All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 34 Performing in Melbourne
The young woman at Reception kindly phoned Aunt Peggy's suite for me and she answered immediately.
“Hello Aunt Peggy, it's Harriet. I've just come back from a rehearsal and I'm in the lobby,” I said.
“Harriet! Its lovely to hear your voice. Would you like to come up to our room?” she replied.
When I arrived at what turned out to be a two-bedroom suite, I was surprised to find not only Ron her husband but also Flora and Ron junior, their children.
“Harriet, you've really grown since I last saw you,” said Aunt Peggy. She gave me a hug and a peck on the cheek. I think what she really meant was that I had matured as a woman, but of course being diplomatic she didn't say so.
“G'day, how are you goin'?” said Ron, holding out his hand to shake mine. He was tall, lean and sunburnt, as Australian as Chips Rafferty the late film star.
“I'm fine thank you,” I replied. “So this must be Flora and Ron junior. Did you wag school?”
Aunt Peggy laughed. “You're picking up Aussie slang already! When I told their teachers that my niece was performing Shakespeare with a very famous English company at the Princess Theatre, there was no trouble getting permission for them to miss a day's school. Of course I said that I'm taking them to see you perform in 'Twelfth Night' too, so that clinched it.”
Flora, who I think was now fourteen, was a very pretty girl and blushed as she said “It's nice to meet you cousin Harriet. Do you enjoy acting?”
“I love it, Flora,” I replied. ”Especially when it gives me a chance to come halfway around the world and meet my relatives.”
“But how do you remember all those words?”
“I'm very lucky, they just seem to stick in my mind,” I replied.
Ron junior was about eleven and the image of his dad. Indeed he copied Ron in holding out his hand and solemnly shaking mine.
“G'day, how are you goin'?” he said, echoing his father in the standard form of greeting.
“Fine, yourself?” I replied, having picked up the required response from one of the Aussie stage hands.
“Fine, thanks,” he replied. Obviously he was a boy of few words, but I think he was a bit shy too.
“Would you like to come down and have dinner with us?” said Ron. “I've booked a table.”
“Yes, I'd love to,” I replied. “I've brought you some pictures of Mum, Emma and the new baby Elizabeth; I'll just go to my room and get them and see you in the dining room.”
Going to my room gave me a chance to freshen up my makeup. I considered changing my dress but decided against it. I didn't want to look like I was going overboard, as it might make Peggy and Ron feel uncomfortable.
Cassie was there and I told her what I was doing.
“So you'll be gone for a couple of hours then?” she said.
“Yes, I'm sure I will. We've got a lot of catching up to do,” I replied. “Did you want to come down too?”
“Oh no,” she replied. “Thanks for inviting me, but I'm not hungry. I think I'll just have a relaxing evening here.”
As I took the lift down to the dining room it suddenly occurred to me why she was asking. Cassie had a 'thing' going with Gerry who was playing Mercutio, and during this tour they really didn't have any opportunity to spend time alone together, hence her enquiry. I decided I had better ring the room before I went back up there after dinner, to avoid embarrassment on anyone's part.
Ten minutes later I met my relatives in the wonderfully ornate dining room with its chandeliers and ceiling fans. This was living the high life, and I thought to myself that I could very easily get used to it!
“What do you think of Melbourne so far?” said Aunt Peggy.
“Well I haven't really had time to see too much of it, although there are some very fine buildings at this end of town. I really wish I had more time to look around but after we do the performances then it's off to Sydney. I suspect this trip is going to be a case of visiting some amazing cities and not really seeing any of them.”
After an excellent dinner, we all went to relax with coffee in a sitting room. I handed over the photos of the family I had brought, which were received with exclamations of pleasure. I had brought down my camera and took some photos of Aunt Peggy, Ron senior and junior and Flora, and asked a waiter to take some shots with me in them as well.
We continued chatting for some time. Ron junior finally asked if he could go up to their suite. I think he was getting bored with the conversation. Flora on the other hand was obviously enjoying chatting with the 'grown-ups'. Of course she was a couple of years older than Ron junior and girls do mature quicker than boys. She was a very pretty girl and dressed in a summer frock looked a real picture. I made no comment but thought how nice it was to see a girl wear a dress, not the ubiquitous jeans or trousers (which they called pants in Australia).
Then she caught me 'on the hop' with a question.
“Harriet, my teacher says that the Princess Theatre is haunted. Have you seen the ghost?”
I glanced at both her parents, looking for any almost imperceptible shake of the head, but seeing none I replied as follows:
“Can you keep a secret Flora?” She nodded vigorously.
“Well I think I saw the ghost called Federici today, but it might have been a trick of the light.”
Her eyes were wide with astonishment. “What happened?”
“I was rehearsing the balcony scene in 'Romeo and Juliet' so I was facing the auditorium and I thought I saw a man in evening dress up in the Dress Circle. If it was him, then that's alright because he only appears when the show is going to be a success.”
“So you weren't frightened?” said Flora
“Oh no. We were told he's a friendly ghost, so there was no need to worry. But don't forget, it's our secret that I saw him. If your teacher asks you, just say that someone said they saw him, but don't say who it was, alright?”
“Alright, I promise,” she said very solemnly.
Later, when Flora had gone up to bed, Aunt Peggy said to me “That business about the ghost, you were making it up weren't you?”
“Not at all,” I replied. “He's actually the second theatre ghost I've seen.”
Then I told them about the apparition that appeared in the London theatre. “I don't talk about it,” I said. “Because some people might say I should be locked up.”
We all had a good laugh, and the subject wasn't mentioned again. There was something else I wanted to discuss.
“Aunt Peggy, you know that every new place we go to seems to be holding a reception for us. I brought one formal gown along which is very nice, but I would like to have a choice. My time to shop is very limited, probably just tomorrow morning. Do you know of somewhere close by where I might find a gown and some matching shoes, not too expensive?”
“Well there is 'David Jones' in Bourke Street, it's only a few blocks away, five minutes in a taxi if you're really short of time.”
“That sounds great. I don't suppose you'd like to come with me, maybe bring Flora too if she's interested?”
“I'd love to come shopping with you,” said Aunt Peggy. “I'm sure Flora would too, she's a very 'girly' girl which is rather nice. Ron and I will also be seeing you at the matinée of 'Romeo and Juliet' tomorrow of course. The children will go to the cinema, but we'll bring them with us on Sunday afternoon to see 'Twelfth Night'.”
“Do you think they'd like to come round to the dressing room after the performance?” I asked. “They can meet some of the other cast members then.”
“I'm sure they'd love it; so would we,” said Aunt Peggy, so I promised to arrange it.
“Can we head down to the shops at nine o'clock tomorrow?” I said. “I have to be at the theatre by twelve-thirty at the latest.”
After that was agreed I said that I had better get my 'beauty sleep'. Aunt Peggy said that they were a bit tired too after their drive down from 'Yack'.
Before going up to my room I thought I had better ring Cassie and tell her I was on my way.
“Shall I give you ten minutes?” I asked and she laughed.
“No, it's fine, you can come up now.”
When I entered the room, Cassie was in her dressing gown and she was positively glowing. Obviously while I was at dinner, she had passed the time in a very satisfactory manner. I couldn't help feeling slightly jealous. Then I was caught 'on the hop' for the second time that evening, and this time it was harder to handle.
“Harriet, I've been thinking. I know we can't do anything here, what with your relatives staying in the same hotel, but when we get to Sydney, how would you feel about swapping room-mates for a few nights? Since Richard and Gerry share a room, it would work perfectly.”
I blushed and Casssie laughed. “I know that you are really attracted to Richard, it isn't all acting, so why not go with your feelings? I'm sure he feels the same way about you.”
I could think of several reasons why it mightn't be a good idea. Supposing part of the reason we had so much chemistry was unresolved sexual tension which would be ruined if it was consummated? I knew that Cassie would laugh at that, so I played the trump card.
“Supposing he doesn't know about me? That could ruin everything and make it hard for us to act together.”
Cassie laughed again. “Of course he knows, everyone in the cast does, we just don't mention it because we don't want to embarrass you. Anyway, as far as we are concerned you are a woman and always have been and I'm sure Richard feels the same way.”
I suspected that any objection I put up would just be shot down, so in the end I reluctantly agreed to her plan; after all she was my friend and I didn't want to upset her. It occurred to me that Richard and Gerry's room would have two single beds too, so Richard and I could have one each, while Cassie and Gerry would no doubt only be using one.
I was up early the following morning for breakfast and afterwards met up with Aunt Peggy and Flora for our shopping trip. We walked down Bourke Street to 'David Jones' and asked to be directed to the formal women's wear department. There were some lovely gowns there and not too expensive. After trying on a number of them, I finally settled on an A-line/Princess v-neck floor-length chiffon evening dress with appliques lace in ivory colour. When I came out of the changing room, both Aunt Peggy and Flora said that it was definitely 'the one'. I could see in Flora's eyes that she couldn't wait to grow old enough to wear a gown like that. I managed to find shoes with a five inch heel in a matching colour, and altogether it cost me the equivalent of about £250 which I felt was quite a reasonable price to pay.
We stopped for some light refreshment in the café. Flora sat at one of the few empty tables to reserve it and as we queued to pay I took advantage of her absence to ask Aunt Peggy if I could buy her something to wear as a present.
“I'm sure she'd love that, maybe a top, do you think?”
“Perhaps a skirt or dress,” I said. “I'd like to encourage her to wear them. So many girls wear trousers nowadays. But what should I buy for Ron junior?”
“Oh that's easy,” said Aunt Peggy. “He'd love a new Aussie Rules football. He takes his everywhere with him and the other day one of the cows trod on it and it burst. He nearly cried, he was so upset, so I promised him a new one while we're in Melbourne.”
After we had eaten, Aunt Peggy told Flora of our plan and we headed to the girls' department. She was so excited, going from rack to rack and finally settled on a very pretty summer dress. Aunt Peggy said she thought it was a bit expensive, but I felt it was within my budget, so we left the store with a very happy girl.
Fortunately there was a store close by that sold Aussie Rules footballs. Unlike English footballs, these are oval in shape, more like rugby balls, and I couldn't help thinking that they must be hard to control, but apparently that's part of the fun of the game. Needless to say Ron junior was thrilled when it was presented to him as a gift from his English cousin. I don't think I could have given him anything better.
That afternoon I was performing Juliet. The house was packed and the audience very enthusiastic with wild applause and stamping their feet. We had over half a dozen curtain calls.
“I've seen “Romeo and Juliet' before but never so well done, you had me in tears,” Aunt Peggy said when I caught up with her later.
“Thank you Aunt Peggy, I'm glad you enjoyed it. You won't need to cry tomorrow as it's a comedy,” I replied. She invited me to have dinner with them again, and I agreed with the proviso that I paid this time. Paul gave me permission provided I didn't drink any alcohol.
The following day was a busy one for me with two performances of 'Twelfth Night'. As arranged, the whole McDonald family came around to my dressing room after the matinée. I think even Ron junior enjoyed the play although it seemed in his character to be rather reserved. They all told me that I performed very well which was nice to hear. Flora in particular was effusive in her praise. I could foresee Aunt Peggy asking me to quell any ideas that she might have of following her cousin onto the stage. It wouldn't the first time I'd had to discourage a star-struck teenager, explaining that there was a lot of hard work involved in acting, and how insecure an occupation it was.
The McDonalds were heading home the following morning, while I would be playing Juliet in the evening performance, and after that the company would be packing up and heading to Sydney. I had breakfast with my relatives on Sunday morning and told them how nice it was to meet up with them, and how I hoped that I might get an opportunity to come back to Australia and even visit them at home. We had hugs all round except I shook Ron junior's hand since boys at that age are sensitive to overt displays of affection. After that they went up to their room to finish packing, and I went for a walk down Collins Street into Melbourne as far as Swanston Street, having a look at the shops as I went. If fact 'boutiques' might have been a better term as I passed such names as Tiffany, Armarni, Cartier and Dior, to name but a few. Needless to say, I resisted the temptation to step inside any of them.
I took one of the electric trams back to the hotel. Melbourne is one of the few cities in the world which still has trams and has the largest network anywhere, so it was a novelty for me to ride on one. A kind Melburnian helped me to purchase my ticket from a machine.
"We used to have connies, but they did away with them," he said.
"Connies?" I queried.
"Conductors selling tickets. I can tell from your accent you're from the Old Country. Just here for a visit?"
"Yes. I'm not here long enough but I hope to come back again."
"Good onya," he said.
'What a great expression. I'll have to remember that,' I thought.
The next day we were taken by bus to the airport and took the one-hour flight to Sydney. I looked out of the window at the countryside below me. The journey was so short that the aeroplane didn't reach anything like the cruising height of an international flight, so we had a good view.. From time to time the captain pointed out landmarks below, including the Snowy Mountains which of course were not snowy at all since it was summer, but apparently there are a number of ski fields in operation during winter.
In no time it seemed we were descending to land in Sydney. We flew over the harbour and in the distance could see the famous bridge and the Opera House. The plane descended lower and lower and there were still roads and houses beneath us and it seemed that only at the very last second did we cross the boundary of the airport and felt the bump as the wheels touched the runway. I don't think I would like to live in the suburbs surrounding the airport, but like most things I suppose you get used to the noise. Apparently there has been talk of building a new airport out in the country like Melbourne's, but they can't decide where it should go, so the arguments continue.
In Sydney we were to perform in the Capitol Theatre, another stately old building. Over its lifetime it has been a picture palace but was renovated in 1995 and since then used as a theatre and has staged some famous shows. It seats just over two thousand patrons. After being dropped at our hotel and shown to our rooms, the bus returned to take us to the theatre for orientation, getting used to the layout, walking around the stage and locating the dressing rooms. We were all starting to get used to this gypsy lifestyle with a new hotel and theatre every few days.
It seemed that Sydney was going all out to impress us, in fact we had been made aware of a certain rivalry between its inhabitants and Melbourne's. This was probably the reason why a reception for the company was to be held in one of the foyers of the famous Opera House.
I wore my new evening gown and received some nice compliments from other members of the cast and crew. We were introduced to the State Governor and his wife, the Lord Mayor and his wife and various other dignitaries. I have to say that the view of the harbour at night, the lights from boats and on the shore reflected in the waters was quite amazing. No wonder they had chosen to hold the reception there!
Richard came up and stood beside me as I gazed out of one of the enormous windows. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” he asked.
“Never,” I replied. “This is a truly amazing trip.” I took my camera out of my clutch bag and asked him to take a picture of me with the harbour in the background. “Can you take it without the flash?” I asked. “Otherwise the harbour will just look like a black background.”
Richard found a plinth which I think was part of a sculpture on which he could rest the camera to avoid the picture being blurred. I asked him to take a few exposures and they turned out quite well. Then he put the camera on the timer, stood by my side and put his arm around me for another shot. The picture turned out very well and looking at it still makes me remember the thrill I felt as we stood together there in Sydney.
Later that evening, back at the hotel Cassie and I got undressed, putting on our night dresses and dressing gowns, I don't know if it was sheer good luck or if Cassie somehow arranged it, but Richard and Gerry's room was right next to ours – most convenient!
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.
I'd like to express my thanks to everyone who is reading this story, and especially to those who give a 'kudos' and even more to those who write a comment! I wish you all a very Happy Festive Season, and promise that Harriet will be back next Thursday as usual. Writers don't take holidays!
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