All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2016, 2017 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl'
Chapter 39 Back to Wales
My heart thumped. “The news?”
“Oh my dear, I'm so sorry, I thought you knew. Reggie and Sophie are having another baby.”
I very nearly blurted out 'But that's impossible' but fortunately stopped myself in time.
“No, I didn't know. Perhaps he didn't know how to tell me.”
“Well I expect he'll let you know eventually,” said Mum and then hurried to complete the conversation. I think she was rather embarrassed at having broken unwelcome news to me.
After I put the phone down, I stared into space for a minute. How on earth had this happened? Reggie told me he had a vasectomy. Had something gone wrong? Was it possible that it had somehow reversed?
I took out my laptop and logged on to see if there was any new message from Reggie but there was nothing. Mum was probably right, Reggie didn't know how to tell me because this changed everything.
As it happened, two days later I went to see Dr Wilson, my local G.P., for my regular check-up. Everything was fine, but at the end of the consultation I asked if she could answer a query that I had.
“A married friend of mine had a vasectomy some time ago and told me that to his surprise, his wife is expecting another baby. How is this possible?”
“Well there are extremely rare instances of what is known as recanalisation where the vas deferens which delivers the sperm and was cut during the procedure, reconnects spontaneously. The man becomes fertile again, but usually with much less sperm than he had before which makes achieving pregnancy far more difficult,” she hesitated. “I wouldn't mention it but you'll probably think of it anyway. It may be that he is not the father.”
“Oh dear, that could lead to problems,” I said.
After I drove away from the surgery, I thought about what Dr Wilson had said. Of course Reggie couldn't tell Sophie about the vasectomy so his options might be to have a check to see if he was in fact fertile again. If he wasn't then he would still have to accept the baby as his. Either way, it meant that any chance of him divorcing Sophie in the near future had gone down the drain. My eyes began to fill with tears and I had to pull the car over as I couldn't see properly. It seemed that Reggie's vasectomy ploy had backfired spectacularly.
What really upset me though was that Reggie hadn't told me about the baby. What did he think I would say or do? I began to feel angry with him for the first time. Well two could play at that game. I decided to write him an email to tell him that I had been given the part of Emilia in 'Othello' but not mention that I knew about the baby, and see what was his response.
In the meantime I was starting to get worried about 'Under Milk Wood'. Hannah had made it clear that she didn't expect me to disappear for a couple of days once the season started, and with only a couple more weeks of rehearsals it was starting to look like there would be an unfortunate clash of productions. In retrospect I probably shouldn't have agreed to perform 'Mae Rose Cottage', and if I was honest with myself, Richard Jenkins was probably part of the attraction. Of course since our characters didn't meet, I might not even see him there.
I was at the point of ringing my agent to ask what I should do when I received a phone call from a young woman calling herself 'Sam', at Mayday Productions.
“Hi Harriet, I'm sorry we haven't been in touch before but the production is way behind schedule due to the rain in Wales, and we are working seven days a week to make up for lost time.”
'Rain in Wales? Who would have thought?' I murmured to myself.
“I know it's short notice,” she continued. “But would you be able to come down to Laugharne next weekend to shoot your scenes?”
“Yes I can,” I replied, thinking to myself that this would be perfect timing as we were not rehearsing in Stratford on weekends.
“Excellent! I wish all our talent were as accommodating. I'll book you a room in the Carpenters' Arms for Friday and Saturday night. Thanks so much Harriet, you're a star.” And with that she rang off. Now I had to find out how to get to Laugharne. By far the quickest way seemed to be for me to drive down. It would take about three and a half hours on the M5, M4 and A48, whereas it would take about twice that amount of time by train and bus.
The next day I told Hannah about my plans and she was happy with that.
“If the weather delays you and you have to stay there on Monday, just give me a call. We can manage one day without you.”
“Thank you Hannah, I appreciate that. Apparently they've already lost a lot of time due to bad weather.”
“Well, if they insist on shooting in Wales, what do they expect?” she laughed.
I packed my suitcase and drove to the theatre for rehearsal on Friday, and as soon as it was finished, I set off in 'Bluebird' for Laugharne. I did stop for a couple of breaks on the way, and arrived at Laugharne about nine o'clock in the evening. As I walked into the pub to register, someone with a familiar face rose from an armchair to greet me.
“Richard! I didn't expect to see you here.” 'Even though I hoped to' I said to myself.
He laughed. “Well I hope that isn't a disappointment to you.”
I felt myself blushing. “Of course not. Are you down here to shoot some scenes?”
“Of course, why else would I be here?” he said with a smile. I rather hoped it might be to see me, but I could hardly say so.
“I heard that a lot of time has been lost because of bad weather.”
“Tell me about it,” he replied. “We've shot all the internal scenes, but there's still external sequences which have been impossible to complete. Anyway, the forecast is good for this weekend, so let's keep our fingers crossed. Meanwhile, I had the kitchen keep some shepherd's pie to warm up for you as I guessed you'd be hungry when you arrived, and the kitchen's closed for orders now.”
“Oh Richard, that's so thoughful of you. I thought I'd have to manage with a sandwich, and you're right, I'm famished!”
I must confess it hadn't occurred to me to ask how he knew where I'd be staying and when I'd be arriving.
“Before I eat, I'd better let the Production Manager know that I've arrived,” I said, taking my phone out of my handbag.
“Paula Broadribb,” said a pleasant voice on the phone.
“Miss Broadribb, it's Harriet Stow. I rang to let you know I've arrived in Laugharne, and to ask you about tomorrow.”
“Welcome Harriet, and please call me Paula. It will be a busy day for you. Breakfast is at six-thirty and we've hired a couple of rooms there for dressing and make-up. Then you'll be taken by mini-bus to the location. We've lost so much time due to rain that last week when we had a few fine days, we set up a tent at the location of your scene with the nanny goats to keep the ground dry for you. We didn't want you lying on wet grass and getting a cold. I heard that you've got a part in 'Othello' at Stratford and they wouldn't want you sneezing through it and blaming us,” she laughed.
“I'm just going to have something to eat and then I'll have an early night,” I said.
“That's a good idea. See you tomorrow,” and with that she rang off.
“All set?” said Richard, and I assured him that I was. He kept me company while I ate. He had a couple of scenes still to do on Saturday or Sunday and then his work was complete. I knew that the whole production crew was very time-conscious, so was determined that I would be up and ready for breakfast at six-thirty as requested. Richard showed me to my room and we said goodnight. I set my alarm for five-thirty and went to bed.
I awoke to the patter of rain on the window. So much for the fine weather predicted. It was dark of course, 'bible-black' as Dylan Thomas wrote. I slipped out of bed, washed and dressed, and was downstairs for breakfast on the dot of six-thirty. Richard turned up a few minutes later.
“Good morning Richard, what happened to the good weather?” I said.
He laughed. “It's probably on the way.”
I glanced out of the window where it was starting to get light . “'A grey dawn breaking'” I murmured.
“What's that?” said Richard.
“John Masefield,” I replied. “You must have read “Sea Fever”, it's his most famous poem.”
Richard laughed. “I've never known anyone with a head so full of poetry,” he said.
Our breakfasts arrived. They were 'full Welsh breakfasts', Welsh bacon, sausages, eggs, a Penclawdd cockle and laverbread ('bara lawr' in Welsh), which is made from seaweed. Despite living in a seaside town, I had always avoided cockles but to do so now might be considered an insult to my Welsh hosts, so I skewered it on my fork, put it in my mouth, closed my eyes and swallowed. It tasted a bit salty but quite nice!
I explained to Richard what Paula had told me about keeping the ground dry for my scene. “But what happens if the rain doesn't stop? Maybe they'll cut Mae out of the play altogether?”
“They can't do that,” said Richard.
“It's been done before. Remember Olivier's film of Hamlet? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern don't even rate a mention.”
Just then a tall young woman entered the dining room, looked around and then walked towards me.
“Harriet? I'm Paula, how are you?”
“Fine thank you Paula, but I'm a bit worried about the weather.”
“I've been in touch with the weather bureau. It's supposed to clear by mid-morning.” She seemed very positive. “Anyway, we'll start by shooting your interior scene at a local farm house and by the time we've finished, hopefully the weather will have cleared. When you've finished your breakfast I'll take you to the room we've hired for costume and make-up and you can get ready.”
She was so cheerful that she started to lift my spirits. I finished my breakfast and followed her to the room set aside for the female cast members. I was introduced to the dressers and make-up artists and then she left me to to and discuss the shooting schedule with some of the other cast members. I was given a floral dress that buttoned down the front and told that while I could wear my bra for the time being I would have to remove it for the scene with the nanny goats, that was assuming that we could shoot it that day.
“Under Milk Wood” is unusual in that it was originally written as a radio play, 'A Play for Voices' as Dylan Thomas subtitled it. While the narrators, 'First Voice' and 'Second Voice' tie the script together, most of the scenes are very short and some, such as those for 'Mae Rose Cottage' consist of only one actor.
When I came out of the dressing room, having had my make-up done, the director
Dafydd Rhys Jones was waiting for me. I should mention here that his name 'Dafydd' is the Welsh version of 'David' and pronounced as follows: the 'a' as in 'dam', the 'f' as a 'v', the 'y' as the 'i' in pita, and the dd is a soft ‘th’ as in 'the' or 'seethe'. All this had been explained to me by Richard. Welsh is quite a complicated language, you have to learn how to pronounce the letters before learning the words.
“Thank you for coming here at short notice Harriet,” Dafydd said. “I expect they've told you we've lost a lot of time due to the weather, but thank goodness it seems to be clearing up today so I'm optimistic that we'll get your scenes shot. The first is an interior sequence in a local farmhouse bedroom, so if you're ready we'll drive there. It's only five minutes away.”
As we drove to the location, Dafydd explained that Mae's first appearance in the play is impossible to interpret visually, so they had edited the script. When we arrived at the farmhouse and entered the bedroom, the lights and camera were already set up.
“I want you to sit at the dressing table and look into the mirror as sexily as you can and speak very softly and slowly, drawing out the words in your best Welsh accent. I'll give you the cue from 'Second Voice' and we'll dub in the real voice in post production.”
I sat as he asked and gazed at my reflection in the mirror, hoping that my gaze was sexy enough.
Dafydd gave me the cue “Action. 'Mrs Rose Cottage's eldest, Mae, waits for Mister Right.'”
Then I spoke my line “Call me Dolores, like they do in the stories.”
“Cut,” said Dafydd. “Excellent, but I'd like you to try it again. Unbutton the top of your dress and lean forward to show your cleavage. I'd like you to speak in as seductive a voice as you can.”
Altogether I did the line five times before Dafydd pronounced himself satisfied, and that was that. Unfortunately, despite the forecast it was still raining, so I was told that we would try to get my other scene with the nanny goats shot the next day. In the meantime, they would be shooting a few interiors with other cast members, so I was dropped off back at the Carpenters' Arms while Dafydd and the rest of the crew headed off to another location. I can understand why directors prefer to shoot in a studio where they are not at the mercy of the weather.
A few hours later I sat in the bar drinking a lemon cordial and hoping the Richard would return soon. I had been to my room, had a shower and changed into a pretty dress. I wanted to look good for him. I felt almost a fraud taking the money for all I had achieved that day, about ten seconds of screen time. I was rapidly coming to the conclusion that if I had the choice of acting on stage or in a film or television production, the stage would win every time. However I had to remind myself why I was doing it, and part of that was to get my face more well-known. If that meant baring my breasts, well that was a price I had decided I should pay.
About an hour later Richard and some of the crew arrived back.
“Hi Harriet, you're looking gorgeous. How did you go today?” he asked.
“A very productive day, about ten seconds worth in the can,” I replied.
He laughed. “Welcome to the wonderful world of television production. I think my contribution will run for about a minute. Anyway I'm starving. I'll get a drink and then we can order as soon as the kitchen opens. How does that sound?”
“Perfect,” I replied. “Let's hope for fine weather tomorrow or I'm not sure what I'm going to do. I can stretch my leave to Monday if necessary, but after that I really have to get back to Stratford.”
“Well you may have to do the scene even if it's raining, but let's hope for the best.”
We went into the restaurant as soon as the kitchen opened and ordered our meal. I had Welsh lamb and Richard had a steak. He ordered a bottle of wine and I had a couple of glasses during the meal, something I rarely do. I don't use this as an excuse for what happened later, but perhaps it serves as an explanation. I was really enjoying myself chatting with Richard, and let's face it, flirting too.
With a slighty puzzled look on his face Richard said “There's something different about you Harriet, but I can't quite work out what it is.”
“Maybe it's because I'm happier now,” I replied.
“Why is that?” he said, and then the realisation dawned and he actually blushed, the first time I'd ever seen him do that. “Oh of course. You'll have to excuse a dumb male. It's just that I've never thought of you as anything other than a complete woman.”
I laughed “And that's exactly what I am now,” I replied.
It was at that moment that I realised that while I was as complete as I could ever be, there was one more thing I needed to do to complete my journey to full womanhood. When I had slept with Richard during our tour, that's all we had done, sleep, but now there was no longer a need to resist the temptation which he so obviously aroused in me, and which I hoped I aroused in him.
We had finished our meal and had a coffee when I said it was time for bed as I was hoping to get my part recorded the next day. We walked up the stairs together and when we stopped at my door we had what started out as a 'goodnight' kiss. However it rapidly became apparent to both of us that this was more like a prelude for what was to follow, and when I opened the door and drew him inside he was certainly not resisting.
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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