A Gift from The BardbyScattySue©
"Cheers!" I say, as raise my glass to tap it gently against hers."
"Er, cheers," she replies and takes a sip. I deliberately chose a wine that was not too dry on the assumption that at her age her palette might favour something a little sweeter and fruitier; the happy lift of her eyebrows suggests I was right.
"Well, Suzie, thank you so much for coming over. I can see you've obviously acted before so perhaps you are aware of the -- how shall I put it? -- of the politics that can exist in a theatre company." She nods in understanding. "Egos, my dear, such egos some have; the bane of a humble director's life, I can assure you!" She smiles at my little quip and seems to relax a little. "Of course, it is not all about the expectations of the other actors in the company: as I mentioned on the phone there is also the fact that I really do not know you. How could I for I only met you yesterday, my dear!"
"I understand, Tati and thank you so much for giving me this chance."
"I want the actors who can give the very best of performances, Suzie, and I've always felt that Beatrice is the real hero of 'Much Ado'. Oh, I know that most performances give that accolade to Benedick because of the way the ending is written."
"I know; suddenly Beatrice becomes all meek and compliant, a bit like Kate at the end of 'The Taming of the Shrew'. It's like Shakespeare was afraid of upsetting the men in the audience by suggesting that a woman could be a man's equal." There is a sudden fire and passion in Suzie and I know she could be wonderful in the role.
"Whereas we know that in fact a woman is better that a man... so much better in every way." I rest a hand on her knee and look her in the eyes. She does not flinch or look away; rather there is a look of intrigue on her pretty, young face. She has a quick mind, obviously, and has detected the possible other meaning to my words. I could, perhaps, do more right now: touch her hand or hair or face, but no; I will take this slowly and, in the words of Don Pedro in the play, bring Suzie 'into a mountain of affection' for me.
I pull back and we talk a little more about the character of Beatrice and she tells me of an essay she wrote on it. "You have an excellent grasp of the play, better than mine in some ways," I tell her, "but do remember that I am the director. You must trust me when I ask you to do things." Again there is the look, that questioning glance that wonders if my words mean more. Of course they do, you sweet, innocent thing! "Well, perhaps we can run through a few scenes?" I reach to the coffee table and pick up two copies of the play script and hand one to her, noticing the glass she puts down is already half empty. "Naturally, having to read the part is never as good as simply being able to act it, but I obviously can't expect you to know your lines already. However, it would be best if you can try to perform and not simply read the lines." She nods in relief.
"Oh, good, having the words, I mean. I can remember some of Beatrice's more notable speeches but I'm nowhere like near knowing the part."
"Indeed. So, let me see..." I flick through the script. "Hmm yes, why not. Let's try the opening of the play, act one; scene one. Now, as we'll be performing outdoors I'm thinking that we'll make the whole area part of the garden of Leonato's house and that the actors will move through the audience at times so, for this first scene, you might be in the middle of the audience. Right, let's see what the audience would first hear from Beatrice. So... messenger arrives... Don Pedro is coming, blah blah... Ah, Leonato," I put on a gruff, old voice as I read, "A kind overflow of kindness: there are no faces truer than those that are so washed. How much better is it to weep at joy than to joy at weeping!" It takes a moment for Suzie to find the place in her copy of the script and then replies in an off-hand way, half turning as if paying attention to the messenger for the first time.
"I pray you, is Signior Mountanto returned from the wars or no?"
I read the reply of the messenger, "I know none of that name, lady: there was none such in the army of any sort." Changing back to the gruff voice I continue as Leonato, "What is he that you ask for, niece?" and then in my own voice as Hero and, in a slightly deeper tone, the messenger, "O, he's returned; and as pleasant as ever he was." I can't help showing off a little; after all, I am not without acting craft myself and I want her to know that.
"He set up his bills here in Messina and challenged Cupid at the flight; and my uncle's fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid, and challenged him at the bird-bolt!" I raise my hand to stop her and a worried look crosses her pretty face
"A little too intense and excited, Suzie. Remember you need to keep something in reserve. Your opening line was better: off-hand and careless. Remember that Benedick will call you 'Lady Distain' during your first meeting." She nods.
"Okay, can I try again?" I nod in assent and she returns to her half-turned stance. "He set up his bills here in Messina and challenged Cupid at the flight," her voice now has the fond, though weary indulgence of one relaying the antics of a ridiculous friend or relative, "and my uncle's fool, reading the challenge, subscribed for Cupid, and challenged him at the bird-bolt." She turns to face me now and becomes a little more earnest "I pray you, how many hath he killed and eaten in these wars? But how many hath he killed? for indeed I promised to eat all of his killing."
"Faith, niece, you tax Signior Benedick too much; but he'll be meet with you, I doubt it not," reply as Leonato and then as the Messenger, "He hath done good service, lady, in these wars."
"You had musty victual, and he hath holp to eat it: he is a very valiant trencherman; he hath an excellent stomach."
We continue to read on and now she has the feel for it she does very well. I become the Messenger once more to say, "He is most in the company of the right noble Claudio." Her hands fly up to her mouth in mock-horror.
"O Lord, he will hang upon him like a disease!" Suzie takes my hand, a look of sympathy on her face. "He is sooner caught than the pestilence, and the taker runs presently mad. God help the noble Claudio if he have caught the Benedick, it will cost him a thousand pound ere he be cured!"
"Hmm, whose hand are you holding?" I ask, rather enjoying the feeling of my hand in hers.
"Hero's, of course, as I sympathise with her beloved Claudio's plight."
"Very good. Now... I'm tempted to do the first meeting between Beatrice and Benedick but I don't want to pre-rehearse you for that, I'd rather see what happens... hmm..." I flick through the script, pretending to search but knowing exactly where I'm going. "Ah yes. I've seen you do fire and distain and sympathy; let's see if you can do love. Act four, scene one, the... bottom of the sixth page, after Claudio rejects Hero and where Benedick come across Beatrice crying." She finds the page and I see her quickly scan the text and the next couple of pages.
"I don't think I can manage tears right now," she says apologetically.
"Not to worry; they'll be so much easier when you're properly in the part. Okay?" I ask and she nods, her expression suitably downcast if dry-eyed. "Lady Beatrice, have you wept all this while?"
"Yea, and I will weep a while longer," she replies in a sad, tired voice.
"I will not desire that," I answer, reaching out to touch her arm in compassion.
"You have no reason. I do it freely." Her voice is well judged: flat but with the merest hint of the bantering of Beatrice's usual nature.
"Surely I do believe your fair cousin is wronged." She looks up, staring intently into my eyes. I know these lines and quietly drop the script onto the armchair behind me, holding her gaze.
"Ah, how much might the man deserve of me that would right her!" she replies.
"Is there any way to show such friendship?" I ask, taking her hands. I can see she is surprisingly focussed and in the part and seems not to need the script.
"A very even way, but no such friend," she answers sadly.
"May a man do it?" She shakes her head gently.
"It is a man's office... but not yours," she tells me. I pause as if Benedick is weighing up his reply. I too find myself being drawn into the part.
"I do love nothing in the world so well as you. Is not that strange?" I ask and feel a frisson of excitement. She may be acting but professing my love to this cute girl is certainly arousing.
"As strange as the thing I know not. It were as possible for me to say I loved nothing so well as you, but believe me not, and yet I lie not, I confess nothing, nor I deny nothing. I am sorry for my cousin." Her voice and expression convey wonder and confusion at the emotions inside her.
"By my sword, Beatrice, thou lovest me!" I exclaim.
"Do not swear, and eat it."
"I will swear by it that you love me, and I will make him eat it that says I love not you." I take a small step closer so our faces are now just a foot or so apart.
"Will you not eat your word?" she asks, nervously.
"With no sauce that can be devised to it. I protest I love thee."
"Why then, God forgive me."
"What offense, sweet Beatrice?" I ask.
"You have stayed me in a happy hour. I was about to protest I loved you," she tells me and my libido gets another jolt.
"And do it with all thy heart," I tell her, bringing my face close to hers.
"I love you with so much of my heart that none is left to protest," she replies and I cannot resist as I bring my lips to hers. She is surprised, I can see it in her eyes; even so, though she makes no active response she does not pull away, not immediately. Her lips feel very nice indeed and I press mine to hers a little more firmly. Though I'm tempted to go further, I force myself to end the embrace.
"Come, bid me do anything for thee," I tell her and she looks, by turns, surprised, confused and uncertain as she suddenly realises I am waiting for her next line.
"Oh, er..." she composes herself and her expression and voice harden. "Kill Claudio."
"Ha! Not for the wide world," I reply as if shocked by her request. Abruptly she pulls her hands away and turns sharply.
"You kill me to deny it," she says angrily. "Farewell." As she turns the script slips from her hand to fall to the floor. "Oh, shit, sorry." She bends hastily, giving me a delightful view of her bum snugly encased in the denim of her jeans.
"Don't worry," I reassure her, "we might as well end there for now since the love scene is over." She bites her lip.
"I er, I think they probably would kiss then, don't you?" she blurts out nervously.
"Oh, absolutely," I agree. I take a small step and reach up to brush her cheek lightly with my fingertips. "Thank you, Suzie; that was beautiful."
"Um, thank you, Tati," she replies uncertainly. There is a flush in her cheeks that could be excitement or perhaps embarrassment so I decide not to try anything more. However, it wouldn't surprise me if I'm not the first woman she's kissed. I step back and sit, in the armchair this time, and gesture for her to sit too.
"The end of the play is the real challenge when playing Beatrice, I've always thought," I tell her. "To find a way of showing her falling in love, to have her submitting in her love to Benedick, without suggesting she's becoming simply the little woman." I watch to see how she reacts to the word 'submitting'.
"Well, I think what she really wants is a partnership of equals but I don't know if that's what she gets. When she tells Benedick at the end that she's only marry him after much persuasion and because she thinks he'll die otherwise, I think she's trying to keep him off-balance so he won't become the masterful husband."
"I can see you'd be interesting to work with," I tell her. She looks a little disappointed that my words imply that the part of Beatrice may yet elude her. Well, no point in letting her become over confident, is there?
"I'd best get going, Tati," she says at last.
"May I give you a lift? To the railway station perhaps?"
"Um, no, it's okay; it's not too far and it's quite a nice afternoon."
"Very well." She stands and I follow as she walks back to the hallway where she dons her jacket and hoist her backpack, harnessing herself into it. "You did very well, yesterday and especially this afternoon." Two of my fingers brush my lips in what I hope appears an unconscious recollection of her kiss. Whatever she thinks, her eyes widen as she notices. "I'll be sending out the cast list in the next day or so by mail or email," I promise.
"Um, okay... bye then Tati."
"Goodbye, Suzie," I reply as I lean in and air kiss her, though our cheeks brush as I do so. "Thank you again." I reach past her to open the door and she departs, radiating uncertainty. At the end of the path, as she step onto the pavement, she looks back and I give her a warm smile and a wave and, just as she starts to turn away, a wink.
I shut the door. Oh Suzie is very cute and there is a real temptation to slip upstairs and have a little fun with myself; my cunny would love that... no, time for that later. Now duty calls and I must cast this play.
I watch the door close. Did Tati really just wink at me? That was one very strange experience. Why did she want to see me? She said I did well but then she didn't tell me I'd got the part, so maybe I'm not good enough after all. And that kiss... Was she just caught up in playing Benedick? And I let her...
I force myself into motion, walking down Greenvale Drive towards the High Street and the station. I was only an hour with Tati so I could go home but Mum would have lots of questions and I don't feel up to dealing with that.
That kiss... Maybe she was just testing me, seeing how I reacted. I mean I'll have to kiss whoever is playing Benedick... er, yes, I'm going to have to kiss a bloke and look like I'm enjoying it. Perhaps she thought if I could kiss her then I'd cope with kissing anyone. Hmm... While it's an explanation but I'm not sure it's true, or at least not the whole truth; could it be that Tati likes to flirt with girls, maybe more?
I try to process that as I walk. The director, a woman at least as old as Mum, might sort of fancy me; how does that make me feel? She's attractive enough for a woman in, I suppose, her early forties, with a poise and elegance I don't expect I'll ever have. With her high cheekbones, deep blue eyes and pale hair she might be how Emmy will look in a couple of decades. I try to stamp on that thought: after what happened year and a half ago with Emmy, I really don't want anything that makes me think of her, even obliquely, in a sexual way.
I shrug my shoulders to settle the rucksack a little more comfortably. Inevitably my thoughts turn to the mysterious Kris, the 'Mother Christmas' of my lesbian sexual awakening. I've never been able to place her age, partly because I was in a dimly lit room with her and partly because she had an ageless quality to her. Anywhere between mid-twenties and late forties, I suppose, although to be honest, it's all just guesswork. Whatever it was, I can't really claim that the thought of sex with an older woman is much of an issue. Romance, on the other hand... I have to admit that a forty-something woman doesn't fit easily into the idea of a girlfriend and it's certainly not what I'd imagined.
The uncomfortable thought looms: would I have sex with her to get the part of Beatrice, or to keep it, or simply out of gratitude? I'd like to believe I never would but is that true? I'm not sure I'm quite that principled, that maybe my morality is a little... dislocated. Okay, maybe not dislocated but certainly sprained. Or maybe I'm overthinking all this and the kiss meant, I don't know, not nothing but... something that just happened. God, I wish she'd told me whether I'd got the part.
It's depressing not to have heard from Tati yesterday. I guess I really didn't perform as well as I thought I did, not even with that damn kiss. Of course, she did say 'in the next day or so' and that could mean today, tomorrow even.
Hopefully I'll be given at least a minor role. I ought to check my email again, I guess, since Tati seemed so insistent on it. I don't really use email as there's almost nobody I want to write too. There's Emmy, of course, but for the letters we send each other we both choose to hand-write in the privacy of our rooms, rather than to type on the computers in the libraries or study centres of our respective university and art college where anyone can walk past and see what we're writing.
I find an unused terminal and type in my name and, on the third attempt, manage to get my password right. I call up the email programme and there are two emails (a new record, I think) one from the course director listing exam times and dates, which seems a bit pointless as we were given paper copies last Friday, and one from Tati that I open nervously.
Thank you so much for coming to the audition on Saturday and also on Sunday; it is always delightful to meet an aspiring, new actor and to be able to find a place for them in one of our productions, however large or small.
My heart sinks as I read this, but I keep reading.
I was impressed by the way you performed your audition piece and to declare that you'd like to play the lead female role -- well, you certainly don't seem to lack confidence! As I mentioned on Sunday, you must be aware of the politics of any small group and the expectations of long-standing members...
Here it comes, here comes the rejection.
...so I hope you'll appreciate the chance I'm taking in offering you the part of Beatrice.
Despite being sat in public I can't help the loud squeal of delight. I blush as heads and eyes turn towards me and I mouth "Sorry," as I shrink down in my seat to finish reading.
I do believe that you have the character and spirit, the commitment and skill to make the character of Beatrice live.
I am very much looking forward to working closely with you on this production, both in the main rehearsals and, if you're willing, some individual sessions where we can come together to develop your performance.
I understand from Emily-Rose that you're at the University of Bristol for the next three or four weeks and I appreciate that you can't just pop back for an evening. Therefore, I've decided that for the first two weekends, starting this weekend, rehearsals will be on the Saturday afternoons and begin with two complete reads through. Thereafter, the rehearsals will return to the company's traditional Sunday afternoons and Tuesday evenings.
I suppose I should ask you to confirm that you still want the part; I do so hope you do. However, assuming that you do, I really must ask you confirm that you are able to make the rehearsals as there is much to do if we are to be ready for the opening night in -- oh my word! -- nine weeks' time. If transport is an issue then I'm sure I can do something to help.
Congratulations again and I look forward to seeing you on Saturday.
Oh, that will be a bit difficult: my first exam is a week today, with another three exams during that week and two more the week after, so being back home again for the next two weekends isn't ideal. However, if I want this part... I didn't think this through, did I? The problem is that, now I've been offered it, I really, really, really want to do it and I don't think I can let it go, even without the added pressure of what Emmy wants. I guess this is what they call making sacrifices for one's art. In my case the sacrifices will be sleep and what limited social life I have for the next few weeks!