Roger Butters

Murder and the Scottish Play

Extract:

        Mr Keene waved an arm at the playbill adorning the bow window of the tearoom. ‘Do you like it?’
        It had evidently been designed to his specification, details of the concert being submerged in a bewildering variety of typefaces beneath a mass of eulogistic information regarding Mr Keene and his proposed tours de force.

‘GRAND CHARITY CONCERT

at Deer House School, Thorsby,
Saturday, 10th June, 1843

For the Benefit of the Church Fund of
St. Michael’s,
Crumblehulme, for distribution amongst
the Poor of the District
The Greatest Actor since
his Illustrious Namesake, EDMUND:

Mr. GERVASE KEENE !

Fresh from his Triumphs in the METROPOLIS,
has been persuaded to perform Extracts from
SHAKESPEARE’s Greatest Works,
including his notorious King Richard III,
The Merchant of Venice, and
A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Above all:
The Scottish Play:

MACBETH !!!

Shakespeare’s Greatest Tragedy
(Act IV, Scene i)

(With Witches, Hecate, Ghost of Banquo, Apparitions,
Cavern, Thunder & Lightning, Spirits’ Dance,
Songs, Special Effects, &c., &c.)
(Ably assisted by Miss Wilkinson, Miss Agnes Bell,
Miss Kersh, and others.)

In addition, Crumblehulme and District Choral Society
(Conductor, Dr. W. Appleby: Soloists, Miss Evans and
Mr. Ramsbottom) will perform several Traditional and
Well-known Works. Humorous Monologue by Mr.Rams-
bottom, &c.’

        ‘Miss Agnes Bell’ was of course strictly correct for one not the eldest daughter, but she could not think how Mr Keene could have found this out; unless indeed, he had simply guessed, and taken advantage of the opportunity to use her Christian name at the same time. ‘Most striking,’ commented Miss Bell feebly. ‘Ah … Very striking indeed.’
        Apparently detecting the veiled criticism, Mr Keene observed, ‘My theatrical experience, dear lady, has satisfied me that nothing is ever achieved by under-selling a performance. One has to whet the public’s appetite, or believe me, they simply will not come.’
        ‘I’m sure you’re right,’ she agreed. ‘It is just that I cannot recall ever having seen my name in print on public display, before.’
        ‘The first time, but not, I am sure, the last,’ said Mr Keene gallantly, pushing open the door to the tearooms and ushering her ahead of him. He then hurried in front of her again to secure a table.
        In the event it at first seemed likely to prove less of an ordeal than she had feared. After purely conventional opening noises, and placing their order, Mr Keene as usual dominated the conversation, and spoke mostly of himself, so that to her relief she was required to provide little by way of response. At times, she had to admit, he could be a not displeasing companion. Certainly he had a sense of humour, and thus far he had mercifully avoided making any sort of advances to her, which in such genteel surroundings she trusted would be difficult even for him. Though now she came to think of it – a flush came to her cheek as she did – in almost identical circumstances Mr Tyrrell, normally so respectful of her feelings, had ventured to kiss her. Perhaps she was not so safe as she had thought. Mr Keene was now turning the conversation in the direction she had feared by complimenting her upon her performance.
        ‘Thus far, superb,’ he said. ‘And I must tell you, Miss Bell, of a splendid idea which has recently occurred to me. You will recall that at the rehearsal the other night I was uncertain as to which Shakespearean passage I should use to open the proceedings.’
        ‘Yes. It had to be something relating to music, and you could not think of anything appropriate.’
        ‘At the time I could not. Then it came to me in a flash. Recalling the expression in your eyes put me in mind of it. Starlight, that is what your eyes reminded me of, Miss Bell. Starlight.’
        As befitted an actor, Mr Keene had a louder voice than most, and two elderly ladies at a neighbouring table glanced at him in surprise. Miss Bell cringed inwardly. ‘Can you guess the passage to which I refer?’ he continued regardless. ‘Starlight, and music.’
        The disorientated Miss Bell cast a desperate glance around and shook her head.
        ‘The Merchant, Miss Bell. Need I say more?’
        ‘Oh, I see. Lorenzo and Jessica.’
        ‘Precisely, Miss Bell.’ Mr Keene sat back and flourished a tea-cake at the adjoining table. ‘ “How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank! Here let us sit, and let the sounds of music Creep in our ears …” ‘
        ‘Ah, yes,’ said Miss Bell hurriedly. ‘Very appropriate. Yes.’
        ‘ “Soft stillness and the night,” ‘ continued Mr Keene undeterred, ‘ “Become the touches of sweet harmony.” ‘
        There were seven other customers in the tearooms, besides two waitresses. All of them by now were gazing at Mr Keene in varying degrees of amusement or incomprehension. ‘ “Sit, Jessica,” ‘ he adjured Miss Bell, who was already sitting, and waved an arm at the tearoom ceiling. ‘ “Look how the floor of heav’n Is thick inlaid with patines of bright gold …” ‘
        The demoralized Miss Bell abandoned her attempt to stem the flow. All she could do was sit there until it ceased of its own accord.
        ‘ “… But whilst this muddy vesture of decay,” ‘ Mr Keene intoned by way of conclusion, ‘ “Doth grossly close it in” ‘ – he paused, arms spread in a gesture of despair, and shook his head sorrowfully – ‘ “We cannot hear it.” ‘ He slumped back into his chair, the picture of misery and defeat. The performance was at an end.

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