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 43 I become a 'celebrity'.
I gripped the counter to stop myself from falling.
“Are you alright Miss Stow? You're white as a sheet,” said Eddie anxiously. He hurried round from behind the counter, took my arm and guided me to a chair. “I'll get you a glass of water.”
“Thanks Eddie,” I said, faintly. I really had felt for a moment that I was going to keel over.
After a few sips of cold water I began to feel better, and I realised that I had the magazine in my hand.
The whole front page of 'Fan Mail Express' was devoted to a picture of Richard and I, taken through the window when we were sitting in the café,. To give the devil his due, the photographer had caught the precise moment when I had reached out and patted Richard's hand. So what I had seen was a camera flash after all. As if that wasn't bad enough, a headline was splashed across the page in bright red capital letters 'ROMEO AND JULIET IN SECRET TRYST'. 'Secret tryst'? What on earth were they talking about? We were sitting in a packed local café!
Then I noticed that there was a story on page three and with trembling hands I opened the page and read as follows:
Rising stars of stage and screen Harriet Stow and Richard Jenkins were recently spotted enjoying an intimate moment in a London bistro. When asked by our reporter for a comment, Miss Stow said “We are just good friends”
After starring as young lovers Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare's play of the same name, where their on-stage chemistry wowed the audience and led to speculation that their scorching performance was not just confined to the theatre, they are once more starring together in Shakespeare's 'Othello', a tale of love, lust, power and treachery. One of the hottest tickets in town, you can catch their performance at the Globe theatre in London.
The article was accompanied by photos of us copied from the Globe program, and also another one where I had turned to look out of the café window, startled by the camera flash. To anyone who didn't know the circumstances, I suppose I could have looked guilty as though caught 'in flagrante delicto'.
Eddie was still staring at me with an anxious look on his face.
“Eddie, this is a total fabrication,” I said. “No reporter ever spoke to me, and the pictures were taken through a crowded café's window. As for the 'on stage chemistry', we were acting, that's all. Yes we are both in the cast of 'Othello', but there's no romantic involvement between our two characters.”
“You shouldn't worry about it, Miss Stow,” said Eddie. “No-one believes the stories in magazines like this.”
But I did worry about it. What if Reggie, Mum, Emma, other friends and cast members saw it. What would they think?
Eddie had an answer for that too. “Just write and tell them that it's all rubbish, but you know the old saying 'all publicity is good publicity'.”
I managed a faint smile at that, but there was another thing; although the reporter had no idea, there was an element of truth in his story. After all, Richard and I had gone to bed together.
I wasn't totally convinced by Eddie's argument, but by now I was sufficiently recovered to pick up my paper and the magazine, which he kindly put into a paper bag. He insisted on not charging me, and after thanking him, I left the shop and walked to the theatre. I realised that my next job was to tell Richard.
The rehearsal that day was primarily for the two understudies for 'Othello' and 'Iago'. Both the original understudies had been fortunate enough to get some other rôles and couldn't come to London with us, so the two new company members needed to get some 'on-stage' experience.
When I arrived at the theatre, Hannah looked at me curiously and said “Are you feeling alright Harriet? You look rather pale.”
“Yes I'm alright, I just had a bit of a shock. I'll tell you about it after the rehearsal if you like,” I replied.
The rehearsal went very well. Both the understudies had obviously worked hard on their parts, were word-perfect and very good. I hoped they would be given an opportunity to take part in a performance.
After the rehearsal, Hannah came up to me and suggested we go to her office to discuss what had happened. I picked up my carry bag containing the newspaper and magazine, and followed her.
We both sat down and she looked enquiringly at me. I took the magazine out and handed it to her. Her reaction wasn't what I expected at all – she laughed. Then she saw the look on my face and composed herself as she read the accompanying article.
“I'm sorry Harriet, but I thought something dreadful had happened.”
I felt mortified. “I thought you'd be very upset,” I said.
She smiled gently. “Harriet my dear, you are now what's termed a 'celebrity'; it happens to all good actors and actresses. I'm afraid that means that your private life is no longer always private.”
“But it's total fiction, we were in a small cafe having lunch before a rehearsal, it wasn't a 'secret tryst' at all, and the reporter certainly didn't speak to me.”
“I believe you Harriet. Most of the articles in magazines like that have very little truth in them and the readers know that, but they still like to read about celebrities, and if there's a whiff of scandal they like it even more. That's what you've become, a celebrity, or the magazine wouldn't have bothered with you. Look on the bright side, it's raising your public profile. Remember that old saying 'all publicity is good publicity'.”
There was that phrase again. “Well, I'm going to write to them and complain about having my privacy invaded,” I said.
Hannah smiled. “Oh they'd love that, which is precisely why you shouldn't do it. This is a one-off article, but if you complain, there will be a follow-up article in the next issue which will suggest, without spelling it out, that you are only upset because what they printed is true.”
I blushed, and hated myself for it.
Hannah looked at me curiously. 'Is there any truth in it? After all, Richard is a handsome young fellow.”
“Well,” I said slowly, aware my blush wasn't diminishing, “We are good friends, they got that bit right.”
“I understand,” said Hannah, and it seemed clear to me that she understood exactly what sort of a friendship we had. “In that case, I urge you to take my advice and just let it go.”
I nodded slowly. “Thank you Hannah, I'll take your advice.”
One positive thing that came out of my talk with Hannah was that I wasn't in the least surprised when Richard had very much the same reaction.
“Well, we've hit the big time if 'Fan Mail Express' is taking notice of us,” he said laughing.
“Well I hope this is the last time we cross paths with them,” I said. A horrible thought crossed my mind , and without pausing to think I blurted out “You didn't set this up did you Richard?”
“Harriet, how could you think such a thing?” he responded and I couldn't work out if his outrage was genuine or simulated.
“I'm sorry, that was an awful thing to say,” I said, my cheeks burning.
“How could I have set it up? We only sat in the window because the table became vacant. That was pure luck when the café was so full.”
“I'm truly sorry,” I said again. “I don't know what on earth made me say that. Please forgive me.”
Richard smiled. “Only if you let me take you out to dinner,” was his reply.
“Of course you can, but in the circumstances, I should be the one to pay,” was my response.
We went to dinner the following Sunday evening, it being our only day off. Richard booked a table at the Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House in Southwark. I had developed a taste for seafood and this was one of the best places to go in London.
I dressed for the occasion in a classic 'little black dress' with sheer black stockings and six inch heels, and I must say that Richard's reaction when he saw me was most gratifying.
“Harriet, you look stunning,” was his comment.
“Well I hope you're not too stunned to eat,” I replied. “I've heard that the restaurant we're going to is one of the best, and don't forget, I'm paying.”
There is of course a well-known although unproven theory that oysters are an aphrodisiac, and we both consumed some that night. Later, when Richard escorted me back to the unit where Jemma and I were living, I invited him in for coffee. Jemma had gone to bed early; one thing led to another and it wasn't long before we graduated from the couch to my bedroom. I have to say that he is an excellent lover, and our second night together was even better than the first one in Wales.
Having agreed to Scarlett staying with Jemma, I had no qualms in having Richard stay, and Jemma, he and I had breakfast together before going to the theatre. He had worn a suit for our dinner date and while it might have raised some eyebrows when he appeared wearing it at the theatre later in the day, that was nothing to how the other cast members might have reacted if I had appeared in my 'little black dress'!
As Hannah had predicted, there was no further report on Richard and I in the 'Fan Mail Express', and someone else appeared on the front page the following week. People regularly waited at the stage door for the cast to appear, and to ask for autographs or photographs with us. Following the 'exposé', a few mentioned the article, and my standard response was 'You can't believe everything you read in the press'. They would nod sagely, but whether they believed me or not I can't say. I did notify Mum, Emma and Reggie by email, and they all replied along the same lines, saying that they knew it went with the territory and that they didn't believe a word of it.
The season was a great success with full houses at nearly every performance. Richard and I spent another couple of nights together, but all good things come to an end, and after the final performance we went our separate ways. He had obtained a rôle in Edinburgh, and I returned to Stratford.
Dale seemed pleased to see me. I asked how things were going and he said that everything was going well. There were a few bills that needed paying, and even though I had been away a lot, I insisted on paying half the electricity bill as well as half the rent. I asked how he was feeling about being in the flat on his own while I was away performing, and he said he was fine with it. I enquired if Frank had been up to see him much and Dale said he had been there a few times.
“I imagine you can tell that because the flat always looks tidier after he's been here,” he laughed.
A few days later I went up to Brid for a week to see my family. They were all doing well. I was concerned that Emma might be itching to get back on stage again, but she seemed to have settled into the rôle of 'stay-at-home mum' at least for the present. Baby Elizabeth had grown still bigger, and David and Penny were pleased to see me too.
Mum was as pleased as ever to have me stay with her again and we did some shopping together and also went to the theatre to watch the play David was currently directing, “And a Nightingale Sang...” by C.P. Taylor, a drama about Britain during World War II. The company performed it very well, and it got me thinking about whether I should try to expand my repertoire and not do so much Shakespeare.
At David's invitation, we called around backstage after the performance to congratulate the cast. I was somewhat surprised to learn that even the new members of the group who had never met me before seemed to know of me. I put it down to David telling them about me, but afterwards he told me this was not so.
“You are more well-known than you think, Harriet. A number of people talk to me about my famous sister-in-law who performs at Stratford and 'The Globe'.”
As you can imagine that brought colour to my cheeks, something I've never managed to control.
After a week at Brid, I returned to Stratford. I had been in touch with my agent who had lined up an audition for me with the Company and I was fortunate enough to obtain the part of Beatrice in 'Much Ado about Nothing'.
I must say that this is one of my favourite Shakespearean rôles. Beatrice is bright and witty. She has been burned before in her relationship with Benedick and refuses to concede that she still loves him right to the end of the play.
Romantics might hope that Richard Jenkins would have played Benedick, but he was still busy in a play in Edinburgh and instead another fine young English actor Robbie Smith won the rôle. Not only was he handsome, but he was also married, which was perhaps a good thing. Saying that, I would hate anyone to think that I'm the sort of person to fall for the leading man in every play in which I perform! I met his wife Karen at the get-together backstage after the first performance. She was a charming young woman and fortunately understood that stage romance is exactly that, not that Beatrice and Benedick have a 'Romeo and Juliet' relationship.
I have always felt some sympathy for the spouses of actors or actresses. It can't be easy knowing that in some rôles the love of your life is on a stage night after night pretending to be madly in love with someone else. Not only that, but there are too many occasions to count when stage love spills over into real life, at least if you read 'Fan Mail Express'!
We had been performing the play for about two weeks when I returned home after one performance to find a note written by Dale sitting on the kitchen table.
'Reggie rang, wants to speak to you and will try again tomorrow morning. I explained you are performing in the evenings and some matinées.'
I wondered why he hadn't rung my mobile, so I checked it. Of course it was set to silent while I was at the theatre, and I had forgotten to check it for messages. There was one from Reggie. 'Sophie had the baby. Need to talk to you. Will try tomorrow R x'
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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