Acting Up by Beverley Byrne

‘Stop. Cut.’ 

‘What is it now, Madame Director?’ Dermot sighed, removing his lips from Cheryl’s and facing his wife. 

‘You can’t smirk in this scene,’ Lisa snapped 

‘I’m not. Am I Cheryl?’ The boyish grin Dermot bestowed upon his leading lady irritated Lisa further. 

‘It's a drama, not a comedy,’ she said, thrusting the script at her husband. The directions state, “Serge looks deep into Ivanka’s eyes and they kiss, passionately.” Not “Serge and Ivanka have a right giggle.”’ 

‘But Lisa,’ pouted Cheryl. ‘Dermot keeps crossing his eyes when he’s coming in for the snog.’ 

‘Snitch’, Dermot smiled, pushing back his chair. ‘Look, this rehearsal’s been going on longer than The Mousetrap. Shall we pop to the pub for a sharpener?’ 

‘Need I remind you, we’re opening in four weeks,’ Lisa glowered. ‘And you don’t even know your lines.’ 

Dermot’s jovial grin dissolved. ‘Well, since you enjoy shouting at me so much you can yell them from the wings. Come on Cheryl, let’s leave my wife to her delusions of theatrical grandeur.’ 

Dermot opened the door for Cheryl who drifted through leaving a lingering scent of Opium. 

‘You may think you’re Hugh Grant, but you’ve never taken acting seriously,’ Lisa called after him, although she had no idea why. It was his accomplished performance in the Playtime Players version of Love Actually which attracted her in the first place. 

Dermot turned, his matinee idol features set like concrete, ‘That’s because I sell insurance. And you’re a dental hygienist. Not Sophia blimming Coppola.’ The door slammed. 

As a child, Lisa pored over dog eared scrapbooks featuring Mother on stage. Mostly snipped from the local newspaper, there were several from a brief run of Run For Your Wife at the Edinburgh Festival. Mother expected Lisa to follow in her footsteps as The Playtime Players’ leading light. That dream ended when first night nerves during her debut as Amanda in ‘Private Lives’ caused her to throw up at the feet of her fiancĂ© and leading man, Dermot. Before rushing ashamed into the wings, she saw Mother rise from her front row seat and sweep from the hall trailing the fox fur coat. Lisa never acted again. 

Until Mother joined the celestial drama company in the sky, she had been, as one obituary put it, ‘the Playtime Players’ Prima Donna.’ They got that right, thought Lisa. Directing gave her the opportunity to honour Mother’s last wish to, ‘Make the Playtime Players proud darling - like I did.’ Yet since Cheryl joined the company, Dermot did not seem to be taking her directions seriously. The play, written by their generous sponsor’s Russian wife, featured an undercover spy impersonating a retired footballer seducing a Soviet femme fatale. Dermot said the play was drivel and the dialogue was ‘like Goldfinger reciting a Ladybird book.’ 

‘Try thinking yourself into Serge’s shoes,’ Lisa suggested. 

‘Gold Start Rites?’ 

‘Dermot. If you don’t make an effort, we’ll lose the sponsorship.’ 

‘Surely there’s someone other than Yeobridge Football Club’s flashy owner?’ ‘We’ve tried. There isn’t. Do it for the sake of the company?’ Lisa wheedled. 

The faraway look in Dermot’s eye suggested it might be Cheryl, not the Playtime Players he was thinking of. 

Alone in their sitting room, Lisa glanced at the photograph of Mother playing Madame Arcati in her twilight years. ‘What would you do Mum?’ she asked the imperious portrait. ‘How do I keep Dermot and the Playtime Players?’ A childhood memory surfaced like a submarine trailing in its wake Mother’s favourite admonishment. Delivered in her Maggie Smith plays Mary Poppins voice, Lisa heard, ‘Stop acting up Lisa and start acting smart.” 

Dress rehearsal day and the atmosphere backstage was fraught. Lisa was unhappy with the wobbling scenery and the sound of props dragged across the stage made her want to scream. Passing the dressing room, she heard Dermot warming up, gargling combined with ‘MeMeMeMeMe’s’ in his fruity baritone. Of Cheryl, there was no sign. 

The wardrobe mistress, Amy from Grime Busters Launderette, cornered Lisa in the wings. ‘Slightly concerned. At the last rehearsal Cheryl had trouble fitting into her costumes. Her tummy’s gone a teensy bit beach bally.’ 

‘Tell her to cut the carbs and breathe in when you zip her up.’ Lisa instructed, summoning Mother’s ‘show must go on’ gaiety. The Community Hall door banged open. A whey faced Cheryl stepped inside. 

Lisa tapped her watch. ‘About time. It’s not as if we can start without you. You’re in every scene.’ ‘I’m sorry,’ said Cheryl in a feeble voice. ‘I’ve come to tell you; I can’t go on.’ Heavy footsteps on stage. Dermot’s voice boomed down the hall. 

‘Come on Cher, this wig’s making my head boil.’ 

Two fat tears rolled down Cheryl’s powdered cheek. 

‘I’m pregnant,’ she confessed, stroking her newly visible bump. ‘Me and Roy have been trying for ages. I didn’t say anything because it would be like tempting fate. But I’ve been told I must rest at all costs. I’m so sorry.’ 

Leading Cheryl to a chair, Lisa patted her hand saying, ‘It’s ok,’ knowing it wasn’t. 

Cancellation was unthinkable. Apart from the cost, the sponsor was laying on a lavish first night press party at the football club. Then Lisa, remembering Mother’s stoic run playing Evita - even after a review described her performance as ‘So wooden, it was a fire risk,’ knew what must be done. 

……………………….. 

‘Playtime Players Play On,’ trumpeted local newspaper headlines. ‘Director saves the day.’ 

Next morning in bed, Dermot read the review out loud. ‘Tolstoy it wasn’t. But the cast acquitted themselves magnificently, particularly the director standing in for the suddenly indisposed leading lady.’ 

‘Well done darling,’ he said. ‘You were so nervous, I thought you’d throw up on my shoes again.’ 

‘I nearly did after kissing you,’ she laughed. 

‘Thanks a lot,’ he replied, mock indignant. Drawing her to him, Dermot said, ‘I think we should rehearse it again.” 

His warm lips on hers. No acting necessary. 

Published in Issue #19


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