those friendships that matter most to me. There are some people who I would be left totally bereft if they were not in my life in some capacity or other. Have I been irritated or upset recently by something they have done/not done? Instead of letting that feeling persist, can I see if that is because, fundamentally, something has changed for them in their lives?
If so, I then need to think about how I relate to that, because actually there might be an exciting springboard there to another “good time” in that relationship rather than a widening crack.
And you know what – it is harder than it sounds. Think about it. If you struggle with the answer, phone a friend.