That One Big Role
Jamie settled into his seat on the tube train. As always, he'd chosen the middle one of the bench seat. He plugged his MP3 player's headphones into his ears, continuing to listen to the latest Lady Gaga album, and settled down for his journey. It would take him just over an hour to reach the Westend from his home in Colliers Wood, deep in South London, but he couldn't afford to live any closer to the Westend.
His body still ached from that morning's workout. He'd missed two trips to the gym, on the run, and today he'd had to make-up for it. He couldn't afford to let his body slip - love-handles were not welcome in his current job. The previous two mornings he'd skipped the gym for a lie in bed, a few extra hours wrapped up under his duvet reading the trashy bestseller he'd picked up on a whim. This had been happening to him more often of late. His motivation levels for the normal routine of his life had been falling. He had to force himself to follow his usual routine. Today he was paying for skipping the gym. The muscles in his legs and chest were stiff and aching from the extra workout he'd had to inflict on them.
The tube train had been empty when he'd got on it but it always was. Travelling into London at five-thirty, he was travelling against the rush hour flow for at least for two-thirds of his journey. This was one of the perks of this job, not the biggest but a perk.
The job had just started as a six-week run in a fringe theatre. He'd auditioned for the play half expecting not to hear back anything from it, as had happened so often before. There were so many actors in London chasing so few roles, and he knew his looks always went against him. He was realistic, though he also knew it could sound vain, he knew he was good looking, but so often that worked against him. At auditions they rarely saw beyond his looks to his acting talent. In the five years since he left drama school, the roles he had landed had been more for his looks then his acting ability. For the fringe theatre roles and the two You Tube films he’d done, his costumes had often lacked shirts, twice had only consisted of underwear, and once he’d spent most of the play nude, which hadn’t been as embarrassing as he’d thought.
The premise for To Serve and Obey had caught his attention. It was about three MPs, one from each of the main parties, who were caught up cheating on their expenses, and how their different acts of fraud dragged them down. He'd been drawn to the role of young Liberal MP who got accidentally drawn into a property fraud. As happened before when he saw a part that he wanted, he had already imagined that he'd got it even before he'd even auditioned for it. He'd imagined what he could do with the role, how he could make it shine, even what kind of accent he'd use for the character.
His audition had been late: the whole day seemed to be running late. When he'd finally stood before the director, two producers and the play's author, he'd barely got a minute into his best audition speech before the director, in a coy voice, had asked him to remove his shirt. With his usual feeling of resignation, he'd taken off his shirt and then carried on with his speech.
He'd not expected to get a call back from that audition, serious MP characters don't spend any of their time shirtless on stage. So when, three days later, the director called his mobile, Jamie had been surprised. The next second, his hopes had jumped up into the front of his mind: he'd got the role of the Liberal MP. In his gushing voice, the director told him he'd got a role in To Serve and Obey, the role of the rent boy the married Tory MP gets involved with. It wasn't a lead, but it was a featured role, and his character had a name. On the downside, he was shirtless in the first act and down to his underwear in the second act. It only took him a moment to accept the role- even shirtless, it was better than doing agency shifts in a call centre.
The tube train stopped in a station, the carriage doors opened and then nothing else happened. The train just stood there, delayed for no reason, no passengers getting on or off. Repeatedly a pre-recorded voice boomed out across the empty platform that there was a “Good” service across the tube network. Jamie sighed with frustration. He still had plenty of time, but he hated delays like this.
The first run of To Serve and Obey had been sold out - the play's subject matter had gained it a lot of publicity, but it being featured on the BBC's daily magazine program The One Show was what had sold out the run (The part of the Liberal MP was being played by an actor who had only recently left the soap opera Coronation Street). The fringe theatre had quickly extended the play's run for another four weeks, the theatre being dark for that period anyway. During those extended four weeks, the play was seen by a Westend Producer responsible for running half a dozen theatres.
A week later they were all called into a meeting in the early afternoon, on the Tuesday of the play's last week. Sitting together in a row at the front of the stage, was the director, the two producers, the author, and a well-dressed woman Jamie didn't recognise. The announcement had been brief and had caused a fast ripple of excitement amongst the cast and crew gathered there. The well-dressed woman was the Westend Producer and she wanted to transfer To Serve and Obey into the Westend, in three week’s time.
As everyone around him bubbled over with excitement, Jamie had found himself sitting there in surprise. This was what he'd wanted for his career, that big break that could finally launch his career, but somehow, he'd imagined it differently. He'd imagined that he would audition for a Westend play and that would be his big break - he'd prepare himself throughout the weeks of rehearsal for impending stardom. Instead he'd fallen into his big break, being transferred into the Westend when he did not expect it.
The tube train stopped but this time between stations. The only view out of the large oblong windows was the dirty tunnel walls. Today, this tube train was extremely slow. Lately, the tube trains had been running slowly, plagued with frequent breakdowns, but this train was stopping far more than normal. He always left extra time to reach the theatre, normally arriving an hour or so early. He'd use that time to prepare for his role, to make sure his was physically and mentally ready for his performance; but of late he'd been beginning to wonder what was the point of all this nightly preparation.
To Serve and Obey had transferred into the Westend nearly eight months ago now. At the time Jamie had happily signed his year contract, with an option to extend. He'd never before been offered such a long period of employment. He had been so excited. Now he didn't feel the same.
Eight performances a week, week in and week out, performing the same lines in the same play, the only break he'd had was for Christmas Day and Boxing Day. He had to deliver those same lines in the same way at every performance. Every performance, in the second scene in the second act, he'd tumble out of bed in the same way in the same small pair of black underpants. He performed the reactions, pulled the same facial expressions every performance. He knew his character, what there was of a character, knew his motivations for what they were inside out. He could perform his role on automatic pilot now, and many times he did.
The monotony of turning in the same performance every night had killed the excitement he'd originally had in his performance. So many nights he felt a fraud, turning in a performance on autopilot, but so many nights he couldn't stop himself. His performance couldn't change, and it was draining him dry.
With a sharp jerked the tube train stopped in another station, a deep underground station, only three more stops before Jamie's stop. He looked up and saw four teenage lads hurry through the open carriage door. Two of them were white and two of them were black, all of them dressed in street clothes and bouncing with energy.
One of them had thick and rippling black hair, falling over his head and brushing over his collar. Hair so thick the lad had to keep pushing it back out of his eyes. Oliver, his ex-boyfriend, had had hair like that, Jamie had so enjoyed stroking his fingers through Oliver’s hair, but Oliver had not liked Jamie’s erratic life as an actor. Oliver had wanted stability and routine from his boyfriend, things that Jamie hadn’t been able to offer him then. Jamie had pushed the thought to the back of his mind.
As he watched those lads boisterously jostle each other in the open area in front of the carriage's doors, that same fantasy flashed into his mind. It was a simple fantasy but still a very attractive one. He always felt a pang of guilt when this fantasy came to mind, but it wasn't enough to stop his mind dwelling on it. He'd first had the fantasy a little over a week ago, and as the days past his mind dwelt more and more on it.
As he watched those four lads, his mind pushed forward with that recurring fantasy: his mind focused on the tall, blonde lad in that group as the main object of his fantasy, not the one with Oliver’s hair. His mind quickly imagined this lad seeing Jamie sat there alone and vulnerable. The lad would approach him. Stand in front of him. The lad would reach into his jacket and pull out a short but very sharp knife. The lad would then demand that Jamie hand over his wallet. When Jamie refused the lad would stab him in the stomach. Not a deep wound, not a wound that would damage any of his internal organs, but a stab wound all the same. Jamie would be rushed to hospital, have to have stitches to his wound and would have to take several days off work because of it. He'd finally have a break from work. He would be able to stay at home and not have to find the energy to turn in his performance each night, his performance that verged on the automatic.
As soon as that fantasy formed in his mind, he felt that rush of guilt. His fantasy was so stupid and selfish, but he couldn't stop his mind running this fantasy over and over. Just a chance for a break from To Serve and Obey, even for just a few days, his mind was craving it. He’d fantasised about falling down a flight of stairs, being mugged in public, even being involved in a tube train accident, anything that would give him the break from the play he so craved. He’d dreamed of this chance, to appear in a Westend play, but he'd never thought he would find himself so bored and dry in the role. He'd never thought he'd be longing for a break from his big break, but he was, just a break from it.
The tube train pulled into his station, and quickly Jamie stood up, pulling his backpack onto his shoulder. The four lads burst out of the tube train as soon as the carriage's doors opened, Jamie quickly following behind them. The lads boisterously pushed at each other as they headed along the platform. With his head down, Jamie strode past them and on towards the station's exit.
That morning he'd received an email from the play's producers, in their typical short and brief tone. They were planning to take To Serve and Obey on tour at the end of its run and were taking up options on all the casts' contracts. The tour would feature the original cast. He wouldn't even escape the play when the run ended. He was stuck with it for months to come.
As he began to run up the station's escalator he wondered if any of the people he rushed past were potential muggers...