All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 33 The tour begins
All the cast and crew were gathering in the forecourt of the theatre at 7am to wait for the bus which would take us to London. When it arrived, our luggage was loaded on board and I took a seat next to Cassie. It took us about two and a half hours for the trip. When we drove into Heathrow Airport and headed towards Terminal 3, I was amazed at its size. It would be so easy to get lost there, and I was glad that I was part of a group with some experienced flyers.
It was Adrian's job to make sure we all checked in our suitcases and were issued with our boarding passes. Then we went through Security, having all our hand luggage x-rayed. I had been scrupulously careful not to include sharps and liquids in mine. To her embarrassment, Cassie had left a pair of nail scissors in her make-up bag and these were duly confiscated.
“Wow! You could do a lot of damage with those,” I said to her with a smile.
Then Paul shepherded us all to the departure lounge. To my surprise a reporter and photographer approached him for an interview about our trip and also asked to take a picture of the group.
“Did they come here especially for the story?” I asked Cassie.
She laughed. “No, there are several reporters and photographers permanently based at the airport. That's how they get the pictures and stories when celebrities arrive and depart. We're not that big a story – it might not even make the papers, but you never know.”
We sat in the Business Class lounge for about an hour before we were called to board our flight. There were free sandwiches and drinks available and Cassie commented “This is nice; make the most of it, you won't get this when you travel 'Cattle Class'.”
I raised an eyebrow at the expression, but I realised what she meant.
The Qantas aircraft we were flying to Singapore was a Boeing 747-400 model. Cassie and I had been allocated seats on the upper deck. Not having flown before I had nothing to compare them with, but they did appear quite large and comfortable and I mentioned this to Cassie.
“I'm really going to enjoy this trip,” she said. “Just you wait until you've flown overseas in Economy and you'll see the difference then.”
Our flight took off at 1.05pm. We had one stop at Dubai where we changed planes. The terminal seemed to be even bigger than Heathrow. It was interesting to see people of all the different races there, including many in traditional arab dress, the men wearing the long white tunics and the 'keffiyeh' headdress. Some of the women wore the burqa or a hijab while others seemed comfortable in western dress with their hair uncovered. I would love to have taken pictures of them but thought it might not be appreciated.
When we finally arrive in Singapore it was 3pm the following day. The flight was certainly very enjoyable with the comfortable reclining seats which allowed me to sleep, very nice meals and plenty of entertainment to be viewed on the screens attached to the back of the seat in front of us.
After collecting our suitcases we were led out of the air-conditioned terminal to a bus that was waiting for us, and I experienced my first tropical heat which hit me like standing in front of an oven. Once we were in the air-conditioned bus it was cool again. We were driven to our hotel in Orchard Road and Paul told us that we would have two hours to settle in and have a shower and after that we would be driven to the Singapore Indoor Stadium to see where we would be performing.
Cassie and I were sharing a room. It was bright and clean with twin beds and an en suite. We certainly couldn't complain. We tossed a coin for who should get first shower and Cassie won. Meanwhile I unpacked my clothes and looked out of the window at the variety of buildings to be seen, some built in the traditional Chinese style and intermingled with some modern multi-storey buildings.
When Cassie had finished, it was my turn in the bathroom. We both dressed in light cotton dresses, since Cassie assured me that even in the evening it would still be quite hot. We also took light linen hats with us. Then we went down to the hotel foyer to await the bus. Once more we braved a blast of heat as we walked from the hotel to the bus, but at least we were dressed for it now.
The arena was only a five minute bus drive away from the hotel. As we walked in we were stunned by its size. The main arena was oblong in shape and could be reconfigured to suit a particular performance. The staff had been hard at work. At one end was a deep stage about the width of the arena, with a thrust stage stretching out about a third of the way across the arena, and about three or four feet high. At the rear of the stage they had built a two-storey structure with a balcony overlooking an entrance, designed to be similar in appearance to the rear of the original Globe theatre stage. Obviously this would be used for the balcony scene.
There were two large video screens suspended from the roof on either side of the stage, and we could see a number of television cameras placed around the arena. It seems the intention was to enable the audience at the rear of the building to see the action on the stage in close-up. It appeared that the performance would be something of a hybrid – a stage performance with a simultaneous television production which I suspected would be recorded. It would be a challenge to play both simultaneously, but after all we were professionals so I was sure we could do it successfully.
“Right, ladies and gentlemen, I suggest we all go up on the stage and get used to it,” said Paul. We followed him onto the stage. It certainly seemed very big compared to the one at Stratford. As we walked around Scarlett came up to me.
“Hi Harriet, I haven't had a chance to chat with you since I returned to Stratford, how are you doing?” she said.
“Quite well thank you. This is a very exciting trip isn't it?”
“Yes it is. I heard about your boyfriend getting married.” She said it in what sounded like a sympathetic tone.
“Yes, well that's men for you. He was obviously ready to marry and settle down, and at present I'm not. I still want to develop my career,” I replied.
She smiled. “Well from what I hear your career is going very well, and after all there's no shortage of men in the world.”
“Thanks, but I know I still have a long way to go in developing my career, and as for men, well, you're right there,” I replied.
Later, Richard came up to me. “I saw you chatting with Scarlett, I hope you're not thinking of playing for the other team,” he said.
“Not at all,” I replied, laughing.
“I'm glad to hear that,” he replied, and I wondered what exactly he meant by that.
At that point Paul gathered us all together on the stage.
“Right everyone, we have only two days to prepare for the performances, so there is a lot of work to do. Tomorrow we will start by rehearsing 'Romeo and Juliet' in the morning and 'Twelfth Night' in the afternoon. They will be a full dress rehearsals and the television cameramen will be practising to make their recording as good as possible.
“I think that the blocking we worked out back in Stratford will succeed quite well, but there may be a need to make some adjustments. Would the cast members involved in the balcony scene please come with me now and we will check out the balcony.”
Cassie, Jemma and I followed him to the rear of the scenery that had been erected at the rear of the stage. Fortunately a fairly wide set of steps with a hand rail had been constructed to reach the balcony and we felt sure we could negotiate it without any problems.
That evening, which was the only free one we had, the reception with the senior government officials was held in one of the classic buildings dating back to British colonial days. The men all looked dashing in their dinner suits and the ladies were decked out in evening gowns, and looking very glamorous. Richard made a point of coming up to me and telling me that I looked 'amazing'.
There was the usual finger food and drinks including the famous Singapore Sling. There are variations on the recipe but we were assured that ours, which consisted of gin, Benedictine, Cherry Heering, Cointreau, pineapple juice, lime juice, Grenadine and a dash of Angustura Bitters, was the original recipe as served at Raffles Hotel. The mixture was shaken, not stirred, à la James Bond, poured into a tall glass and garnished with a slice of pineapple and a cherry. It packed quite a punch and I made one last the whole evening.
The senior government official made a speech in which he welcomed us to Singapore and said how much he was looking forward to seeing us perform. Paul in turn said how much the company was looking forward to playing to such a large audience. We all lined up, a bit like the stars of a Royal Command Performance and were introduced to the officials.
Fortunately the event finished by ten o'clock and we were bussed back to our hotel and went straight to bed as Paul wanted us to be back at the arena before nine o'clock the next morning to start rehearsals.
We were up early Friday morning, had breakfast and were in the bus by eight-thirty. Paul had decided that Cassie should do the first rehearsal of the whole play, and that I would rehearse only the scenes in which Juliet appears. This was logical since time was limited. We both went to the dressing room, which was very spacious, and after Cassie was ready, then it was my turn. Then I sat in the stalls and watched the rehearsal, making mental notes. Sir John had stepped into the rôle of Friar Lawrence without any problems. After all, he had played it a number of times in the past. After the performance was completed, I went on stage and rehearsed my scenes. There were two scenes in each of the first three acts, three in the fourth act, and only one in the fifth, so this reduced the amount of time needed for rehearsal by quite a lot.
I confess that as we rehearsed the balcony scene I couldn't help thinking of Richard's remark the preceding day. Was he starting to think that our 'pretend' love on stage was developing into something more real? Afraid that I would be distracted, I pushed the thought to the back of my mind.
In the afternoon we rehearsed 'Twelfth Night'. Chris Johnson, the original director of the production wasn't with us as he was working elsewhere. Fortunately, Paul didn't want to make any major changes to the production, knowing it would be counter-productive with so little time to rehearse, and it seemed to go very well.
After the rehearsal Paul asked Cassie, Jemma and me to stay behind.
“I would like the performances to be as follows: On Saturday, Harriet will play the matinée of 'Romeo and Juliet', and Cassie the evening. On Sunday we have two performances of 'Twelfth Night', so you will be doing those of course, Harriet; then Monday, Cassie will do Juliet in the matinée, and Harriet in the evening. In that way you will get some rest between performances and you will be there Jemma, in case of any problems. Are you all happy with that?”
We nodded our assent. It was going to be a busy three days, but I was sure we were up to it. The bus took us back to the hotel for a meal and another early night in bed.
The following day was the first performance of 'Romeo and Juliet'. Looking out at the crowd filling the stadium I could hardly believe it. I was used to performing before audiences of about seventeen hundred people, but this was about six thousand! We were all wearing microphones, the sort that sit on a wire near the mouth and are a pale pink in colour to blend in with the skin. The television cameras were at the rear of each side of the auditorium, so it was easy to avoid looking directly at them, and we had been told that for close-ups they would use cameras on the opposite side of our faces from the microphones, so they wouldn't be visible.
At the end of the tour, we were all given a copy of the DVD produced in Singapore and sent over to Britain. As it happens it was when I was performing Juliet, and I still have it. The performance went very well, and at the conclusion when we were taking our bows, the sound of six thousand people cheering and clapping was deafening.
For the evening performance with Cassie, I sat in the dressing room and watched on the big colour monitor, and at the conclusion the sound of the applause was loud even there. Each performance was received in the same manner and Paul was very pleased. We had one day's break at the end and we were taken by bus on a tour of Singapore. In my photo album are pictures of us in front of the Merlion, at the amazing Botanical Gardens, shopping in Orchard Road, and many other places. In the evening we were treated to a wonderful Chinese meal.
One final thing happened in Singapore which I feel embarrassed to record, but I promised myself at the start of this memoir that I would be honest. That final night I had a vivid dream. In it Richard and I were in bed together and making love. It seemed so realistic that when I suddenly found myself awake and basking in a warm glow that suffused my whole body, I half expected to find Richard in bed with me. Instead, Cassie, who was in the adjoining bed said
“Harriet, are you alright?”
“Yes, I'm fine, why?”
“You were making a lot of noises and calling out.”
“Oh,” I said, glad of the darkness which hid my blushes. “What was I saying?”
“I might be wrong but it sounded like 'Fluellen' and 'Yes, yes'. It was almost like, you know.”
Indeed I did know. Because of his Welsh ancestry, I had given Richard the nickname of 'Fluellen' who is a Welsh Captain in Shakespeare's 'Henry V'. Fortunately no-one else knew that, well I didn't think they did.
“I think I must have been having a dream,” I said.
“Well it sounded like an enjoyable one, a very enjoyable one,” she said, laughing. “I don't blame you for a moment, Harriet, he's a very attractive guy.”
“Are we that obvious?” I said. “I keep telling people that it's play acting but some don't believe me. In fact I'm starting to wonder if I believe it myself.”
“Harriet, let yourself have a little fun,” said Cassie. “I am. You know Gerry Marsden who's playing Mercutio? We've been getting together and I can tell you that he's hot!”
“I thought he was a musician from the sixties,” I said.
“Same name, different guy,” Cassie replied. “Anyway, I'm keeping you from your sleep, and maybe 'Fluellen' is waiting for you.”
This time I joined in the laughter. Alas, when I went back to sleep the spell had been broken and there were no further visits from my Welsh lover.
The next day we were taken by bus to Changi Airport and boarded another plane, this time bound for Perth. The flight took a little over five hours which was much nicer than the sixteen hours it had taken us to get from London to Singapore. We took off and landed in daylight and were travelling over the sea for most of the trip. There was really only time for a meal and watching a couple of films before we were starting to descend towards Perth Airport.
It was hot in Perth too, but fortunately, not nearly as humid as it had been in Singpore. Once we landed we were taken by bus to our hotel, and after we had settled in we were taken to His Majesty's Theatre, a beautiful old building built in the early nineteen hundreds and seating two and a half thousand people. The scenery was based on that used in Stratford which we knew would make things easier for us. That evening we went to a reception hosted by the State Governor and many senior politicians were present. The press was there too of course, and cameras from the local television stations, so we had quite a bit of publicity. Once more we played to packed houses, and as usual, I had to collect cuttings from the newspapers to keep for Mum's scrap book.
Next stop was Melbourne, about three and a half hour's flight away. I was getting used to the idea that Australia is a very big country; that's about the same time that it takes to fly from London to Moscow. In addition Melbourne was two hours ahead of Perth, so while our plane took off at 9am, it was 2.30pm when we landed. A bus was waiting to take us into the city and when it appeared in the distance it was obviously a great deal bigger than Perth. As we drove down Spring Street, the driver pointed out the extraordinary baroque exterior of the Princess Theatre where we would be performing, and only a few minutes later he drew up outside the equally grand Windsor Hotel, only about five minutes' walk from the theatre.
After we were shown to our rooms and freshened up, we were all taken to the theatre where we were led onto the stage. Roy Bridges the theatre manager appeared and introduced himself.
“Welcome to the Princess Theatre. We are so pleased to welcome the Imperial Shakeseare Company to perform here, and do please let us know if there is anything we can do to make your stay more enjoyable. The theatre dates back to 1886, built in the 'Second Empire' style, but there has been entertainment on this site dating back to the gold rush of 1854. We can seat 1488 patrons, and we have our own resident ghost, Frederick Baker, an English baritone who performed under the stage name 'Federici'.
“In 1888 he was performing the rôle of 'Mephistopheles' in the opera 'Faust', and for his final exit was being lowered through a stage trapdoor as his character and Faust descend into hell. Unfortunately as this was happening he suffered a heart attack and soon died. Now this is where it gets interesting; the rest of the cast did not know what had happened and later they swore that he came on stage and took his bows with them. Since that time he has often been seen in the theatre wearing evening dress, and for many years a third row seat in the dress circle was kept vacant each opening night in his honour, although why a ghost would need a seat is a mystery to me. By the way, his appearance precedes a successful season, so if anyone spots him, please let me know.”
There was some nervous laughter at this story. I was particularly interested, remembering my experience in the Finsbury Park theatre, and couldn't help wondering if I was particularly prone to experiencing paranormal phenomena.
Again the stage sets were similar to those we used in Stratford. After a walk around to get used to the stage and a trip to the dressing rooms, we returned to the hotel to get ready for another reception, this time at Government House. I wore my gown again, and although I knew that no-one in Melbourne had seen it, I was starting to wish that I had another gown so that at least I had a choice.
The following morning after being given the option of a sumptuous breakfast which made it difficult to resist piling my plate high, we all walked to the theatre for a rehearsal of 'Romeo and Juliet'. This time Paul asked me to perform in the whole run-through, and this is when it happened.
We were performing the balcony scene, and I was probably the only person facing the auditorium. The house lights were lowered but not completely extinguished. Something made me glance up at the dress circle and there he was! I distinctly saw a man in old-fashioned evening dress standing there and looking down at the stage and he seemed to smile at me. I suddenly realised that Richard was speaking, and looked down at him as I was supposed to do. A few minutes later I had the opportunity to glance up at the dress circle again but of course it was empty.
Strangely I didn't feel at all alarmed, remembering what the theatre manager had said, and decided that if the opportunity arose I would tell him what I had seen but ask for his discretion. No-one wants to risk being thought of as a looney.
Paul had noticed my momentary distraction of course and spoke to me after the rehearsal.
“What happened in the balcony scene Harriet? For a moment there you seemed to lose concentration.”
I blushed “Oh it was nothing. It won't happen again I promise.”
Paul looked hard at me. “You saw him didn't you.”
He smiled. “Don't worry, I won't say anything. Maybe you'd better let the theatre manager know. I'm sure he'll be pleased.”
Roy Bridges was indeed pleased and said “Well that means we can look forward to a good season.” He laughed then and continued “When you perform in London, I warn you, almost every theatre has at least one ghost, and the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane is supposed to be the most haunted of all.”
“Thanks,” I said, smiling. “I don't know if I'll ever be brave enough to perform there, but I did see a ghost once when I was performing in London. It was quite an experience.”
News got around about Federici, but the manager was as good as his word, and no-one else knew who had seen him.
In the afternoon there was a rehearsal of 'Twelfth Night', and when we returned to the hotel about six o'clock there was a message for me at Reception from Aunt Peggy.
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, also Julia Phillips for picking up my punctuation errors and any typos Louise or I missed. I'm very grateful to them both.
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