Let me paint a picture for you. Around twenty five 17 and 18 year-olds are sat on a train from Edinburgh. They are all exhausted from performing at Edinburgh Fringe for a week. Sleepily, they discuss what is next, for this train journey is much more than returning home to London. When they arrive at Kings Cross, each will take a new path in life. When Lily returns, she will start looking for a job. Honor is already headed to the US, where she will be living for the next four years. Lally and the rest in Lower Sixth, will return and embark on a final year of school. For me, I will move out, if only to the other side of London where I’m going to university.
When we got off the train and said goodbye, it was a much more profound than a standard farewell. For many of us, it was goodbye to the life we have led for the last 13 years. Goodbye to school, goodbye to childhood. Onto a new chapter and adult life. Getting off that train was the final act together of a long play – a drama, a comedy, a musical, a genuine coming-of-age story. We walked off to the diverging paths that our lives will take.
The moment felt even more acute having spent two weeks together almost 24×7. If you’ve ever travelled with a group of people, you’ll know that it is a bonding experience like no other. Maybe you went interrailing as a teenager, were working as a journalist on a campaign trail, or in my case, decided to put on a musical – Made in Dagenham – at Edinburgh Fringe, with a very short preparation time. Just over a week to learn the songs, the lines, the dance routines. And this very short time period overlapped with A-level results day.
The weeks leading up to Edinburgh were thick with feelings of all kinds: excitement about the show; fear for results day; fear for the path of the future; confusion about leaving school behind. When the results day did roll around, us Upper-Sixth hardly had time to process. For some that meant a clipped celebration and for others that meant a frantic mass of phone calls to universities in-between rehearsals.
Edinburgh itself was also intense. The show was a massive hit and exceeded all our expectations. We had astonishingly large and consistent audiences for Fringe – full houses at almost every performance – and if you check out our reviews, people loved it. We lived together – eight of us in a room – we performed together, we ate and drank together, saw shows together. The strongest friendships can be forged over a shared experience, and when you experience a new world along with the intensity of performing – having just gone through the roller-coaster of A-levels and result day, with all it entailed – the intensity level is off the charts.
On our final night, the whole cast climbed up Arthur’s Seat at sunset. The clarity of the sky, the striking flashes of red of our matching cast T-shirts, the sympathetic smile Lally gave me when I thought I was going to die (just a little afraid of heights), the orange tint of the moon, the fireworks in the distance. Just like parting ways at Kings Cross, it is a potent visual that will exist in my memory forever. A final moment of togetherness.
I had a conversation with a cast member in Edinburgh about the power of music and memory. We talked about how crazy it was that a song could preserve a highly–specific feeling and that playing it was the only way to replicate that time in your life. He said to me that there were some songs he just couldn’t listen to. I knew the feeling. The beauty of doing a musical is that it facilitates that experience whether you like it or not. When I listen to the Made In Dagenham soundtrack, I will not only think about the story of the show – the unity of women demanding equal pay in 1968 – but also what it meant for me at that specific time, the unity of me and my school friends before our lives changed forever.
I will remember the rush of adrenaline of the opening chords of ‘Made in Dagenham’ as I stepped out on stage for my first scene. I will remember the chills I got listening to my friends sing ‘Connie’s Song’ or ‘We Nearly Had It All’ backstage. I will remember the feeling of being together during the last seconds of ‘Stand Up’ before our final curtain call.
When these things come to an end it’s generally bittersweet. You’re sad to be leaving behind the immersive world you’ve created but equally happy to be heading home to rest, get back into routine. You tend to question the friendships you made, and this time, as we all go our separate ways, it remains even more ambiguous. Will we ever see each other again? Will we promise to do a reunion but never follow through? Will we reunite in years to come and feel as if no time has passed?
I don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But I couldn’t have asked for a better or more memorable end to my school career.