All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2016, 2017 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl'
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Regrettably it's been a month since I last posted a chapter of Harriet's adventures, so here is a brief review of Chapter 41.
The Imperial Shakespeare Company has moved their production of 'Othello' from Stratford to Shakespeare's Globe theatre in London, a replica of the original Globe built in 1599. Harriet agrees to share an apartment with Gemma for the duration of the run.
Some cast members have other commitments, and to Harriet's surprise, Richard Jenkins appears at the first rehearsal, having taken over the rôle of Cassio. When they have a break, he comes over to talk to her.
Chapter 42 Sprung
“Hi Harriet, we meet again.”
“Hi Richard, I was surprised to see you here; I thought you were still performing in 'Dr Faustus'.”
He laughed. “Unfortunately the ticket sales weren't meeting the running costs, so a decision was made to cut the season short.”
“That's a shame,” I responded. “Were you enjoying playing the part?”
“Yes I was. Look, why don't we chat over lunch? There's a small cafe just around the corner.”
I agreed to his suggestion. As we were walking out of the theatre, we passed Rachel Reid who was playing 'Bianca'.
“Hi Richard,” she said, and there was something about the way she said it that caused me to think that the two of them had history. Call it 'female intuition' if you like.
“Hi Rachel,” he responded. “How have you been?”
“Fine thank you. We must catch up some time,” she said.
I half expected Richard to invite her to join us for lunch, but he didn't.
We walked to the little café he suggested. Being lunchtime it was full, but a couple got up from a table by the window just as we came in and Richard told me to grab it before anyone else did. He asked what I would like and went to order our lunch as I sat down at the table. I had a salad (well a girl has to watch her weight!) and Richard ordered a pie and chips. He's one of those people who can eat what they like and still stay as slim as a lath, don't you just hate it? When the two meals were delivered to our table, together with a pot of tea, I found myself looking so longingly at the chips that he laughed and insisted that I have a few with my salad.
We chatted about various things, mostly relating to our theatrical work. I asked him what he had lined up to do next and he said 'Nothing', which was why he was so glad to get the Cassio rôle.
“I'm sure your agent will get you an audition soon,” I said. “You're too good an actor to be 'resting' for long,” and I reached out and patted his hand in a reassuring way. It was at that moment that out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of light in the street.
“What was that?” I said, startled.
“What was what?” he responded.
“A flash of light out there,” I said, looking out into the street.
“I don't know, maybe it was the sun reflecting off a car window,” said Richard.
“No, it was more like a camera flash, but why would anyone use a flash in broad daylight?”
“Can you see anyone with a camera?” he asked.
“No,” I admitted. “Well if there was someone, they're gone now.”
I transferred my attention to the 'elephant in the room', which I thought we had been avoiding. Time was passing and we would soon have to return to the theatre, so I decided to take the plunge.
“Richard, about that weekend in Wales,” I started, and he looked up startled from apparently concentrating on his plate.
“Err, yes?” he responded, obviously not knowing what was coming.
“I've been thinking a lot about it since, it was one of the most magical experiences of my life.”
Richard appeared to relax a little. I think for a moment he had expected me to say I was pregnant, forgetting that I couldn't be, and I nearly burst out laughing.
“The thing is, if you asked me to do it again, I'd probably say yes, but the more important thing for me is that we remain friends. After all, here we are again, acting on the same stage, and if we had a full-on romance and it went bad, that would make it very difficult for us to work together.”
“I see what you mean,” he said slowly. 'So what you're suggesting is a sort of 'friends with bonuses' arrangement?”
“Well I've never heard that expression before, but yes, I suppose that's what I am suggesting.”
Richard smiled. “You haven't heard it before because I just invented it. Anyway, that sounds perfect to me; no commitments, but enjoying each other's company how we want to and when we want to.”
I breathed an inner sigh of relief. It seemed that I had said just the right thing.
After that, we finished our meal and walked back to the Globe for the afternoon's rehearsal.
It was an amazing experience to be on a stage so similar to the one that Shakespeare was used to writing for and performing on. The Globe does a lot of visitor tours in order to raise money, and while we were rehearsing, several groups came around and stood there for a few minutes watching us before the guide moved them on. We didn't mind, we were too busy concentrating on our parts and knew we would soon be performing in front of many more people. No doubt they would be encouraged to buy a ticket and see the whole performance.
The next few days were very busy, getting used to performing on the different stage layout, finishing with a couple of dress rehearsals.
Finally, Saturday arrived and it was time for our first performance. I'm sure I wasn't the only one who felt a few more butterflies in the stomach than usual as I waited to go on-stage. The theatre seemed very different when it was full of people. It was a matinée, and although there were a few lights to brighten the stage area, all the 'groundlings', as the audience in the yard has been called since Shakespeare's time, were perfectly visible to us. Not only that but some of the people were standing really close to the stage. It's a very different sensation to acting in a conventional theatre, where the audience is in the dark. Fortunately, being elevated on the stage, it was fairly easy to ignore them and concentrate on the other actors.
I imagined that when performing comedy, it would be perfectly acceptable to acknowledge the presence of the audience, much as is done with pantomimes, but in a tragedy like 'Othello', there is no option but to perform as if the audience was not there. However their reactions to the play are certainly audible, especially in the more dramatic moments. As an example, for some of the audience who were not familiar with the play, there were audible gasps when Desdemona was strangled and I was stabbed.
My final lines and singing could seem melodramatic if not performed well, and I did my best to make it so sincere that the audience would feel real sympathy for the character who had done her best and been cruelly deceived by her husband.
We were accorded a standing ovation at the conclusion of the performance. Well of course the groundlings were standing anyway, but those seated on the benches in the three tiers surrounding the stage also rose to their feet to applaud us. We bowed multiple times for a good five minutes before we finally trooped off the stage.
After a ninety minute break, we gave a second performance. This ran into the evening, and I should explain to those not familiar with Britain that we have a long twilight in summer, and interior floodlights boosted the light level so that the audience could see the cast properly even when it was nearly dark.
Hannah was very complimentary afterwards. The newspaper reviews were most flattering and all the major cast members, myself included, were given a mention. As a result, most performances were sold out. As usual I cut out each article and posted it off to Mum for entry in the scrap book she kept. In fact, she informed me that she was now onto the second one!
We performed twice a day on Wednesdays and Saturdays, with a matinée performance on all the other days except for Sunday which was our day off. It was quite a heavy workload but as professionals we were used to it.
One day I noticed that Jemma was looking nervous and uncomfortable, so finally I asked her what the problem was.
“You remember Scarlett? Well of course you do. She's coming to London for an audition and was wondering if she could stay here overnight, err, in my room of course.”
“No of course I don't mind,” I replied. “Provided you don't mind if I ask someone to stay over,” I concluded with a smile.
Jemma looked relieved. I wondered what their relationship was? They seemed very close when we were performing in Stratford and on the overseas tour, but Jemma hadn't mentioned her since.
Two days later Scarlett arrived in the late afternoon as Jemma and I returned from a performance.
“Hi Harriet, how are you? What's it like performing at the Globe?” she said.
“Fine thank you. We're all enjoying it very much indeed,” I replied.
The three of us went out for tea, paid for by Scarlett as a 'thank you' for giving her accommodation. That night she stayed in Jemma's room. They didn't disturb me, but then nothing ever does when I go to bed, I'm a great sleeper! The next morning Scarlett had gone; Jemma, however looked very bright and bubbly, and I was reminded of Richard's comment to me the morning after we had slept together.
When I had last spoken with Dame Emily she had reminded me to ring her the next time I was in London and said we must have afternoon tea again. Of course the last time was when I had my surgery, and I was in no state to be having tea with anyone, but now I was completely recovered, and if Dame Emily was at home it would be wonderful to meet up with her again. However I knew that she was so much in demand that there was a strong possibility that she would be away somewhere shooting a movie or maybe acting on stage.
Being privileged to have her phone number, I rang it, but was not surprised when I heard the familiar voice saying that she was sorry she could not take the call and to please leave a name and phone number.
“Hello Dame Emily, it's Harriet Stow. I hope you are keeping well. I'm in London performing in Othello at the Globe, so I am taking up your kind invitation to ring you. I'll be here for a month.” I gave my mobile phone number and hung up.
I didn't really expect to hear from her for days or even weeks, but to my surprise she rang me back about an hour later.
“Harriet my dear, it's lovely to hear from you,” she said. “What part are you playing in 'Othello'?”
“'Emilia', Dame Emily. I did audition for Desdemona but missed out. Still I'm quite content to have a part, and being at the 'Globe' is an incredible experience.”
“Indeed it is,” she replied. “Well now, are you free to come and have tea with me on one of your Sundays off? I'm performing at the Gielgud Theatre but I'm free on the next two Sundays.”
“I would like that very much,” I replied. “The last time my visit was rather truncated.”
“I remember, I seem to remember that you went off to see your young man play cricket. How is he?”
“Quite well, but he's married now. It's rather a long story.” I said sadly.
“I'm sorry my dear, I think I've opened up a raw wound there. Only tell me if you want to, but why not leave it until I see you?”
We chatted for a few more minutes and arranged that I would visit her on the following Sunday . It was then time to walk to the Globe for the morning's rehearsal.
On Sunday I set off for Dame Emily's house in the afternoon, taking a bunch of flowers with me.
When she opened her door she greeted as graciously as ever, almost as if I was a famous actress come to visit, rather than someone still very early in her career. I was shown into the room where I had previously spent a very pleasant afternoon with her.
“How have you been, my dear?” she said. “I confess I haven't heard anything about you since you returned from the overseas tour with the Imperial Shakespeare Company.”
“I took some time off to have my surgery, Dame Emily. I had to rest for about six weeks afterwards but I'm fine now.”
“I'm so glad to hear it. In fact I'm sure I can see a difference in you, not that you look any more like a young woman of course, but you just look more at ease with yourself. Does that sound a funny thing to say?”
“Not at all,” I replied. “It's very perceptive of you. I do feel more at ease now that there's no longer any disconnect between my brain and my body which is as fully that of a woman as it can possibly be.”
“I don't want to embarrass you my dear, but you do look more feminine than many young women I know,” she said with a smile, and of course that did inevitably embarrass me to some extent. Seeing that, Dame Emily changed the subject.
“So now you're back on-stage again.”
“Yes, playing Emilia in 'Othello'. Performing at the new Globe theatre is a thrilling experience.”
“I've had the pleasure of performing there myself,” she said. “It certainly is magical; you can almost believe you are back in Shakespeare's day, performing plays just as he would have done.”
“One other thing I did was a very small part for television, 'Mae Rose Cottage' in a new production of 'Under Milk Wood'. That was interesting, although a lot of time went into a very small amount of actual screen time.”
Dame Emily laughed. “I've done quite a lot of film and television work as you know, and I couldn't agree with you more. Sometimes I think I'm mainly being paid to read books!”
While I didn't want to keep anything from her, I was rather glad that she didn't make any comment about the fact I had bared my breasts, although I suspected she knew about that scene.
We had a really lovely afternoon together. I asked after Cassie, and Dame Emily said that she was currently performing in a play in Manchester.
“I was hoping that she might have been here today to meet you again but it seems she was tied up. I rather suspect there is a young man involved,” she said with a smile.
She was too polite to enquire about Reggie, but it seemed the ideal time to tell her what had happened, so I did. She listened intently without interruption, and at the end she said.
“Well I'm very sorry to hear what happened, and he certainly is a true friend to sacrifice himself like that for you.”
“I believe that too, Dame Emily, although I'm sure some people might feel that I shouldn't be so devoted to him. I can only say that I believe the day will come when we are together and I'm prepared to wait until that happens.”
Of course I didn't say anything about Richard. He was a friend and I enjoyed his company but my feelings for him were altogether different to those I had for Reggie.
I was in the habit of calling at a local newsagent to pick up the newspaper when walking to the Globe for a rehearsal or performance, and by now I knew the owner's name was Eddie, but he addressed me always as Miss Stow. I had told him my name was Harriet, but he still preferred the more formal title, so I just accepted it.
Early the following week, I called by, and Eddie produced my newspaper and put it on the counter as usual. He seemed a little distracted and I wondered why.
“Good morning Miss Stow. Err, you might want to see this as well,” he said, and reaching under the counter, he produced a magazine and laid it on top of the newspaper. It was one of those 'celebrity gossip' magazines called 'Fan Mail Express'. I looked down at it and the shop felt like it was starting to spin.
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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