by Lynn Clement
a hearty ale
‘Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo? - Aw Sir, he’s making faces at me again,’ said Jimmy Carpenter, snatching off his blonde wig.
Sir yanked Richie Mayhugh by his collar and dragged him to the corner of the room.
‘Look, Mayhugh,’ he whispered in the boy’s ear. ‘I am giving you one last chance. The Governor and his lady wife are coming to the play next week. He expects you stupid lot to put on a performance to show that you are reformed. I, on the other hand, know that you are all irredeemable little bastards. So, get your f***ing finger out and stop jerking around.’ And I will get a promotion out of this if I pull it off, he thought. With that he pinched Richie on his nipple.
Richie’s eyes watered. It was right on the bruise from last week’s, nipple cripple, as the lads called them.
The rest of the rehearsal went well. All the boys from Section D of Chelsea Hall Young Offenders Institute complied.
‘Hey, soz Richie,’ said Jimmy in the dressing room.
‘No bother squirt,’ said Richie, cuffing the back of the younger boy’s head. ‘It’s all in the game.’
Jimmy watched as Richie took off Romeo’s green doublet, revealing his toned torso. He’d watched Richie in the gym on numerous occasions, pounding the running machine and pulling hard on the rowing handles. Wet patches forming on the front of his white T-shirt, beads of sweat on his top lip. Jimmy felt something stirring underneath his dress and decided to wait a while before taking it off.
‘Coming for a drink?’ asked Richie. ‘A few of us are having a meeting.’
Jimmy looked behind himself, but no one else was there. ‘Oh, yeah – cheers.’ He turned his back to Richie and removed the dress, quickly pulling his joggers over the bulge straining in his pants.
The meeting went well. It was all agreed. Lots of laughter. Someone had sneaked in vodka and they all got smashed.
The week’s final rehearsals went well. No more face pulling from Richie. Sir said he was impressed with Jimmy. That he was a lot softer in his voice; more desperate. He portrayed a longing that was exactly right for Juliet. He said the Governor’s wife would be incredibly pleased with his acting. Jimmy knew, it wasn’t an act.
The hall was packed for the show. The boys’ families were allocated special tickets. The Governor and his wife had pride of place in the front row.
Sir was nervous. He stank. The armpits of his shirt were wet. Jimmy’s nose wrinkled as he watched Sir test the daggers to make sure they retracted.
Sir stayed in the wings, holding his breath. The Governor’s wife had her hand to her mouth, but the fight scene went well.
On the balcony, Jimmy said, ‘Parting is such sweet sorrow,’ with a tear in his eye.
During the interval, Sir had a glass of wine with the Governor.
‘It’s delightful,’ said the Governor’s wife.
The Governor slapped Sir’s back.
Sir smirked. Jimmy was doing well - stealing the show - but he was really surprised at how well Mayhugh was doing as Romeo. Almost as if he were in love with Juliet.
After the interval, Sir sat at the back of the hall. He wanted to watch the final scenes head on.
In Act IV, when the nurse finds Juliet ‘dead’, the Governor’s wife got her handkerchief out and dabbed at her eyes. The Governor patted her hand.
Romeo is magnificent in grief, thought Sir. Mayhugh had even hunched himself over to look anguished. His voice full of tender emotion. The audience were enthralled. Sir knew he’d pulled it off. A promotion was on the way and he would be gone from this place and these idiot boys.
There was a gulp from the crowd when Romeo took his poison and fell beside Juliet in death.
Most people knew that Juliet would stir in Act V Scene III and find her lover dead beside her. But she didn’t.
Sir was twitchy. Where’s the prompt? he thought. The audience shuffled in their seats.
The Governor’s head swiveled round to where Sir was now standing.
The actors sat down on the stage, huge grins on their faces.
Sir strode towards the stage, as Jimmy took off the hat that matched the doublet he’d donned, when he had taken Richie’s place as Romeo, after Juliet’s ‘death’. Another boy held ‘Juliet’ up by the throat. The mop-head, covered in a blonde wig, to double for Juliet’s, fell off, and the audience gasped.
The boys from Section D of Chelsea Hall Young Offenders Institute, burst out laughing.
Richie was already some distance away from Chelsea Hall. The motor bike his brother had left outside on joining the audience was roaring north. Before long he’d be hundreds of miles from Sir.
Richie felt a pang as he thought about Jimmy and their snatched kisses off stage. But he smirked as he pictured the look on Sir’s face.
He pulled the handlebars back and did a wheely down the A1, heading towards Scotland.
About the author
Lynn is a member of Basingstoke group, Writers inc.
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