All the World's a Stage Chapter 19


All the World's a Stage

A novel by Bronwen Welsh

Copyright 2016

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

Chapter 19   Recording 'Alice' and a visit to York.

The following day I drove to Warwick. I called first at the photographic studio. It seemed from the large prints in the window that they mainly specialised in wedding photos and family group portraits. I knew it was to be a 'head and shoulders' shot, but I still wore a nice dress and had taken more time than usual over my make-up. This turned out to be time wasted, as they had a make-up artist present who proceeded to wipe away all my efforts and start again.

I suspected that the final shot would be tiny – maybe half an inch square on the CD jacket, but enough care was taken with my hair and make-up as if I was sitting for one of those big prints that people like to hang on their walls nowadays. The photographer must have taken at least fifty shots, so I asked him if I could have some proofs, thinking that maybe I should get a few prints made to add to my C.V. This he was happy to do of course, and when I saw the prices later, I wasn't surprised.

The recording studio was only a couple of blocks away, so that was my next destination. The receptionist asked me to wait a few minutes, so I idled away the time leafing through an ancient copy of 'Melody Maker', almost a 'collectors' item' since by then it had merged with 'New Musical Express'. I could hear a rock band playing somewhere in the building and wondered about sound-proofing. Then a door opened and a tall thin man with a shock of red hair entered and thrust out his hand. “Hi, I'm Max Milligan, one of the recording engineers.”

“Harriet Stow, please to meet you,” I said, taking the proffered hand.

“I had a listen to your demo disk. It was pretty good. How did you do it?” he asked. I explained about the sound guys at Stratford.

“Ah, the old Nagra, aren't they amazing machines?” he said.

He showed me into a small studio. The control booth was tiny and mostly taken up by one of those huge desks with all the knobs and sliding controls and also a couple of large speakers. Then he took me into the studio itself where a chair was set up in front of a desk with a rack to hold the script, and an impressively large microphone hanging from the ceiling with a large round ring filled with what looked like nylon mesh placed in front of it. In answer to my query I was told that this was a pop filter, designed to stop the wind from the mouth destroying the recording quality while saying words beginning with the letter 'p' or 'b', the technical term for these being 'plosives'.

Max suggested that I start recording and see how I went. If I made a mistake, just to repeat from a line or two back and he would edit the recording later.

“We'll try for an hour the first time, but if you find you are getting tired then we'll stop because it shows up in the recording. Take a break and drink some water any time you feel the need. I can edit out any breaks in the recording.”

The text had been copied onto A4 sheets and Max showed me how to silently remove each one as I finished. This would make it easier than turning the pages of a book. He helped me to adjust some large earphones on my head and then walked into the control booth. A pre-arranged signal told me the recording had started and I began.

Olympic Audio Books presents 'Alice in Wonderland', by Lewis Carroll, read by Harriet Stow. Chapter One – Down the Rabbit Hole.

When I finished the first chapter, Max signalled me to stop and beckoned me into the control room.

“You're very good, no fluffs at all,” he said. “I'm just wondering though if you should take it just a little slower; have a listen.”

He flicked a switch, and I listened to the play-back for a few minutes.

“I see what you mean – it does sound a bit hurried at times,” I replied.

I went back into the booth and started again. This time I received the 'thumbs up' sign and kept going. Only once did I have to backtrack a couple of lines, and after about an hour, Max signalled for me to stop.

“That was excellent,” he said, “but I think it's enough for one day. When can you come back?”

“I'm free for most of the next three weeks until we start rehearsing Romeo and Juliet at Stratford,” I replied. “I'd like to have it finished before then.”

“And are you playing Juliet?” he said, sounding impressed.

“One of them. I'm sharing the rôle with another actress. We think it will work out better that way.”

“Well good luck with that,” he said. “Oh, I'm not really supposed to say that am I?”

“Well traditionally you say 'break a leg',” I said laughing. “You know how superstitious we stage people are.”

Before I left, we arranged another recording session the following Monday afternoon.

I drove back to Stratford feeling quite pleased with myself, probably because I was working again. On Thursday I would be driving up to Bridchester to see Mum and Emma, and then on Saturday I would be in York and seeing Reggie again for the weekend. Life was good.


Dale had settled into the flat with no problems. There are certain advantages sharing with a man, for one thing they don't take up so much time in the bathroom. There is also a sense of heightened security in having a man around.

When I arrived back in Stratford, Dale was there.

“I was going to tell you that Frank is coming up for the weekend,” he said. “I hope you don't mind.”

“Of course not,” I replied. “I told you that when I said I had a room available. As it happens you'll have the place to yourselves since I'm going up to Brid on Thursday to see the family, and then on to York to see Reggie. I'll be back on Monday.”

“We'll try to keep it tidy,” Dale smiled. “Frank will see to that.”

“How did his exams go?” I asked.

“He's waiting for his results but he seems pretty confident.”


I packed my suitcase and on Thursday I drove up to Bridchester without incident. Mum was so pleased to see me. I felt sorry for her; I knew she got lonely sometimes. Emma and I even suggested that she take in a lodger, but she said she was too set in her ways to accommodate someone else's way of doing things. Fortunately she lived only five minutes from Emma and David and was always welcome there although I knew she didn't visit too often 'in case she became a nuisance', as she put it.

“Mothers-in-law have a bad reputation, as you know,” she said to me once. I had laughed and said “You're the exception that proves the rule.” I was given a hug for that!

After I had taken my suitcase up to my room, we had a light lunch and then we drove to Emma's house. The new baby Elizabeth was already noticeably bigger than when I last saw her. I got to hold her again which I enjoyed. By now I felt sure I was getting over that niggling feeling of jealousy that I could never have a baby of my own, but then of course my old worries surfaced about how Reggie felt about a woman who couldn't give him a child.

That evening, David invited me to attend the Apollo's current production, which believe it or not was 'Twelfth Night'. Mary was playing Viola/Cesario, and I must admit I did detect certain similarities with my own performance in Stratford. That said, she did the rôles very well and there was plenty of applause at the end, including from me.

I called around to her dressing room to congratulate her, greeting her with a kiss on the cheek. “That was a great performance, Mary.”

She beamed at my praise. “Well I did see you perform the rôles often enough. I hope you don't think I was copying you?”

“Not at all, you put your own stamp on it,” I said. No-one likes to think that their performance is seen as a carbon copy of someone else's.

“I heard that you got 'Juliet',” she said. “Congratulations, that's quite a coup.”

“You probably heard too that I'm sharing the rôle with Cassie Evans, Dame Emily's daughter? I'm actually very happy about that; it's a big rôle and this way we'll both stay fresh.”

“What about Romeo?”

“He's a young chap called Richard Jenkins. He was born in Wales but he hasn't got a strong accent, not when he's on-stage anyway. I do think the Welsh have a way with words; we had an amazing audition together, we just clicked.”

“It's a good thing Reggie isn't the jealous type,” said Mary, and laughed when I blushed.

“He's got nothing to worry about, it's only pretend love on stage,” I replied, but I couldn't help thinking of the quote from Hamlet 'The lady doth protest too much, methinks'. Goodness me, Shakespeare has a quote for any occasion.

Changing the subject I said “And how is your love-life going?”

May smiled, unlocked a drawer and taking out a small box opened it to reveal a diamond ring which she slipped on her finger.

“Congratulations!” I exclaimed. “That's wonderful news. Charlie is a lucky man.”

“I told you he'd ask me to marry him again, didn't I?” said Mary. “Now what's happening with you? I guess everything's on hold now you've got the Juliet rôle?”

“Yes, this was the only thing that would make me put surgery off, but it was too important a rôle to pass up, and it's only for a few months. Oh, I have got some news though, Dale has taken over your old room. He thought it was time he finally flew the nest.”

“That's great news,” said Mary “He's a really nice guy. I'm glad I mentioned it to him.”

This was news to me. It certainly made me glad I had offered Dale the room, he might have been quite upset if I hadn't and I would never have known why.


On Friday, Mum, Emma and I had a “girls' day out” together in Bridchester, doing some shopping and lunch. It was lovely to spend time with them again, and I realised how much I had missed them. I think the feeling was mutual. I told them all that had been going on at Stratford, especially the auditions for 'Romeo and Juliet'.

“You don't mind sharing the rôle?” Emma asked.

“Not at all. I might have done if Cassie wasn't such a good actress, but I feel we will match each other and maybe even encourage each other to perform better. I don't think it will matter to the audience which of us they see performing. By the way, we do have an understudy too, a young actress called Jemma Collier. She'll be there in case of emergencies and will do a non-speaking rôle as an extra.”

Emma laughed. “So Paul doesn't want to risk a repeat of that crisis in Hamlet when you had to step in for Dame Emily because her understudy was sick too! Now what about this young actor Richard Jenkins? How good is he?”

“Oh he's good alright. I've actually performed the balcony scene with him twice, once at my audition and once at his, and it was magical. We really clicked.” I saw the look on Mum's face and smiled. “You know acting, Mum. It's only make-believe on stage. He's going to do all, or at least most of the performances, but he'll have an understudy too of course. Cassie and I are effectively understudies or stand-bys for each other.”

“Isn't that unusual?” asked Mum.

“I suppose it is, but when you think about it, it's not a bad idea. It means we get more rest in between performances, provided neither of us gets sick.”


The following day I drove to York. I had booked a room in a motel for two nights, so I drove there first to drop off my suitcase and freshen up before driving to Derwent College at the University to meet up with Reggie. He was already signed up to play football with the College team, and knowing how talented he was I was sure it wouldn't be long before he was playing for the University.

It was a warm sunny day even though it was now well into autumn, so I wore a summer dress with bare legs and sandals. I was determined that if any of the other students saw us together they would know that Reggie's girlfriend was no push-over. If any other students saw us? I was counting on it.

I phoned Reggie as I left the motel and he was waiting for me when I drove up. There was a football match that afternoon between two of the colleges, so naturally enough I was going along to see him play. I confess I was always a bit worried that he might get injured while playing football, more so than when he played cricket, but I couldn't try to wrap him in cotton wool, no man wants that.

It was a good match; Reggie played well and nearly scored a goal but the ball hit the crossbar. Once he came out of the showers, we drove back to the College and he showed me his room and then got changed as we were going out to dinner. The room was small but comfortable with enough room for a single bed, a desk and bookshelves. He had packed a small suitcase as we would be staying overnight in the motel as he suggested.

As we walked back to where I had parked the car, I saw two students walking towards us. I didn't really have to ask and Reggie confirmed it as he said: “Hello Cindy, hello Meryl,” as they approached.

“Hi Reggie. This must be Harriet. Reggie tells us that you are an actress in Stratford, that must be an exciting life.” said Cindy.

“Well sometimes it's exciting, but it has its routine side, like any other job,” I said. “There's a lot of memorising to do.” I was determined not to sound like an air-head, but I don't think they really believed me.

“I don't know how you do it,” said Meryl. “Well we must be going, nice to meet you Harriet.” With that they walked off.

They seemed harmless enough, but something else happened that made me feel a lot less comfortable. Walking towards us was a tall and strikingly good looking young woman with long blonde hair and beautifully dressed. I would never have taken her for a student if it wasn't for the fact she was carrying a bag with the college crest on it. She didn't stop or speak, but her eyes swept over both of us as she passed, taking in me and the suitcase Reggie was holding. It was mainly her eyes that upset me, they were as cold as a snake's.

Once she was out of earshot I said to Reggie “Who was that?”

“I think her name's Sophie,” he replied and it seemed to me that there was a faint flush on his cheeks. When a man says he thinks he knows a woman's name, he is usually not telling the truth; either he knows or he doesn't know. I was determined that nothing would spoil our weekend together so I didn't pursue it, and did my best to put it out of my mind. We drove back to the motel and booked a taxi to take us to the restaurant after I had changed into an evening dress. After all, what's a dinner without wine, and neither of us will drive if we've been drinking.

Reggie waited while I had a shower and did my hair and makeup. When I provocatively reappeared in my French lingerie, it was exciting to see the man I loved gazing at me with shining eyes, and I felt feminine and vulnerable in silk and lace. Once I had stepped into my gown I asked him to zip it up. It was really an excuse to feel his strong arms touch me, and he couldn't resist kissing my neck at the same time that his hands cupped my breasts, which sent a shiver of excitement through my body. It was very tempting so say 'let's skip dinner', but I'm glad we didn't. Anticipation of what is to come is all part of a romantic evening.

We dined at Delrio's Italian Restaurant in Blossom Street. It's a cellar restaurant with vaulted brick alcoves, giving it a great atmosphere. Reggie had made a booking a week previously to make sure of getting a table. The food was excellent and it was a wonderful evening which of course didn't end with the meal. When we arrived back at the motel and Reggie unzipped my dress, it was the start of an amazing night. We had missed each other so much and with so little time together we were determined to make the most of it. When we finally fell into an exhausted sleep in each other's arms, it was well into the wee small hours.

The following morning after a late breakfast we went out for a day in York, which is an amazing city, founded by the Romans as Eboracum in 71AD. I had been on a school trip there in my former life, but had only seen a fraction of its incredible history. We visited the Minster which is an extraordinary building with amazing stained glass windows dating back to medieval times and sat for a while listening to the choir practising. Later we walked through the Shambles, stopped for some lunch and then visited the Jorvik Viking Centre*, travelling around the exhibits on the little train. Afterwards we had a look at the ancient walls of the city. It was a wonderful day.

We had tea and went back to the motel for the night. This time our love-making was more restrained since we had to get up early in the morning. Nonetheless, it was wonderful to 'spoon' with Reggie, feeling his hand gently holding one of my breasts as we drifted off to sleep.

We were up early the next morning and had our breakfast at seven-thirty. I dropped Reggie off at the university, and then took the road back towards Stratford. I confess I had looked for Sophie when I left Reggie outside Derwent College, but she was nowhere to be seen.

I had arranged to record some more chapters of 'Alice', starting at one o'clock in Warwick. As there were twelve chapters in all, Max had suggested that I attend for four recording sessions of three chapters each, with an extra recording session booked in case it was required. I arrived in Warwick with an hour to spare, so I parked the car at the studio and walked to a small cafe nearby for a sandwich and cup of tea, before returning to the studio to do the recording.

Everything went well, and I felt that I could have carried on but Max said that my voice might start to sound tired, so three chapters was enough.


When I arrived back at Stratford the flat was empty as Dale had yet to return. I have to say that it looked very tidy and I wondered if that was due to Dale or to Frank. I suspected I knew the answer to that. Then I checked the shopping list attached to the fridge door by a magnet in the shape of Shakespeare's bust.

Dale had agreed to continuing on the arrangement that Mary and I had worked out. We took it in turns to buy the normal groceries such as bread, milk, tea, coffee, cereal that we both used, and then at the end of the month, added up how much each of us had spent and split the cost equally. Naturally enough we also had our own personal items which we purchased separately.

I checked the fridge and the cupboards against the list and after adding a few items, I set out for the shops. I wasn't well-known enough yet to be recognised so there were no problems in going out to shop. I could well understand why high profile actors don't do their own shopping as they would probably be constantly waylaid by fans wanting to chat or have their photos taken.

Soon after I arrived back at the flat and was unpacking my purchases, my mobile phone rang. It was Cassie Evans.

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.

*The Jorvik Viking Centre suffered severe flooding in December 2015 and is now closed for renovations. It should re-open in Spring 2017 and is well worth a visit.

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