All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 10 An interview
Duncan Morgan, Executive Director of the ISC wanted to see me at ten o'clock. It might have been politely phrased, but nobody turns down a request from the E.D., and especially not a junior member of the company.
“Of course I'll be there, Miss Lane,” I replied. I knew that only a few close friends called her 'Penny'. Her parents had been Beatles fans, and I'm not sure if she had forgiven them for choosing her name.
Mary looked across the table at me. “You've gone pale Harriet, what's happened?”
“I've been summoned to see Mr Morgan, the E.D. I don't even know where the Administration offices are. I'd better get there early.”
My next task was to chose what to wear. I wanted to look feminine without going over the top. Even if he wasn't consciously aware of it, I know that Duncan Morgan would be looking for any sign that I had once been a male. I decided on a slightly flared black skirt with a hem just below the knee, which I would wear with stockings and three inch courts. I would wear a silk shirt over my bra and camisole, wear my hair up and be sparing with the make-up. The effect should be 'office secretary' but feminine, certainly not 'dizzy actress'.
Getting dressed while sporting a broken arm is not easy, and Mary helped me with buttoning up my shirt, and also with my hair. I could manage my make-up even though I'm not left-handed. When we were finished, she looked at me approvingly.
“That's exactly the right look, Harriet. You've really developed a great fashion sense. It takes most women many years, and some never achieve it all all, but you've nailed it in less than two years.”
I felt myself blushing with pleasure. “Thanks Mary, you're a real pal.” I nearly commented about missing her when she left, but decided I mustn't.
We arrived at the Stage Door at nine forty-five; I asked Norm the doorman how to get to Mr Morgan's office, and arrived there with five minutes to spare. Miss Lane looked at me approvingly, well at least I thought so.
“Someone's in with him but he shouldn't be too long,” she said, indicating a seat for me. The minutes crawled by and I was getting more nervous as each one passed. It was ten past when the door finally opened and who should come out but David Lodge, still talking to the man who followed him. Then he turned and saw me and looked surprised.
“Harriet! What are you doing here, and what's happened to your arm?” he said, his voice changing for laughter to concern.
“A car accident,” I replied. “I was run off the road and hit a tree.”
“That's no good. I hope it heals soon,” he said, and turning to Duncan Morgan he said “You've got a star in the making here Duncan, look after her.” With that he was gone. It was like a whirlwind leaving the room and all three of us watched as the door closed behind him. Then Duncan Morgan seemed to recollect himself and said “Would you step into my office please, Miss Stow?” and I followed him through the door.
“Take a seat please young..err Miss Stow,” he said as he seated himself behind his desk. I sat on the seat he indicated and resisted the urge to cross my legs. That might indicate I was relaxed, which I certainly didn't feel, and it might also show too much leg.
“We haven't met, but I saw you in Hamlet, a very impressive performance,” he said. “Well now, as I'm sure you know, I've had a telephone call from Dame Emily Good, and she told me that she had your permission to tell me about your background.”
There was a moment's silence, and it seemed to me a response was called for.
“I am privileged to consider Dame Emily a friend and mentor,” I replied. “I now feel that I should have told her of my background earlier. My mother and elder sister both agreed on that. I should have let the Company know too.”
“Yes, it would have been good to know. As I'm sure you know, we are an 'equal opportunity' employer. That means we do not discriminate against anyone on the basis of age, ethnicity or gender. In recent years this particularly applies to the LGBT community.”
“Yes, I understand that, and that's why I'm sorry for not being open from the start. Initially I thought it didn't make a difference, but on reflection I can see there could be circumstances where I might be an embarrassment to the Company, and I wish to apologise for that. If you feel that it would be difficult for me to continue here, then of course I will tender my resignation.” To my horror, a single tear ran down my cheek. “I'm sorry, Mr Morgan,” I said as I hastily took a handkerchief from my hand bag and dabbed at my cheek. “You may think I'm acting. I suppose you see it all the time, but I mean what I say.”
“Now let's not be too hasty young lady. Yes there could have been embarrassment if someone from the press rang up and we hadn't have known about you, but now we can truthfully say 'Of course we knew, what of it?' I would however offer you some advice. I'm assuming you intend to live your life permanently as a woman? (I nodded) As your career advances and you become better known, there may well come a time when someone delves into your background. For that reason it might be better if you reveal it yourself. Of course it will cause some publicity, but it will be a 'one day wonder' and then be rapidly forgotten. If possible pick a 'big news' day when it will be largely overlooked.
“For some reason the tabloids in particular seem to think they are entitled to know everything that anyone well-known wants to conceal, and they will hound you with lurid headlines if you try to keep a secret, making all sorts of unfounded insinuations. I know what you're thinking, and yes, I don't know how they can live with themselves either, but that's how it is.”
To my surprise, he stood up. It seemed the interview was over.
“Thank you for being so understanding Mr Morgan,” I said as I rose to my feet.
“You are most welcome Miss Stow,” he said. “I look forward to seeing your career progress. David certainly believes you will go far, and I see no reason to doubt him.”
I flushed with pleasure as he walked to the door and held it open for me. He's a true gentleman. So after all that worry, it seemed I wasn't sacked after all, and I could now go down to the rehearsal. I almost skipped down the corridors as I made my way to the auditorium to tell Mary.
When I arrived there, it was to find her on-stage with the two actors who were playing Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek. Half-way back in the stalls I saw Scarlett Mitchell sitting and watching the rehearsal. She had been given the role of Olivia as I knew she would be, but I hadn't met her yet, so I thought I would go up and introduce myself.
“Hi Scarlett, I'm Harriet Stow,” I said in a low voice.
“Hello Harriet, it's nice to meet you,” she replied in a low and quite thrilling voice. She was so beautiful that she made me feel quite plain beside her.
“Congratulations on getting the part,” I said. “I'm sure we will be seeing a lot of each other over the coming months.”
To my surprise, she raised an eyebrow, and I suddenly realised that my remark could have been taken in a way I hadn't intended. Naturally enough I blushed, and hoped that the auditorium light was too dim for her to notice, a forlorn hope I'm afraid. Thankfully she seemed to understand my embarrassment and changed the subject.
“Mary's very pretty,” she said, looking at the stage. “I understand you share a flat. Is she your girlfriend?”
“Well she's a girl and my friend,” I replied. “But she's not a girlfriend in that sense; we both have boyfriends.”
“Sure you do,” Scarlett responded, then mischievously added “In other words you've never been in bed together.”
There was no hiding my blushes this time. “I'm sorry,” she whispered. “I was teasing you.”
“There was storm one night and she was scared,” I whispered back, although why I felt the need to explain my embarrassment I don't know.
Remember, at that time of my life I was nineteen and had a lot to learn. Of course I had heard of women who preferred relationships with women, but the stereotype in my mind was of women with short hair and no makeup, wearing trousers and sensible shoes. Looking at Scarlett with her long curls, perfect makeup, a pretty dress and heels, she didn't meet any of these criteria, yet I gained the distinct impression from her remarks that this was where her inclinations lay. I wondered if I should say anything to Mary, but thought it might be better if I didn't.
There was a moment's silence, so to fill it I said “Scarlett is a pretty name.”
She smiled. “Mum loved 'Gone with the Wind', and when she met and married my father John Mitchell, and then had me, well naming me was a foregone conclusion I guess.”
I laughed out loud, and Chris Johnson turned with an exasperated look on his face. “Could you be quiet in the stalls please?”
“Sorry,” I called back, and from then on was quiet as a church mouse.
After the scene on stage finished, Chris called up Scarlett and I to run through the first meeting of Olivia and Cesario. Scarlett took along her book, although she hardly referred to it. I didn't really need mine but thought it might be diplomatic if I carried mine too. We ran through the scene and it went quite well for the first rehearsal. She was definitely a very competent actress.
'Twelfth Night' has eleven male rôles plus some non-speaking parts, and only three female rôles, so it seemed natural that we three women would stick together, and it was also necessary that we get on well. I was sure Scarlett and I would, provided she realised that I was only interested in a professional relationship. As we left the theatre after the rehearsal, Scarlett asked Mary and I if we would like to have coffee. I would like to have declined as it was my habit to go back to the flat for a siesta before the evening performance of 'Hamlet', but when Mary said 'yes' to the suggestion, I felt obliged to go along too. Perhaps I was being over-protective of Mary, but I didn't want to leave her alone with Scarlett so soon after meeting.
We enjoyed our coffee and chat at a local café, and the conversation ranged over a number of topics including 'Twelfth Night'. I noticed a few of the other patrons looking at us, or perhaps more particularly at Scarlett; she certainly had that 'actress' look.
“So this is your first comedy Harriet?” asked Scarlett.
“Yes, my rôles to date are fairly limited, so it will be a great learning experience. Have you performed Shakespearean comedy?”
“Yes, I have played Titania in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' in Manchester. It was a good production, but coming to Stratford is a big step up for me, and I'm looking forward to performing with these famous actors – and you two of course.”
“I hope you will not find us 'rude mechanicals',” I remarked – referring to the 'amateur actor rôles' in 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' who perform a play very badly.
Scarlett laughed. “You certainly know your Shakespeare. Have you seen the play?”
“Only a television production I'm afraid. But I am a Shakespeare junkie.”
“Well you're in the right place,” she laughed and we both joined her.
Thankfully it was Mary who then said she was feeling a little tired and did Scarlett mind if we called it a day?
“Well I hope we can do this again.” said Scarlett. “With all those men around, we women must stick together.”
Back at the flat, Mary said “What do you think of Scarlett?”
“She seems very nice, and she is very pretty,” I responded. It seemed a rather banal response, even to me, but I didn't know what else to say.
“Yes, she's all that, but she's also had more experience than us, so I'm sure there are things we can learn from her,” said Mary.
Once I was back in my bedroom, I took off my dress and lay on my bed for a rest, but then remembered what I wanted to do, and reaching for my phone, dialed a number.
“Emily Good,” said the familiar voice.
“Dame Emily, it's Harriet Stow here. I just wanted to thank you for phoning Mr Morgan. I had an interview with him this morning and he was very kind and understanding. Best of all, I still have a job with ISC.”
Dame Emily laughed. “I'm so glad for you my dear, not that I ever doubted his response. No doubt he told you that they are an 'equal opportunity' employer, as indeed they have to be if they want the best actors.”
“It was still very kind of you, and I really appreciate it.”
“So when are you next in London? You can come and have tea with me,” she asked.
“I am down there next weekend,” I replied. “I'm making the most of my free weekends while we are in rehearsal.”
“Why don't you come around at three o'clock on Sunday then?” she said.
“Thank you, Dame Emily,” I replied. “I look forward to it.”
After I put down the phone I suddenly realised that I had 'double-booked' myself. I was travelling down to London late Friday afternoon to spend the weekend with Reggie, and would stay with him on both Friday and Saturday nights. He was playing in the final of the local district cricket association, which was a two day match. It would be his last match with them. I would go to the ground for the whole day on Saturday of course, and I hoped he wouldn't be offended if I watched the match on Sunday morning but left early. I felt obliged to keep my appointment with Dame Emily, especially now I had agreed to it, and of course I did feel very grateful for her help with my position at ISC.
The following day I had a telephone call from Dale.
“I've been on the phone to your insurance company and also had a look at 'Bluebird',” he said. “The good news is that mechanically there's very little wrong and the panel damage is mainly confined to the driver's side door area. In short, she can be repaired.”
“That's wonderful news Dale,” I replied.
“There is a downside,” he went on. “You did decided to pay an excess in order to lower the premium. That means you will have to pay the first £500 of the repair costs.”
I gulped. That would put quite a dent in my savings, but after all it had been my choice and I would get 'Bluebird' back.
“Thanks Dale, I'll just have to 'cop it sweet',” I said, putting on a phony American accent. He laughed.
“She should be ready for you in about two weeks.”
The following day I went to the hospital Outpatients' Department to have my arm checked. All was well, I had no real pain and my temperature was normal, so no sign of infection. I enquired how long my arm would have to be in a cast and was told around four or five weeks if all went well. That wasn't good news.
The next opportunity I had, I discussed it with the Director Chris Johnson.
“I appreciate that I can't very well have my arm in a modern cast while wearing Elizabethan costume,” I said. “If you need me to stand aside from the rôle, I will understand.”
“I've been thinking about that,” he replied. “Of course people broke bones in Elizabethan times too, perhaps more often even than nowadays, with falling off horses and that sort of thing. Viola was in a shipwreck too. I've done some research and it seems they immobilised limbs and used slings much as we do today. I'll discuss it with makeup and see if they can do something to make the cast look like something someone might wear from that period. How does that sound?”
“That's a brilliant solution,” I replied. 'It will certainly make this production unique.”
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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