reserved by Albert Clack
Sir Roger Nutley stood in front
of the full-length mirror in the Number One dressing-room of
the Theatre Royal, North London, reflecting on how wonderful
it felt to be working again. Even though he had not been convicted,
his trial two years earlier for alleged rape and sexual assault
had resulted in ostracism and unemployment. The tabloid newspapers
had made his life hell because of something that was alleged
to have happened almost half-a-century ago.
Meticulously he checked his
costume, as he always did. To be honest, there was not much that
could go wrong with this particular outfit; but he was an old-school
professional, and he knew that attention to detail before stepping
out in front of the public was important.
While he was examining himself
in the mirror, the backstage tannoy high on the dressing-room
wall spoke in the crisp, well-articulated Yorkshire tones of
Fiona Holland, the visiting touring company's Stage Manager:
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your fifteen-minute call."
Sir Roger locked his dressing-room
door, sat down opposite the mirror, took out a blue-and-white
j-cloth from his make-up bag, and carefully wiped a small area
of the surface in front of him. Then he returned the cloth to
the bag and took out a clean, white handkerchief, a playing card,
a cardboard packet of plastic drinking straws, and a small plastic
He removed a straw from the
box, unsealed the top edge of the baggy and poured a small quantity
of fine, white powder on to the cleaned area. Using the playing-card,
he deftly rearranged the powder into two neat little lines.
Holding his right nostril closed
with his index-finger, he picked up the straw, leaned forward
and inserted one end into his left nostril. Then he lowered the
other end to one of the lines, sniffed and slid the straw along,
snorting until the whole line was up his nose. He repeated the
operation with his right nostril.
Within seconds, a rush of energy
swept through his brain. He felt completely energised, as if
he could sprint a mile while singing at the top of his voice.
Along with the euphoria came a sense of incredible mental clarity.
He packed away his cocaine paraphernalia, leaned back, and relaxed.
"Ladies and gentlemen,
this is your beginners' call. Sir Roger Nutley, Mr Dean and Ms
Comerford to the stage please." Jason Dean was playing the
much younger lead role of Hamlet, Sir Roger was Polonius, and
Claire Comerford was Queen Gertrude.
Sir Roger walked along the
corridor and opened the door marked Stage Left. He was always
early; another old-hand practice. Claire Comerford came into
the darkened wing a moment later and whispered to him: "Here
we go for another flaming row with my bloody son, then."
"You should have brought him up better," Sir Roger
whispered back with a playful grin.
There was an enthusiastic hubbub
from the auditorium as the audience settled into their seats
for the second half. The passionate cadences of Rachmaninov's
Prelude No 2 in B Flat Major were warming the public up over
the theatre's sound system for the continuation of Shakespeare's
"They're a good lot this
afternoon," whispered Claire. "I always like matinee
audiences," said Sir Roger. "They know how to enjoy
themselves." The music ended, the house lights were extinguished,
the stage was flooded with light, and the curtains parted.
Just a few seconds before striding
purposefully on to the stage, Claire totally took on her character
of Queen Gertrude. She was followed immediately by Sir Roger
as the courtier Polonius, delivering the opening lines with compelling
"He will come straight.
Look you lay home to him." To which Gertrude, hearing Hamlet
approaching, replied, "I'll warrant you, fear me not. Withdraw,
I hear him coming." Polonius walked upstage and slipped
behind a heavy curtain to eavesdrop unseen on the conversation
between the Queen and her son, Prince Hamlet.
Jason stepped on from the opposite
wing, asking: "Now mother, what's the matter?" The
argument between Hamlet and Gertrude swiftly escalated to the
point where Gertrude protested: "Thou wilt not murder me?
Help, ho!" This so alarmed the concealed Polonius that he
cried out: "What, ho, help!"
Hamlet, thinking that the hidden
eavesdropper was his uncle, Claudius, against whom he had vowed
revenge, stabbed the curtain with his sword. He knew that Sir
Roger would be standing well back. Polonius, still out of sight,
gasped: "Oh, I am slain!" Gertrude, shocked, turned
on her son: "Oh, me, what hast thou done?"
From behind the curtain, Sir
Roger uttered a further, muted cry and an unpleasant gurgling
sound, and there was an audible thud as the dying Polonius fell
to the floor out of sight. 'The old goat made rather a noisy
meal of that tonight,' thought Claire, uncharitably.
Hamlet pulled the curtain aside
and began dragging the inert Polonius out on to the stage. Then
he realised to his horror that Sir Roger's head was hanging limply
at a bizarre angle from his neck. Jason dropped the body and
cried out, "Oh, my God! He's been murdered."
Claire Comerford, who was facing
the audience and thus could not see the lolling head, thought
Jason had dried, and stepped in with an improvisation: "Of
course he has, my prince, and that by thee."
But by now the audience, too,
were gasping with horror. "No," shouted Jason, "I
mean he's really dead. His neck's broken." He turned to
Fiona at the control board, offstage left, and called: "For
Christ's sake - curtain!"
reserved by Albert Clack