I think I've already mentioned the moment I fell out of love with the theatre. I was 19, sitting in the front row of The Swan at Stratford. It was Deborah Warner's production of Titus Andronicus, with Brian Cox. It's a real blood-and-guts piece, rough-and-ready early Shakespeare, but the immediacy of the performing space, combined with the pace of the production, gave it a fantastic intensity. We were showered with spit and Kensington gore, and I never washed those trousers again. At one point Peter Polycarpou, who was playing the villainous Aaron, came on stripped to the waist. I was so close that I could see he had a big spot on his back; I was so caught up in the action that I wanted to squeeze the spot, to cause him pain. I stopped myself, halfway out of my seat, and slumped back down, shaking.
And that was it. I knew then that no theatrical experience could ever recreate that, and anything I saw, however good, however powerful, would be second-best. I didn't give up on going to the theatre by any means, and I've seen plenty of good things since, but it's never been top of my list of priorities. It was that feeling you get when a relationship ends, and you think nothing will ever replace it. In this instance, nothing did.
I had a similar experience with live music. In 2002 I saw Brian Wilson's Pet Sounds concert at the Royal Festival Hall. Of course, it's thrilling, lump-in-the-throat music, and the fragile figure of Wilson centre-stage added to the poignancy. I started crying at 'God Only Knows'; but it was during the encores that the whole thing became utterly overwhelming. We were up in the gods, standing on our seats, dancing as if the Pacific was sending its last ever wave our way. Suddenly, a small boy, 10 years old at most, hurled himself to the front of the balcony, dancing to 'Help Me Rhonda' as if he was in some sort of voodoo trance. I knew I'd never experience what the child was going through; in fact, I'd probably never again experience what I was feeling at the time, just by being in his proximity, watching the ecstasy on his face, in his flailing limbs.
Maybe it's the knowledge that a live performance can never be replicated precisely; but I've not had the same experience with a static art form. I've come close with books: American Psycho; Wuthering Heights; the damnation sermon in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Each left me shaken, knowing things would never be the same again; but they didn't stop me reading books, hoping for something similar. I get goosebumps every time I see the Marseillaise scene in Casablanca, and it's been my favourite film for a quarter of a century; but I keep looking.
Theatre and concerts, though? Nah, been there, done that. Which is frustrating in many ways. Should I avoid any brush with revelatory genius, because it makes me dissatisfied with anything else? Or maybe the experience is worth the sacrifice, that I can never go into a theatre without thinking, "Well, it's all right, but..."