Blogger and theatre enthusiast Shaun Nolan traces his inspiration for creating an audio walk through London’s theatre district right back to his earliest childhood memory of the city.
I love London. I’ve loved London ever since the first time I visited. I don’t remember exactly when or why that was, but my earliest memory of London was a trip around Buckingham Palace. As someone who lives in a town that isn’t the most exciting place on Earth, London managed to offer me a place where everything was happening. I’m a child of the internet generation and I can remember using dial-up when I was as young as 5, so I’ve always had the ability to access more than I lived with, which drove me to want even more.
I think that day at Buckingham Palace has stuck with me all this time because it was a clear reminder that there is life outside the small circle of my hometown, and London is the hub of a lot of it. Inside, Buckingham Palace really is as stunning as people say it is, and it was like nothing I had ever seen before. I can vividly remember listening to the audio walking tour my Grandma bought me, getting to learn even more details about the ornate carvings and beautiful paintings I was looking at. Social history has fascinated me from a very young age – it comes hand in hand with a love of everything that the Arts has to offer – and getting to explore it in such an aural and practical way amazed me. I didn’t have all too many other memorable trips to London though, until I saw my first West End show, Hairspray, about 8 years ago.
My love for the theatre is what really pushed me to find out more about the world from the internet. The creation of YouTube in 2005 helped me connect with other fans of the theatre, and I got to see clips and hear music from the shows I’d been listening to on cassette and CD for a long time beforehand. It was here that I found a bootleg recording of the original Broadway run of Hairspray. I fell in love. I got my parents to buy me the cast album and I became truly obsessed; but I still hadn’t been given the chance to go and see a show for myself in the glittering West End just yet, so it was all but a dream in my eyes.
In 2007, Hairspray transferred to the Shaftesbury Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, and despite being internet savvy, I wasn’t social media savvy at the mere age of 8 so I didn’t really have a clue. In fact, it wasn’t until it had been running for a few months and I found a trailer for the production on YouTube that I got really excited. I Googled images of the marquee outside the theatre (which started my ongoing passion for theatre marquees), pictures of the cast, videos from the show and more. I never considered the reality of actually going to see the show until one sunny August afternoon, almost a decade ago, when I went to London with my Grandma and my Aunt.
I had no idea what we were up to for the day, but we were strolling around London until we suddenly came across the Shaftesbury Theatre. We stood on the island in the middle of the road and I stared at the glittering ‘Ultra Clutch’ hairspray can in disbelief. I couldn’t quite believe that this place I had seen in pictures was a real, glittering, magical West End theatre… and I loved it. I didn’t think any more of it though, until my Aunt suddenly crossed the road and walked through the doors into the theatre. I started panicking, telling my Grandma that “she can’t just walk in there – a show might be on!” My Grandma just told me to follow her and we walked in after her. It wasn’t until then that I saw my Aunt standing at a small white window, stating our surname to the woman behind the glass and being handed some folded strips of card in return.
I was addicted from that day on and, thanks to my incredible Grandma, I managed to bask in the glory of my passion on a very regular basis. As I grew up, I came to an age where I could take myself to the theatre. My passion extended to an online creative community and I started blogging more and more. It was also at this time that I started to see much more of London, because I was always with friends who were more than happy to walk around with me and explore. I began to truly realise the beauty, culture and the freedom that London had to offer, and the history I was learning about my second home started coming to me more frequently.
A few more years down the line, an email dropped into my inbox informing me that the Ian McKellen Theatreland walking tour was now available on the VoiceMap app. I’d never heard of the app before, but the idea of doing an audio walking tour around London – at my own, fast pace – really excited me. My Aunt and I were staying at my Grandma’s at the time while my Aunt was over from Australia, and the memory of the fun we had had at Buckingham Palace all those years ago reminded me of how much I had once loved the art form. I decided to do it two days later before a show I was going to review in the evening.
I enjoyed myself so much in fact that I didn’t just do the Ian McKellen walking tour, but I also did the Loo Lady’s tour (amazing tour!) and the Alternative History Tour on the same day. I really felt like I’d found my new favourite thing in the app, so getting the chance to do my own tour was a dream come true. The tour gave me the perfect opportunity to share my love for London, Theatreland and social history with the rest of the world in a cool and modern way. I not only got to share facts about the City that I already knew, but I also got to learn more facts and history during the creative process as well. It’s fantastic that VoiceMap have managed to create such an accessible and welcoming app and community of both creators and users and I feel lucky to be a part of it.
It’s funny how full circle I feel I have gone with my London journey so far. My earliest memory of the City is taking in my surroundings in awe, with a person’s voice guiding me around. That voice helped a little boy fall in love with the place he would eventually call a second home and now, over a decade later, I get to the return the favour.
Shaun Nolan is a blogger and theatre enthusiast. Check out his audio walking tour of London’s theatres and history, Light The Lights: How Culture Defines London. To learn more about Shaun, have a look at his website, or peruse more of his writing on his dedicated theatre blog.
Image: Em Jenkins