A Gift from The Bard


"Would you consider any other parts?"

"Like what?" he asks, his voice edged with suspicion. Hmmm, perhaps he could do Claudio after all.

"Well, there's Dogberry. It's a more comic role but one that is probably a more substantial part than Claudio," I suggest.

"Um, I dunno. I mean I'd like to do a more serious role for a change, if I could." He looks a little disappointed but adds, "I know I'd need some clear directing." I can't help smiling; that touching depreciation just might have won him the part.

"Okay, I'll bear that in mind, Chris," I tell him and he walks off as I look over at the others waiting to audition. My eyes settle on the new girl, Jeanette's daughter's friend, who seems to be next. I feel a spike of interest: she is a very attractive girl, perhaps a smidgeon overweight but this means she's curvy in a way that so few young women getting into drama seem to be these days. Of course, there are many attractive girls around, the gorgeous Beth, for example. However, given that Beth's mother, Jackie Norton, is also a member of Hawsley Players it leaves little opportunity to explore the possibility of romantic Sapphic trysts and dalliances.

Conscious that I've been daydreaming a little, I drag my mind back to the job at hand and nod at the young woman. "Sorry, I didn't catch your name," I apologise with a smile.

"Oh, I'm Suzie Peterson, er, Tatiana."

"Just Tati is fine," I tell her as I jot Suzie's name down, more for show that any likelihood of my forgetting her name in a hurry. "Okay then, Suzie. When you're ready..."

I sit back and wait as Suzie walks to the middle of the performance area and stands with her head bowed. How disappointing: the girl is obviously very nervous and I suppose young Emily-Rose has talked her into coming. As I watch Suzie takes a long breath and raises her head. Suddenly she turns, a glint in her eye and smile on her face.

"Just, if he send me no husband, for the which blessing I am at him upon my knees every morning and evening." I recognise one of Beatrice's speeches as I follow her gaze and notice Emily-Rose standing off to that side and suspect that Suzie is using her as a focus, as if Emily-Rose is the actor playing Leonato. "Lord, I could not endure a husband with a beard on his face!" Suzie continues confidently, "I had rather lie in the woollen."

Suddenly, Emily-Rose rather stiltedly speaks the words of Leonato that come next, "You may light on a husband that hath no beard." It's a good idea and works better than just leaving a pause. Suzie flings her arms out, a woman frustrated with the world around her.

"What should I do with him?" she asks with desperation in her voice, "dress him in my apparel and make him my waiting-gentlewoman?" Susie's tone changes, becoming more earnest. "He that hath a beard is more than a youth, and he that hath no beard is less than a man: and he that is more than a youth is not for me, and he that is less than a man," a mischievous smile plays on her face as she paused momentarily, "I am not for him! Therefore I will even take sixpence in earnest of the bear-ward and lead his apes into hell." Suzie concludes.

I'm just about to speak when Emily-Rose again takes the part of Leonato, "Well, then, go you into hell?" Suzie reaches towards her stand-in Leonato, wagging her finger.

"No, but to the gate; and there will the devil meet me, like an old cuckold, with horns on his head, and say," she raised her hands either side of her head, miming horns with her index fingers, and drops her voice to become gruff, "'Get you to heaven, Beatrice, get you to heaven; here's no place for you maids:'" her voice returns to normal as she lowers her arms, "so deliver I up my apes, and away to Saint Peter for the heavens," Suzie spins, raising her arms and turning her gaze upwards, "and looking up he shows me where the bachelors sit, and there live we as merry as the day is long!" she finishes happily and turns to face me.

"Well, thank you, Suzie," I say neutrally and there's a flicker of disappointment on the girl's face, "that was done well. Tell me, did you have any particular part in mind?" I ask, though I can already guess her answer.

"I, er, I know it's a long shot but I'd love to play Beatrice..." Suzie says enthusiastically but then sags a little, as if she's taking a chance at which she expects to fail, "but, I mean, I'm sure there'll be others so I guess whatever part you think..." A little shiver ripples through me; this is almost too delicious. Suzie really wants this part and might be very grateful and biddable if she's given it... hmmm. The fact that, though she might be a little young, she looks the part and can definitely act seals the decision. Still, there's no need to tell her just yet.

"Okay, Suzie. We've some more auditions to go, so if you can let me know your phone number and, do you have email?"

"Well, I've my University email address I suppose, though I don't use it much."

"That's not a problem but if you would make a note of it anyway, if you don't mind." Suzie nods and begins writing out her details in my notepad. "I'll let you know as soon as possible: tomorrow or Monday, hopefully," I assure her.

"Thanks... I will check my email when I'm back at Uni but I'm here, at home, tomorrow so..." Suzie says as she adds a second phone number with '- Home' after it before handing the pen and notepad back. "Thanks, Tati."

I watch as Emily-Rose joins her and they grasp each other's hands, smiling, before the two girls return to sit watch the last few auditions. Oh yes, Suzie definitely has potential...


"So, do you think you'll get the part?" I ask Suzie.

"Well, I gave it my best shot and Tatiana, Tati, was nice enough but she certainly didn't give much away, did she? She's all theatrical in her flowing skirt and with her dramatic speech and gestures, but that makes it even harder to know what she actually thinks." She pauses and looks at me, her lips pressed tight. "You won't be too upset if I don't get a part will you Emmy?"

"Hey, while you were being all melodramatic and impassioned I was watching Tati; I reckon she was well impressed with you."

"You really think so or are you just being kind?" she asks and I can hear that she is keen for assurance.

"I do, and that's not me just being kind. Actually, given how she watched you I was kind of surprised that she didn't offer you a part there and then. I expected each actor to get up and do their stuff until Tati shouted 'Next!' or gave them the part."

"I don't think it's ever done like that. I mean, she's probably got others to see yet and then she'll want to think about it for a bit and who fits best in what part. Thank you for reading in as Leonato; I know you found it stressful."

"Hey, no problemo: I want you to do this so I can't complain if you want my help; just so long as you don't expect me to perform on stage -- ever!"

"Are you sure?" she asks but I can see from her face that she is teasing. "You'd make a beautiful Hero."

"Hero? Don't you mean heroine?"

"No, Hero. I know it's an odd name but she's the other main female character, the real beauty who's going to marry Claudio until Don John and Borachio hatch a plot to make it look like Hero is having an affair, well, having sex basically, I suppose, with Borachio. When Claudio finds out he cancels the wedding because Hero isn't a virgin. Her virginity is the 'nothing' -- the 'no-thing' -- of the play's title, though there are suggestions that 'nothing' may also have a cruder interpretation as a euphemism for her vagina..." she looks at me and smiles; I guess she can see in my face the slight bewilderment. I smile back.

"Are you reciting that essay you told me about?"

"Uh, maybe a bit. Sorry I was burbling on there wasn't I?"

"Yeah, but it might be useful to understand the plot. I know; the park's not too far from here. Why don't we go and have a drink in the café there and you can tell me it properly?" The park reminds me of that day when I met that woman, the same day that Suzie came out to me and the day that we started to rebuild our friendship.

"Okay," Suzie replies after a slight hesitation, perhaps remembering the same things. I have the urge to slip my arm through hers as we walk towards the park, as I might have done once, but I resist; she is a lesbian and I wouldn't want her to misunderstand the action.

"So, do you believe that? Do you really think that people in Shakespeare's time would have thought the play was "Much Ado About a Vagina'?"

"I don't know," she laughs, relaxing. "Though I suspect then they'd be more likely to say, 'Much Ado About a Cunt'."

"Now you're just winding me up."

"Well, exaggerating a bit, maybe. In medieval times 'cunt' wasn't considered particularly offensive as a word, though that had started to change by the sixteenth century."

"Suzie, how the hell do you know this stuff? I can't believe your course has a unit on the history of rude words!"

"No, it's more a personal interest." I'm about to tease her about why the word cunt might be of 'personal interest' to her when she gives me a sharp nudge. "And no, it's not because of my sexuality. It's... why should a part of our bodies be the worst word possible? Did you know that 'vagina' comes from the Latin meaning a sword sheath? Why should that part of me be defined as something to have another thing -- i.e. a cock -- 'sheathed' in it? I guess you mightn't be so upset by that, Emmy," she smiles, "but I'm really not impressed. Cunt, on the other hand, just means, well... a cunt!"

"So cunt is a more feminist word?" I suggest and she nods. "Hmm, well here's to 'Much Ado about a Cunt' then. Right, well it's probably time to stop saying 'cunt' because there's the café. What do you want, Suze? It's my treat; you can explain the plotline of this play, but perhaps without the social and feminist commentaries!"

Chapter 4: The price of the part you really want


I keep telling myself that I gave my best at the audition. I guess that's what makes Tati's noncommittal reaction so disappointing. I also keep reminding myself that, whatever happens, I shouldn't be too upset as it was nice spending time with Emmy yesterday and having the rest of the weekend at home with Mum.

It's lovely waking up in my old bed to the smell of bacon cooking; Mum is always glad to have me home and likes to pamper me, so who am I to refuse? I suspect she thinks I don't eat properly, especially as I have lost a little more weight over the last term, but I do, even if being a student means that inexpensive pasta and rice feature a lot, as does tinned tuna.

I enjoy a languid stretch before kicking the covers off and getting out of bed to head downstairs before Mum has to call me. I bend to stroke Pickle, our dog, who's bouncing around excitedly, possibly because of the smell of bacon, before going to Mum. I give her a kiss and hug and offer to make the tea as she finishes cooking the bacon which, I notice, is very lean and being cooked without oil. I look at Mum more carefully.

"You've lost weight too, Mum," I observe, "you're looking good."

"Thank you, Suzie dear," she replies, smiling. "Oh, PickIe, get away; I have been trying to lose a little." To my surprise, I see a faint colour to her normally pale cheeks.

"Okay, Mum, who is he? Or she possibly," I add, with a grin. She shoots me a worried look and now I really am intrigued.

"Don't be ridiculous; it's a he, obviously!" she retorts, frowning. "And I'll bet you only said 'a she' just to get me to admit there is someone; you're getting too damn intuitive, young lady." Oh, how I wish I were, I think to myself, as she pours the beaten egg she prepared earlier into a small pan and begins making the scrambled egg. I'd suggested a 'she' in part just to see her reaction; at least she hadn't said it was a disgusting idea.

"Well?" I ask impatiently.

"Toast!" she orders, nodding towards the toaster, so I drop in two slices and press the lever down before turning back to face her. "Okay, his name is Michael and he's started working at the estate agents a couple of months ago." She looks at me but can see from my expression that she hasn't said enough, not by a long way. "We've been out a few times: drinks after work twice and he took me for a meal last weekend. He's very nice."

"Well, good for you, Mum. You deserve someone in your life." I don't mention my Father who died in a road accident when I was five; in truth, I have no real memory of him, just the few photographs that Mum keeps in an envelope in the drawer of her bedside table.

"Thank you, Suzie. I was worried you might not like the idea." I give her a look as if to say 'Why would you think that?' She smiles and turns to begin dishing up. "So what about you, dear; have you met anyone? Any nice young chaps on your course?"

Now would be a good time to come clean and tell Mum that her daughter isn't interested in young chaps, nice or otherwise, but only in young ladies. A good time... except I don't want to upset Mum when she's just announced her new relationship and it isn't as if there is anyone -- of either sex. "No Mum, no one to declare here, I'm afraid," I tell her, cutting the toast and placing the pieces on the plates. Mum picks up the plates and I bring the tea as we move to sit at the kitchen table.

We tuck into the food and I thank Mum, telling her this is a nice change from Weetabix -- or the supermarket own brand equivalent since I am a student -- for breakfast, which makes her smile. "Oh, I nearly forgot, Suzie," she says, "you mentioned wanting to find work over the summer; are you still interested?"

"Mmm yes," I reply around a mouthful of toast. "It would be nice to earn some money for next year. Why, have you got a suggestion?"

"Better than that, I might have found you a job. How do you fancy working at the library?"

"What, really?" I ask in surprise. "That would be perfect but, like, how?"

"I asked when my reading group met there last week. One of the librarians runs the group so I asked her if they ever took on students over the summer. She said they did and so I picked up an application form. Apparently, the only other interest they've had so far is a lad who's about to sit his A-Levels, so as a degree student you should stand a good chance." The pride in Mum's voice as she says 'degree student' is very touching.

"Thanks, Mum; I love you," I tell her. "I'll fill in the form this morning." Oh shit: I'd better return that library book too! Just then the phone starts ringing.

"Who on earth can that be on a Sunday morning?" Mum complains, standing up quickly and hurrying to answer it. "Hello? Yes... yes she is. Who's calling?" She places her hand over the mouthpiece. "It's a woman called Tati, about 'the play', apparently?" The intrigue in her voice makes it into a question.

"Oh god!" I gasp, "She's the director of 'Much Ado about Nothing'; you remember, the audition I went to yesterday?" I had told her about it a week or so ago but hadn't mentioned it again yesterday as I was too nervous. However, Mum nods in vague recollection as I take the phone handset. "Hello, Tati?"

"Ah, Suzie, my dear, I'm sorry to disturb you on a Sunday morning but I simply had to try and catch you before you returned to university." The dramatic emphasis that I heard in Tati's voice yesterday seems to be her normal manner of speaking.

"Er, that's okay," is all I manage in reply.

"Oh good; I would hate to have disturbed you. Anyway, my dear, thank you so much for auditioning yesterday. It's so good to meet a young woman with such passion for a part..." There is something in the way her voice drops off at the end that worries me.

"But?" I prompt, feeling sure that one is coming.

"Ah yes... you are evidently a young woman who dislikes circumlocution, that's good. Well then, to come directly to the point, I must say that while I was impressed yesterday, you will understand that the part of Beatrice is so crucial to the whole play..." Here comes the rejection, I think to myself. "...that I need to be really convinced that you'd be able to carry this role. The trouble is that, as you're a newcomer, I don't really know you as an actor." Oh well, at least she's letting me down gently. "So, I wondered if you might come over to see me this afternoon so that we can try some things and I can learn more of what you can do. Would that be possible?"

"Um, well, yes, sure," manage to stammer through my surprise. "What time?"

"Would three o'clock be acceptable? I'm conscious that you're no doubt returning to university today but I expect you're staying for lunch with your parents?" She is right, of course, but I'd have skipped lunch if necessary to get this part.

"Yeah, that'd be fine, though I'll have to catch a later train back. Shall I ask Emmy, I mean Emily-Rose, if she can make it too? You know, to read in for other parts."

"Oh no, that isn't necessary; I'm sure I can fill any other parts that might be needed. As to your train, well, I can always give you a lift somewhere, if that would help," she offers.

"Um, thank you. Well, I'll see you at three o'clock then. Bye."

"Au revoir, my dear."

The line goes dead and I replace the handset. Turning, I see Mum's questioning expression. "What was that about?"

"Well, the director, Tati, on the phone... well, she really liked my audition yesterday but because she's never seen me perform she worried about giving me the lead."

"Oh, never mind, love; I'm sure there are other good parts and then next year..."

"Mum!" I interrupt, a little annoyed that she's assuming I'd failed. "She hasn't said she won't give me the part of Beatrice, she just wants to be sure I can do it. She asked me to go over and see her this afternoon so she can see me act some more scenes."

"I see; well, that's good, I suppose. Well done. So, is that the three o'clock you were talking about?"

"Yes. I can go back to Uni from there. I'm so excited, Mum! Oh, I must phone Emmy... um, no; maybe I'll wait until Tati tells me I really do have the part."

"Come and finish your breakfast, Suzie love," she smiles. "Well done, my clever daughter."


It is ten minutes to three and she'll be here soon. I take a deep breath trying to relax. I must play this carefully if I am to sip from this young bud. I recall the way Suzie and Emily-Rose held hands and looked at each other after Suzie's audition and can't help wondering if they've ever been curious enough to kiss or touch each other... Many young women experience attractions to other girls but so few act upon them. However, there is something about Suzie that suggests she has... or certainly wants to...

The doorbell snatches me from my reverie. Oh, how marvellous: she's early so she must be very keen.

"Hello, Suzie," I say warmly as I hold the door open for her to enter, "come in." She gives me a slightly nervous smile as she enters; the large, slightly lurid, pink and purple rucksack she's wearing suggests she's taken advantage of the parental laundry facilities. "You can leave your rucksack here in the hall and hang your jacket up; the sitting room is there on the right when you're ready."

"Uh, thanks," she replies as she struggles out of the rucksack.

A few minutes later she's seated on the sofa. "Can I fetch you a drink, my dear? I could make you a tea or coffee or, I know, why don't I fetch a couple of glasses of wine? So much nicer and what better to calm those nerves that I can see you're feeling. I do want to see you at your very best, Suzie." She looks unsure but obviously feels it would be impolite not to accept.

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