MINERVA the start

20 Jun


Marianne did not have long to wait. Jeremy summoned her to lunch at Rules. He had a look of excitement about him, which she had never witnessed during his time at the BBC. Now he looked rested and full of energy.

` ‘I have a proposition to make’ he said, as the waiter poured out glasses of white wine. How do you feel about a break for freedom?’

Marianne was about to take a spoon to her shrimp cocktail


‘I have a project. I wanted to tell you earlier, but I needed to have something settled. I don’t like to talk about things until they are in the bag.’ ‘You are mysterious..’ Jeremy looked down at his plate for a moment as if to plan the timing for his next utterance. He lifted his head and looked her straight in the face

‘I have bought the lease on a theatre.’ Marianne gasped. He laughed. ‘You’ve bought a theatre?’ She stammered, ‘Isn’t that rather extravagant? Which one?’

‘Not one you will have heard of. When I say I have a theatre, it’s not exactly true. What I have is a derelict cinema which was built as a music hall back in the twenties and turned into a movie house to cater to the popularity of the film industry. Marianne digested the news for a minute.

‘What are you going to do with it? Are you going to fund it yourself> Put on your own productions?’ `

‘Yes – no – that is – not exactly. I couldn’t run to that. I will probably direct a few shows and appear in some. But basically, I want a place to practise my craft, while I am waiting for more lucrative engagements to turn up.’

‘But can you afford to do something like that?’

‘Just let me finish.’ The waiter arrived to take the shrimp cocktail plates away. Jeremy leaned over the empty table, using his hands to give more emphases to his ideas.

‘I want to create work for myself and other actors in the same position. I don’t intend to be idle ever again. After my years in the Wilderness, I realised that I needed some mental security. Not money, you understand. I have a few investments that will keep me going for a year or so. But to combat this terrible idleness, the waiting for something to turn up – the awful depression of being out of work, unwanted. You can’t possibly understand what it’s like, but maybe you can imagine something of what I feel.’

Marianne nodded ‘Vaguely’ she said. ‘Good, so what do you think?’ ‘I think it’s dangerous, but a good idea and I wish you well.’

‘But I want you to come into it with me.’

‘Me? But what do I know about the theatre? We’ve discussed this before. I have no experience with live work.’

‘Marianne, you’ll learn. You know about actors – when to help when to leave them alone. Something very few directors ever learn. You know about words. I can teach you everything I know about anything that might cause you trouble.’

‘But why me? Surely there are other people much better qualified?

‘I told you. I only stayed with the Rep because of you. I have a feeling about you. That you belong in the theatre. I can’t bear to think of you never knowing the sheer excitement of having a living, breathing audience out there, What Tony Newley says ‘The smell of the Greasepaint, the roar of the crowd. All that show biz stuff.’

‘And you’d let me direct?’

‘I have the utmost faith – confidence in you – and so has my wife.’

‘Molly, is part of it?’ ‘Yes, she needs to have an interest. To be able to work alongside me. It’s not easy to be married to someone who is wedded to his profession unless you can become part of it..’

‘So it’s just you and Molly?’ Jeremy looked at her with a little bit of apprehension. Luckily the waiter arrived at that moment with their lamb cutlets. It gave Jeremy time to think.

‘There are others,’ he said, looking down at his dish with high concentration, to avoid looking at her.

‘This is the catch.’

‘Possibly, but Molly and I will be rooting for you.’

‘Who are the others.’

‘My backers – and my production manager.’

‘Backers, Angels you call them?’ Jeremy laughed.

‘Im not sure about the Angels. Wait until you hear.’

‘I’m agog.

‘Well, the most important is Charles Granville, heard of him?’

‘Oh yes, Impresario. Put on that big musical ‘Sit up and Dream?’

‘Yes, he’s a good guy. He’s a bit of a dilettante; I suppose; A rebel. Ran away from Eton, joined the circus, went into musical comedy in the forties. Now he spends money; Inherited millions from the family. Bankers. He’s had quite a bit of luck with his shows so far.’

Marianne took a deep breath.

‘Sounds all right. How did you manage to get him interested?’ Jeremy grinned.

‘Hold on to your hat! He insisted in coming in on the deal. He is a friend of a friend.’

‘Why are you keeping me in suspense?’

‘I’ll tell you, but don’t speak immediately.’ He took a deep breath.

‘Jessica Sherwood.’ ‘Oh, no!’ ‘Wait, wait. I know you think she would be a fly in the ointment. You had a horrible experience with her. I’ve never known her to behave that badly before. She must have been terribly nervous.’


It is possible for someone like Jessica to be nervous. Odd as it may sound to you. She started on the wrong foot – arriving late. She is a real pro. Anyway, her husband is Lord Belize.’

‘And that makes a difference?’

‘Let me finish. Phil Sherwood is a good decent fellow, and he has a lot of influence over our Jessica. She would never misbehave when Phil is around.’

‘That may be so, but she still hates me.’ Jeremy smiled consolingly

‘I don’t want to prick your ego, my pet, but the fact is, she doesn’t remember you. That radio play is a lost three days as far as she is concerned. Anyway, she’d have to go along with the majority. Phil is a dear chap, spoils her rotten, but can manage her when it comes to the crunch. .And as for Charlie. ‘

He paused, not sure whether to conclude the sentence.

‘He knew Jessica when she was….. little Lizzie Marsden from Hull. He has so much information about her background that she would never want to be known. He adores her, though. He was stage manager for a show she was in when she was fifteen years old. He met Phil at the same time.’ ‘What was that?’

‘I think it was a nude show. There were a lot of those after the war.’ Marianne was silent, as she imagined the situation. Jeremy watched the changing expressions on her face. She spoke.

‘Somehow, I begin to see Jessica in a slightly different light. You mentioned the production manager. Who is he?’

‘Jason Sherwood.’

‘Jessica’s son. A family business?’

‘Have you met him?’

‘No but I hear he exists.’ Jeremy shrugged.

‘Another theatrical dynasty, more or less, cannot do much harm. Jason is an enthusiast, will tackle anything. Work out budges, play the lead, scrub the stage, knows about lights and sound – technical stuff. All round man of the theatre. We couldn’t do better.’

Mm, but all that aristocracy. How would I ever cope?’ Jeremy laughed ‘The only real aristocrat in that family is Phil. Jessica was born in a Haltemprice slum. Jason looks and behaves like a navvy.’ Jeremy mused for a while on the Sherwood dynasty, then he looked at Marianne, his eyes questioning, shining with enthusiasm.

‘What do you say. We’ll pay your salary for the first two years. After that, if we don’t make enough money to cover the costs, we’ll give up.

‘I’ll have to think about it. And so will you. I’ve got used to security.’ ‘Death to an artist.’ cried Jeremy

‘Surely not.’

Jeremy banged his fist on the table.

‘Yes, Marianne. Listen. Your talent is wasted on the radio. You have vision, imagination and an eye for colour and design. The work that you are doing at the moment exploits so little of your potential. Think hard about it. We’ll take a trip to the theatre on Sunday – Just you and me and Molly. Are you on?’

‘I’d like to see it.’

‘Of course, you would. Just to have a look around. I need to know your reaction before I start plugging your talents to the other lot.’

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