O happy dagger
The village is alight with excitement as evening finally begins to fall. The air is crisp with the promise of snow and the streetlights glitter with anticipation in the gathering gloam.
Mothers dab imaginary grime from children decked in their Sunday best; even the youngest know that tonight is different. Fathers pat breast pockets for the umpteenth time, checking that the tickets are safe and not somehow lost between front door and garden path
Across the village front doors click shut and the streets come alive with the clatter of footsteps and the crackle of hushed, excited voices, the rustle of paper bags filled with colourful boiled sweets.
The village hall glows warmly, beckoning them all inside.
Miss Delyth checks tickets at the door and Miss June shows the audience to their seats. The hall floor is polished to a high shine and red velvet curtains surround the raised platform that usually serves for village announcements, the Christmas raffle and the brass band show. The air is hot and rich with beeswax, greasepaint and expectation.
The lights are dimmed and then, at last, the curtain rises.
Mr Pritchard is an enthusiastic Romeo. His bald spot blacked with shoe polish and his tights cling fast to his sturdy calves but he strides with purpose and roars his lines with a ferocity that startles some of the littler ones, who don;t recognise him as the teacher from their classroom.
When he speaks his voice rings out through the hall, calling to mind Burton and Olivier. His headmaster’s disguise is discarded and he reveals his true identity through his Romeo in the glare of the follow spot.
But Mrs Ellis Jones steals the show. She is several decades past Juliet’s thirteen, but she is painted and powdered for the part, decked in a long white sheet with ringlets in her hair and red on her lips.
As the pair embrace the spell is cast. Their voices and movements conjure worlds out of thin air.
They move together through the acts like dancers for the final turn of the night. Their performance lights up the hall and transforms it, for one evening, into something more. Tonight it is grander than the Royal Albert Hall.
Open mouthed and starry eyed the audience stare, enraptured, as these ordinary people transform before their very eyes into the tragic heroes of legend. Romeo lies dead on the floor; Juliet about to join him. They are captivated as the production draws to its ultimate climax..
“O happy dagger! This is thy sheath; there rust, and let me die.”
And she plunges her cardboard knife deep into her armpit with a haunting howl of mortal agony and drops, spread-eagled, to the floor.
The audience erupts in an explosion of joy and applause and cheering. Chairs are pushed noisily back as the crowd leaps, as one, to its feet. Eyes are wiped, noses are blown. The curtain is lowered on squeaky pulleys to rest on the ground
Behind it the two lead actors heave themselves up from the floor to brush off the dust and the remnants of magic. There is no sign now of beautiful Juliet or heroic Romeo, just two old friends smiling together through paint and powder in the glow of the makeshift footlights.