Six months ago Luke had been railroaded by his wife into joining Craven Amateur Dramatics, and here he was – on stage on opening night of their latest production. Valerie had been a member of the group for eight years, and the lack of male members has been a low-level grumble since. “Why do you think it is that men won’t join?” she would muse aloud, but her hints had become more overt until she demanded he join the group “to be supportive”.
He had gone to the auditions expecting he would be cast as an extra, or a bit part – maybe something with just a couple of lines. The director had tried to flatter him by talking about the “physicality” of his audition and the “impressive range” he had demonstrated, but Luke knew it was the lack of male actors that led to him landing a main role. He had tried to talk his way out of it, but the Director had said “this is one of the iconic roles for the stage – I’m sure you will shine.”
Luke was slow to warm to his role, but Valerie helped him learn his lines – night after night they went through them together. At first he struggled to get to grips with memorising them, but slowly he grew beyond reciting them mechanically, and drama and comedy began to enter his voice at the right moment. He started to enjoy the twice weekly rehearsals, was excited at his costume fitting and was positively buzzing when the cast photo, with himself centre stage, was printed in the Craven Chronicle.
By the time opening night came round he felt that not only would he get through the performance, but that he might even enjoy it. He bound on to the stage, smiling at the cast, looking nervously out to the audience. He wondered where his kids were, and all that he could see were the reflections of the stage lights in the scattered glasses of audience members.
Opening his mouth his lines vanished from his memory. He reached for the right thing to say, but was frozen to the spot. He started to sweat under the stage lights, but daren’t wipe his brow, as it was heavily caked in make-up. He could see the prompt in the wings, her lips moving, but couldn’t hear what she was saying for the buzz in his ear. The actor in front of him was trying to gesture wildly with her eyes, but Luke just couldn’t recall the script.
And then he was hit with inspiration. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
One person in the audience burst out laughing. Luke thought he should carry on. “Thou are more lovely and more temperate.”
There was total silence. And as he looked at the pantomime cow in front of him, Luke realised that agreeing to play the Dame had been a big mistake.