There is Nothing like a Dame
A novel by Bronwen Welsh
Copyright© 2017 & 2018 Bronwen Welsh
A sequel to 'The Might-Have-Been Girl' and 'All the World's a Stage'
Chapter 29 A crisis
I enjoyed a week back in York. I visited Emma several times while Reggie was at the university. All the children were growing up and Emma was doing a marvellous job of raising them. I also did a bit of painting, of the house variety, with the permission of the owner, since the flat was looking a little shabby. It was quite enjoyable to have a break from my regular occupation, but only because I was secure in the knowledge that I would soon be returning to the stage.
I had kept in regular contact with Miriam and Itzak in America and was pleased to hear that their recital at the East Devon theatre, arranged by Hiram Thompson, was scheduled for four weeks later. I had promised them that Reggie and I would attend if possible and now it seemed that we could since I wasn't performing in the 'Scottish Play'. Since Magnolia had insisted that we stay with them, I sent her an email and received a reply saying that they were looking forward to seeing us again and that Henry would pick us up at the airport. I had told her that we could make our own way to East Devon by public transport, but she wouldn't hear of it. I booked our tickets, Economy Class this time. I don't want to sound like a miser, but it was a relatively short flight to Boston, and hardly justified the extra expense of Business Class.
In the meantime, there was another special event to attend – the opening night of 'The Scottish Play' in Stratford. Aunt Peggy in Australia had introduced me to a delightful Australian expression – to 'frock up', and since it was a 'black tie' evening for Duncan Morgan's special guests, that's exactly what I would be doing. From my ever-increasing wardrobe, I had chosen a floor-length jersey evening dress in dark cherry red with a V neck and a rather daring slit close to the thigh. I teamed it with 'sheer to the waist' tights and towering six-inch heels, comfortable in the fact I would still be shorter than Reggie.
On the morning of the opening night, we packed the car and headed south to Stratford. Purely by chance we decided to approach the town via the A3400 road passing through the historic small town of Henley-in-Arden, about thirty minutes drive north of Stratford. It was just after ten o'clock; Reggie was driving, and I was enjoying the view of the delightful old houses along the main street. It was then that I spotted them; Ioan Thomas and Edith Evans hand in hand leaving one of the old hotels. I quickly turned my head away, although they seemed so wrapped up in each other, I doubt if they would have noticed anyone in a passing car.
It took me a few minutes to digest what I had seen, and in fact, Reggie commented that I was unusually quiet. I told myself that in this modern age there was really nothing wrong with two consenting adults spending the night together if they wished, although inevitably the thought crossed my mind that perhaps this relationship had started before the audition, in other words, the infamous 'casting couch' Then I dismissed this thought as unworthy, especially since as far as I knew, the first time Edith had met Ioan was on the day of the audition. I decided not to tell Reggie that I had seen them since he was no actor and if he met the two of them later in the evening, his reaction might betray what he knew.
We arrived at the flat and took our change of clothes inside; then we went out for a light lunch, and afterwards had a couple of hours 'siesta', so that we would be fresh for the evening. Knowing what I would have been doing if I had been given the part, I wasn't greatly upset that I was in the position of being able to relax and then enjoy the performance.
As usual, it took me about three times as long as Reggie to get ready, but when I finally appeared, I could tell from the look on his face that all the effort had been worth it.
“Darling, every man we see tonight will be jealous of me because you are on my arm,” he said, and not to be outdone and in order to spice things up a bit I replied “And every woman will be jealous of me because when we get back I will be welcoming you into my bed!”
We might have sounded more like a couple on their honeymoon than two people who had been together for quite a few years but we both put a lot of effort into keeping our relationship fresh and exciting. Reggie looked very handsome in his dinner suit, but only I knew how handsome he was when he was out of it. Just the thought of that made my body tingle.
We had booked a taxi to take us to the theatre and also to pick us up late in the evening. That way we could have a drink while we were out. We arrived at the theatre in plenty of time to collect our tickets, which, as I suspected, were in the front row. We proceeded to the bar for a glass of champagne and when the bell rang, made our way down to the front row, where Duncan Morgan and his wife were already seated. Duncan stood as we approached and bade us 'good evening', shaking Reggie's hand and kissing me on the cheek. He then introduced us to his wife who complimented me on my choice of gown. I noticed that there was an empty seat on the far side of them and just as the lights started to dim, a tall elegant lady walked in and took her seat, whispering 'Sorry' as she did so.
The curtain rose upon the 'blasted heath' with the three witches. Lightning flashed and the thunder rolled. It's one the most dramatic openings of any of Shakespeare's plays. I sat back and relaxed, ready to enjoy myself. Little did I know that the real storm was about to break.
When the house lights rose at interval and we all rose to our feet to stretch our legs and go for a drink, Duncan said to us, “Harriet and Reginald, may I introduce Ceridwen Thomas, Ioan's wife? We've invited her here as a surprise for Ioan.”
' Oh he's going to get a surprise alright when he sees her,' I thought to myself, but I smiled and held out my hand. “Ceridwen! What a lovely name! How are you enjoying the play so far?”
“It's very exciting, and so well acted,” she responded in a voice even more musical than Ioan's. “Living in Llanelli as we do, I don't often get to see a play that Ioan is directing as he travels all over Britain, so this is a special treat.”
“Harriet is one of our young stars,” said Duncan. “We are fortunate to have her and now Edith playing major rôles in our plays. She'll be playing a title rôle in 'Romeo and Juliet' again later in the year. You really should try to see to come to Stratford to see it.”
“I certainly will try,” said Ceridwen politely.
There were a number of special guests at the performance including some of the Stratford councillors and a local member of parliament with his wife and we chatted politely as we had our drinks at the bar. All I could think about was the fireworks which were certain to ensue when Edith was introduced to Ceridwen after the performance. I knew I couldn't warn her, and even if I could, it wouldn't have been the right thing to do as it would have inevitably affected her performance. I would just have to let the drama play out. I was furious with Ioan; what on earth was he thinking of, deceiving Edith and his wife this way and what would be the consequences?
Inevitably, I was distracted from what was an excellent performance by all the cast including Edith. She thoroughly deserved winning the part. At the conclusion, after all the curtain calls and a standing ovation, the house lights came up fully and the audience began to leave. As I knew he would, Duncan said that there would be a small reception for cast and crew together with the special guests in one of the rehearsal rooms behind the stage, and we were invited to attend. In some ways I wished that we could leave, but I knew that was impossible. We duly followed the Morgans and Ceridwen into the rehearsal room where drinks and finger food were laid out on some tables.
People started to mingle and chat and I was on tenterhooks waiting for the inevitable explosion. Finally, Ioan reached Reggie and I and introduced Ceridwen.
“We've already had the pleasure of meeting her during the interval,” I said.”It must have been a wonderful surprise for you to see her here.”
“Yes it was,” he said, and I could tell that he was searching my face for any hidden meaning behind my words, but he didn't find any; I am after all an actress. As they went off to mingle with the other people present, I did my best to keep an eye on them while chatting with other people. Finally, I saw that despite his best efforts to avoid it, Ceridwen had steered him in the direction of Edith.
While I was too far away to hear what they were saying over the general hubbub of conversation, judging by their body language, Edith was actually holding it together after what must have been a terrible shock. I had little doubt that Ioan had told her he was single or divorced and now here was his wife! They did not talk for long and Edith turned and left the room, no doubt to find somewhere to be alone and absorb what had just happened, or maybe to just burst into tears.
I was relieved then Reggie glanced at his watch and said that we should leave the reception as our taxi would be arriving soon. We first made our way over to the Morgans to thank Duncan for inviting us to the evening. I mentioned that we were flying over to America to attend Miriam and Itzak's recital and that the Thompsons had insisted that we stay with them.
“Please pass on my regards,” said Duncan and I promised to do so. They would be meeting up when the Thompsons came over to England to see me perform in 'Romeo and Juliet' later in the year.
Travelling home in the taxi Reggie said “You seemed a bit distracted at the reception. Did something happen that I didn't notice?”
I didn't want to say anything which the taxi driver might overhear, so I assured him that nothing happened. However, when we reached the flat I told him how I had seen Ioan and Edith coming out of the hotel.
“I'm sorry I didn't tell you before but I was concerned that you might give yourself away when you met Edith and Ioan. Of course, I had no idea about Ioan's wife; I assumed he was single or divorced and I'm sure he told Edith something like that too. I was waiting for an explosion when they, Edith and Ceridwen, met, but somehow she must have held it together. That's why I was distracted.”
“That sounds like a bad situation,” said Reggie. “What do you think is going to happen?”
“I really have no idea,” I replied. “But whatever it is, it's going to be nasty.”
On Sunday morning we drove back to York. The whole day I was waiting to hear something, but there were no calls. I started to think that Edith had somehow come to terms with the situation, unlikely though that seemed.
Monday morning we were up early and after breakfast, Reggie went to the university. He was now approaching the end of his final year, with exams coming up soon. He was studying every waking moment and I was determined to keep him fed and watered so that he could concentrate on his books. I had to think that it was a good thing I wasn't down in Stratford with the play. Then the phone rang. It was Duncan Morgan, the theatre CEO. I felt my heart thump as I answered it.
“Harriet! Thank goodness I caught you. We have a crisis here. This morning Edith Evans rang up and withdrew from the current production, citing 'personal reasons'.”
My heart sank. I know what was coming next.
“I know we have an understudy, but we can't let her take over for the rest of the season. Can I count on you to come back to Stratford and take over, please?”
“If it's really necessary, I'm sure Reggie will understand,” I replied, wondering if he would after my promise that nothing would stop me staying in York until the 'Romeo and Juliet' rehearsals started. I needed to think fast.
“Mr Morgan, Edith and I are quite friendly, perhaps I can find out what's happened and see if there's some way she can be persuaded to stay on.”
When he replied he sounded doubtful: “Of course you can try, Harriet, but when she spoke to me she sounded like she'd been crying, so whatever has happened must be serious.”
He wasn't wrong about that, but of course he didn't know the situation and I did. After he hung up, I dialled Edith's number. She answered after a few rings.
“Edith? It's Harriet. I've just had a call from Mr Morgan.”
“Oh Harriet, I'm so sorry to pull out, but I can't go on, I just can't,” she said, sounding like she was about to cry again.
“Edith, I know what's happened. Reggie and I were driving through Henley last Saturday morning and we saw you. Am I right in thinking that Ioan didn't tell you he was married?”
“Of course not, he said he was divorced.” She sounded a bit shocked that I should even ask the question.
“I'm sorry,” I said. “That was a stupid question. Of course you didn't know. It must have been such a shock when his wife appeared.”
“It was a shock for him too. Mr Morgan had arranged for her to come to the performance as a surprise for him. Well it was a surprise alright,” she sounded bitter. “He thought she was safely tucked away in Wales.”
“What happened when she was introduced to you?” I asked.
“I think I handled it alright, but I'm sure she knew; women just do. Anyway, I can't stay in Stratford, I”m packing my bags now. At least I know that my replacement will do a great job.”
“Edith, you know I wanted the rôle, but not this way. Will you let me contact someone and tell them the whole story? You can totally rely on their discretion. It won't go any further, I can guarantee that.”
“What good would it do?” she said. “I'm just an actress and he's a famous director. I know what the result will be.”
'He's not that famous. I'd never heard of him before he came to Stratford' I thought, but aloud I said. “Well at least let me try, please.”
“Alright,” she said reluctantly. “I promise I won't leave until I hear back from you.”
I was worried. I'd given her hope and maybe she was right and nothing could be done, but I wasn't prepared to let it go without a fight. I picked up my phone again and selected another number.
To be continued.
Many thanks once again to Louise Ann and Julia Phillips for spotting my 'typos', thus allowing me to correct them before publishing
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