The cast emerged from the wings and bowed deep and low. The audience burst into a series of cheers, and the applause thickened. The sound of applause ricocheted around the theatre, the whole cohort of the audience moving to a standing ovation as 'Hamlet' bowed, stepping forwards to the front of the stage. 'Horatio' and 'Ophelia' swiftly followed, flamboyance etching Ophelia's bow, where Hamlet and Horatio's bows had been more humble. There was only joy on the expressions of both actors, grins forming on their faces. Horatio noted the young woman stood in the front row, tears glittering in her eyes from the last scene and jumped down from the stage, enveloping her in a swift hug. She froze for half a second, her body rigid against his, and he pulled back, with a cheeky grin. She, emerging from her shock, smiled back at him, and applauded solely him, her hands lifted to him and a pink blush forming over her cheeks, visible even in the limited light. Still standing in the small gap between the stage and the seats, he bowed once more, winking at her jauntily, and then bounded back on to the stage up the steps at the side. He looked back at her and mouthed;
"Wait here" at her, before rejoining his cast.
Sitting on the edge on the stage, the young woman gazed up at the ceiling, able to see the mechanisms that lowered the arrases on to the stage from her position. There was none of the intricate carvings she was used to, but a theatre was a theatre, and she felt at home. Her phone flipped over and over in her hand, her stomach twisting itself into knots with every turn of her phone. She nearly let the phone slip from her grasp multiple times as she breathed in the atmosphere. The North of England didn't quite hold the grandeur of The Globe or even King's Theatre in Edinburgh, but this small theatre was rich with life. The walls themselves seemed to ooze the atmosphere of the theatre, even without the actors on stage, she still felt as though she were in a throne room in Denmark. She could hear the cast backstage, moving, chattering excitedly. The flicker of light from mobile phones distracting her as the rest of the audience left, their voices seemingly muffled to her, indistinguishable from the noise of the cast moving around backstage.
The tech guy grinned at her as the last of the audience left, and he switched the lamp off that sat on his desk. She looked at him, uncertain of how her face was reacting, uncertain of how she felt, but her eyes trailed after him as he flicked the switch off by the wall, and snuck out with the final, lingering member of the audience. The lights faltered and died, leaving only the lights emitting out of the wings to light her view. They spilled their contents on to the stage, reflecting back in droplets of water that adorned the stage; the remnants of the play.
"So was one night not enough for you?" 'Horatio' teased, as he skidded back on to the stage, sitting down alongside her. Startled, she leapt off the stage, and gaped at him, almost surprised he did come back.
"What?" She blurted out, inelegantly. 'Horatio' grinned at her, and nudged her lightly with his toe.
"I've seen you, sat in that same seat all three nights we've been here," He stage-whispered, the grin still dancing about his face. She blushed, and looked at the ground. Brushing hair back off her face, she bit her lower lip. Finally she spoke:
"I like Shakespeare," She said simply, looking back up and smiling, softly. "Especially when an actor completely nails my favourite character." Her voice this time was steady, lower in pitch, and quieter. In control. 'Horatio' beamed at her, and patted the stage. She jumped back up on to it, sitting next to him, her bag a barrier between the two of them.
"I agree, Paapa was amazing tonight," 'Horatio' teased, "I think he might even have outshone Benedict Cumberbatch…" The young woman laughed at that, her laughter unashamedly filling the theatre, she lightly hit him with the back of her hand. 'Horatio' held up his hands, a mock submission and admitted his thanks to her. She grinned and shook her head; a dismissal of the thanks.
"Honestly, you were fantastic. I loved it- all three nights," She said, genuine admiration teasing her voice. "-As was everyone, but Horatio holds a special place in my heart." She held her hand over her heart, as though to demonstrate where it was. Her fingers curled slightly on her chest, and grasped at the skin it met, pressing it white under her touch. She tapped her fingers against her collarbone a couple of times, before catching herself and lowering her hand back to her phone once more. 'Horatio' copied her gesture, pressing a hand to his own chest and agreed;
"As he does in mine. Do I get to know your name, or shall I just call you 'ShakespeareLover1234'?" The cheeky grin returned. The young woman matched it, throwing her hair over her shoulder. It caught the light and seemed to burn a furious red, glowing embers in the still theatre. Her cheeck didn't quite reach the redness of her hair, but they were beginning to grow close, as heat flooded them. She blamed it on the warmth of the theatre, despite knowing that was anything but that. She leant in towards 'Horatio' and tilted her head, mock-offence furrowing her brow.
"Excuse you, it's 'HamletHeartHoratio5evaa'," she corrected with a wicked smile. He raised an eyebrow in response, and she amended. "Promise not to laugh?"
"I'm sure it can't be worse than mine: Tom, I mean how unoriginal. At least my surname isn't Smith," The not-Horatio offered.
It was a good thing Tom didn't promise not to laugh, because he would have broken that promise instantly, as he roared with laughter. Ophelia tried to glower at him, honestly, she did. But her resolve crumbled, and she buried her face in her hands and laughed along with Tom.
Ophelia, talked with Tom in the darkened theatre for what felt like seconds, but transpired to be over the hour they were allowed to remain in there. The actress who had played Ophelia, who turned out to be called Gamasri, stuck her head around the stage door and called to Tom;
"You coming out or not?" She spoke with mild exasperation, and didn't bother entering the room, or turning on a light. There was no need to, she could easily see Tom from the door, and the rectangle of light illuminated him perfectly. Gamasri raised an eyebrow at the actor, impatience tapping out a rhythm with her left foot. Tom glanced at Ophelia, then back to Gamasri.
"Yeah- two minutes!"
"You've had sixty four fucking minutes," Gamasri audibly grumbled as she let the door slam shut behind her. Tom turned to Ophelia, the question barely formed on his lips before Ophelia spoke;
"No," She smiled, the word gently hitting Tom in the chest. He floundered for a moment then asked a puzzled:
"Why not?" The frown on his face spoke volumes to his wound from her simple word. Ophelia stood up, and slung her bag over her shoulder. She took one step away from Tom, then turned back to face him.
"This is your victory, I'd just be intruding. Besides, I have something to do tomorrow morning," Ophelia caught Tom's flickered gaze down to his phone, the time blinking up at her as well. "No!" She repeated, more forceful, but with a laugh. Tom pouted at her, and she shook her head defiantly, the flames of her hair dancing in the dim light. Tom pressed his hands together, a silent plea. Ophelia laughed again, and turned to leave, but her arm remained behind, held in place by Tom's hand. Ophelia looked down at it, and raised an eyebrow at Tom.
"Can I at least have your number?" He asked, puppy dog eyes wearing down Ophelia's resolve.
Ophelia could have skipped home she felt so elated, or at least, she could have skipped out of the theatre. The moment she felt the cold air prickle at her skin, she held her joy close to her chest, and tamed it. The sky had grown dark whilst she was in the theatre, and now it was longer after midnight. Stars scattered the sky above her, and the night prowled at her heels. She swung her bag strap up over her head, crossing it over her body, and held it tightly. She snapped her eyes on the darkness, alert and walked swiftly through the streets, praying not to be stopped. The distant noises of a rowdy crowd striking fear deep within her gut.
Tom joined the rest of the cast, bounding over to them and grinning. Paapa rolled his eyes at his friend, and groaned. Gamasri merely pulled Tom closer into the group and started walking. The group followed her with cheers and whoops, the freedom of finishing another stop on the Hamlet Tour celebrated by a night out. The hype and buzz of the crowd around him, made Tom join in on the cheering- after all they had three days off now, they may as well enjoy them whilst they could. They had deserved this night of freedom.