Last night, I was reminded again that Thai people are so respectful. It was the first time I had been to the cinema in Chiang Mai and before the movie started, the audience stood in silence, watching images of their newly crowned King Vajiralongkorn and his recently deceased Father, their beloved King Bhumibol while the national anthem was played. When I was a young child, God Save the Queen was always played at the cinema and in those days, there was a news reel showing world news, cartoons, a “B” grade movie and the feature movie with intermission between the two movies. After weeks of procrastinating, I decided to see La La Land on the final night it was being screened at the Imax theatre at Central Festival Shopping Centre, an easy five-minute walk from home.
Emma Stone’s character, Mia, had an Aunt whom she clearly loved and memories of her Aunt are so affectionately recalled during the movie. Later that night while trying to sleep, I was filled with memories of my much-loved Aunty Myrtle who ignited my love of musical theatre and movies. Aunty Myrtle was my Dad’s sister, a single woman ,who devoted her life to being a housekeeper for another single woman of similar age who was from a well-to-do family in the town where I was born and raised. Myrtle was a short, round, buxom woman with a roar, hearty laugh that would make me want to laugh too. Several times a week at night and most weekend afternoons, Myrtle worked a second job at the local theatre, The Theatre Royal in Mackay, Australia. She worked in the tiny little candy bar at the side of the theatre before and after each session, but always managed to sneak into the theatre to watch most of the production or movie.
My sister, brothers and I were occasionally allowed to go to the matinée on a Saturday afternoon and I would be thrilled at another opportunity to see my dear Aunt. Regardless of how busy she was in the tiny shop, she always made us feel special. During intermission, we would wait patiently in the queue that Myrtle was working so we could buy one of the best ice-creams any child could possibly eat. They were called icy-slices. Does anyone remember them? The cone was a rectangular shape, from memory about 4 inches wide and 3 inches high and about 1/2 inch thick. The ice-cream scoop was the same shape as the cone and the ice-cream was pushed completely into the cone. Returning to the old, no-longer white, canvas theatre seats, we would watch the feature movie while squeezing the ice cream out of the cone and quickly eating it before it melted in the Queensland heat.
When my sister Mary and I were older, probably early teens, Myrtle began to invite us to musical theatre productions by the Mackay Musical Comedy Players founded by Jack Sturgeon and Lynette Denny (Millard). I suspect she used her staff privileges to obtain our tickets. This was when my absolute love of theatre, especially musical, was born. It was a huge concession by my mother to be able to attend on a night when we had school the following day. Dad would walk with Mary and I from home to the theatre, a distance of several kilometres then walk home again only to return in a few hours to walk us home after the show. I am sure Mary and I feeling elated after the show would talk and sing on the journey home while our dear Dad was probably exhausted and dreaming of some sleep. I remember seeing Oklahoma, South Pacific, The King and I, Annie get your Gun, Fiddler on the Roof, My Fair Lady, West Side Story, Oliver, Hello Dolly, Sweet Charity and more. The shows were amateur local productions with the cast from a cross-section of people I had known all my life – teachers, doctors, business men and women, mums and dads, classmates. It was a huge event for the small coastal town and Mary and I would wear our Sunday-best dresses that Mum had sewn for us.
From the minute I heard the orchestra strike the first note during the prelude, I was captivated, mesmerised, speechless. Lights, darkness, solo songs, duets, songs performed by the entire cast, dancing, jokes, laughter, tears, stunning costumes, wigs, make-up, backdrops, props all combined to ensure a memorable evening.
Myrtle lived quiet close to the town centre and I would love to ride my bike through the streets to visit her. One or two of my siblings would come with me and we would have to present at the back door of her house as that was the correct place for the housekeeper’s visitors. We would stand on the back steps and peer through the kitchen as we were never allowed inside the house. Myrtle would be cooking and cleaning but still managed to talk to us for hours. Sometimes Myrtle would leave us sitting on the back steps while she cleaned and worked in other rooms, but she would soon return to the kitchen, because that was her designated area of the house. Every year at Christmas, we knew that Myrtle would have gifts for my whole family, Mum, Dad and us 4 kids so on Christmas Eve, we would eagerly ride our bikes through the streets to her house to collect the presents and quickly return home to place them under our Christmas tree.
The lyrics from these musicals are etched into my memory and when I think about them now, they make me smile and wonder . . .
Oklahoma, Ev’ry night my honey lamb and ISit alone and talk and watch a hawkMakin’ lazy circles in the sky.We know we belong to the landAnd the land we belong to is grand!And when we sayYeeow! Ayipioeeay!We’re only sayin’You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!Oklahoma O.K.Oklahoma!
Throughout the decades, I have continued to enjoy live theatre, musicals and concerts. Just a few of the diverse musicals I have seen include Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair, Pirates of Penzance, The Phantom of the Opera, Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat, and most recently Matilda the Musical. The production, songs, dancing and lyrics have evolved beyond imagination but every show is linked by the thread of memories of my dear Aunt Myrtle. I cherish her kindness and her memory.