Centre Of Gravity
Becca pushes through the heavy stage door of the Theatre Royal a half-hour later than she ought to; auburn hair in a messy bun, laden with carrier bags, no time to make small-talk as she hurriedly signs in. The sun streams in through the theatre windows and it’s a warm and stifling June afternoon. She’s about half way up the stairs when she spots him; Adam, languid and smiling, leaning over the railing. His back is arched and graceful, his head tipped to one side....
‘Good morning.’ His eyes are devilish and bright, and he raises one eyebrow in mischievous delight when she lets out a low groan. That face of his is all cheekbones and charm and she can feel the force of his gravity as she comes closer – there’s a low swell to his presence, like toying with a magnet, and she leans in closer without realising.
‘How late am I?’ she winces, dumping her bags, and Adam rewards her with a soft laugh, scrunching up his face in sympathy.
‘Probably not as late as you think,’ he assures her. His voice is low and lilting, a warm Scottish accent just touching the edges, and there’s nothing hard or unkind in his smile. Becca collapses a little, reassured that he’s not in make-up yet, though a smudge of gold from his cover-run earlier still peeks out from under the sleek curtain of his dark hair, that's falling, unchecked, across his forehead.
‘Says the man who’s last out every Saturday,’ she reminds him and she’s met with a wink and a wide, playful grin that's both lazy and dazzling.
‘It’s a good rule to live by,’ he replies, that captivating face of his catching the light from a whole new angle and seeming to change with it.
He’s only been with the tour a month, she realises then, but it’s like she’s known him a lifetime, already well-used to the crick in her neck from always looking up, his tall form impossible and fluid next to her tiny frame. He belongs draped on the theatre’s back stairs in June, she thinks, full of poise and with no respect for the laws of gravity when he leaps, kicking long, lithe legs up high.
Suddenly he straightens up, pushing himself up from where he’d been leaning, quick and catlike and stretching out like it’s an art from; all elegance and self-control. She notices the way his feet slide instinctively into fifth position – and God, those legs of his must go on forever. ‘Word of warning? Fergus is on the rampage. I’d do your make-up quickly and behind a locked door if I was you,’ he says through a yawn and Becca pulls a face.
‘What happened to not being as late as I think?’
‘If you keep thinking it, then you won’t panic. How else do you think I have the nerve to be last out every Saturday whilst you lot are already in the pub?’
She watches him slink away down the corridor, smiling in fond disbelief. No, she simply can’t imagine what panic would even look like on his calm, charismatic face.
The Lesser Tufted Mundy
Summer in Oxford, and there’s a constant end-of-term hum in the air. The mood has persisted all the way down from Llandudno, following them through Southampton and Eastbourne and onward to Canterbury, making the whole company a little giddy. In the late afternoon a group of swings sit on benches outside the theatre, demolishing pastries and giggling in the sun, eyes delighted behind oversized shades as they make plans for tomorrow and the end of their Oxford run.
Their dressing room is the smallest, but it catches the most sun, and Dawn and Rachel have taken up residence in the corner, a selection of sweets between them as they sit cross-legged on the floor. Adam’s standing at the mirror, making a start on his make-up, and Zak is catching marshmallows in his mouth as Rachel throws them at him from the other side of the room. Alex is folded up on a chair, nursing a mug of tea and reading the paper, pretending not to laugh at Dawn, who pulls faces at him between nibbles of chocolate buttons. There’s a mix of peace and mischief in the air that belongs, exclusively, to a tour in summer.
They’ve almost forgotten Ben’s there until Callum gets in and calls up a greeting to him as he dumps his bags by his chair. Ben beams back at him brightly, and everyone looks up, instinctively drawn to the force of his grin. He’s perching on the ledge of the tiny, high window, knees pulled up to his chest. All the girls can really see of him is the white crescents of his shoes, but he’s there, and they just know he’s smiling. A mop of dark, fluffy hair falls across his face, and the sunlight from the window catches on his twinkling brown eyes, starbursts of light dancing in them. The soft lines of his smile are a study in friendliness and he’s a nonsense of sweetness; kind-voiced and open-faced.
His phone has died – of causes unknown – and his digs, despite possessing a comfortable bed and a stylish bright red toaster, are not equipped with internet. He’s learnt, over the course of three afternoons, that the only place in the city where his laptop gets signal is high up along the theatre’s back wall. His pre-show-prep time has been accordingly reassigned so he can email friends and family and assure them he’s not fallen into an orchestra pit or been kidnapped by a swing-gone-rogue. It’s taking all his powers of concentration to type without dropping his laptop onto Adam’s head, the back of which bobs about somewhere near his feet, but he makes the effort all the same, figuring it’s a good exercise in balance, and also not entirely convinced it can be safe to share a dressing room with a long-limbed man suffering a concussion.
‘You look like a baby bird,’ Callum remarks suddenly, leaning against the dressing table and ignoring Alex’s grumble of complaint as make-up scatters every which way. The girls both ‘Aw’ and Adam chuckles, but it’s Zak – in a cheeky and high-spirited mood – whose eyes light up with glee.
‘And here, we can observe the Lesser Tufted Mundy,’ he beams, jumping up and onto a chair. He adopts his best David Attenborough whisper, a glint in his dark eyes as he peers up towards where Ben is sitting. His stance is all-drama, a half-crouch, head at an angle, one hand pointing up towards Ben, fingers splayed for effect. ‘The juvenile, out on his own for the first time, scavenging for free Wi-Fi in the wild,’ he adds, snickering shamelessly and dodging expertly as the girls – scolding half-heartedly – launch sweets in the direction of his back. A marshmallow bounces off his shoulder, landing in Alex’s tea.
‘Juvenile?!’ Ben squeaks, pulling his most outraged face, the effect somewhat offset by the sunshine on his bright, enthusiastic face, highlighting his warm, unwavering smile.
‘Lesser Tufted?’ Adam cuts in. ‘Have you seen his hair today? I don’t think he’s even brushed it.’ His voice is soft and mischievous as he speaks, not looking up from his mirror, attention still on his make-up, supposedly. In response, Ben twists himself precariously to deliver a harmless kick to his friend’s back, not bothering to hide the curve of amusement in his smile. He’s too powerfully friendly to muster annoyance at the dressing room’s collective decision to mock him without mercy, but he can’t deny revenge is sweet. Adam is jarred, just slightly, by the kick. Enough for an eccentric black line be shooting up across his forehead. He pauses for a moment to study the effect, leaning in a little closer, eyes thoughtful. A second later and he straightens up, starting work once more like nothing happened, painting around the line as though it isn’t even there. Ben just laughs – the sound bright and exasperated – before gathering his laptop (and his life) up in his arms as he shifts his weight a little way along the ledge.
He jumps down with impressive grace, and no-one in the room so much as flinches. It occurs to him that sharing a room with three acrobats is not the way to win praise for death-defying leaps. He just catches Dawn smiling at him knowingly from over her sweet packet, and his whole face lights up with it, his lips curving up and up until he’s forced into a grin. She tilts her head, eyes pixie-bright as she tosses him a marshmallow by way of reward, and she arches one eyebrow, impressed, when he catches it artfully.
‘How did you even get up there anyway?’ she asks, her delicate features scrunching up suddenly in pretty confusion, and Ben chuckles as he moves over to his mirror.
‘How do you think?’ Adam puts in before Ben can reply, drawing himself up to his full six-to-ten feet in height, and somewhere beneath his make-up, one perfect eyebrow is arched playfully. His eyes meet Ben’s in the mirror. ‘You should really be nicer to me.’ The two of them share a smile before Ben cuts the moment and sticks out his tongue. Adam narrows his eyes and supresses a grin before turning away, and Ben notes it down as a victory.
Humming happily, he pops his marshmallow in his mouth, glancing back over his shoulder at Dawn with a shrug.
‘I’m actually an evil genius,’ he explains, before laughing at her sceptical look. ‘Hey; one smile from me and he’ll do anything,’ he adds, head bobbing towards Adam. ‘It’s all part of my plan to rule the world; get the giants on my side.’ He nods sagely, lips curved in a smirk which is sweeter than anyone’s should be, and Dawn shakes her head slightly, folding her arms.
‘I think I could live with you ruling the world,’ she concedes quietly.
On the other side of the dressing room, Alex prods gingerly at the marshmallow still floating in his tea.
Red Velvet And Gold
Promise hangs heavy in the air, glistening like a cobweb across the auditorium. This is a memory palace, a magician’s trick. 7.10. Whispers of conversation drifting up from the stalls. The people in the circle marvel at the high, domed ceiling and the twinkling chandelier. Thick air, the smell of dry-ice. Something that isn’t quite stillness creeps across the stage.
The orchestra begin their tune-up. 7.22. The French horn. A hint of a flute.
This Is The Way The Tour Goes
This is the way the tour goes. They’re in the business of stories and there’s a new theatre every few weeks to tell them in. They tell them in corridors. Behind wardrobe crates or in dressing rooms, hunched next to the cardboard boxes backstage. In wig rooms. On auditorium floors. They cram them into the one-minute window after the lights go down, whisper them just before the Overture kicks in.
There are ones for cold nights in February, ones for Tuesday mornings and hazy sun. Ones laughed breathily in the coffee shops that serve them super-quick hot chocolates to-go. Plenty in pubs, half-yelled over the music, told late on Saturday nights once they’re done with the week’s last show.
On Friday evening when the foyer’s full, conversations rumble beneath the chandeliers, and everything is shaded amber through the filter of pre-show wine. There’s a glow from the ushers’ satin waistcoats and the red velvet trim of the auditorium seats. It’s slightly too warm and the air is stuffy; people are waiting for a show, for the story they paid for to be told.
Backstage there are stories the audience never hear. Through stage doors of glass, down alleys, over open suitcases and sign-in sheets. All away from the Front of House shimmer, through doors barely labeled and surrounded by brick. If you’re lucky there are hand-painted signs, the smallest splashes of gold. But for the most part these are damp pavement stories, told to the sound of the wind.
This is the way the tour goes. They’re in the business of stories and they’ll tell them for fun. But the best ones are told in corridors. Behind wardrobe crates. At the stage door after the show.