Those who saw him, hushed. The great man, the revered director, whose blood-steeped staging of Titus Andronicus was so visceral they’d set up a first-aid corner in the Old Vic’s foyer for overcome audience members to be carried to. Even now, there were those who couldn’t look at a meat pie without bile surging at the thought of Tamora’s son-eating scene. “Sickus Maximus!” the tabloids had squealed, which everyone agreed was brilliant because at least they were recognising the Arts for once. It had made all the proper papers too, and won a Best Actor Olivier for its leading man – an aging actor previously denied his big break because of his uncontrollable anger issues. Now he was in Hollywood, discussing projects. It could happen to any of them. Jeremy Bailey had the touch and he was about to lay his hands on A Streetcar Named Desire.
The queue for the open auditions snaked all the way down the street, from the rehearsal studio door to the Wetherspoons at the far end. Latecomers were faced with a dilemma: was it worth the wait?
Definitely, for a chance to stand before Jeremy-Bloody-Bailey.
Would they even be seen?
Questionable, it looked like many hours’ standing. Yet what if?
The early birds who had anticipated a large turnout were rewarded with the apparition of Bailey emerging from a black cab, the script under his arm glowing with Post-its. Phones were swiftly raised and photos taken. Some turned around so they were in the foreground with Bailey as the backdrop to their story. They pulled awestruck faces, gave dazzling performances for their Instagram followers. Others strained forward, the desire to reach out to him humming in the air. Up close, he looked dishevelled, his greying hair impressively thick for a man in his fifties and leaping upright with the static from his brilliant brain. His beige or off-white or just plain unwashed linen jacked had seen better days, and his brown trousers were thick cords that called to mind ploughed fields. A flash of leg as he ascended the kerb revealed one blue sock, one green, too busy conjuring greatness to worry about the state of his ankles. The kind of detail to be recounted to friends later in describing their proximity to fame. He glanced at the reverent masses with a blank expression. Was he scanning for star quality? Did he notice them? Did they stand out? Beside him, a young woman scuttled along, her arms full of folders, her forehead full of worry. She ushered him through a side door warning, ‘No admittance.’
An actress in their midst boomed, “Well, that was a bit of a let down. You’d think he’d have more presence.”
She had a blue bob, an angry slash of lipstick, a disappointed neck. Not star material. They edged away, unfocused eyes, prayed lines. Most had read the Sunday Times Magazine interview that described him as unstarry. It said he was part mad professor, part saviour of an ailing theatre culture. Over a cappuccino in a stylish hotel lobby, he had explained that he devoted himself to the purity of the work rather than bums on seats. His was a vocation. Theirs too.
They held vigil. It was balmy and not unpleasant to stand with a promising sun on one’s face, mouthing lines of a monologue that might change everything. The clever ones had learned passages from Streetcar, Stellas and Blanches and Stanleys-in-waiting.
“I have always depended on the kindness…” Might as well make him see me in that role, on that stage, taking that bow, back for that encore, holding that piece of glass, “I’d like to thank my agent…”
The first auditionees emerged and the line shifted up, closer to glory. Friends and former classmates found each other.
How did it go?
Yeah, great, there was a real connection. He’s so giving of himself.
Brilliant, let’s catch up soon, okay? Good luck!
You too, best of luck, knock his socks off.
They loved each other, they hated each other, they just wanted a chance, just one chance.
Please let him see me, Amen.
Anne O’Leary lives in Cork, Ireland. Publications include Lunate, The Ogham Stone, Spelk, Fictive Dream, Jellyfish Review, Dodging the Rain and The Nottingham Review. She won the Molly Keane Award 2018, was shortlisted for the Colm Tóibín International Short Story Award 2016 and 2017, and included in BIFFY50 2018/2019. Twitter @wordherding | Blog: anneolearyblog.wordpress.com.