The chance to peek behind the scenes of West End theatres, written by an author who has worked backstage and met the wannabees and the superstars.
Elspeth sat beside Clement in the Dress Circle of Le Grande Théâtre, his hand over one of hers where it rested on the arm between their seats.
She’d miss him, but their friendship was over. Under cover of her programme, she slid her free hand over the place where Michael’s baby lay. ‘Margaret, show me you understand.’
Clement visibly attempted to recapture the interest he’d shown during the first act. ‘What did you say, Elspeth?’
‘The audience enjoyed what they’ve seen so far.’ She bent closer to whisper. ‘The media haven’t a clue what’s to come.’
He didn’t answer, unless playing with a lock of her hair was an answer. Did Michael still love her, or had he meant it when he told her not to bother coming back? He’d loved her passionately when their baby was conceived. Their mistake had been to think chemistry could last forever, or was it just her mistake? She’d listened to so many love songs and believed he’d sung them for her. Tonight, he’d sung to Keket and convinced two and a half thousand people she was the only woman he could ever love. They were living the story, just as Clement said audiences did, and none of them knew Keket was married to David, a man she’d expected to meet and never would.
Before welling tears could overflow, a man with spiky hair bumped into the aisle seat and reached across Clement to offer her his hand. ‘Keith Johnson, and you must be Elspeth.’
‘Good evening, Mr Johnson. The first act went very well.’
‘It did. It’s a great pity Mr Fynn added the final scene.’ He tapped Clement’s arm. ‘Would you consider leaving the death sentence unspoken and ending with the dancers?’
It was a massive change to make in the fifteen minutes that remained of the interval, and Clement ignored his director. She wasn’t sure he’d heard the suggestion; his eyes were glazed as though he was watching something in his head.
Johnson’s next tap jerked Clement’s body. She was through with liking the man who’d spoken so pleasantly on the phone. ‘Is there a good reason why he should change the end?’
‘Several, Elspeth, but the most serious is the almost certain failure of the fog machine. Without the mist, the horse will be seen for the fake it is.’
Clement had refused to take calls. ‘You had no doubts when I spoke to you yesterday.’
‘It wasn’t used yesterday. The press saw the performance I described.’
No wonder media speculation had been wrong and predictions for Greensleeves a thumbs-down. Surely a director Clement employed didn’t have the right to make such sweeping changes, especially when they put the production at risk from poor reviews. ‘Let me pass.’ She trod on Johnson’s foot with a sharp heel, not entirely by accident, and made her way to the foyer. Known there since Clement stopped using the stage door, she enlisted the help of a doorman in summoning Harry.
He arrived wiping greasy hands. ‘Sorry, Elspeth, messy.’
‘Harry, why has Keith Johnson told Mr Fynn the mist effect will fail?’
‘He wants the safe romance he’s made his name producing, and he knows this isn’t one. I told him we needed more fog machines, Elspeth. He said they’d be here this morning, but they weren’t. If Mr Fynn intervenes, the earliest they can be installed is Monday.’
‘Is there anything you can do?’
‘I’ve done it. The air-conditioning is turned off. Lord knows what the temperature’s like in the Upper Circle, and if you’re not too hot yet you soon will be.’
‘That will help?’
‘Air-con lowers atmospheric pressure and stops the fog rising. Pray, if you can stop that megalomaniac persuading Mr Fynn to do as he wants.’
‘Why wouldn’t Johnson want Greensleeves to be produced internationally?’
‘A couple of weeks as director means nothing unless he can claim to have made changes that created the musical’s success. He won’t care if it doesn’t go beyond the West End.’
Michael’s future, and the stardom he’d worked so hard to achieve, and the survival of Rocket Theatrical Agency, depended on an international smash and it mattered to Clement. She scurried back to him and hissed in his ear. ‘Change seats with me.’
No response, and Keith Johnson was still talking. If he managed to get Clement to listen and believe the fog machine would fail, he’d be forced to agree to scrap the final scene. ‘Clement, the man next to me keeps putting his hand on my knee.’
Galvanised, he leapt to his feet. ‘Johnson, fetch security.’
‘No, Clement, please. Fuss now would ruin the beginning of the second act for everybody. Just sit between us.’
‘My dearest Elspeth, if you’re sure?’
‘Yes.’ She took the chance to contrive the switch without Johnson preventing it when a group of people returned from the bar.
The curtain rose on a hall peopled with courtiers. Praise for the new marquess over, the music changed, modern, joyful. Michael twirled Keket. Marriage, conducted in secret by a frightened priest, was confirmed by Thomas Cranmer and Anne crowned queen. Happiness didn’t last; Anne suffered miscarriages, and the final blow came when a child, lost after Henry was injured jousting, was known to have been male.
Programmes, used as fans, stilled. Anne, bereaved, tragic: Henry, disappointed, angry. Total darkness, but for exit signs: sudden sunshine, brilliant and cruel, on Anne as she approached the scaffold. She closed a hand over Clement’s.
Anne climbed into position followed by two ladies. They removed her cloak and necklaces. Anne waved the blindfold aside. The ladies descended and left the stage. White mist appeared, drifted higher and swirled to cover the trunks of trees, leaving only the scaffold in full view.
Henry appeared on horseback, trotting, and then he reined in with the horse’s head tossing.
‘Sweeting, could I give you more?’
‘Sweeting, you could not give me more.’
It was working – Anne’s dream of eternal love.
‘A marquess, Henry, my beloved.’
‘You shall be my queen. I swear I will love you forever.’
Mist hid Henry, and the executioner’s sword swept towards Anne as the curtain dropped. She clasped protective hands around her own neck. I will love you forever.