Tragedy Averted


“Is this a dagger which I see before me?”

“Of course it’s a bloody dagger.  What do you think it is?  A cheese grater?”  The audience howls and I grit my teeth.  Talk about pearls before swine!

“Come, let me clutch thee.”

“Clutch yourself, mate!”  It’s no good.  Nell, my mother’s King Charles spaniel, would appreciate my dramatic flow more than this unruly bunch.  Their English teacher only looks about eighteen herself and obviously has no control over them.  Her colleagues have all disappeared.  Feet up in the staffroom, probably.  How have I come to this?  I, Archie Melville, who has trodden the boards of the Old Vic, reduced to performing in a school canteen.

“Thy very stones prate of my whereabout, and take the present horror from the time.”

“Glad you’re keeping an eye on the time, Sir!”  Already their snotty noses are starting to twitch at the aroma of whatever spicy dish is being prepared behind the metal shutters.

“The bell invites me …”

“I wish it would!  Isn’t it twelve o’clock yet?”

“Look at your watch, you idle …”

“Can’t see it in the dark.  Miss, can’t we have the lights on?”

Can I sink any further?  Well, yes.  At least my contract guarantees a solid roof over my head and a meal allowance.  Some touring companies I’ve heard of are housed in tents and have to pay for their own food.

Pull yourself together, man!  Where’s your wartime spirit?  Those were the days, when all kinds of famous entertainers visited troops on the front lines and performed in the open air, sometimes even with bombs dropping around them.  Still in my teens and living in fear of losing the badge from my new RAF cap, I admired them immensely and swore to go to drama school as soon as I was demobbed.  Like quite a few other ex-servicemen, I was lucky enough to get a grant and a place at RADA.

“The devil damn thee black, thou cream-faced loon!”

“Hey, Miss, that’s racist.  He was looking straight at me when he said that.”

“Don’t be so stupid, Wain.  He’d need binoculars to see you back there.” I’m supposed to do the stage whispers. Not that spotty adolescent on the front row.

“Why should I play the Roman fool and die on mine own sword?”

“Oh, please die.  Please.  We’re all starving here.”

Well, it’s over, thank God, and they’re all lining up with their plastic trays.  I’m going to need a compass to find my way back to that cubby hole they gave me to change in.  Then I’ll probably go back to the B&B and cut my own throat.  Or track down my agent and cut his.  What’s this, though?  Surely not a fan?

“Excuse me, Sir.  I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind giving me your autograph?  I thought you were brilliant.  I’d love to be an actor like you when I leave school.”

The spotty adolescent from the front row is holding out a page ripped from an exercise book and a much chewed ballpoint pen.  A single pearl amongst the swine and the morning suddenly seems worthwhile.  I hope I’m not preening too obviously.


This story was inspired by an anecdote told to me by an actor at a very low ebb in his career.