by Phyllis Burton
The Buntonian Theatre nestled almost apologetically, in the centre of the town of Sanderwood. Most of the town’s larger buildings were built after the war, but the Buntonian first opened its doors in the year 1899, and looked slightly at odds with the more modern buildings surrounding it. Nevertheless, the town’s inhabitants loved their theatre, and looked forward to all the productions which were held there. Every month, the local repertory company performed plays, ranging from Shakespeare, to Victorian melodramas, and the most up-to-date plays written by young writers.
It was two weeks before Christmas on a bright Tuesday afternoon. The theatre’s staff, the producer and the back-stage crew were busy making sure that everything was ready for the final rehearsal for their production of Cinderella. The actors were gradually entering the auditorium, chattering away and trying to ignore all the hustle and bustle of the final technical rehearsal.
The intercom system from back-stage, blared out noisily…
“WOULD ALL PERFORMERS PLEASE GO UPSTAIRS AND CHECK THAT THEIR COSTUMES ARE WHERE THEY SHOULD BE, AND ANY PROPS THEY REQUIRE ARE IN THEIR RIGHT PLACE IN THE GREEN ROOM.”
As soon as the intercom message had finished, Lady Priscilla Prendergast’s haughty aristocratic voice boomed out over the heads of the assembled cast
‘I want everyone involved in the opening sequence up on stage now, please, as I have a few things that I want to say to you, so check on your costumes and props afterwards.’
But nobody moved. They were far too busy talking to listen to her.
‘Will you please listen to me?’ she said, desperately fiddling with the microphone. ‘I said that I wanted everyone up on stage for the opening,’ she repeated stamping her feet in temper. ‘We’ll never get through this rehearsal if you all insist on talking all the time.’
Most of the stage lights were on, and the lighting in the auditorium was dim. Lady Priscilla couldn’t see anything clearly. Her hazel eyes flashed, and she put her hand up to her forehead to shield them from the unforgiving lights. She was tall, slim and her long blond-to-grey straight hair, swung around her head wildly as her anger increased. ‘I won’t tell you again. You have to remember that this is your final rehearsal, and if your pathetic efforts last night were anything to go by, you all certainly need it. You won’t get another chance.’ There was no response to her pleas. ‘All I can say is, that the dress rehearsal last night was dreadful. Several of you forgot your lines, and as far as some of your make-up is concerned, you looked like a lot of pasty faced, idiots.’ She peered out into the gloom. ‘Is the Dame here yet?’
‘Yes,’ a squeaky voice replied.
‘Well, your wig is totally wrong, so would you please contact the Wardrobe Mistress, when you have a moment?’
The assembled cast looked chastened, but continued to chatter.
‘You have a paying audience tonight, so if you care about what people think, and I hope that you do, then please come up on the stage now.’ The cast gradually began to move, and Lady Pricilla’s imperious gaze alighted on one of the few people in the whole theatre, who was not in awe of her.
Jack Smithers’ eyes twinkled as he returned her gaze. ‘She’s going about it all wrong,’ he whispered to himself as he walked slowly up the old wooden steps and on to the stage. ‘Lady Prendergast?’ he said eyeing her up and down.
She looked at him with distain, and irritation. ‘Yes, my man? When I said that I wanted everyone on stage, I didn’t mean you. What do you want, can’t you see that I’m busy. I’m trying to start this important rehearsal. You should have sorted out any problems you may have had during the Technical Rehearsal, and NOT now.’
‘I’m not your man and unlikely to be so, and in my ‘umble opinion, you won’t get any of this lot to do anything if you shout at ‘em all the time: ask ‘em gentle like,’ he said as he ambled towards the back of the stage. His old shoes squeaked and squelched as he reached the ladder which was propped up against a bank of stage lights. ‘These ‘ere lights need some urgent attention before yer re’earsal starts.’
Even as he uttered these words, one of the lights flickered a few times, before going out. Jack’s clothes had all seen better days, and some would even say that they needed a good wash too. His jacket had elbow patches made from different materials, and the baggy lining hung down at the back. Jack had been “Sparks” at the theatre for 40 long years and had seen many Producer/Directors come and go. He shook his head, because he considered her Ladyship to be one of the worst.
‘Well make sure that you do whatever you have to do, quickly’ she said. ‘I can’t wait any longer, or this production will not be ready for the first performance this evening.’
Jack coughed and spluttered as he climbed up the ladder. ‘Alright, alright, I’m doing me best,’ he said. It seemed that every time he climbed up now, it became more and more difficult. His chest felt tight and he stood on the top rung for a while to get his breath back.
By this time, Lady Prendergast’s temper was turning into a rage. ‘Smithers, I say, Smithers’ she began to shout. ‘Please hurry up and move this ladder, as the cast are coming on the stage. We can’t possibly have you cluttering everything up.’
‘Don’t you get all ‘igh and mighty with me,’ he wheezed, as he looked down at her. ‘I just won’t stand for it, do you ‘ere, and if I don’t do these ‘ere lights, there won’t be no performance tonight.’
‘Well do hurry up then,’ she retorted. ‘What is this world coming to? I’ve never had so much trouble with the lights before. It’s just not good enough.’
‘I’m going as fast as I can,’ Jack replied.
‘Well it’s not fast enough. In fact I’m not at all satisfied with your work, Smithers. You are too slow and too old for this job. I’ll be speaking to the management about you.’
Lady Priscilla Prendergast was wearing a twin-set with pearls and a tweed skirt. Jack Smithers stared at her and felt an almost overwhelming urge to tighten the beautiful necklace around her neck until she squealed. He clenched his gnarled old hands tightly. He wasn’t a violent man, but he’d had enough. ‘If I don’t leave now,’ he told himself, ‘I won’t be responsible for me actions.’ Jack climbed slowly back down the ladder, walked over to his tool box, and closed it with the finality of a pistol shot. The noise echoed around the theatre.
He smiled at her.
‘Well, that’s it, yer Ladyship. If I’m not good enough, or I’m too old for yer, just see ‘ow you get on without me. Bye,’ he said giving her a wave as he walked down the steps and limped slowly towards the door.
Lady Priscilla looked as if she was about to explode, and then panic began to set in. ‘But you can’t leave now,’ she shouted ‘What will we do. I… I…?’ For the first time in her life, she was lost for words.
Jack Smithers doffed his cap, picked up his tool-box, and sauntered out of the hall. He felt triumphant. For once in her sheltered and privileged life, someone had stood up to Lady Priscilla Prendergast and had won!
He smiled. He’d had enough. Peace and retirement beckoned to him as he walked out into the brilliant sunshine.
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