All the World's a Stage
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Chapter 18 The Romeo audition
On Friday morning I presented myself at the theatre for the Romeo auditions, wearing the same dress that I had worn to the Juliet auditions.
Paul Norad was already standing on the stage checking over the script when I arrived.
“Thank you for making the time to attend these auditions, Harriet. It will make a difference if the young men know that they are auditioning with one of the young women who will be playing Juliet. I'll also be looking for chemistry between you and them.”
I felt myself blushing slightly as I said “It's a pleasure to help in any way I can Mr Norad.”
“Oh please, call me Paul,” he replied. “We've provided you with a dais to represent the balcony, if you would take your position there please.”
A few moments later, Miss Fernandez appeared followed by eight young men who took their seats in the stalls. She handed a clipboard to Paul and smiling at me said 'Congratulations Harriet', before she left the stage.
Paul stepped to the front of the stage and said. “Good morning, gentlemen. My name is Paul Norad and I am the Director of this production of 'Romeo and Juliet'. We are fortunate in having with us today Miss Harriet Stow (here he half-turned to indicate me) who is one of the two young ladies we have chosen to play Juliet. She will partner you in the 'balcony scene' that you have all been asked to prepare.”
He referred to the clipboard. “Would Charles Jeffrey please come up to the stage.”
A tall and incredibly good-looking young man stood and walked up the steps onto the apron. He looked very confident as he stepped up to stand near to the dais where I had taken my place.
“Please start from 'But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?',” said Paul.
Charles began, and he was good, very good, but somehow I didn't feel that chemistry that Paul mentioned. Paul let us run about half-way through the scene before saying “Thank you both, that will do.”
I smiled at Charles and left the stage. Meanwhile, Paul asked him for another Shakespearean soliloquy, and to my surprise he had chosen that old war-horse 'To be or not to be', from Hamlet. I thought that was a dangerous choice. Once you've heard Olivier, Branagh, Jacobi, and so many other famous actors play the part, you have to be very confident of your ability. I paused in the wings to listen. Charles was good, but he wasn't that good.
“Thank you Mr Jeffrey,” said Paul, and called up the next contender. I walked back on stage and took my position on the dais again.
It was an interesting exercise for me, playing the same scene with so many 'Romeos', each performance slightly different. The fourth contender, Donald Barrows was the best so far, but I still felt that something was missing. Perhaps it was because he was so obviously nervous.
Eventually we came to the final person to audition, Richard Jenkins. Since Richard had attended the Juliet auditions playing Romeo I knew him slightly, so I made a conscious decision not to let that influence me. He was shorter than the other young men and appeared younger. In my eyes this was a good thing.
I took my position on the dais and we began the scene. Sometimes in the theatre something special happens and it happened now. We had performed well together during my audition, but this was even better. Did someone lower the stage lights? I'm not sure, but I was transported out of the theatre in Stratford and stood on a balcony in Verona, gazing into the night sky above a garden, the air heavy with the scent of orchids; Juliet and her Romeo, two young lovers overwhelmed by the suddenness and depth of their emotions.
'O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I'll no longer be a Capulet. '
My voice rang out as I put into the words all the agony and ecstasy of first love that I could muster.
The theatre was hushed as Paul let us play out the scene to its conclusion.
I spoke my final words:
'Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow,
That I shall say good night till it be morrow.'
And then Romeo in response:
'Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast!
Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!'
I stood there for a moment, my heart pounding, and this time the applause from the few people in the stalls was no longer polite but sincere and prolonged. A movement at the front of the stalls caught my eye and looking down I saw Duncan Morgan, the Executive Director standing there looking up at the stage. It was hard to read his expression, but he didn't seem displeased with what he had just witnessed.
After a moment's pause in which Paul seemed to gather himself together, he said quietly, “Thank you, both of you,” He didn't ask Richard for a soliloquy, but walked to the apron and said. “Thank you very much for attending today, gentlemen, we'll be in touch.” They all stood up as Richard rejoined them and then they trooped out of the theatre. I think they already knew. I was about to leave too when Paul said “Would you mind waiting for a moment Harriet?”
When we were alone he said “Well, there's no doubt we've found our Romeo. Tell me, in your eyes what made Richard so different to the others?”
“The others were young men. They seemed too mature and experienced. Richard appears like a boy, with a boy's wild enthusiasm and you could easily believe this was his first real time in love.”
“I couldn't have put it better myself, but I had to hear it from a young woman,” said Paul, “and the chemistry between you was there in spades.”
I felt myself blushing, and he laughed. “I'm sorry, but if a hardened old pro like me could feel it so deeply, imagine how an audience will feel. Now what about an understudy?”
“I would say Donald Barrows was the best of the others, but that's only my opinion. He did seem very nervous, so I don't think we saw him at his best.”
“We agree again!” said Paul. “I should employ you as my P.A.”
I laughed. “I mightn't always agree with you, Paul.”
He laughed in turn, “P.A's are easy to come by but a talent like yours would be wasted doing anything else but what you are already doing,” He paused for a moment. “Just in case you're wondering, Duncan did feel it was necessary to tell me about your background. I hope you don't mind.”
“Well it's becoming an open secret around here. I hope you don't mind.”
He laughed. “When someone performs as well as you did just now, I wouldn't mind if you had two heads!”
Changing the subject to hide my embarrassment I said “There's just one thing, how do you think Cassie will feel about these choices?”
“I can't think why she would object, they were definitely the best of the bunch. It would have been nice if she'd been here too but she's down at Lacock at present shooting one of those 'bonnet dramas' that the BBC does so well. You should try for one of those productions yourself, you'd be great.”
I smiled. It's always good to have a comfortable working relationship with a Director, and by bringing me into the Romeo selection process, Paul had done just that.
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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