All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 7 Lunch with Dale and Frank
The following day I called at the box office and spoke to the manager, Shirley.
“Hello Harriet,” she said. “Everything going well?”
“Couldn't be better,” I said and indeed that was true since my trip to London. “I've come in search of 'hen's teeth' Shirley. A friend of mine and his partner are in Stratford this weekend; apparently he's a bit of a fan of mine, so if you do get any returns for Saturday I'd really appreciate them.”
Shirley grinned. “How do you cope with all these people waving autograph books at you?”
“Very well I hope,” I replied. “I try to never forget that they are paying my wages.”
The days passed by and no word from Shirley. Sadly it seemed that Frank was going to be disappointed. Then on Friday evening when I arrived at the theatre to prepare for the performance, I received word from Shirley.
“Harriet, are you the lucky one! I've had two seats returned for Saturday night. They're ten rows back in the stalls and just left of centre.”
“That's great Shirley, I'll let my friend know. How much are they?”
She told me the price which frankly I thought a little eye-watering, but I promised to get back to her and I rang Dale.
“Hi Dale, guess what? There's two tickets available in the stalls on Saturday night if you want them. The only thing is they are a bit expensive.”
When I told him the price there was a moment's pause and then he laughed.
“Well it will be worth it for the look on Frank's face when I tell him. Can you slip them to me at the lunch and I'll pick a suitable moment to reveal them. He will be impressed!”
I laughed. “Sure Dale. I'll pay for them and you can pay me later. No cast discount on these I'm afraid, they're too much in demand.”
“Harriet, I really really appreciate this. It will make our day.”
Reggie came up by train on Friday evening and called at the theatre to pick up the apartment key from me. When Mary arrived back after the performance, he was ready to cook us supper. I have to say there are not many men who are so thoughtful.
In bed that night, sensing that I was exhausted, as I often am after a performance, we just cuddled up together. It was wonderful to be sleeping with him again, and I always felt so rested when I awoke in the morning.
We pottered around in the morning, and then I dressed for lunch. The weather was still very warm, so I selected one of my summer dresses to wear with bare legs and sandals. Reggie complimented me on how I looked, and I must say he looked very dashing in grey flannel trousers, an open-neck shirt and a light brown sports coat.
We left for the restaurant at eleven o'clock. This time Reggie accepted my invitation to drive 'Bluebird' while I navigated. We arrived at the Baraset Barn about five to twelve and when we entered the dining room, Dale and Frank were already there. I introduced Reggie to Dale and they shook hands. Then Dale introduced Frank to me. He was very like the photo Dale had shown me, with a slight figure around five feet six inches, blond wavy hair and as I had previously noted, a face that with some makeup could pass as a girl any time. He shook my hand and his skin was soft like a girl's.
“It's such an honour to meet you Miss Stow. Dale has probably told you I'm a great fan of yours,” he said in a high tenor voice. I felt like saying”I'm only an actress Frank, not a brain surgeon.' but I didn't of course.
“It's a pleasure to meet you too, Frank, and please call me Harriet,” I said in reply. Looking at him I thought to myself 'I'd be amazed if you don't dress as a girl to go out with Dale when he meets you in London.'
We sat at the table, Frank opposite me, Reggie to my left and Dale to my right. While Reggie was discussing the menu with Frank, I slipped the small envelope with the tickets into Dale's hand, and he put them in his pocket. The waiter came to our table and we placed our orders.
“Are you in Stratford long?” I asked Frank.
“Just for the weekend, unfortunately. I came up to see my parents, and Dale of course, but on Monday I'm back to London and study. Did Dale tell you I'm studying accountancy?”
“Yes he did. I understand you are doing very well,” I replied. “Reggie will be going to York University to study economics soon.”
“Well it's a safe secure occupation. If I had your talent, I would have loved to be in the theatre, but I know acting is not as easy as it looks. I did act a little some years ago for an amateur group and it was quite a job learning all those lines.”
I smiled, as there didn't seem to be any call for a spoken response.
“Speaking of acting, I saw you in 'Dear Brutus' in London. What a wonderful production that was, and you stole the show at the end of Act Two. Dale's probably told you I love the theatre, in fact I would have loved to see the ISC's production of Hamlet, but I understand it's completely sold out.”
This was the cue for Dale to respond. “Well, you're right there Frank, but thanks to a friend in the production......” and here he pulled the tickets out of his pocket with a flourish.
“Dale! That's wonderful!” Franks voice went to an even higher pitch. “Did you manage to get them Harriet? Thank you so much!” Frank's enthusiasm was almost overwhelming.
“Yes, Harriet performed the miracle,” said Dale.
“But you thought to ask her Dale, that means so much to me,” said Frank, and if we hadn't been there I'm sure he would have kissed Dale. Reggie gave me a smile as if to say 'Goodness, he's quite a character.'
Just then waiter arrived with the entrées, and the conversation died down as we applied ourselves to the lunch, which I must say was excellent. Dale and Reggie got on famously; Dale it turned out was a cricket enthusiast and when he found out that Reggie was playing for the district side in Southgate, it was obvious that they could have talked cricket all afternoon. Frank on the other hand was only too happy to talk theatre with me. I was surprised at the depth of his knowledge and just how many productions he had seen.
“I can't imagine what it must be like to be on the same stage as David Lodge and Dame Emily,” he said.
“Well I can assure you I was in awe of them at the start. I still am to some extent, but I'm learning so much from them, and they really are the nicest people,” I replied.
“Well I'm going to buy a programme this evening of course , just as I always do. If I leave it with you, is there a chance you could get them to sign it for me, as well as yourself of course.”
“I'll see what I can do,” I replied. “If it's not too late for you, why don't you and Dale come around to my dressing room after the show? Reggie can come over too and we can all go out to supper afterwards.”
Frank beamed. It seemed I was making his day.
We didn't hurry over lunch, and it was about three o'clock when we finally got up from the table.
“I'll see you both this evening,” I said as we parted ways in the car park.
As we drove back, Reggie said “Surely both their parents must see that they're a couple?”
“Well if they don't they're either very dense or in denial,” I responded.
When we arrived back at the apartment, which we had to ourselves since Mary was performing in the matinee, I took off my dress and lay down for a siesta, joined by Reggie. He knows that I need a rest in order to prepare for the evening's performance, so we just lay together, his arm around me.
“Your breasts are really developing, Harriet, and your skin is becoming even softer,” he said. I was pleased to hear that. Detecting changes is difficult when they occur so slowly, but when Reggie didn't see me for a period of time, he noticed the difference.
“Dale is a really nice guy, I'm glad I met him,” said Reggie. “Will you be having lunch with him again? I think it would be nice if you did. I think it's good for you to have a male friend up here.”
“I'm so glad you two got on so well,” I responded. “I guess I could have lunch with him again sometime. Frank was a sweetie wasn't he? Those two are so much in love.”
"He must be your most enthusiastic fan, that's for sure," said Reggie.
"I'll try not to let it go to my head," I replied, smiling. "I'll see if I can do something special for him."
Reggie raised an eyebrow. "You'll see," was all I would say in reply.
“Do you think he dresses as a girl?” said Reggie.
“I think it's very likely,” I said. “He would make a very convincing one. He's prettier than me.”
“Now that's where I beg to differ,” said Reggie. “But in some ways you are right. Frank is pretty, but you are beautiful.”
Dear Reggie, he always says the right thing, well most of the time anyway.
When I reached the theatre that night, I remembered to obtain a copy of the programme, and made it my business to get every cast member to sign it for Frank. I wanted to make his day as perfect as possible, not just for his sake, but for Dale's too.
The performance went well as it usually did, and afterwards, Dale and Frank came around to my dressing room where Reggie was waiting outside the door while I changed. When I let them in, Frank was bubbling over with excitement.
“I just saw Dame Emily walking down the corridor. I said to her 'That was wonderful performance Dame Emily,' and she smiled and said 'Thank you'.”
“Speaking of which,” I said, reaching into a drawer, “Here is a programme for you signed by all the members of the cast.”
Frank looked like he was going to cry. “Thank you so much Harriet,” he said, and kissed me on the cheek. “I will treasure it always. I buy a programme at each play I go to and occasionally I get one or two signatures, but to have them all and for such a prestigious production, well, that is just amazing!”
With that, we headed off to the 'Oppo' Restaurant where I had booked a table. I had given them my name of course, and to my surprise they seemed to know who I was. I supposed I would have to get used to that.
It was well after midnight by the time we went our separate ways, after a very satisfying day, and if I mention that there was still more satisfaction to come when Reggie and I arrived back at the apartment, I don't think it's necessary to spell it out.
It was the final night of the Hamlet season. The house was packed, with not a single empty seat. There was even royalty in the Royal Box. The performance went without a hitch and at the conclusion when the cast lined up across the stage and Dame Emily and I were presented with bouquets of flowers, director Tony Robertson came on-stage to make a speech.
“Your Royal Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen. So ends a wonderful season of Hamlet. I may be considered biased since I directed it (laughter) but thanks to a stellar cast, including Dame Emily, Sir John McKenna (who had played Polonius), and David (applause) who we were thrilled to have onstage again in between their many television and film commitments, I can honestly say this is one of the best productions I have ever seen. (More applause) Of course the whole cast was exceptional. Our newest recruit, Miss Harriet Stow handled the difficult role of Ophelia with aplomb.”
Yet more applause and I flushed with pleasure, not expecting to be singled out, but there was more to come. Dame Emily stepped forward and whispered something in Tony's ear.
“Dame Emily has kindly reminded me that when she and her understudy were indisposed, Harriet Stow stepped in at very short notice to play Queen Gertrude while her understudy Mary Webb took over the role of Ophelia for two days. As the youngest two members of the cast, they certainly deserve recognition for that.”
There was more applause and some cheering. I'm sure my face could have cooked an egg. Dame Emily is amazing, who else would have thought to remind Tony of that? The only thing I regretted was that Mary, along with the other understudies was not on stage to hear it.
I confess that I was so affected that I can't really remember what else Tony said, but I'm sure he singled out some other cast members for special note, and finished by reminding the audience that the next production would be 'Twelfth Night' and that tickets 'are selling fast'.
“ 'The rest is silence',” he concluded. It wasn't of course. There was more cheering and a standing ovation which continued until the curtain finally came down, and the house lights were fully brought up.
After the performance there was the usual drinks and nibbles for the cast and crew. I didn't know if it was the right thing to do or not, but I did thank Dame Emily for her intervention in Tony's speech. “Everyone did such an amazing job, I only did what anyone would do,” I said.
“Ah my dear, but not many people could have done what you did. You have the most amazing memory and I've watched your acting develop even in the short time I've known you.”
I didn't know how to answer that, so settled for “Well thank you all the same Dame Emily. I understand you are going to do another film now?”
She smiled almost ruefully “Oh yes, all those early mornings and waiting around while someone moves a light. Think carefully before you go into films or television, Harriet.”
She knew I'd probably jump at the chance, but I committed to memory what she had said.
Following the closing of the 'Hamlet' season, Chris gave Mary and me a week off. Rehearsals had already started for 'Twelfth Night', but he said we deserved a break, but he would expect us to be 'off book' by the time we came back! We both decided to go up to Brid to visit our families and after discussion decided to each drive up in our own car as we might want to come back on different days. My intention was to stay in Brid until Friday and then drive back to Stratford to spend the weekend with Reggie. Mum and Emma were thrilled to hear that I would be coming to see them again. The last time had been on the first night of the 'Hamlet' season nearly three months previously. It had been quite a long run, extended of course due to 'public demand' and could probably have gone for longer except for Dame Emily and David having other commitments.
As for me, the season seemed to have flown by; in fact so had the year I had spent as Harriet, but my previous life seemed a dim and distant memory now, and certainly not one to which I had any intention of returning. Sometimes we get a second chance at life; this was mine and I had grasped it with both hands.
The next morning I spent packing clothes for the trip. I put my underwear and makeup into a small case, and selected some skirts and dresses which I left on their hangers. This would be my first long drive in 'Bluebird' and I decided that trousers and a cotton blouse together with flat shoes were suitable items to wear. I set off about ten o'clock, driving slowly and carefully, in fact too slowly for a couple of drivers who overtook me and gave me a blare of their horns to indicate their displeasure at losing a couple of seconds. I made no response, since I was aware that road rage can sometimes lead to violence.
I stopped a few times for a break and it was nearly four o'clock when I stopped the car outside Mum's house. I'm sure she must have been watching out for me as she opened the front door immediately and came down the path to greet me.
“Harriet, darling, it's so good to see you again,” she said as she gave me a hug.
“It's so good to be back in Brid and to see you too, Mum,” I said, and indeed it was. I was reminded of the words from an old Joni Mitchell song “You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone”. In this case it was me that had gone; things in Brid had stayed pretty much the same. One thing I was already learning was that you can't go back to the past because in the words of L.P. Hartley, “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there.”.
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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