Twisted Pearls by Phyllis Burton

The Buntonian Theatre nestled almost apologetically, in the centre of the town of
Sanderwood. Most of the town’s buildings were built after the war, but the Buntonian first
opened its doors in the year 1899, and looked slightly at odds with the more modern
buildings surrounding it. Nevertheless, the town’s inhabitants loved their theatre, and looked
forward to all the productions which were held there. Every month, the local repertory
company performed plays, ranging from Shakespeare, to Victorian melodramas, and the most
up-to-date plays written by young writers.
It was two weeks before Christmas on a bright Tuesday afternoon. The theatre’s staff, the
producer and the back-stage crew were busy making sure that everything was ready for the
final rehearsal for the production of Cinderella. The actors were gradually entering the
auditorium, chattering away and trying to ignore all the hustle and bustle of the technical
The intercom system blared out noisily…
‘I want everyone involved in the opening sequence up on stage now, please, so check on
your costumes and props afterwards.’ Lady Priscilla Prendergast’s haughty aristocratic voice
boomed out over the heads of the assembled cast as soon as the intercom message had
finished. But nobody moved. They were far too busy talking to listen to her. ‘Will you please
listen to me? I said that I wanted everyone up on stage for the opening, please,’ she repeated
stamping her feet in temper. ‘We’ll never get through this rehearsal if you all insist on talking
all the time.’
Most of the stage lights were on, and the lighting in the auditorium was dim. Lady
Priscilla couldn’t see anything. Her hazel eyes flashed, and she put her hand up to her
forehead to shield them from the unforgiving lights. She was tall, slim and her long blond-togreyish
straight hair, swung around her head wildly as her anger increased. ‘I won’t tell you
again. You have to remember that this is your final rehearsal, and if your pathetic efforts last
night were anything to go by, you all certainly need it. You won’t get another chance.’ There
was no response to her pleas. ‘All I can say is, that the dress rehearsal last night was dreadful.
Several of you forgot your lines, and as far as some of your make-up is concerned, you
looked like a lot of pasty faced idiots.’ She peered out into the gloom. ‘Is the Dame here yet?’
‘Yes,’ a squeaky voice replied.
‘Well, your wig is totally wrong, so would you please contact the Wardrobe Mistress,
when you have a moment?’ The assembled cast looked chastened, but continued to chatter.
‘You have a paying audience tonight, so if you care about what people think, and I hope that
you do, then please come up on the stage now.’ The cast gradually began to move, and Lady
Pricilla’s imperious gaze alighted on one of the few people in the whole theatre, who was not
in awe of her.
Jack Smithers’ eyes twinkled as he returned her gaze. ‘She’s going about it all wrong,’ he
whispered to himself as he walked slowly up the old wooden steps and on to the stage. ‘Lady
Prendergast?’ he said eyeing her up and down.
She looked at him with distain, and irritation. ‘Yes, my man? When I said that I wanted
everyone on stage, I didn’t mean you. What do you want, can’t you see that I’m busy. I’m
trying to start this important rehearsal.’
‘I’m not your man and unlikely to be so, and in my ‘umble opinion, you won’t get any of
this lot to do anything if you shout at ‘em all the time. Ask them gentle like,’ he said as he
ambled towards the back of the stage. His old shoes squeaked and squelched as he reached
the ladder which was propped up against a bank of stage lights. ‘These lights need some
urgent attention before yer re’earsal starts.’ Even as he uttered these words, one of the lights
flickered a few times, before going out. Jack’s clothes had all seen better days, and some
would say that they needed a good wash too. His jacket had elbow patches made from
different materials, and the baggy lining hung down at the back. He’d been “Sparks” at the
theatre for 40 long years and had seen producers come and go. He considered her Ladyship to
be one of the worst.
‘Well make sure that you do whatever you have to do, quickly. I can’t wait any longer, or
this production will not be ready for the first performance this evening.’
Jack coughed and spluttered as he climbed up the ladder. ‘Alright, alright, I’m doing me
best,’ he said. It seemed that every time he climbed up now, it became more and more
difficult. His chest felt tight and he stood on the top rung for a while to get his breath back.
‘Smithers, I say, Smithers. Please hurry up and move this ladder, as the cast are coming
on the stage. We can’t possibly have you cluttering everything up.’
‘Don’t you get all ‘igh and mighty with me,’ he wheezed, as he looked down at her. ‘I just
won’t stand for it, do you ‘ere, and if I don’t do these ‘ere lights, there won’t be no
performance tonight.’
‘Well do hurry up then,’ she retorted. ‘What is this world coming to? I’ve never had so
much trouble with the lights before. It’s just not good enough.’
‘I’m going as fast as I can,’ Jack replied.
‘Well it’s not fast enough. In fact I’m not at all satisfied with your work, Smithers. You
are too slow and too old for this job. I’ll be speaking to the management about you.’
Lady Priscilla Prendergast was wearing a twin-set with pearls and a tweed skirt. Jack
Smithers stared at her and felt an overwhelming urge to tighten the beautiful necklace around
her neck until she squealed. He clenched his gnarled old hands tightly. He wasn’t a violent
man, but he’d had enough. ‘If I don’t go now,’ he told himself, ‘I won’t be responsible for my
actions.’ Jack climbed slowly back down the ladder, walked over to his tool box, and closed
it with the finality of a pistol shot. The noise echoed around the theatre.
He smiled at her.
‘Well, that’s it, yer Ladyship. If I’m not good enough, or I’m too old for you, just see ‘ow
you get on without me. Bye, and good luck,’ he said giving her a wave.
Lady Priscilla looked as if she was about to explode. ‘But you can’t leave now. What will
we do. I… I…?’ For the first time in her life, she was lost for words.
Jack Smithers doffed his cap, picked up his tool-box, and sauntered out of the hall. He felt
triumphant. For once in her sheltered and privileged life, someone had stood up to Lady
Priscilla Prendergast and had won! He smiled.
He’d had enough. Retirement beckoned to him as he walked out into the brilliant


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