So, why am I sharing this? Wrong question. Why am I sharing this now? The issue of fidelity and questions of blame, repercussion and consequence have hung in the air in recent weeks. I am left, watching from the sidelines, with my dusty storybook eager to be opened. Its lessons, eager to be shared. Are you sitting comfortably? Shall we begin?
It's was a grim autumn in 2005 and I had been working for Skittles Theatre company for eight months since leaving Blackpool. It was a summer like no other travelling up and down the country performing day in, day out and not having a care in the world. My second tour of Alice in Wonderland was finished and my Tour Manager Natasha and I were heading back to the Scottish head office ready to dive straight into pantomime rehearsals. We arrived late pulling into the accommodation car park eager for our beds but the troublesome van had other ideas. The back doors jammed, trapping our cases. I had to sneak through a side opening the size of toilet window to essentially kick open the doors from the inside. All the while the new cast of my pantomime watched from the porch all dressed in their pyjamas. When our cases were finally free I got to meet my new cast properly looking slightly worse for wear. They included two veterans like me: tour manager Alison, cast member Ceri, and two company first timers, David and Elle. It was David and Elle who immediately drew me in and caught my eye as 'my kind of people'. They knew each other from before joining, even auditioned together, and couldn't believe their luck at getting cast alongside each other in Cinderella. Despite already having a bond they welcomed me and we became a terrible trio in no time. That first night we hit the bottle while Alison and Ceri retreated to bed. We didn't 'hit the bottle' in a big-boozy-idiot way, but just enough that established the divide in the cast. Us three kids and those two adults.
From that first night I was attracted to David who, with his blue eyes, slim build and blond (highlighted) hair was exactly my type. I went to bed that night thrilled at the thought of what lay ahead with this tour and thrilled to have hit it off so well with my two new team-mates.
The next morning began stupidly early and I awoke to David pottering around and then finally straightening his hair into a giant manga-esque quiff. I was enjoying the sacred routine so much I left myself hardly anytime to get ready. Wash, jogging bottoms, split sole shoes, t-shirt and company jacket... It was rehearsals, not tea at the Ritz. I was done! Alison, Ceri, Elle, David and me all piled into the van and a week of intense rehearsals began.
Seventy litres of blood, sweat and tears later we had completed our dress rehearsal and set off for Wakefield. Hitting the road after rehearsals always felt like being let out of prison. Rehearsals were great fun, don't get me wrong, but we craved autonomy and an audience. That first week in Wakefield would offer all this and more.
Elle, David and I were a little drunk and I was on massage duty. In various states of modest undress it was supposed to be quite innocent but the sexual subtext is clear in retrospect. After rubbing Elle's back she got up to get something and out the room we heard a thud as she banged her head on a low ceiling. Drama followed before she went to bed leaving David and I alone. With the party atmosphere fading we decided to go to our room and call it a night. With the door closed a return massage quickly turned into something else and a next thing I know our secret affair had begun. David was in 'the closet' and refused even to let Elle know about are newly blossoming relationship. It was our little secret. Over the coming weeks we stole an hour here, a weekend there and every night when we shut the door it was our time with each other. I did fall in love with him, no question of it, and I suspect he loved me too but hiding our relationship and him being 'newly gay' caused a few issues. But, I marched ahead blindly because I was like an idiot puppy thrilled by his attention and thrilled by the secrecy. I wanted him to tell Elle because I was sure she'd be okay with him being gay. It didn't make sense why he thought otherwise. But, I had to respect his wishes.
Then like all secrets, cracks appear and people start to glimpse a hidden truth. Elle had been watching us, our body language, smiles, glances, and figured something was going on, had even confronted David but he had denied it. She began to think herself mad with these denials coupled with mounting evidence and took a bold and staggering decision. One night as we slept in the one bed she literally kicked the door in. What she saw was two men asleep in one bed but her reaction was as if she found a bloodied corpse. She was crying, sick, hysterical and to my surprise, David was beside himself. Unprepared for such drama I left them to sort it out between them, after all we hadn't hurt anyone. Barely shifting in the single bed I went back to sleep only to be woken maybe an hour later by David. 'You need to come downstairs' he said, 'I need to explain'.
It would seem that before Elle and David joined Skittles Theatre company they hadn't just known each other, hadn't just been friends, but had actually been boyfriend and girlfriend. Upon getting the job they had decided to hide the ongoing relationship to avoid awkwardness. While I was sleeping with David, he was sleeping with Elle.
I was speechless, finally the penny dropped. Why I had to be his secret! Why he wouldn't tell Elle! Why she was so curious! Why she reacted so badly! My heart shattered but I couldn't grieve, I couldn't allow myself to feel aggrieved. I was an unwilling perpetrator in the deception that left Elle in ruins before me. She was the victim, not me! David was the deceiver and the cheat and I somehow had awoken that night 'the other woman' but never the victim.
The days that followed revealed David had played an exceptionally skilled game fooling us both for weeks, but that eventually Elle caught glimpses of the truth when he started pulling away from her. Being young, angry, competitive and heart broken I saw this 'pulling away' admission as my cue to take the spoils for myself but Elle would not permit us any unsupervised contact. Sleeping with the door open while she roamed the corridors checking in on us. It sounds insane but that was what happened. Elle was out of her mind and David and I had driven her there. Why did I even want him? Maybe I felt som misguided need to 'win' his affections over Elle, maybe I wanted to salvage something from the disaster or maybe I couldn't stop loving him.
Then like a giant tear through the narrative that was my life, these events were eclipsed by the sudden death of my Father. My sister called my mobile as we refuelled at a petrol station and delivered the devastating news. There, under the bright lights of the forecourt and the twin beams of the van, I dropped to the Tarmac. My head was spinning like I had been dragged from one surreal reality into another more so. My legs were no longer mine to control. I think I cried, I think I cried hysterically. The next few hours are missing but my memory unfogs later that night when Elle and David deliver me a copy of the Guardian, a bottle of Red wine and 20 Marlboro lights to my room. This simple gift so well timed and so me, was all the sweeter because it was from the two of them. Our little union seemed somehow restored. That night as I tried to sleep so far from home, my family and the source of my grief, David held me in his arms. Elle had called a truce on the patrols and turned a blind eye to the broken hearted.
I returned home for the funeral and was replaced by another actor for a few days. Never long out of contact with David I planned to return earlier than I had to so I could have a weekend alone with him! It seems wrong to ditch my family at such a time but I needed to be with the man I loved while I could. Another two days and we would be back to hiding our affections and being consumed by Elle's ongoing, justified paranoia. So, selfishly, I left my grieving family and made my way to a new accommodation where David was waiting. That weekend, that house and every moment with David is carved deeply into my memory. The feelings of betraying Elle, betraying my family and losing my father melted away as I escaped into the fantasy. It was two days of just us free to be together and free to be normal. I fell more in love than I thought possible and had no doubt in my mind this could work out for us.
Alison, Ceri and Elle returned late Sunday night and my little holiday from reality ended. By now all I had to look forward to was the party at the end of the season, I was now an orphan in love with a man I couldn't touch. The masquerade went on.
Elle and I had been victims of David's twisted betrayal but now I was betraying her too in my mind and in my heart. I hated that she still cried and I hated that I didn't. More than all that I hated myself for becoming all that I despised. I had no self respect to be carrying on or even wanting to carry on with such a scumbag. I was wrapped up in myself and my relationships at the expense of my own family and was stupid to believe it could all somehow end happily ever after like the shows we performed.
The single important thing this dusty book taught me in all the times I have revisited it: is that we all get hurt equally, even those inflicting the pain and we all pay the heaviest price in our conscience, especially those inflicting the pain.