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 46 Another year passes.
Two weeks later the rehearsals for Macbeth began. It's true to say that acting with a truly talented actor makes all around them perform to the very best of their ability. So it was when performing with David Lodge, one of the finest actors in Britain. I sometimes felt like pinching myself to believe that I was really on stage with him once more.
Like everyone who is talented in a particular area, David was very modest, and at the same time was happy to make helpful suggestions to the rest of the cast.while taking care not to usurp the director's rôle.
Rehearsals went well and in no time we were coming up to opening night. There is always an extra buzz in the theatre at the start of a season, and most people, myself included, were slightly on edge. Lady Macbeth is quite an emotional rôle, and she is quite a stong woman, as indeed are many of Shakespeare's female cast members. I hope this is not a spoiler, as most people know the basic story. She does die towards the end of the play, but this time off-stage, so no dramatic death scene for me.
I was in my dressing room after the performance. This time I had been given a dressing room of my own. We had been given a standing ovation with about ten curtain calls, and I was coming down from the 'high' of performing, while changing out of my costume, removing my stage makeup, then putting on my dress and starting to apply my normal makeup. There was a knock on the door, and when I said 'Come in', who should appear but Dame Emily!
I started to get up but she said “Don't get up my dear, finish what you are doing.”
I immediately stopped applying my lipstick of course. You don't keep theatre royalty waiting.
“I happened to be in Stratford,” she began. “Well, that's not strictly true. I did have to come to Stratford, but I made sure to arrive on opening night when I heard that you and David were playing the lead rôles. You remind me so much of myself when I was your age. I performed Lady Macbeth when I was twenty-four, just a bit older than you. There's only one difference between our performances, yours was better.”
I felt stunned. “Dame Emily, every young actress in Britain, mself included, greatly admires you, and think that if they can be half as good as you are, then they would be doing very well indeed.”
She laughed. “It's very kind of you to say so, but I meant what I said. Each time I see you perform you have stepped up another notch, and it's wonderful to see.”
Such praise from one of Britain's finest actors could easily go to one's head, but I was determined not to let it do so.
“Well I intend to keep working and hope to reach your level one day,” I said.
“Now besides coming to compliment you, I also came to invite you to have supper at “Oppo's” with me and a couple of theatrical friends, Derek Jacobson and Keith Brangwyn, who happened to be here too. They are anxious to convey their compliments too.”
She saw me hesitate and asked “Is something wrong?”
“Oh no Dame Emily,” I replied. This was a wonderful opportunity to meet two of British theatre's famous knights, but I had a problem. “Well yes, actually. It's just that it's become a bit of a tradition for me to have a first night supper with my flatmate Dale and his partner Frank, and it would seem rude of me to stand them up for a better offer.”
Dame Emily smiled. “Your thoughtfulness does you credit my dear, but I have a solution to your problem. Why don't I ring 'Oppo's” and get them to add two chairs to the table. Do you think your friends would like that?”
I gasped. “Oh Dame Emily, Frank in particular will think he's died and gone to heaven!”
She laughed. “Well in that case, why don't I make a phone call?”
She walked to the corner of the room, and I continued applying my lipstick. Then there was another knock on the door, and in came Dale and Frank. They stopped abruptly on seeing Dame Emily, but she smiled and waved them in before finishing her phone call.
Frank found his voice first. “I'm so sorry bursting in on you like this Dame Emily,” he said.
“Not at all,” she replied. “I just invited Harriet to supper with me and a couple of friends, when she explained that she had already arranged to have supper with you. I've just phoned 'Oppo's” and added a couple of chairs to our table so that you can join us too. I hope you don't mind?”
Mind? I think I can safely say that they didn't mind at all! Frank looked like he wanted to cry with happiness.
We had a delightful supper together. After getting over his initial sense of awe, Frank in particular impressed everyone with his knowledge of British theatre, and we all soaked up some of the tales Sir Derek and Sir Keith had to tell, stories that never have and never will reach the general public. Both the knights kindly added their autographs to the book Frank always carried with him, 'just in case',and it was three very happy people who returned to our apartment after bidding the others goodnight.
While I have concentrated on Franks reaction to meeting such distinguished members of the theatrical fraternity, I have to say that I was impressed too. Both gentlemen complimented me on my performance and said they hoped to have the opportunity of working with me in the future. What young actress wouldn't like to hear that? The fact that it has since come true proves that they really meant it.
The year passed by with more rôles at Stratford. One in particular I should mention. One day Richard, my agent, rang up to say that the Company was going to have another season of 'Romeo and Juliet' at Stratford, and I was invited to reprise my rôle of Juliet.
“See? I told you the day was coming when you would be invited to perform a part rather than having to audition for it,” he said. “I won't say it will happen every time, but after your previous season, they naturally think that you are the obvious choice.”
I wouldn't be human if I wasn't very pleased with this news, but even better news was to follow. Having secured me for the play, the Company had approached Richard Jenkins to see if he was available to play 'Romeo' once more, and as it happened, he was. I confess I had mixed feelings about this. I knew he was the perfect person for the part because of our on-stage chemistry, which to be honest extended to off the stage as well. Richard had been my only lover since I had my surgery, and I knew that having him in Stratford would probably prove an overwhelming temptation to sleep with him once more, particularly because it had been so long since the last time, and after all I was a healthy young woman with a normal libido.
The day of the first rehearsal arrived, and I was a little surprised and embarrassed that when Richard and I appeared on the stage the rest of the cast applauded us! To me that meant that we would certainly have to prove that we deserved the accolade. Most of the rest of the cast were different from the previous production, but I'm pleased to say that they all performed very well. As for Richard and I, well it seemed that the previous chemistry was still there.
After the rehearsal, as we left the theatre together, chatting about when we had been doing, I fully expected him to ask when we could meet up, so you can imagine my shock when waiting outside the theatre was a bright red sports car with a stunning young blonde at the wheel, and Richard, after saying “see you tomorrow Harriet', walked over to it, got into the passenger's seat, and the car took off. I'm sure my face was a study in disappointment.
As I drove back to the apartment, I managed to laugh at myself. Had I seriously thought that in the many months since I had last seen him, Richard, a handsome and increasingly well-known actor had totally scorned the attentions of the many young women who surely must surround him like bees around a honey pot? Anyway, I had one thing they would never have, I could pretend to be in love with him on stage and no-one would think that there was anything wrong with that, in fact they would applaud it.
That night I dreamed that I was in Richard's arms and we were making passionate love together. I awoke in the darkness with my body tingling; the dream had seemed so real. But then I felt guilty. How could I say I loved Reggie and yet lust after the body of another man? I lay awake for a long time before finally going back to sleep.
The next day at the theatre, Richard was running late and we had no time to talk before we rehearsed the balcony scene of all things. I believed that I acquitted myself well, but Tom, the director didn't seem entirely satisfied. After the first run through he took me aside.
“Harriet, I hate to say this but your performance, while good, doesn't have the sizzle you had when I saw you perform Juliet previously. Is something wrong?”
“I'm sorry Tom,” I replied. “For some reason I didn't sleep well last night, and I think I'm a bit tired.”
It was true of course, but it was also an excuse. Previously I could really believe I was in love with Richard as Romeo, but now it wasn't so easy.
'Get real, girl! You're an actress so act!' I said to myself, terrified that after all my successes I was about to come to earth with a thud.
When we finally broke for lunch, Richard came over to me. “Harriet, I'm sorry about dashing off last night. I didn't expect my sister to be there. I think she just wanted to show off her new sports car.”
“Yes, Caitlin, haven't you met her?” He saw the look on my face. “Oh good heavens, did you think she was my girlfriend?” He laughed, “I'm always travelling around the country, I don't have the time or the opportunity for serious relationships, I thought you knew that.”
I felt such a fool. Richard had previously mentioned his sister but I had never met her and now I had really embarrassed myself. I tried to cover up my confusion.
“Well now that I've seen her, you must introduce me. I must say she's gorgeous and that's a fabulous car she has, what does she do for a living?”
“She's a lawyer,” he replied. “I suppose you could say that we are both in the same business, only she acts in a courtroom. You're right, it is a very flash car, but then she probably earns more money than I do.”
I laughed. One of the things I liked about Richard was that he was so good natured. A lesser person could have made me feel really bad about my stupid mistake, but that wasn't in his nature. He was right of course, it's no wonder that there are not too many long-lasting theatrical relationships, what with the need to be travelling around the countryside seeking work. Marriages work much better when the participants live together, at least most of the time. There are exceptions of course, for example Dame Emily and her late husband. She even found time to have a child, her daughter Cassie with whom I had worked.
When we returned to the theatre after lunch, I sought out the director Tom.
“Tom, I don't want to mess up your rehearsal schedule, but if there's a chance to do the 'balcony scene' again, I'd really appreciate it,” I said.
He glanced at his watch. “I think we can fit it in,” he said. “Do you think you've worked out what was wrong?”
“I'm sure of it,” I replied. The second run-through was as different as chalk and cheese. After we finished, Tom beamed up at us from the stalls and gave us the 'thumbs up' sign.
The season of 'Romeo and Juliet' was a great success. I really enjoyed the part, realising that the time would come when I would be too old to play Juliet, so I made the most of it. Partnering Richard was a huge bonus of course. Did we spend nights together? What do you think? As Richard had called it, we were 'friends with bonuses', and I can only say that sleeping with Richard was one of the biggest bonuses a girl could have. I knew the time would come when he would head off to another part of the country, and I might not see him for many months. No doubt he had girlfriends in other parts of the country, but while he was in Stratford he was mine. Some people will say 'How can she keep claiming to be in love with Reggie while going to bed with Richard?' Well, I happen to believe that it's possible to have an intense relationship with more than one person. My love for Reggie was enduring and would never end, I knew that, but my feelings for Richard were special too. Both he and I knew exactly what our 'special' relationship was, and if the time came when it ceased, then there would be no heartache.
The year passed by, almost in a blur. I should mention that I still kept in regular contact with Mum, Emma and Reggie. Reggie was in the final year of his degree but planned to go on with a post-graduate year. From time to time he mentioned Stella and how she was growing up. It was obvious that he was very fond of her despite the fact that she wasn't his. It was ironic that Sophie also knew Stella wasn't his, but chose to let Reggie think she was.
Christmas arrived once more, and I made my annual pilgrimage to Bridchester. During the year there had been a new addition to Emma and David's family, a baby boy that they called Thomas Harold. It looked certain to me that Emma had given up all thoughts of returning to the stage, at least for some years. Mum looked a little older and moved a little more slowly. I continued to provide a supplement to her pension, and as her needs very simple, she was comfortably off. While I don't think it appropriate or even 'nice' to talk about money, I was getting paid quite a substantial salary, thanks in part to my agent Richard, who told me that I was a great assett to ISC and that they were willing to pay to keep me. I had never really managed ot get my head around the fact that people were willing to pay me so much to do something I loved so much that I would have done it for nothing!
I continued to save; I didn't know what the future held and there might come a time when I would want to buy my own house or apartment. Mum had said to me once that she was leaving her house, which was her major asset, equally to Emma and me, and that I might want to buy out Emma's share when the time came. I have to confess that the thought of not having Mum around any more brought tears to my eyes and she quickly said that was years off and we'd say no more about it. Later, when I'd had time to think about it rationally, what she suggested did make sense. Bridchester would be a nice place to retire to when I finally gave up the stage.
That year's pantomime was 'Jack and the Beanstalk', and once again I babysat, this time for a baby and a toddler, while Mum and Emma went to see the show. A few nights later, Mum and I went to see it, and as usual I was invited backstage to meet the cast. I still found it difficult to come to terms with the way they seemed in awe of me.
My old friend Mary, whose appendicitis had led to my first professional performance, was now married. She confided in me that she was in the early stages of pregnancy, and so would be temporarily retiring from the stage in a few months.
“You're looking wonderful Harriet, the complete actress. Do you ever think look back to the time when you had to step in for me in 'Dear Brutus'? she asked.
“Yes I do. It seems to long ago now, like another life.”
She laughed. “I guess you, more than most people can say that,” she replied.
“Well thank goodness it happened. I mean I'm sorry about your appedicitis, but if you hadn't had it, I sometimes wonder where I'd be today.”
I'm sure you'd be an actress and on the stage somewhere. Your life might just have taken another route,” she said.
After Christmas I returned to Stratford. I had been invited to play 'Agnès' in Molière's 'The School for Wives', a seventeeth century comedy that many consider his finest work. It was a change from Shakespeare and one that I welcomed. Fortunately we were performing the English translation. The plot is a bit convoluted and is easily accessed on-line, so I won't go into details here.
Rehearsals were under way and going well when one Saturday evening I was home in the apartment and reading a book. Dale was in but had already gone to bed. I'm a bit of a night-owl – it goes with the occupation I guess, Dale was the reverse – a 'fowl'. The telephone rang and it was Reggie. I could tell from his voice that something was seriously wrong.
“Harriet!” he gasped. “I'm so glad I caught you. There's been an accident.”
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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