A STORY OF TWO CAREERSCategory: Theatre
When the two men had gone, she looked through the photographs again before putting them back.
“Not bad for a woman of forty-six,” she smiled. “They are like me, there’s no denying that.” She looked round the room for a mirror, but there wasn’t one. “These damned decorators. Poor Michael, no wonder he never uses this room. Of course I never have photographed well.” She had an impulse to look at some of old photographs.
Michael was a tidy, businesslike man, and her photographs were kept in large cardboard cases, dated and chronologically arranged. His were in other cardboard cases in the same cupboard.
“When someone comes along and wants to write the story of our careers, he’ll find all the material ready to his hand,” he said.
With the same laudible object he had had all their press-cuttings from the very beginning pasted in a series of large books.
There were photographs of Julia when she was a child, and photographs of her as a young girl, photographs of her in her first parts, photographs of her as a young married woman, with Michael, and then with Roger, her son, as a baby. There was one photograph of the three of them, and Roger a little boy with a curly head, which had been an enormous success. All the illustrated papers had given it a full page and they had used it on the programmes. Reduced to picture-postcard size it had sold in the provinces for years. It was such a bore that Roger when he got to Eton refused to be photographed with her any mofe. It seemed so funny of him not to want to be in the papers.
“People will think you’re deformed or something,” she told him. “And it’s not as if it weren’t good form. You should just go to a first-night and see the socifety people, how they mob the photographers, cabinet ministers and judges and everyone. They may pretend they don’t like it, but just see them posing when they think the camera-man’s got his eye on them.”
But he was obstinate.
Julia came across a photograph of herself as Beatrice. It was the only Shakespearean part she had played. She knew that she didn’t look well in costume; she could never understand why, because no one could wear modern clothes as well as she could. She had her clothes made in Paris both for the stage and for private life and the dressmakers said that no one brought them more,orders. She had а. lovely figure, everyone admitted that; she was fairly tall for a woman, she had long legs. It was a pity she had never had a chance of playing Rosalind. She would have looked all right in boy’s clothes, of course it was too late now, but perhaps it was just as well she had not risked it. Though you would have thought with her brilliance, her roguishness, her sense of comedy, she would have been perfect. The critics hadn’t really liked her Beatrice. It was that damned blank verse. Her voice, her rather low rich voice, with that effective hoarseness, which wrung your heart in an emotional passage or gave so much humour to a comedy line, seemed to sound all wrong when she spoke it. And then her articulation; it was so distinct that, without raising her voice, she could make you’hear her every wTord in the last row of the gallery; they said it made verse sound like prose. The fact was, she supposed that she was much too modern.
Michael had started with Shakespeare. That was before she knew him. He had played Romeo at Cambridge, and when he came down, after a year at a dramatic school Benson had engaged him. He toured the country and played a great variety of parts. But he realized that Shakespeare would get him nowhere and that if he wanted to become a leading actor he must gain experience in modern plays. A man called James Langton was running a repertory theatre at Middlepool that was attracting a good deal of attention; and after Michael had been with Benson for three years, when the company was going to Middlepool on its annual visit, he wrote to Langton and asked whether he would see him. Jimmie Langton, a fat, boldheaded, rubicund man of forty-five, who looked like one ©f Rubens’s prosperous burghers had a passion for the theatre. He was an eccentric, arrogant, exuberant, vain and charming fellow. He loved acting, but his physique prevented him from playing any but a few parts which was fortunate, for he was a bad actor. He could not subdue his natural flamboyance and every part he played though he studied it with care and gave it thought, he turned into a grotesque. He broadened every gesture, he exaggerated every intonation. But it was a very different matter when he rehearsed his cast; then he would suffer nothing artificial. His ear was perfect, and though he could not produce the right intonation himself. he would never let a false one pass in anyone else.
“Don’t be natural,” he told his company. “The stage isn’t the place for that. The stage is make-believe. But seem natural.”
He worked his company hard. They rehearsed every morning from ten till two, when he sent them home to learn their parts and rest before the evening’s performance. He bullied them. But if they played a moving scene well he cried like a child, and when they said an amusing line as he wanted it said he bellowed with laughter. He would skip about the stage on one leg if he was pleased, and if he was angry would throw the script down and stamp on it while tears of rage ran down his cheeks. The company laughed at him and abused him and did everything they could to please him. He aroused a protective instinct in them, so that one and all they felt that they couldn’t let him down. Though they said he drove them like slaves, and they never had a moment to themselves, flesh a$d blood couldn’t stand it, it gave them a sort of horrible satisfaction to comply with his outrageous demands. When he wrung an old trouper’s hand, who was getting seven pounds a week, and said, by God, laddie, you’re stupendous, the old trouper felt like Charles Kean.
(From Theatre by W. S. Maugham)