Monday 15 – Wednesday 17 June 2015
With Final Curtain, I just wanted to write a short piece about a moment that meant something to someone. I hope I manage to convey that the Royal was something special in its day. It is, of course, a fictional theatre. However, I’m sure that somewhere in the world, there are probably more than one version of the Royal, and perhaps there might be theatres that even bear the same name.
With the house lights out and the stage and foot lights on, it was impossible to see any further into the audience than the second or third row. That wasn’t unusual in terms of theatres, particularly not the old ones like the Royal. Modern technology had far surpassed the ancient buildings that now struggled to cope with the new requirements for lighting, sound, staging, and everything else associated with productions of today.
The Royal had seen better days. Her external architecture was decrepit, had been for the better part of forty years. Inside she looked just as forlorn. What had once been luxurious red velvet curtains that separated stage from auditorium were now dusty, faded, torn skeletons of their former selves. In the heyday of the Royal, those red curtains were the talk of the theatre world. Precisely made to measure by a renowned Viennese draper, the curtains had been thirteen months in the making, and had cost more than the theatre made in takings in twenty six months, but they fell gloriously, perfectly from the curtain rail fitted discretely into the proscenium arch above the stage. They were a work of art. But that was then, long ago.
The auditorium hadn’t seen people en masse for ten, maybe fifteen years and it showed. Two inches of dust covered the floor and chairs, and it was pristine. Not a footprint to be seen in the dust. Not a single person had set foot inside the auditorium since the theatre had closed its doors for the final time. A few playbills were visible here and there, under the dust, advertising the return of a once famous actor playing the lead in Macbeth. It had been the last production to be staged in the Royal, and unfortunately, it had brought all manner of bad luck associated with the Scottish play.
Lights had fallen from the lighting rig, and almost crushed the leading lady. Several accidents, including the stabbing of a supporting actor during shenanigans between scenes, food poisoning had gone through the whole cast and many members of the regional media after a catered publicity event, the Royal’s general manager had been involved in a terrible car accident and failed to recover, but the icing on the cake for theatre buffs was the closing down of the Royal herself. Everyone involved with that last production blamed the accidents and closing of the Royal on one man. Jimmy Hanover, a ring in stage manager, had made one fatal flaw on the fourth day of rehearsals. He’d referred to the play as its correct title rather than ‘the Scottish play’ whilst inside the theatre. Anyone who knew anything about theatre knew that was a huge mistake.
The old theatrical tradition of referring to Macbeth as the Scottish play could be traced all the way back to the very first production of Shakespeare’s play when an actor reportedly died because a real dagger was mistakenly used instead of a prop. From that performance forth, every production of Macbeth was besieged by disaster and accident. It was a silly, old theatrical superstition, but a potent one that almost every actor, producer, director, stage hand, anyone associated with the theatre either respected or abstained from mentioning the play’s name out of deference to those who did believe in the Scottish curse. And it led the Royal to exactly where it stood now – empty, unloved, and on the brink of being completely forgotten.
Emmett Winmeier stood at the back of the auditorium admiring the architecture of the old building but desperately trying not to inhale the dust. Flicking out a handkerchief, he placed it over his mouth and nose, and took shallow breaths to avoid the dust. He slowly walked down the aisle towards the proscenium arch stage, and the once gorgeous red velvet curtains.
‘Hit it,’ he called out, the words echoing around the empty auditorium. As if by magic, the house and stage lights flickered to life.
‘I’m surprised that they still work, Mr. Winmeier,’ a voice called from above Emmett.
‘I had the power company turn the electricity back on for a few hours. I just wanted one last look at this place before the demolition.’
‘When was the last time you were here, sir?’
‘I don’t know, Rick. Maybe twenty two, twenty three years ago. It didn’t look like this though. The years have not been kind to her.’
Emmett wandered over to the stage and ran his hand along rotting wood.
‘She used to be so beautiful, Rick. The lights were so bright. The curtains were a shade of red that I’ve never seen again. The stage itself had sections that were so worn that there were obvious dips in the wood. It was a real thrill to be here and watch the actors perform. But no more. We’ve moved on, society has moved on. People don’t want to see theatre any more, they just want to go to the movies, and see special effects and animation. So few love the theatre any more.’
The lights briefly flickered off and then back on again.
‘Spooky,’ called Rick from the stalls.
‘She knows what’s going to happen to her, that’s why the lights are flickering.’
‘Maybe we should get out of here now, Mr. Winmeier. It’s a little creepy in here now.’
‘You can wait for me outside, Rick,’ Emmett coughed into his handkerchief. Despite taking care not to breathe in the dust, minute particles were beginning to tickle his throat. He’d only be able to spend a few more minutes in the Royal before his asthma kicked in.
Rick shuffled back out through the dust, and left Emmett Winmeier to reminisce the glory days of the Royal.
‘I’m sorry, old girl.’ He caressed the stage again. ‘There’s nothing that I can do for you now. If only you’d not been left to rot, there might have been some way I could save you. But this is it. Your last hurrah.’
The Royal creaked and groaned in sympathy. Emmett wondered if the building understood what he was saying.
‘They were good times. We had good times, didn’t we? You can finally rest now. You’ve done your job, played your part to perfection, and now it’s time for your final curtain.’
One last time, Emmett ran his hand over the edge of the stage. For a moment, he was convinced that he felt her shiver in response to his touch.
‘Stupid old man,’ he said, then took a last look at the stage and auditorium, and trudged back up the aisle to the exit. ‘I’ll miss you, old girl.’
He left the auditorium, lights still doing their best to bring glory back to the stage. Footprints in the thick dust the only indication that life had momentarily returned to the Royal.
‘Rick, call the demolition crew and tell them she’s ready to go,’ Emmett said as he stepped out into the daylight.
‘Right you are, Mr. Winmeier.’
Emmett turned and faced the old Royal Theatre, her box office lights flickering in time, he thought, with the internal lights. A short series of quick flickering and then lights died out. True to the history of the theatre, the Royal had given him one last performance before accepting her final curtain. His melancholy smile the only small tribute he could make to his beloved theatre now.
‘Bravo, old girl, bravo.’