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October 1810 The Camelot Theatre, London
The Camelot Theatre, London
"I don't think we need it," Max said. "The shipwreck takes place offstage."
Georgy continued pulling at the voluminous dust sheets.
"Bring the light closer, will you?" she said. "I can hardly see."
Max sighed. His cane tapped as he drew nearer and the faint light from his candle grew stronger.
"Aha!" Georgy exclaimed as she finally wrestled the sheets away. "Look, didn't I say this would be perfect?"
It was an eight-foot replica ship, tall-masted and intricately rigged. Just a prop, and quite useless on the high seas, but pretty for all that.
"I'll paint a new backdrop," Georgy went on. "We'll use the mechanical waves and some lightning flashes. A musical thunderstorm. Can't you just see it, Max?"
"I still don't think we need it," Max said, but he sounded less definite now.
"Of course we do. We need some thrills and spills. A little bit of a spectacular for the cheap seats. That's why they come to the Camelot."
"And it'll barely cost anything to put together," she addedher trump card.
There was a long pause before Max spoke again. "All right then, but it had better not cost much."
She grinned at him, triumphant. "Do you want to see the costumes I've chosen so far?"
Max shook his head. He began walking towards the stairs and she followed him. "I need to speak with Lily. I have a feeling she's going to be unhappy with me. She'll be expecting to play Viola. She's getting Olivia."
"But why? She'd be wonderful as Viola!"
Max halted on the first stair and sent her a steady look. "Talented as Lily is, her posterior is simply too large to play a breeches role. Audiences will allow us certain liberties with the truth but I'm afraid that Lily's bottom would be pushing them too far."
Georgy grinned. "You're not going to tell her that though, are you?"
Max gave a small smile. "Of course not. I'll talk her round. I'll tell her that only a truly great actress can show Olivia's sorrow in what is essentially a comic play. By the time I'm finished with her she'll be begging to play the part."
They began climbing the stairs together, Max going slow. His hip must be paining him today. She kept well back, giving him plenty of space.
When they reached the ground floor, the daylight streaming through the windows made Max's candle redundant. He blew it out.
"So who's playing Viola?" Georgy asked.
"Funny you should ask," Max said, turning to her with a smile. "I was wondering if you would consider taking the role."
Georgy stared at him, stunned. In the face of her silence, he went on.
"You make a magnificent boy. When you played Dick Whittington in the pantomime"
"I can't believe you'd even ask me," she interrupted.
Max frowned. "Georgy, it's been two years."
"I'm never going back on stage. I told you that and I meant it."
The mere thought of it made her feel sick. Years of training and bit parts had led up to her one and only leading role. But when the whole show rode on her performance, she had discovered that her usual sickening nerves turned into a paralysing, wrenching fear that had her sweating and vomiting before every curtain.
"But you were wonderful," Max said, looking genuinely puzzled.