A Jolly Good Show – Episode 14

ON the following Monday, band call at the Empire, Peterborough, was about to take its usual course. The orchestra was tuning up. Nesbo was deep in conversation with Will Griffiths, each of them glancing at a piece of paper Nesbo held in his hand.

Johnny West was sitting with Fabio and Rosa. He had his doll, Salty Sam, with him and was attempting some fractured Italian ventriloquism to their great amusement.

Cyril Broom was in his accustomed spot in the front row of the stalls reading a copy of “The Racing Post”, while Lennie Douglas looked over his shoulder. Delia, Kate and Sally were sitting together. The last week had seen a very subdued Sally. Kate had been quite cool with her for several days, but it was very apparent that she was ashamed of her behaviour of the previous week.

She had picked up the courage to go and apologise to Will Griffiths, but he’d just laughed it off, she said.

“Actually,” Sally said, “he’s a very intelligent and sensitive man and rather shy. And that made me feel worse.”

Kate said nothing.

Enid Broom came hurrying down the aisle, a small buff envelope in her hand a telegram. She took it to Cyril. He opened it, read it, showed it to Lennie, then left his seat to climb on stage.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” he called. “If I could have your attention.” People stopped chatting.

“I’ve just received this.” He waved the slip of paper. “It concerns all of us in a way, but perhaps one person in particular. I’ll read it to you. Coming to see show Tuesday stop Looking for possible understudy for Clarice Dupont stop Signed, Robert Conroy, agent for J. Foster Theatrical Productions stop”

There was a short silence. Everyone looked at Sally. She sat, her mouth open slightly.

Cyril said, “It’s got to be you, Sally, love. Clarice Dupont, eh? It’s that new show in Manchester. Next stop the West End.”

Everyone started talking. Delia took Sally’s hand then hugged her. Will Griffiths never took his eyes off her as she looked round in a daze. Then Nesbo spoke above the chatter.

“Now, listen, everybody. Listen!” The hubbub subsided. He looked around at the company. “This chap’s coming to see Sally, that’s pretty obvious. But we want to make sure that he sees she’s in a tip-top show. We need to be sharp. At our best.”

There were murmurs of agreement. Nesbo continued.

“Now, as Sally finishes her act, everyone who’s not on stage and that will be everyone but Lennie slip into any vacant seat in the theatre behind this agent chap and when Sally finishes we clap, we cheer, we shout ‘Bravo’, we shout ‘Encore’. She’ll have her friends behind her. Yes?”

There was a loud, collective “Yes!”

Will Griffiths could see the tears welling in Sally’s beautiful eyes. Yes, he decided, he’d done the right thing. That was little consolation.

Robert Conroy was a dapper little man with round wire-rimmed spectacles and a battered brown briefcase that never left his hand or his lap. Kate thought he’d look more at home in a bank than a theatre. She could picture him as a seemingly insignificant character in a novel, who secretly held the fate of all the other characters in his hands.

The show went well, everyone at the top of their form, and it was obvious Sally was determined to grab her chance. She shone. Like the others, Kate slipped into a seat a couple of rows behind Mr Conroy and as Sally made her final curtsey she clapped long and loud to swell the waves of applause.

After the show, Mr Conroy, briefcase in hand, was taken by Cyril Broom to Sally’s dressing-room and the door closed. The rest of the company retired to the lounge bar of the Railway Hotel around the corner to wait. Mr Conroy’s decision could affect all of them.

They didn’t have to wait long. The door opened and Cyril and Sally hurried in. Kate could see at once the sparkle in Sally’s eyes and the flush of her cheek.

Kate and Delia exchanged smiles and moved towards Sally as Cyril Broom announced, “I’m sorry to say that Miss Sally Swift will be leaving the Jolly Good Company. She will be the understudy to Miss Clarice Dupont in the new musical extravaganza ‘Stardust’.”

There were cheers.

Everyone gathered around Sally to kiss her, to congratulate her. Kate stood by her as Will Griffiths came over. He didn’t kiss her. He held out his hand. Sally took it.

“Well done, Sally. I’m truly glad for you.”

For a moment they looked into each other’s eyes.

“Thank you, Will. And there were no splinters on the seat of that swing.” They both laughed. “I hope J. Foster Productions are as good as you,” she said.

“Oh, Jacob Foster has a pretty good reputation.”

“Jacob? Jacob Foster? Is that his name?”

Will shrugged his shoulders.

“I think I heard it somewhere.”

Kate saw Sally looking carefully at Will, then at all the company gathered around her. Kate might have imagined it, but was there a look of uncertainty on Sally’s face?

Perhaps she felt a little trepidation at what she was about to undertake, which was understandable. And perhaps there was a pang of regret, too, at what she was leaving behind.


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