A Sweet and Fitting Thing

He looked at me when he entered the room. Or rather, he looked at the paper in my hands, I was inconsequential. As though an audience were still watching, he deliberately placed a large tumbler and an unopened bottle of brandy on the coffee table before laying himself on the chaise lounge; it was 11 am.

He lifted a recently dampened flannel from where it hung over his forearm and delicately draped it flat across his face.

‘Go on, hit me with it,’ he said, in a tone suggesting he felt obliged to ask.

I took a sip of coffee, smoothed out the paper, and cleared my throat.

‘A triumphant tour de force!’ It seemed as good an opening as any.

He folded his arms onto his chest and interlocked his fingers.

‘Nigel Huntingdon captivated the audience from the moment he stepped onto the boards.’

I took another sip of my coffee.

‘The character under scrutiny has scuppered even the most scholared actors. Yet the provocative incite brought by Huntingdon was such that it is impossible to reconcile any audience has seen him portrayed in his true form ever before.’

Even after the opening, that felt like a reach.

‘Though the set design was minimalist.’ There was no set design, there had never been the budget. ‘The audience’s shared perception of the World War I tank which served as imaginary backdrop was crystal clear.’

Nigel had simply walked onto the empty stage and said, ‘Oh, hello old tank,’ before sitting down.

‘We were carried on a 50-minute journey through a 25-year life and we lived every bleakly beautiful emotion which made the latter so vital to our understanding of the man, the war, and of humanity.’

I could see Nigel affecting indifference, even beneath his face cloth.

‘Bread alchemist and role of best man, seven letters?’

‘Toaster,’ he replied reflexively. Before adding, ‘What?’

‘Doesn’t matter,’ I brushed his question away as I moved my pen across the paper. ‘Any audience members not reduced to tears by the programmed performance found themselves helpless in the face of the forty-minute recital encore of what Huntingdon referred to as “The words in which his soul shall forever live, until the Earth’s body crumbles around the man’s, making the two forever inseparable, physically, as they are in spirit.”’

He actually said that.

‘If this is Huntingdon’s only performance,’ I reached the conclusion. ‘It will forever be transcendent. If it is the start of a career, it is exhilarating.’

I picked up my coffee to signal the review was over. A dampened but satisfied humming emerged from beneath the sodden flannel.

‘Well, I think that calls for a celebration!’ Nigel announced after he felt an appropriate amount of time had passed for humility.

‘I’d say so,’ I replied, making my final marks on the paper.

I stood, placed the paper on the coffee table with the freshly completed crossword face down, and left to fetch the champagne I knew I’d find on ice in the kitchen.

Nigel Huntingdon’s performance of ‘Wilfred Owen: To Die For One’s Species’ had been performed on a Thursday night in the backroom of a Salford pub. Why he thought The Guardian had been there to review it was a mystery.