Acting UpBy: Melissa Nathan
Thank you, Mum and Dad, my meticulous copy-editors through life, for your constant, enthusiastic and totally biased support.
Thank you, Andrew, for being away on business so much that I had time to write a novel. And thank you for coming back, reading my work again and again, laughing at the right bits and making constructive criticism so sweetly that I didn’t want to shoot you.
Thank you, Frances Quinn, for your practical and emotional support. It proved invaluable.
On a more general note, thank you, Claude Lum, for being a rock in my life through the hard times.
Without these people this book would not have been written. So if you don’t like it, go to them.
THE TELEVISION WAS on.
* * * * *
‘ooh, look – it’s whatsisname’
‘you know . . .’
‘the one with the hair’
‘oh yeah – God, haven’t seen him for years. What was he in? Years ago now?’
‘he was in that detective programme – what was it called?’
‘oh I know, with that woman’
‘you know the one with the um – oh – married to that actor’
‘big guy, funny eyes – oh god what was he in? That’s going to really annoy me now’
‘I never knew they were married’
‘yeah (belch), pardon’
‘I wish I could remember the name of that programme’
‘the one that bloke was in’
‘you know, whatsisname’
‘DO YOU TWO MIND IF WE ACTUALLY HEAR THE PROGRAMME AS WELL AS WATCH IT?’
THE TUBE TRAIN was stifling and packed. Jasmin Field – Jazz to her friends – couldn’t read her book because someone’s entire body was in her private space. Pinned to the door, she shut her eyes and imagined a cool breeze gently nudging a weeping willow as she swung lazily in her hammock. Somewhere in the distance a wood-pigeon cooed and the smell of freshly cut grass wafted by. She smiled drowsily and hoped she wouldn’t have to move a muscle ever again.
Then the man next to her farted and the moment was lost.
‘It’s Harry Noble!’ shrieked someone suddenly and the squash eased as a mass of sticky bodies shot to where the words had come from. Jazz was grateful for the extra room. The train had been stuck in the station now for ten minutes – some poor bastard had fainted in the front carriage apparently. Jazz was certainly no Harry Noble groupie, but she was grateful to him because now at least she could move her book up into the right position and start reading again.
Then, as one, the entire carriage moved to the windows. Not a word was spoken, of course – this was the London Underground – but a silent, almost mystic power of understanding bound everyone together. It’s a common enough phenomenon when a mass of people all repress the same emotions – in this case, exhaustion, resentment and fascination – and it’s one that happens every second of every day on the tube. But this time it was increased to the nth degree and you could almost hear it buzzing. Jazz looked up from her book and watched in wonder.
And then there he was.
Unbelievably, Harry Noble strode past them all, just a foot away, down West Hampstead Station’s now empty platform. It was like being in a film. No one made a sound, they all just stared at him as he walked, elegant and tall, his neck straight, his eyes fixed ahead, to the exit. He was beautiful. Jazz was sure his lips were moving, as if he were talking to himself. He could have been on a desert island he was so wholly unaware of his audience. So this was the real reason the doors were still shut, surmised Jazz. No fainting passenger, just a famous one, who expected star treatment wherever he went. Suddenly, one young woman could hold back no longer – even if she was on the London Underground. She didn’t care, dammit. She banged on her bit of the window and screamed, ‘HARRY!’ in a voice full of longing and heartache.
He didn’t even turn his head. His eyes kept staring straight ahead, as if no one was there.
‘HARRY!’ came more voices, plaintive and hoarse.
Eventually, ever so slowly, he turned his majestic head and smiled a curt smile. And then everyone forgot their reserve. Now every carriage took its turn shouting, banging on windows and squealing as he passed them by. It was like a Mexican soundwave of passion and loss. It was quite moving, thought Jazz. And Harry Noble, of the illustrious Noble theatrical dynasty, heart-throb English actor who had gone to Hollywood and got an Oscar for his troubles, had the decency to look touched. He even winked at one girl who caught his dark, brooding eye.