Salisbury, Wiltshire, UK
As far as I know, James Mason has never starred in any films of Jane Eyre—though he might well have done. My opening lines in this piece should have been Your name, little girl?
I've usually found the locals in my village more than willing enough to talk; and looking back, I still wonder why she took so long to approach me. Had I then seemed aloof, or had she later become more desperate? When I moved here some nine years ago, she was the first person I had really noticed. The bright self-set trendiness of her clothes, from the 'butcher's boy' cap to her calf-length boots; and her billowing flowered skirts as she cycled the busy High Street with carefree competence, took me back to London of the 60s&70s—King's Road, Carnaby Street, and Portobello Road markets. I'd sometimes smile and nod in recognition. Then, one day last year, there she was, crossing the road to confront me with a cheerful winning smile (not at all bad looking!):
Have you ever acted? Only the fool. Would you like to try? Not especially.
Few days later, I have succumbed; the trap has closed and the strategy unfolded. I am to play Mr Brocklehurst in Jane Eyre—Oh, and probably the vicar—we're really short of older men—and we'll need you to make up sets in The Grand Ballroom Scene. Now she tells me! But I can't dance! . . . You'll be fine. And that's it. A once-upon-a-time lecturer, I know how to project my voice; but no, I am not James Mason, nor was meant to be.
Rehearsals are frenetic, especially for the dancing; and with no directions or comment as to my acting, I learn, two days to go, what I will not be able to do because the set won't allow it. And she has been watching me strut my stuff for four months! First night, luckily poorly attended, I meet the young Jane on stage and utter my first immortal lines Your name, Jane Eyre? Amazingly, thereafter we play to packed houses; and all goes well—well, almost. As the last applause dies away, she is crossing the floor to throw her arms around me Darling, you were wonderful—do come to the party. I sneak away—not my scene. But fame follows me down the High Street for the next few days. And one year on, here she is again, ringing my bell. I feign out.
A mere mechanic
on this stage called Life—youngsters
teaching me to tap-dance!