Charles Gilbert & Sophie Tessa Sullivan. Brother and Sister, now in their twilight years. Charles being 97 years of age confined to a wheelchair a bachelor, and his sister Sophie a spinster of 86 supported by two walking sticks.
When Sophie was 30, she became engaged to Henry Carte. She dithered between getting married in her Mother’s gold brocade wedding dress or a simple blue dress she had purchased the year before, but never worn. It hadn’t mattered because she was jilted by the groom who suffered from amnesia and forgot to tell the bride of his problem.
Charles and Sophie, whether it was because of their name, or their age were invited by a well known entrepreneur to visit the one time theatre that they used to perform in, being avid singing and acting members of the local Gilbert and Sullivan Society.
The theatre is closed for refurbishments and while they reminisce about their acting abilities, the workers who were cleaning, painting and sculpturing laid down their tools to listen to this unrehearsed performance by two old people who once in their younger days strutted this stage.
Sophie said ‘Can you remember the first time we performed on this stage?’
Charles remarked ‘Vaguely! It was a long, long time ago!’
‘I can remember it as if it was yesterday, memories like that don’t fade away that quickly.’
Charles stated that when your are 97 they do.
Sophie said, ‘Oh don’t be daft, you must remember. We often partnered each other in the Gilbert and Sullivan operas, I particularly remember my role as Lady Sangazure, your beloved wife in the Sorcerer.’
‘Yes! I do know that! You wouldn’t let me partner anybody else, and especially when I was a principal lead.’
Sophie remarked, ‘We were both principal leads, darling!’
Charles said. ‘Besides all that, didn’t we have our rehearsals on a Friday?’
Sophie said, ‘No! They were every Monday and Wednesday, starting at 7:30 to 9:30pm’
‘Are you sure about that?’
‘Don’t be silly Charles, you can’t have forgotten that quickly, you were still acting and singing till your 80th birthday, that was only 17 years ago.’ And Sophie sighed and in almost a whisper repeated ‘17 years ago.’
‘Yes! 17 years ago. You’ve got to remember, I am pretty ancient and liable to say funny things and recollecting my thoughts over the years is pretty hard to do.’
Sophie remarked, ‘Not really, you’re just muddled up a bit. I remember when you were strong and the way you used to shift the scenery as if it was fly paper’
‘Now look at me, I can’t even lift fly-paper! Wait a minute! I do remember taking you out to dine after you were let down at the church.’
‘Yes I remember that. With my honeymoon money and I remember you told me it was going to be clear night with a brilliant moon, so I never took my coat and it rained and we had to walk home because you had too much to drink.’
Charles said, ‘Trust you to remind me, but I remember the voice of that baritone that entertained us.’
‘He was a tenor and we almost missed the performance because with you fumbling to do your bow tie up we arrived late. Why you had to dress up, I just don’t know. I only had a frilly blouse and a pair of jeans. Both of them were ruined by the rain.’
‘You’re not going to start a row over that, I made a mistake, nobody’s perfect.’
‘Too true! You’re right. No-one’s ever perfect. Don’t you remember anything about what we used to do on this stage, the magic of it all, the audiences and how they used to cheer and applaud and somehow I foolishly wondered if you might be by some chance be thinking of it too.’
Charles remarked, ‘Didn’t we try to sing The Gondoliers in Russian and The Mikado in Spanish?!’
‘In your dreams Charles! We never did that, you must be thinking of something else.’
Charles gloatingly remarked, ‘I do remember the time we almost got locked in the theatre because you lost your gloves!’
‘No! it wasn’t my gloves, it was my favourite comb.’
Charles said twice, ‘Comb! Comb! You can buy a comb anywhere for 30p! Ah now I seem to remember a time when I was suffering from laryngitis and I now vaguely remember volunteering my services to record on my reel-to-reel recorder The Sorcerer. It was the first time for the society to be recorded in a professional theatre. I can remember this vividly because I had to dangle the microphone from The Flies and during the playing of the overture, someone was still hammering the set together and to the beat of the drum.’
‘Well! I don’t remember that!’
Charles remarked ‘No! You were in your dressing room being made-up! And what about ‘Big Nigel‘ you must remember him, a walking disaster on two legs – in one show he knocked down the scenery at the end of act one of Yeomen of the Guard, and then he thumped his yeomen spike so hard on the stage that it flew off into the wings, just missing the Director. Then, to cap it all, someone stood on his cape when he was kneeling down and when he got up, they tumbled over.’
‘Trust you to remember the mishaps!’
Charles said, ‘Well! It was funny and he did make me laugh! Also when we were performing The Sorcerer – the character John Wellington Wells set the curtains on fire and I remembered the stage manager coming out with a fire extinguisher which spoilt the moment, but if I remember correctly the audience loved it and clapped and cheered. And in the Yeomen of the Guard when that famous line rang out across the auditorium ‘Who shired that fot’ instead of ‘Who fired that shot’’ there was not a murmur heard from the audience.’
Sophie remarked ‘It was a mistake bringing you to this theatre, if you are going to find fault with everything in the society’s productions – I should have come alone!’
‘Don’t be like that – I needed something to get me back to the living and this visit has been just the ticket for me. It hasn’t been fun stuck in this wheelchair for the past five years, a prisoner of my own thoughts and really nothing to live for. Oh. I know you have had to do all the hard work looking after me, but I do appreciate everything you have done.’
Charles takes hold of Sophie’s hand and gets up out of his wheelchair. They both stand close together and look around the theatre and Charles says very loudly.
‘AH YES! I REMEMBER IT WELL!’
The workers clapped and cheered as Sophie and Charles bowed. Charles sat down in his wheelchair and Sophie pushed him into the wings to the applause.
‘Just like old times – eh Sophie!’
Dedicated to all members of Eastbourne Gilbert and Sullivan Society