Fandom: Slings and Arrows/Wilby Wonderful
Word Count: Around 3500 words, not all of them mine.
Notes: This is written as a series of vignettes. The first scene came to me and I had to write it.
Summary: Geoffrey finds himself directing on the island of Wilby.
Geoffrey liked words. Anyone who knew him would say so. Even Basil, who claimed to know him and had an entirely warped view of his personality. Geoffrey liked how a slight change in intonation could change the complete meaning of a word. The same sentence could be delivered in a myriad of ways, for a plethora of purposes, in innumerable contexts.
“Does Wilby have a good record of attendance?”
“Uh. Not sure. Ask Carol. She’d know.”
“Have you ever been to the theatre? Seen many productions? Enjoyed an evening of Shakespeare?”
Geoffrey stood looking at Duck, who at that moment was fixing the mechanics for the backdrop. Duck had also been painting the ceiling, mending the floorboards and investigating the lighting. Duck paused for a moment, his long slender fingers hovering over the piece of rope in his hands. Geoffrey was drawn to the action, tilted his head to one side and waited for his answers.
“Yeah. But on the mainland. Not here.”
Geoffrey watched as Duck went back to his work. He turned on his heel and went off to the Lighthouse Bar and Grill to see what Ellen thought about their accommodation.
“It’s a nightmare, Geoffrey.”
“Yes, Ellen, we’ve discussed this.”
“I can adapt, you know I can adapt, but there are limits.”
“I saw a cockroach. And I’d be fine with that, I would, if it hadn’t been swimming in the toilet.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Isn’t there somewhere else they can put us?”
“You already know the answer. Space is only available at the motel. We needed to have booked months in advance.”
“That’s not good enough.”
“We deserve better.”
“I’m a director.”
“Very funny, Geoffrey. Get this sorted. Or I’ll have to call Richard.”
“Oh, please do. He is the General Manager. He should be around here. Managing. Generally.”
“He did say he’d pop in next week some time.”
“That’s what Anna said too.”
“You’d think that after inviting us, they’d have made sure everything was ready. What’s that woman’s name? Karen German.”
“Yes, her. You’d have thought she’d have booked a more suitable venue.”
“I didn’t even want to do this Geoffrey, you forced me.”
“I asked you. Nicely.”
“You brought up the bet I made with Oliver!”
“To be fair, he brought it up, I just communicated it to you.”
“I’m not happy, Geoffrey.”
“You will be when you’re on the stage.”
Carol looked nervous. Geoffrey didn’t understand why she kept pacing and adjusting the wisp of hair by her face.
“Are you… alright?”
“I’m fine. Fine. I’m spectacular. Excited! This is all going to be so, so great. It’s such a fantastic tradition to revive and I’m beyond thrilled you agreed to do it.”
“I’m sure the offer of a lot of money helped.”
Geoffrey smiled. He waved his hand to the side and frowned slightly at the woman who was still near frantic.
“It’s a beautiful theatre isn’t it?” Carol brushed down her suit.
“Yes. It needs some work, but beautiful is definitely an apt term. Once upon a time this stage would have been brought alive with productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. Audiences would have sat enraptured.”
“And it appears they will be again.”
“That’s what we’re hoping for. We want to show off our wonderful Wilby. That’s what the signs say. Wonderful Wilby.”
“I thought it was Wilby Wonderful?”
“Ahh.” Geoffrey wasn’t actually sure how the monosyllabic ‘Duck’ solved anything, but he did know that he preferred Wilby Wonderful anyway.
“What do you think of your accommodation?”
“Hmm? The motel? It’s fine. Thank you.”
Geoffrey held the ladder steady for Duck, who carefully fixed the chandelier in place. He had been attempting to conduct a conversation for the past half hour, but it had mostly been one-sided.
“Thanks for that.”
“Tell me, have you been in Wilby long?”
“Yeah. I’m a local. I was on the mainland once. I was in another country once. Didn’t like it much so I came back.”
“So it’s… agreeable here?”
“Ahh. ‘Such wind as scatters young men through the world/To seek their fortunes farther than at home/
Where small experience grows.’” Geoffrey quoted, not wanting to tell the simple truth, but then he decided he might as well confide. “Home. I’m not sure I know where that is.”
“Of course you do. It’s the theatre.”
Geoffrey stopped. Gazed at Duck. He nodded and smiled. “Yes. I suppose you’re right.”
Duck smiled back, brushing a hand against the back of his neck.
“I uh, I gotta get to that panel there.”
“Oh, sorry. Am I keeping you? Then I will be off, out to brave the murder and mayhem of the world.”
Geoffrey was surprised he missed New Burbage. He’d only been in Wilby a week, maybe two, and already he missed the main street, and the lake, and the theatre. He really missed the theatre. He missed the walk to Oliver’s office, and morning conversations with Anna. He even kind of missed Richard. He didn’t miss Ellen. Ellen was with him. Ellen was always with him, even when she wasn’t physically present. Ellen was a ghost comparable with Oliver. He couldn’t get rid of Ellen. Her eyes, her smiles, her harsh demanding tones.
Geoffrey wouldn’t say this, though. That he missed New Burbage. Not even to Duck, who wouldn’t tell anyone else. He consoled himself that it was only another six weeks, that Anna and Richard and the entire cast would be appearing soon. And Oliver hadn’t appeared yet, so that was a plus.
The crazy thing was… No, he promised he wouldn’t use ‘crazy’ in such a relaxed setting. The thing was that Wilby wasn’t really all that different from New Burbage. It was quiet, and driven by tourism, and everyone knew anyone else’s business. There wasn’t a single person who didn’t know he had suffered a mental breakdown and had been in an Asylum, though he certainly did not tell them.
The theatre was looking good. It was of a good size and there was a lot of work to be done, but the hardest tasks were through. The stage was sturdy and the backdrop was working. The chandelier was bringing back the beauty of years gone by. Everything was falling into place.
“Excuse me, we’re rehearsing here. Could you possibly… shut the hell up?”
Sarah had talent, Geoffrey knew she had talent, but she was not doing what he needed her to do. She wasn’t conveying what she should convey. She was cocking it up and for some reason unbeknownst to Geoffrey, Patrick and Jerry were having a long and loud conversation about pot plants.
Geoffrey stopped and span around. “Seriously. Shut up.”
They ignored him. Geoffrey walked over.
“I said shut up! Be quiet! Cease your chatter!”
“Oh, sorry. We thought you were talking to him.”
“To whoever it is you think you’re talking to when you’re shouting at a chair,” Patrick said somewhat meekly. Geoffrey flicked his tongue over his teeth like a wolf.
“Well, I’m not. I’m talking to both of you. Please. Be quiet. We’re attempting to concentrate over here.”
Jerry bowed his head. “Sorry Geoffrey.”
“Thank you kindly. Actors.”
“Now, Geoffrey, that’s not fair. You were an actor once too.”
“Oh, Ellen, you’ve finally arrived. I didn’t think it was possible to get so caught up in Wilby to warrant a lack of punctuality, but I see I have underestimated your talents.”
Sandra would come to the theatre and provide refreshments. Patrick was somewhat terrified of her daily visits. Sarah would talk with Emily about acting, a conversation which would entrance Emily thoroughly. She seemed far too sensible to seriously consider a job where you got paid eleven thousand a year, though. Jerry would be on the phone to his wife. Maria would be sorting out all of the small lighting details. Geoffrey, on the other hand, would be quickly writing down his notes. Usually he liked to simply remember them, but he had so many, he had to keep track somehow.
Even if Sandra and Emily were to be the only people who came to their performances, Geoffrey felt all of this was going to be worth it. He could see the play, touch it, taste it, smell it. He liked the staging, the pacing, the ambiance. It was not bad for a few weeks work. But then, they only ever had a few weeks with which to work anyway, the only real difference was the venue.
Maria had remarked with a cynical leer that he was positively dancing with excitement. Geoffrey had replied that he only ever danced on Tuesdays, and even then, only if he was exceedingly drunk.
Looking out at The Watch, Geoffrey would imagine battering seas of Twelfth Night proportions. Seas which could turn a life upside-down. Seas which could turn gender upside-down. They were special seas. He’d take a deep breath, stretch out his arms and take it in, take it all in, the salt encrusted air, the ripples of the waves, and the manner in which the colours of the sunset splayed across the hulk of land before him.
He’d heard about a scandal, but the only scandalous thing he found was how he could be so alone here. Why weren’t there hoards of people? Where were the tourists Wilby was so eager to encourage? It wasn’t that he wanted them there, he just didn’t know why they weren’t.
Even if the theatre was his home, this place, this beautiful place, was his favourite retreat. He’d even shrugged off his coat and used it as a rug. Rolled up his shirt sleeves. He’d taken his razorblade from his pocket, and sat there ruminating as the day fell into night.
Of course, the wind had occasionally been unbearable. He’d had to get up and wander back, listen to another barrage of complaints about dodgy plumbing and nefarious wildlife. Geoffrey had taken to tuning out and placing himself at The Watch in a dreamscape that was inhabited only by himself.
“What’s that you’re writing?”
“Oh God, who for this time?”
“As long as it’s not me. You’ve already given me hundreds of notes, Geoffrey.”
“Ellen, I want you to really think about those lines we talked about earlier today, okay? Analyse them. As deeply as you can. Imagine what you would do in the same situation.”
“Geoffrey, don’t you think you’re spending too much time thinking about this play?”
“No, Ellen, I do not. This play is important.”
“It is? I mean… hasn’t Richard already been given the money? We’re still getting paycheques so I assume he has.”
“I’m sorry, Geoffrey. It’s just that you get so obsessive.”
“I’ve always been obsessive.”
“Yes, you have. I wish you’d give me some of that obsession, that’s all.”
“You want me to tell you I love you every five minutes?”
“Well, it wouldn’t hurt.”
“Okay, then. I love you.”
Geoffrey waited five minutes.
“Ellen, I love you.”
Five minutes and several clothes on the floor later.
“I love you.”
Another five minutes and several deep breaths later.
“I love you, I love you, I love you.”
Geoffrey was quite sure Duck did not like words. He used them so infrequently. It was a look, or a touch of a hand, or a small smile. There was power and intensity in almost everything Duck did. He didn’t need words. His intonations came from his gait, or a calm sweeping hand, and the things he didn’t say. It was fascinating.
The way he introduced Dan, for example. He’d brought him toward Geoffrey with a gentle push and an expectant gaze. Geoffrey knew instantly that Duck was deeply and madly in love with the awkward stranger. Just as he knew Dan felt the same way when he quietly referred to Duck as “his life-force”, once they’d got to know each other better.
Geoffrey almost wished he could be like Duck. He seemed so stable, so comfortable with who he was and who he would never be. The story about a lost tooth in a drunken barfight surprised him. It sounded like the exact kind of situation he would find himself in. Duck was possessed of an inner violence too, and was more skilled in hiding it. In many ways, Geoffrey felt, Duck was a better actor than he ever was.
A month had gone by and Geoffrey was starting to get annoyed with the ever absent Richard. Carol kept coming to him for decisions and he had to keep explaining than he was the Artistic Director, that Richard organised everything else, and he didn’t care a whit about the business side of the theatre. Richard had made it clear that he was definitely coming to Wilby at the weekend. Geoffrey had made Anna promise that this would not be a stopping visit. After all, Richard was the one who had organised this run of performances in a glut of greed. Geoffrey felt sure that Richard and Anna were enjoying a leisurely holiday in their absence. He envied them greatly.
Geoffrey was also slightly annoyed with Ellen, who was at that moment dining with Carol’s husband Buddy. He was not jealous, he did not get jealous anymore, he had learned from his mistakes, he didn’t know where the propmaster was keeping the foils.
“Geoffrey, you have nothing to worry about.”
“I know. I’m not worrying.”
“We’re just friends.”
“I think you’d like him.”
“He’s a lot like you, you know.”
“No he’s not.”
Duck had nodded with a small smile at Richard and Anna when they first arrived. He had chuckled slightly to himself and continued with his work. At the time, Geoffrey hadn’t realised why. It was only later that night, when Richard foolishly serenaded Anna at the party gathered at Iggy’s Diner that Geoffrey clued in to what was going on.
“You saucy wench!” Geoffrey had said to the Associate Administrative Director.
“Why thank you, Geoffrey,” Anna had returned.
“I expect this is why we have not seen head nor tail of you for weeks? Hmm?”
“How dare you make such allegations! We’re perfectly capable of separating our personal and professional lives.”
“Ahuh. Both you and Richard have a long history of doing so successfully.”
Geoffrey found that he didn’t really begrudge them, especially as Ellen nestled herself against his shoulder. Occasionally she would look up and sparkle at him. He didn’t know what the sparkle meant, but he enjoyed it all the same. Once upon a time he frowned at all signs of affection. The years of hatred, he called them. As well as the years of madness. He was a scorned lover and so he treated all love with contempt. It was pleasant to think that this had changed. Love and be loved.
Finally, it was time for the opening night performance of the play, the inauguration of the second annual Wonderful Wilby or Wilby Wonderful festival. There were to be no previews. Everything was still being worked on up until the last minute. Duck had only just finished all of his repair work. It had got to the point where Geoffrey had helped, along with Dan, Sandra, Emily and Ellen. The actors knew what they were doing, but, with the exception of Ellen, were a little shaky. Carol, Richard and Anna were bustling around organising the seating plan. It was go, go, go.
Geoffrey was amazed that they had sold all of the tickets and the only thing left to do was fit everyone in. He would let the others deal with that. There was a collection of those from New Burbage arriving. Basil, who must have heard something about free plonk, Nathum, who was naturally curious about every play Geoffrey directed, and even Darren the Terrible had threatened an appearance. Geoffrey wondered whether Oliver would appear, or if he was somehow unable to leave New Burbage. He wasn’t entirely sure why he bothered to wonder at all.
A short run, and then it was back to organise that other festival. Oh the joys of life.
Scene I. Before an alehouse on a heath.
Enter Hostess and Sly
I’ll pheeze you, in faith.
A pair of stocks, you rogue!
Ye are a baggage: the Slys are no rogues; look in the chronicles; we came in with Richard Conqueror. Therefore paucas pallabris; let the world slide: sessa!
You will not pay for the glasses you have burst?
No, not a denier. Go by, Jeronimy: go to thy cold bed, and warm thee.
I know my remedy; I must go fetch the third—borough.
Third, or fourth, or fifth borough, I’ll answer him by law: I’ll not budge an inch, boy: let him come, and kindly.
Horns winded. Enter a Lord from hunting, with his train.
Huntsman, I charge thee, tender well my hounds:
Brach Merriman, the poor cur is emboss’d;
And couple Clowder with the deep—mouth’d brach.
Saw’st thou not, boy, how Silver made it good
At the hedge-corner, in the coldest fault?
I would not lose the dog for twenty pound.
Why, Belman is as good as he, my lord;
He cried upon it at the merest loss
And twice to-day pick’d out the dullest scent:
Trust me, I take him for the better dog.
Thou art a fool: if Echo were as fleet,
I would esteem him worth a dozen such.
But sup them well and look unto them all:
To-morrow I intend to hunt again.
I will, my lord.
Geoffrey’s The Taming of the Shrew was hailed as a resounding success in Wilby and on the mainland. Reviews were positive, attendance was stellar, and there were no tragedies or sweeping exits to be had. It was, without a doubt, one of Geoffrey’s most prosperous productions.
Richard was positively ecstatic. He leapt as a childish schoolboy, ripped his glasses off, cleaned them, placed them back, and put his hands on Geoffrey’s shoulders.
“You know what this means!”
“No, I don’t Richard, spell it out for me.”
“It means prestige. But more than that, it means money!”
Geoffrey took a deep breath and willed himself not to wrap his hands around Richard’s corporate throat. Instead, he looked at Duck, who had been to see every performance and was staring silently at Richard now with a similar look of distaste.
“It means more than that, Richard.”
“I know, I know, but this will help us with the festival. You’ve done well, Geoffrey. Very well.”
“And now? We celebrate! Bring on the festivities!”
Iggy’s was too small a venue, so they set up the celebrations in the theatre. Even the usually tense Carol enjoyed herself at the party, dancing wildly with Buddy. Geoffrey conceded to himself that Buddy was possibly not all that bad after all.
Geoffrey liked words. He liked how they sounded in his head or on paper. He liked speaking them aloud and hearing them reverberate through a vast empty space. He was aware that words could say so much and mean so little. Or mean so much and say so little.
Now, though, he also appreciated the absence of words. What wasn’t said, how it was neglected, and why. In the theatre, everyone loved to hear the sound of their own voice. It was possible to have long pauses and intense moments of silence, but it was more likely that a character would say what they were thinking and why they were thinking it. Especially in Shakespeare. Long soliloquies about slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or falcons now sharp and passing empty.
“I wanted to thank you, for everything you have done.”
“I was just doing my job. I mean… I did get paid.”
“I know you did, but I wanted to thank you anyway.”
“Thank you too. I never really liked The Taming of the Shrew before. But I enjoyed it this time round.”
There was a pause.
“I better let you get on with everything.”
“Yeah, the local school is doing a production in here in two weeks, lots of stuff I’ve got to fix up again.”
Geoffrey watched as Duck went back to his work. He turned on his heel and went off to the Lighthouse Bar and Grill to see how Ellen had gone with the packing.