All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 17 The audition for Juliet.
Chapter 17 The audition for Juliet.
The day finally arrived for the first of the auditions, which was to be for the role of Juliet. As I expected, there had been unprecedented interest from all the young Shakespearean actresses in Britain and apparently there had been some preliminary auditions in order to whittle the numbers down to a manageable number. I had not been involved in these since it seemed I had already been placed on the short list. This was certainly encouraging.
I had decided to wear a pretty, floor length, floral, shift dress for the audition which I thought made me look younger; Juliet, after all is supposed to be only about fourteen years old. I had seen other actresses turn up to auditions in jeans or trousers and in my humble opinion that showed a lack of effort on their part. Perhaps I was wrong, but I still felt more comfortable in a dress.
I had received a note to arrive in one of the rehearsal rooms at the theatre at eleven o'clock in the morning, and timed myself to arrive five minutes early so that I wasn't hanging around and possibly getting nervous.
As I parked and got out of my car, another car drove quickly into the car park and stopped alongside mine. A young woman got out and her face looked vaguely familiar although I couldn't place her.
“Hello, are you auditioning for Juliet as well?” she asked.
“Yes,” I replied. “I'm Harriet Stow.”
“Cassandra Evans, please call me Cassie,” she replied.
Of course! Now I knew where I had seen her. It was in a photograph at Dame Emily's flat. This was her actress daughter. She saw from the look on my face that I now realised who she was.
“We haven't met, but Mum speaks very highly of you,” she said. “We might be rivals for the role but I hope we can still be friends.”
“I hope so too,” I said. “Dame Emily has been a wonderful mentor to me. If it were not for her, I wouldn't be here in Stratford today,” I replied.
“I know I sound biased because she's my Mum, but I really admire her for nurturing new talent. Oh, one other thing, I know some people think she uses her influence to get me roles and I tell everyone that she absolutely doesn't. In fact when I told her I wanted to be an actor like my parents she tried to talk me out of it, and said that a job with a regular salary and hours was a much better idea.”
“But not nearly so interesting,” I said, and we both laughed.
Since Cassie hadn't been to Stratford before, I showed her where the rehearsal room was. Six other young women were already present, and I suspected some had been there a while and already looked nervous. We exchanged 'hellos' and then an older woman whom I knew entered the room.
“Good morning ladies, I'm Rosa Fernandez, the Artistic Director here at Stratford and I want to welcome you all to the audition for Juliet. As some of you know, there has been unprecedented interest in this production of 'Romeo and Juliet', and we had to conduct preliminary auditions in order to reduce the numbers of people here to a manageable number. I’m sure any one of you could perform the role well, but unfortunately we can't accommodate eight Juliets, so some of you will be disappointed. Nevertheless, I hope you will regard your presence here as equivalent to an Oscar nomination which in itself is worthy of a place on your CV.
“I will now take you down to the theatre to meet the Director, Paul Norad. You've probably heard of Paul even if you haven't worked with him, as he's one of Britain's finest Shakespearean directors, so you'll be in good hands. Before I do, I know that some people like to be first and some last in auditions, so to be fair I have eight numbered blocks in this bag and I want each of you to reach in and take one, which will determine the order in which you appear.”
I noticed that Miss Fernandez made no sign of recognising me as we each walked up to take a number. I suspected that she didn't want to give any impression of favouritism. I pulled out a block – number one! Oh well, perhaps that was a good thing.
Once all the numbers had been allocated and checked against her list, we followed her down to the theatre. We all took a seat in the stalls, while a tall man with a beard standing on the stage stepped forward and introduced himself.
“Good morning ladies, I'm Paul Norad and I am the Director of this production of 'Romeo and Juliet'. I would like to thank you all for coming here today. You have all been asked to rehearse the Balcony Scene and also prepare another speech from Shakespeare.
“To assist us today, we have been fortunate in securing the services of Richard Jenkins who will be auditioning for the role of Romeo and who will play opposite you.”
At this point a young man with boyish good looks walked onto the stage and gave us all a broad smile.
Paul looked at the list he was holding. “Could we have Miss Harriet Stow on stage please?”
I took a deep breath, this was it. I walked down the aisle to the stage and up the steps. A small rostrum with a handrail had been placed on the stage to represent the balcony, and I took my place on it.
Paul said. “Richard, since the scene starts with a rather long speech from Romeo, could you please start at ' See how she leans her cheek upon her hand'?
What can I say? We clicked immediately. Looking back I don't think Paul really intended us to do the whole scene together since it is quite long, instead I prefer to think that hearing us he was loathe to call a halt.
At the conclusion there was a smattering of polite applause from the girls in the auditorium.
“Thank you very much Harriet and Richard,” he said. Richard smiled and walked off stage.
“Harriet, I understand that you stepped in at short notice to play Queen Gertrude for two nights during the season of Hamlet. Would you favour us with her speech on hearing of Ophelia's death please?”
The speech I had prepared was from 'Twelfth Night' ('I left no ring with her: what means this lady?'), but I said “I would be happy to, Mr Norad.”
He had asked me to recite one of my favourite speeches. I composed myself, imagining that I was no longer a young girl but an older woman and started to recite –
'There is a willow grows aslant a brook
That shows his hoar leaves in the glass stream...'
There was a moment's silence after I finished which I always take as a greater compliment than the applause that follows. Even Paul Norad seemed moved when he said “Thank you Miss Stow, that will be all for now.”
I smiled at him and left the stage, taking up my seat in the stalls again next to Cassie.
She leaned over and whispered “Wow girl, you set the bar high.” I smiled at her and whispered back “I did the best I could.”
One by one the other girls were called up, and in all but one instance, Cassie, they were not asked to complete the whole of the balcony scene. She was good, no make that 'remarkable', definitely the one to beat in my view.
After the conclusion of the auditions and Paul saying he would let us know, Cassie and I walked back to our cars. Neither of us wanted to say what we thought might happen. My personal opinion was that she would probably get the role and I might get understudy, but I kept that to myself. We exchanged phone numbers and said we hoped to see each other again.
Back at the flat I made myself a sandwich and a cup of tea and settled down with 'Alice' to continue reading the story and rehearse it in my mind, while waiting for the phone call, hoping it wouldn't take too long. When the phone did ring I jumped.
“Miss Stow? It's Paul Norad here, how are you?”
“Fine thank you Mr Norad.”
“Well I won't beat around the bush,” he said, and proceeded to do exactly that. “All of the people who attended the audition were excellent and any one of you could have played the part well.”
'Here it comes, the 'thanks but no thanks' speech,' I thought.
“However two candidates stood out, Cassie Evans and you.”
'So she's got it,’ I thought.
“So we've decided to do something a bit 'left field'. How would you feel about sharing the role with Cassie? It's a big part and quite demanding, and of course there will be a couple of days a week when there is a matinee as well as an evening performance. That can be really tiring. The person not performing would act as understudy, and you could take alternate performances. How does that sound?”
I was stunned. This was the last thing I expected.
“Yes Mr Norad, it would be a privilege to share a role with someone of Miss Evans' calibre.”
“I'm so glad you feel that way Miss Stow, she said the same thing about you. You might like to ring her, and I look forward to seeing you at the first rehearsal in three week's time.
“We will have a second understudy, Jemima Collier, who prefers to be called Jemma, just in case of emergencies. As you know, I heard about you stepping in for Dame Emily when she and her understudy were ill during the Hamlet season, and we couldn’t afford for that to happen in this production. Like you, Jemma has a phenomenal memory, and we’ll use her as an extra in the ball scene, and maybe some others. It’s her first time in a Shakespearean play, so I’m sure you’ll make her welcome.
“Oh one more thing, we have eight young men for the Romeo auditions on Friday. Would you be available to play Juliet in the Balcony Scene with them the way Richard did today for the Juliets? I did ask Cassie as well but she isn't available.”
“Yes of course Mr Norad, I'd be happy to help out.”
You don’t turn down a request from a Director who has just given you a dream role, and besides, it would be good practise for me. “And I’ll make sure that Jemma feels at home.”
After he rang off, I sat for a moment. My heart was pounding. It certainly didn't worry me sharing the role, and I was so glad that Cassie felt the same way. I picked up my phone and rang her and we congratulated each other.
“So we will be seeing each other quite soon,” she said.
“I look forward to it,” I replied.
“You don't happen to know anyone with a spare bedroom do you? I'll have to find somewhere to stay.”
“Sorry, what bad timing. I had a spare room last week when my flatmate went home to Bridchester, but a friend of mine has already moved in. I can make enquiries for you if you like?”
“Yes please, if you wouldn't mind.” she replied.
My next call was to Mum of course, and then to Emma. They were both as thrilled as I was, and both promised to come down to Stratford to see me perform.
That evening I rang Reggie and was more than a little surprised when a female voice answered his phone and asked who was calling.
“It's Harriet, his girlfriend,” I said, rather sharply.
There was a change in the background sound which I knew meant she had put her hand over the receiver, and I could hear voices. Then Reggie came on the phone. My heart was pounding but I tried to stay calm, after all, it was only six o'clock in the evening.
“Hi Harriet, how's it going?” he said.
“Fine thank you. I just thought you might like to know that I am to share the role of Juliet with Cassie Evans who is Dame Emily's daughter,” I said flatly.
“Wow! That's great news, congratulations!” he exclaimed and he did sound genuinely excited, far more so than I was now. Perhaps I shouldn't have said anything but I couldn't help myself. Jealousy had reared its ugly head.
“I won't keep you if you are busy,” I said.
“No, that's fine, Cindy and I were just working on one of the topics we're going to write an assessment on next week.”
“Well, good luck with that. I'm going up to Brid to visit Mum and Emma next week. Is it alright if I come and see you too while I'm up there?” I said.
“Of course,” he replied. “I'll look forward to seeing you.”
“I love you Reggie,” I said, rather abruptly.
“I love you too Harriet,” he replied. Alright, I had ambushed him into saying that. The green-eyed monster was well and truly on my shoulder and I didn't want this Cindy to get any ideas about my boyfriend.
After I had put the phone down, I had second thoughts. Why oh why had I done that to him? He couldn't be blamed if he was very angry with me. Tears started to roll down my cheeks. I nearly picked up the phone to ring him back, but I couldn't bear to humiliate myself in front of Cindy. Instead, I went into my bedroom and sobbed, just thankful that Dale was out. This was supposed to be one of the happiest days of my life and instead it was one of the most miserable.
About an hour later, Reggie phoned me.
“Hi Harriet, I thought I'd ring you back. They've gone now.”
“They?” I said.
He laughed. “Yes, Cindy brought her friend Meryl along with her, like a chaperone I suppose. I didn't know I had that sort of reputation!”
I tried to make a joke of it. “Not Meryl Streep I suppose?”
“Err no, but I believe her mother is a great fan and that's where her name comes from.” He paused. “I'm sorry about her answering the phone, she had no right to do that.”
“Reggie, I'm sorry too. I must have sounded really jealous and insecure, and I've no reason to be.”
“No you don't, Harriet,” he said softly. “You're a strange mixture you know? I've seen you on stage in that huge theatre, holding about fourteen hundred people in the palm of your hand, and I'm sure every one of them thought you had the most self-confidence of anyone they've ever seen. Then there's another side to you, one that only those who know you best are allowed to see, a young woman who finds it hard to accept that there's someone who loves her with all his heart and always will.”
“Oh Reggie, I don't deserve you.” The tears were starting to flow again.
“You probably deserve someone much better,” he replied, “but I'm the one you're stuck with. I tell you what, why don't you turn on your computer and then we can talk and see each other?”
“Do you mind if we just chat on the phone?” I replied. I knew my face must look a mess and I didn't want him to see me like that.
“No of course not,” he replied. He knew of course, he's the smartest man I ever met.
“I really do want to come and see you soon. Rehearsals will start before we know it and I'll be tied up again.”
“That was wonderful news about you getting the part of Juliet. Are you sure you don't mind sharing the role?”
“No, of course not. I'm sure I will be at my best, since I'll have time to rest between performances. Fancy sharing the role with Dame Emily's daughter too!”
“Have you rung her, Dame Emily I mean?”
“I haven't really had time yet. I think I'll wait until tomorrow,” I said.
“That's a good idea,” he replied. “How about coming up next weekend? Can you make it? Maybe you can stay overnight in York. I would invite you to stay at the college, but I get the impression it's not exactly encouraged, so maybe an hotel would be better.” He added softly “I do miss our nights together.”
“Reggie I love you so much,” I replied.
“And I love you Harriet. You're the most wonderful girl in the world,” he replied.
“You are a sweetie," I said, and paused. "Do you want to tell me about Cindy?”
“Well if you really want to know, she's about six inches shorter than you, but probably weighs nearly twice as much. She has short black hair, wears trousers all the time, and has glasses with thick black rims. I also suspect that there's more going on between her and Meryl than just friendship.”
“You're not making this up are you Reggie?” I was laughing now.
“No, it's the plain truth. If it didn't make me seem shallow, I'd say she wasn't very attractive, but she has a brilliant mind to make up for it.”
“The reverse of me then,” I laughed.
“Anyone who can memorise great swathes of Shakespeare is no slouch in the brains department,” said Reggie.
On that happy note we said goodnight.
To be continued
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Louise Anne in proofreading the text and giving me a great deal of useful advice about modern-day Britain to incorporate in the story.
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