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 41 Playing at 'The Globe'
Reggie's email read as follows:
I wish I could speak to you personally or on the phone, but since it's impossible at present, I must write to you instead. Mum told me that she met your mother in Bridchester and told you the news about the baby, so it will come as no surprise to you, but you might wonder why I didn't write before. To be honest I didn't know how to tell you. My first thought was that it couldn't be mine, but then I worried that the vasectomy might not have worked properly. A friend of mine here knows a medical student and he agreed to check a sample from me to see if I was still fertile, but it proved that I'm not.
The only conclusion is that Sophie was fed up with waiting for something to happen and took other measures. Of course I can't say to her that I know it's not mine without revealing that I had a vasectomy so right now there's nothing I can do. It seems she has outsmarted me. Maybe once the baby is born I can somehow prove the father is someone else. I'm so sorry this has happened. If you never want to hear from me again I will understand, and I'll also understand if you are fed up waiting and want to get on with your life and marry someone else.
I guess you are getting ready to play Desdemona now and I wish you all the very best with it. You are a great actress and will only get better as time passes. I will always follow your career with great interest.
I confess the tears were flowing as I read the email for a second time. Then I started to write my reply:
I confess I was shocked when I heard the news about the baby, but you mustn't apologise. None of this is your fault, and I will never cease to be grateful to you for the huge sacrifice you made for me. I still believe that one day we will be together, so please don't give up hope, I never will. We are both still young and have many years ahead of us and they include the happy years we will spend together.
I've just returned from an interesting weekend in Wales playing a small part in Dylan Thomas's 'Under Milk Wood'. I hope you are not shocked but it required me to bare my breasts. Now I am back at Stratford for 'Othello'. I didn't get 'Desdemona' but instead will play her companion 'Emilia'. I still get to die on stage like I did as Juliet!
Take care, and remember that I will always love you,
I read it through twice and then clicked the 'send' button. At least we could keep in touch by email. It must have been a lot harder for people in our position before the internet existed.
Hearing from Reggie caused me to review my feelings for him and Richard. I was fond of Richard, fond enough to go to bed with him, but I knew that there would only ever be one true love in my life, and if years had to pass before I could be with Reggie, then it would be worth the wait.
I went to bed early, and being on my own, it was hard not to think of the previous night. I fell asleep and had a confused dream where Reggie and Richard were fighting a duel over me. Rushing between them I was stabbed by both swords and sank to the ground, dying, and looking up, I saw them both staring down at me with stunned looks on their faces. I awoke suddenly, my heart racing. There was a knock on the door and Dale's voice calling out: “Are you alright Harriet?”
“Yes Dale, I had a bad dream. I'm sorry to have disturbed you.”
After that I couldn't get back to sleep and even though it was about three o'clock, I got up and went into the kitchen to make myself a drink of tea. To my surprise Dale and Frank were sitting there in their dressing gowns with cups of tea in front of them.
“Oh dear! Now I feel really bad,” I said. “It seems I've disturbed the whole household.”
“You know how it is when you get woken up in the middle of the night,” said Dale. “Do you want to tell us what the dream was about?”
I hesitated, then said “You are my friends, so I trust you, but not a word of this to anyone.”
Then I described the scenario but only mentioned Reggie's name, but of course it didn't take them five seconds to work out who the other man was.
“I think it's a combination of my confused feelings plus the fact that I've played two characters now who die on stage,” I said. I certainly wasn't going to tell them that I'd been to bed with Richard.
They both nodded sagely. “I think you're right,” said Frank.
Time passes. The production of 'Othello' was a great success. I can't claim that it was largely due to me. The play is dominated by the characters of Othello and Iago, and the two main female characters, Desdemona, and her companion Emilia, my rôle, take second place. There is one more female rôle in the play, Bianca, Cassio's jealous lover who is often thought to be a courtesan, although this isn't specified in the play. A young woman called Rachel Reid had been given the part. I had not met her before but she was a very good actress.
At the end of the play, Desdemona is strangled in their bedchamber by Othello who wrongly believes her to have betrayed him, and then once again I died through a stabbing, but unlike Juliet who stabs herself to death, this time it was at the hands of Iago, my stage husband for revealing his treachery. I sank to the floor, my body propped up on my elbow as I spoke my final lines to the slain Desdemona who lay on the bed.
”What did thy song bode, lady?
Hark, canst thou hear me? I will play the swan.
And die in music.”
”Willow, willow, willow,--
Moor, she was chaste; she loved thee, cruel Moor;
So come my soul to bliss, as I speak true;
So speaking as I think, I die, I die.”
With that I slumped back onto the floor.
This was the first time I had sung on stage since playing Ophelia in Hamlet. Shortly afterwards Othello killed himself and Iago was taken into custody to face punishment for the evil he had caused. And so the tragedy ended and the curtain fell.
The first night audience gave us a great reception. During the curtain calls, Jemma and I appeared from opposite sides of the stage and holding hands advanced to the apron and took our bows, both together and separately. After us came first Sidney and then Anthony.
Following their bows we all joined hands across the stage and received a standing ovation. Not for the first time I thought what a wonderful occupation I had where I was not only paid well, but received public accolades for what I did.
We played to full houses for several weeks and then I received a request to see the new Artistic Director Gwynneth Soames. A summons to see 'the Boss' always causes trepidation, especially since she had only recently arrived and while she had been introduced to the company 'en masse' I hadn't spoken to her on a 'one to one' basis. Did she think my performances weren't up to scratch? I didn't think so but you never know.
I knocked on the door and received an invitation to “Come in” in a pleasant-sounding voice.
Gwynneth Soames stood up as I entered the room. “Harriet, thank you for coming to see me, please take a seat.”
She indicated one of two comfortable chairs which I took to be a good sign. If this had been a formal meeting she would surely have sat behind her desk.
“I finally got to see a performance of 'Othello' and I must say I was very impressed with your performance,” she said. “You know what it's like when you start a new job, there are a thousand and one things to be done, but it's very important that I get to see the productions which are currently being presented, and that's what I want to talk to you about.”
My heart thumped unpleasantly. Was there something wrong after all?
“'Othello' is playing to full houses as you know, but we cannot extend the season because we are scheduled to start a season of 'Julius Caesar” in four weeks’ time. However, something has come up. Due to unforeseen circumstances a production at the new Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London has had to be cancelled and we have been offered a four-week season there. This ties in perfectly with the end of the Stratford season. For that reason I am speaking to all the principal actors in this production to see if they are available to play the season at the Globe?”
My heart was thumping; to play at the Globe had been on my 'wish list' for some time.
“Oh yes Miss Soames, that would be a dream come true!” I said excitedly.
“I'm so glad you said so. I've already spoken to Anthony, Sidney and Jemma, and this means that all four principal artists will be available. A couple of minor roles will have to be recast due to the actors having other commitments that they can't break, but we can replace them. I really wanted the four of you to carry on playing your parts as you have obviously jelled so well.”
So that's what the interview had been about, I had been worrying unnecessarily as usual.
When I saw the other principals I mentioned that I too was able to follow the production to the Globe and how much I was looking forward to it.
“I'm sure you'll enjoy it,” said Anthony. “It's quite a different feeling from playing behind a proscenium arch.”
“I did something similar in Singapore, when we toured there early this year, but of course that was an indoor arena rather than a theatre,” I replied.
“Oh yes, I heard about that; you were performing to about six thousand people weren't you?”
“Yes, the biggest audience I expect to play to,” I replied, laughing.
The Stratford season was coming to an end and meanwhile we had made arrangements for accommodation in London. Jemma had asked if I would like to share a serviced apartment with her and I gladly accepted. I didn't want to be living on my own in London. I had been in touch with my agent, and he had negotiated an increase in salary for me to cover the additional costs of living in London.
Jemma's parents lived in London's outer suburbs, too far away for her to live with them. After being given a budget, they very kindly looked around the area close to the Globe to see what they could find for us. They located a very nice two-bedroom apartment with a lounge room, small kitchen, bathroom, toilet and laundry facilities. It was on the second floor of a six storey apartment block in Southwark, less than ten minutes' walk from the theatre, not that we would be walking between the two, especially at night.
Meanwhile I let Mum, Emma and Reggie know about the change of venue for our production. They all replied in very positive terms, wishing me luck. Reggie said nothing more about the baby, but what was there to say? Mum and Emma said they would love to come to London and see me perform if that was possible. Unfortunately, I couldn't get them a discount but they seemed alright about that.
The final performance in Stratford arrived and once more the theatre was full and we received another standing ovation. Meanwhile, we were informed that ticket sales at the Globe were going very well.
There seemed no point in taking my car to London since I wouldn't have much opportunity to use it, and in any case the public transport there is excellent. Dale said he would look after her for me, and knowing him as I did, I knew he would probably do a service and a cut and polish while I was away, so 'Bluebird' would look like new when I returned. I would pay him of course. He was my friend but I insisted that he not be out of pocket.
A couple of days later, Gemma and I left on the bus which the Company had kindly provided for cast and crew that wanted to use it to go to London. We both had rather large suitcases which caused some comment from the men, but we were women after all, and women need clothes if they are going to be away from home for about a month.
The bus travelled around the inner London suburbs, dropping off the cast and crew where they were staying. When we saw our apartment we were very pleased. It was modern and bright with all the 'mod cons' we needed. Both bedrooms faced north towards the Thames, and if we stood at one corner of the windows we could just make out the distinctive roof of the Globe Theatre. Neither bedroom was superior to the other, so we just tossed a coin for which one we would occupy and set about unpacking.
The following day we arrived at the Globe Theatre at nine o'clock. I confess to being quite excited, as I'd heard so much about it but this was the first time I had been there. The original theatre was built in 1599, burnt down in 1613, rebuilt, and finally closed by the Puritans in 1642 and pulled down a couple of years later. Sam Wanamaker, the celebrated American actor and director was responsible for the new theatre named 'Shakespeare's Globe Theatre' which opened in 1997 close to the original theatre's site. It was designed to be as faithful a reproduction as possible, being built of oak and has the only thatched roof in London. They were banned after the Great Fire of London in 1666 but I was pleased to hear that the roof on the new Globe has plenty of fire retardant materials and other precautions to prevent any disaster.
We all assembled on the stage ready to meet some new members of the cast, replacing those who couldn't continue with the season due to other commitments. To my surprise, a figure with a familiar face came hurrying across the yard which surrounds the thrust stage.
Hannah looked up “Ah, there you are Richard. I was beginning to think you'd had second thoughts about the part. Everyone, this is Richard Jenkins. Some of you will know him from performing in 'Romeo and Juliet' at Stratford and the overseas tour.”
Richard climbed up the steps to the stage, panting and out of breath.
“I'm so sorry Miss Barrow, the taxi was stuck in traffic.”
“Well, so long as you're not late for a performance. Richard is playing Cassio since Edward had a commitment he couldn't break.”
I confess my heart was pounding at the sight of Richard. We had kept in touch with occasional emails, but I thought he was still performing in 'Dr Faustus'. I wondered why he hadn't told me the season had finished and he was going to join us in 'Othello'.
He nodded at me, and then Hannah started to block our moves for performing on the thrust stage with its overhead canopy, which is very different to performing behind a proscenium arch. In Shakespeare's day, some of the wealthy or notable audience members actually sat on the stage. At least we didn't have to contend with that.
As it's an open-air theatre, someone asked what we should do if it started to rain.
“You keep on performing of course,” said Hannah. “The cast are fairly sheltered by the canopy, but if it gets really heavy you can contrive to keep more to the rear of the stage The only circumstance in which we halt the performance is if there is a thunderstorm overhead, and I think you'll find the audience in the yard will want to seek shelter rather than watch the play.” There was general laughter at this remark.
“We will be performing during daylight hours extending into the early evening with some minimal lighting since the idea is to replicate performances in Shakespeare's time as closely as possible. You will be very aware of the audience, particularly the 'groundlings' in the yard some of whom will be standing very close to the stage. This is a bonus because you will find that you feed off their energy. Don't forget that this was the theatre for which Shakespeare and others wrote their plays.”
All this sounded very exciting and I could hardly wait for the first performance. At the conclusion of the blocking, we were informed that the first rehearsal would take place that afternoon, and we were released to get some lunch. As I expected, Richard came over to talk to me.
I had viewed his unexpected arrival in the theatre with mixed feelings. Since returning from Wales, I had thought a lot about Richard, and wondered more than once if I had been wise in taking him to my bed. I was keen to have him remain a friend, especially as it was quite possible that we would share a stage again, and now that we had become lovers, even if only for one night, I wondered how that would affect the dynamic of our relationship. Well, it seemed I was about to find out.
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.
Due to the arrival of overseas visitors which will make writing difficult, and not having enough chapters 'up my sleeve', I'm sorry to say that this is probably the last chapter of Harriet's adventures for a few weeks. She will return as soon as possible, you have my word on that.
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