Sidey’s Weekend Theme is “all the world’s a stage”…
She sat in the empty, silent theatre, alone with her thoughts.
She closed her eyes and could hear all the sounds of a life spent on the stage, the applause of audiences, their laughter, even the appalling crash of brass and woodwind the night she fell off the stage into the orchestra pit.
And the silences, too, of an audience rapt, or them holding back tears, for these silences are also part of the sound of the stage.
Helen Walsh was eighty-two years old now, and had spent seventy-six of those years acting. Ever since she’d played the youngest VonTrapp in the Sound of Music for the Teamplayers Amateur Dramatic Society in Bolton she had wanted no other career.
In her time she had played a ghost, a French maid (she used to bring the outfit home at night, to the delight of her then husband) and, in a strange avant-garde play, a talking vacuum cleaner. She had played Lady Bracknell, My Fair Lady and Lady Macbeth, who she always referred to as Lady Scottishplay. She had been naked in Equus, murdered in An Inspector Calls and barefoot in the park. She had been told to break a leg before her Juliet in Middlesborough in 1953 and had done so, when her balcony had collapsed onto a startled Romeo.
She had played Mary-Beth Walton in a stage version of the Waltons in 1955, played Ma Walton in 1968 and had played Grandma Walton in 2000. There was no role old enough for her in the play now, unless she was to play the Mountain.
As she had become more famous she had acted with some of the greats – she had played Ophelia to Olivier’s Hamlet, Anna to Gielgud’s King, and in the pantomime Dick Whittington she had played Eliza to Ian McKellen’s Dick.
She had received some wonderful reviews (“Helen Walsh’s Blanche Dubois is a powerful tragic heroine”), and some less so (“Helen Walsh is the most wooden thing I’ve seen since Forest Gump’s bench”). She had met these triumphs and disasters both the same – with hysterical over-reaction and heavy drinking.
She had occasionally moved into TV and film, appearing in six episodes of Coronation Street as one of Mike Baldwin’s girlfriends, and playing a tennis ball in an ad for Robinson’s Barley Water. She had appeared in one of the Harry Potter films, but then who hadn’t.
She had been sometimes wealthy, and more often poor. She had had four husbands, because actresses are not easy to live with. She had never found time to have children. But now, as the door of the theatre opened and she was no longer alone, she reflected that, for all its sacrifices, no other job could have ever made her life as happy as it had been.
The operating theatre was a hum of activity now. All the world is a stage, she realized. Today she was going to be an old lady facing a heart operation, and to the surgeon and his team she was going to act calm, unafraid, and stoically accepting of whatever might happen.
If she could pull it off it would be her greatest performance ever.