All the World's a Stage Chapter 1


All the World's a Stage

A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright 2016


A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl'

Curtain up – Prologue:

'….Turning the accomplishment of many years
Into an hour-glass: for the which supply,
Admit me Chorus to this history;
Who prologue-like your humble patience pray,
Gently to hear, kindly to judge, our play.'
    'Henry V' William Shakespeare

My name is Harriet. It's an uncommon name but in my profession that's not a bad thing. People remember it. At the start of my nineteen year, I was a youth, drifting through life, with few talents other than a prodigious memory for which I can claim no credit; no ambition, and no real idea where life was going to take me. By the end of that year, I was a professional actress of moderate ability, who, largely through a series of fortunate circumstances, found herself on one of the most famous stages in Britain, performing alongside the 'royalty' of the English stage.

I recorded all this in my memoir, which I titled with a touch of irony “The Might-Have-Been Girl” and I humbly recommend the story of that momentous year as a prologue, to those who would more fully understand the story that follows --

Chapter 1   The best of times

' All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And woman in her time plays many parts,'
    'As You Like It' William Shakespeare (with apologies for the slight amendment)

It was mid 2001, and I could hardly believe my life now. I had a loving boyfriend who accepted me for the young woman I had become, the unequivocal support of my family, and what's more, I was performing on one of England's most famous stages in the company of a Dame, a Knight, and a charismatic leading man who was already famous for his work on stage and screen. Life could hardly get better at this point in my life. Of course I daydreamed of what I wished the future might bring, but at that moment I couldn't ask for more.
'Hamlet' was playing to packed houses. My own part, Ophelia, was a minor one, but I like to think I made a contribution to the whole. The season was extended by three weeks, and then a further two, and I confess that the effect on me was unforeseen. At the end of the second week, Tony, the Director drew me aside for a word at one of our regular cast meetings.

“This isn't a criticism Harriet, you are performing very well, but I get the sense that towards the end of each week you are tiring. That's not surprising as it's a very intense part, and certainly not easy to perform twice in one day. What I am proposing is that we let Mary, your understudy, play Ophelia during the Wednesday and Saturday matinees. What do you think of that?”

Quite frankly his words were music to my ears. “I think that is a very good idea Tony. Mary performs very well and it would be great to give her some experience with the rest of the cast,” I responded. So near the start of my career I didn't want to admit to lacking stamina, but the fact is that I had found it necessary to stifle a yawn during one performance and it certainly wasn't through boredom. Life was becoming 'eat, sleep, perform, eat, sleep, perform', and much though I loved what I was doing, I knew I was becoming sleep-deprived, and it wasn't doing me any good.

“Excellent!” was Tony's response. “I'll tell her that she's doing the matinees from Wednesday onwards, although I would like you to be available of course if for any reason she can't perform.”


As I expected, Mary was thrilled and excited to have this chance, and when Wednesday came and I arrived in my dressing room for the evening performance, I found her there, reading a book, I think it was “The Art of Acting” by Stella Adler, and back in her position as my understudy.

“How did it go, Mary?” I asked.

“Wonderful, but boy, am I pooped!” she responded. “I don't know how you've been managing all those performances, especially two in a day. I've just done one and I'm exhausted.”

“You have to pace yourself,” I responded. “I'm sure Adler has something to say about that.”

When I went on stage that evening, I could feel the difference in myself. I felt fresh and energetic through not having already played the role once that day.


Sundays were my only day off, and it was soon time to visit my specialist Dr Helen McLeish in London. As mentioned in my previous memoir, once a month Dr McLeish held a special clinic on Sundays for those of her patients who found it impossible to see her during normal clinic hours. I was looking forward to my trip, because not only would I be seeing her, but I would also be spending the rest of the day and the night with Reggie.

I took the train to Marylebone Station and walked the short distance to Harley Street. Reggie was to meet me at the clinic but he wasn't there when I arrived. I announced myself to the receptionist and sat down in the waiting room with an old copy of Vogue for company. The previous patient came out of the consulting room and she looked vaguely familiar. She gave me a half-smile as though she thought she knew me too but wasn't quite sure. Whether we recognised each other or not was of no consequence since it was in all our interests to keep confidential any information we learned at the clinic. Two minutes later, Dr McLeish stepped into the waiting room and beckoned me to follow her.

“Well now Harriet, it's been a month since you started on hormones. Are you noticing any changes?”

“Yes doctor. I'm sure my breasts are starting to develop. They seem to be more sensitive, my nipples especially. I didn't wear my breast forms today to give my skin a rest, so do you wish to take a look?”

“Yes please Harriet,” she responded, so I unbuttoned my blouse and slipped down my camisole and bra. I had filled the cups with breast enhancers to keep a female silhouette, and expected to keep adjusting things until my breasts grew bigger and I would no longer be using the attachable breast forms.

Dr McLeish had slipped on an examination glove, and lightly felt around my breast area.

“Yes, there are definite signs of growth,” she responded. “That's excellent after only one month on hormones. I will have to check your hormone levels again to see if they need adjusting, and while you are here I should check your pulse and blood pressure too.”

Both pulse and blood pressure turned out completely normal, proving that I was now much more relaxed in her company.

“The local pathology collection service is shut today of course, so I will take your blood sample myself and send it on to them tomorrow.” She waited until I had readjusted my clothing and then put a tourniquet around my arm, produced a needle and syringe and took sufficient blood to fill two tubes.

“I'm going to check your haemoglobin as well,” she said. “You look a trifle pale to me and you may need to go on iron tablets. I know you don't menstruate but perhaps your diet is lacking in iron, particularly with your busy lifestyle. What do you think?”

“Yes, I may not have been eating enough vegetables and meat,” I said. “Sometimes it's tempting to just grab a sandwich when time is short.”

“Well, apart from that, everything seems to be going fine. I'll ring you if the hormone dose needs adjusting or you need the iron supplement, and otherwise I'll see you again in a month.”

When I walked back to the waiting room, Reggie was there waiting for me and we exchanged a smile. I paid my account, confirmed the date of my next appointment and we left the building hand in hand, pausing for a brief kiss on the steps.

“How did it go?” asked Reggie.

“Really well. She's pleased with my progress. She's checking my hormone levels but if they are alright, I'll just see her again next month.”

“Good, so what would you like to do now?” said Reggie.

“Can we have something to eat? I'm starving,” I replied. “And then, can we go shopping for a while?”

What other man would say 'yes' to that and sound like he meant it? But then Reggie is no ordinary man. We walked down to Oxford Street, and after finding a cafe in one of the larger stores, he indulged me by letting me wander around the clothing and shoe stores for a couple of hours. I was determined not to buy anything, since I was saving up to have driving lessons and buy my first car. However, I'm a woman, so when I saw a very pretty summer dress that had been marked down, and that I knew would really suit me, what's a girl to do?

We noticed that the weather was clouding over, so decided to head back to Southgate. I know that women who perform on-stage have a reputation for bringing half their wardrobe with them, but I had brought just a small overnight suitcase with a change of clothing, a pair of shoes and my makeup. We walked to the nearest tube station and took the train to Southgate.

Richard, Reggie's flatmate was away again. I sometimes wondered why he even shared a flat as he seemed to spend most of his free time at his girlfriend's apartment. Perhaps he was just one of those people who needs to have a place of his own, or maybe he wasn't ready to commit yet and needed a retreat. Reggie cooked risotto for tea and we spent the evening cuddled up on the couch watching a 'chick-flick' that happened to be on the television. Fairly soon, what with the kissing and cuddling, we decided that we might as well go to bed! After all, we hadn't really seen each other for a couple of weeks, and both Emma and David's wedding day and the Sunday following had given us no chance for intimacy.

I had warned Reggie that I wasn't wearing my breast forms, although I believed that my real breasts were starting to grow. Once I had undressed and put on my silk nightdress, I was convinced that they were definitely starting to increase in size, and the effect of the cool silk, caused my nipples to harden. After I got into bed, Reggie undressed and just put on his pyjama bottoms before joining me.

“I think your doctor is right,” he said, looking down at my chest, and then he did something he'd never done before; he bent down and gently kissed one of my nipples through the silk of the nightie. It felt almost like a mild electric shock coursing through my body. While my breast forms were very convincing in appearance, I couldn't feel any sensations from them, but this was so different!

“Oooh!” I gasped, and my body quivered.

Reggie looked up. “Did I hurt you?” he asked.

“Oh no! Far from it. It felt.....wonderful,” I replied. I rather hoped he'd do it again, but instead he kissed me on the lips, I turned around and snuggled into him, a position I understand is called 'spooning'. To my delight, Reggie stretched his arm around my body and rested his hand very gently on my breast. I could feel the nipple growing hard in response and he could too.

“Mmmm. That feels nice,” he murmured. His body was already starting to respond to me, and it wasn't long before we were making long slow love.


On Monday morning we were up early. Reggie was first in the shower, and when he reappeared, a towel wrapped around his midriff, I was sorely tempted to invite him back to bed. Sense prevailed however, and while he dressed, I took my turn in the bathroom. After I had dressed, and we'd had breakfast, we walked to the tube station together. At Finsbury Park, we changed to the Victoria Line, where it was standing room only, and alighted at Oxford Circus where I kissed Reggie goodbye. As the train carried him away from me towards the City, I felt this incredible sense of loneliness and knew I would be counting down the days until I saw him again. I now changed to the Bakerloo Line and alighted at Marylebone station to take the train back to Stratford. By now I was getting quite comfortable about finding my way around London.


Back at Stratford, the production continued to run smoothly. I was already feeling the beneficial effects of reducing the number of my performances, and it also seemed that being with Reggie once again had been like a tonic. On Monday morning I rang Mum to see how she was getting on, and I also rang Emma to enquire about the progress of 'Bump', which was our pet name for the baby she was expecting. Everything was going very well. The morning sickness was long gone, and she had actually taken up knitting since her obstetrician had ordered her to take things easy. It will not surprise you in the least to know that she was knitting baby clothes. Since Emma and David had decided that they wanted the baby's gender to be a surprise, she was knitting in gender-neutral colours like yellow, and green. I felt that as a prospective aunty I should be knitting too, but it was a skill I had yet to acquire, and at present I was far too busy to take on anything else.

Then I rang Swenson's Driving School and arranged my first driving lesson for the following Wednesday morning. They suggested that I buy a copy of the 'Highway Code' from W.H. Smith so that I could start learning what I needed to know to drive a car safely. I confess I felt quite excited at the prospect of finally driving a car.

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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