I’m Reviewing a Play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along

 

Charles Thornton was a stenographer. A stenographer is someone who takes notes in shorthand or operates a shorthand machine. I didn’t know that until I happened upon in it in a dictionary, but Charles had known it all his adult life.

When he was 11 he received a vision informing him, among other things, that he would become a stenographer. He began working towards it right away, saving up his errand money for a second-hand stenograph and subscribing to Junior Stenographer magazine, a monthly journal published and printed in Canada. At fourteen he took his first stenography exam and passed with the highest mark the examining board had ever seen (94%). There was a story in his local paper about it, but it is too boring to include here. Soon after that he started workingas a stenographer’s assistant at Bartleby Throws, a legal firm in the city. For two years he wore a ¾ size suit and tie and, in the evenings to wind-down, played a ¾ size cello.

Charles was also a theatre critic, but it didn’t pay much and was really more of a sideline. By the age of thirty-three, Charles was Stenographer in Chief for Sing, Sing & Beard – which was pretty good. He was in love with a woman namedMadison Piper, head of Sales Received for Sing, Sing & Beard. She was 5’ 6”, blonde and often wore a black flower in her hair.

This is important as it happened in Charles’s past: when he was nine he walked into the bathroom and found his babysitter, a seventeen year old girl named Petula, standing naked in front of the bathroom mirror, humming a tune he sort of recognised. ‘Hi Charles,’ she said. Charles walked back out of the bathroom and sat down at his desk where he practised writing in shorthand.

One Tuesday morning in Spring, after two years working for Sing, Sing & Beard, Charles found Madison at the water buffalo, drinking glass after glass of ice cold water. Madison Piper was a woman of remarkable thirst.

‘Good morning,’ said Charles, ‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.’ He handed Madison the Albany’s Spring brochure.

Saturday, April 23rd, 7:30pm – Chase Bullmori’s ‘The Sausage and I’. ‘The Sausage and I’ is a play after the epic tradition for five actors (all sausages). The sausages are tied to invisible thread and jiggled around in order to simulate movement and dialogue. It is a silent play. After the performance, Chase Bullmori discusses theinspiration behind the piece. Bullmori’s past works, ‘The Parchment’ and ‘Eponymous Milk’, were both nominated for BonesongAwards for Innovation and his first collection of poetry, ‘Poems’, is published this year by Charlie Horse Books. This is the first British production of ‘The Sausage and I’ – which premiered at the Oslo Theatre Festival in 2002. “The challenge,” said Bullmori, in interview with P. S. McFadden, “was wringing tragedy from the situation. When I told most people the premise behind ‘The Sausage and I’, they laughed out loud – but those same people left the theatre weeping.”Adults £13, Concessions £8. The play is not suitable for young children and contains strobe effects.

‘I’m not sure,’ said Madison. ‘I don’t really like experimental theatre.’

‘Oh, it’s not experimental as such,’ said Charles. ‘I’ve seen his other plays – Bullmori’s narratives are actually pretty traditional.’

 ‘It sounds lovely,’ said Madison Piper. ‘But I have an awful lot of work to do on the Bird Index.’

‘In that case,’ said Charles, ‘I’m just going to ask you over and over again until you say yes.’ And with that Charles asked Madison Piper if she wanted to accompany him to the theatre. She laughed – and Charles asked her again. He wouldn’t stop, even when Madison poured a glass of ice cold water over his head. He followed her into her office and continued to ask her if she wanted to accompany him to the theatre. Madison explained that such behaviour was unacceptable as it was tantamount to harassment and, when two hours later Charles hadn’t stopped asking her to accompany him to the theatre, decided to take legal advice.

‘Would you describe his tone as “stridulous”?’ asked Madison’s lawyer, Mr. Haycock.

‘I’m not sure,’ said Madison, holding the phone to one ear and putting her hand over the other.

‘For the sake of argument,’ said Haycock, ‘we’ll call it “stridulous”.’

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘It’s really annoying,’ said Madison.

‘Good,’ said Haycock, ‘that’s very good. Try to suffer as much as possible.’

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘I don’t know,’ said Madison, ‘I might just go to the play with him.’

‘On no account should you agree to go to the play with him,’ said Haycock. ‘At this stage in proceedings it would be very damaging to your case. You wouldn’t even get a hearing. You’re going to have to tough it out, Maddy. And if you suffer a breakdown, all the better. That would be very good for your case. I recommend that you speak to your doctor. Tough it out.’

Madison called her doctor.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

 ‘I need to speak to Dr. Blend,’ she told Dr. Blend’s receptionist. ‘It’s an emergency.’ Dr. Blend was an Eastern European G.P. with very little to add to this story. He suggested booking an appointment for later in the week.

‘Geeze,’ said Haycock. ‘You sort of have to admire his persistence.’

‘No you don’t,’ said Madison.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘For the love of God,’ cried Madison.

‘Call me tomorrow,’ said Haycock. ‘I’m interested to see how this plays out. I’ll look into a few relevant cases this evening.’

Madison’s conversation with Haycock cost her in the region of £500, but it was worth it as he was a lawyer.

At six o’ clock, Charles Thornton followed Madison Piper to her car, asking if she would like to accompany him to the theatre. When Madison unlocked her car, Charles got into the passenger seat and said, ‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.’

After they had eaten together, Madison took a bath, surrounded by candles. Charles sat outside the bathroom doorof Madison’s apartment, saying, ‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.’ All night, Charles sat by Madison’s bedside, whispering, ‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.’ Madison fell asleep at two a.m.

The next day, Charles stood outside Madison’s bedroom door while she dressed and put a black flower in her hair. Madison drove Charles to work and bought him a large coffee from a drive-through cafe. ‘There you go,’ she said. ‘Enjoy your fucking coffee.’

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘Hey kid,’ said Haycock, on the phone. ‘What’s the state of play?’

‘He hasn’t left my side since yesterday.’

 ‘You let him into your house?’

‘I tried to shut him out,’ said Madison, ‘but he started weeping. The sound of him wondering if I’d like to accompany him to the theatre through his tears was too much to bear.’

‘So you let him into your house?’

‘Mark, please don’t start repeating things.’

‘You let him into your house?’ said Haycock and laughed. ‘I’m just messing with you,’ he said. ‘Ha ha ha. Did hebecome violent?’

‘No,’ said Madison.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘I don’t think he slept at all,’ she said.

‘Listen to this,’ said Haycock. ‘In 1988 a man was fined £75,000 for yelling at a tree.’

‘I’m sorry?’ said Madison.

‘That’s the closest I could find,’ said Haycock. ‘And the details are kind of patchy. The guy pleaded insanity so they had to prove that he wasn’t mad – and they managed it, somehow. He wasn’t mad at all. Only way you can get away with yelling at a tree is if you’re nuts. Here’s the weird part: he pays his fine – he was a pretty well-off guy – he pays his fine and two weeks later they find him yelling at the same tree again, only this time even louder. He was tried again, pleaded insanity, and this time it turned out he was insane. Spent the rest of his life in a secure institution yelling at a goddamned tree.’

‘That doesn’t strike me as relevant,’ said Madison.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘Is this guy Charles insane, do you think?’ said Haycock.

‘I don’t know,’ said Madison.

‘Have you seen your doctor yet?’

‘I haven’t had a breakdown yet,’ said Madison.

‘It’s probably in your interest to have the breakdown as soon as possible,’ said Haycock. ‘The sooner you have it, the sooner we can proceed with the prosecution.’

‘I’ll see what I can do.’

 ‘Call me tomorrow with an update,’ said Haycock.

Madison placed the phone back on the receiver.

‘Lets go for lunch,’ she said to Charles.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

That afternoon Madison Piper had an important meeting with her colleagues and superiors at which she was to give a presentation. She tried to explain this to Charles, but his only response was to wonder aloud whether she wanted to accompany him to the theatre. The meeting was not a complete disaster as her colleagues and superiors took Charles to be part of the act.

That night Madison took Charles for dinner at Montgomery’s. They had three bottles of red wine and stayed for cocktails.

‘You did what?’ said Haycock.

‘Nothing happened,’ said Madison. ‘He just lay next to me, whispering, I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along, until he fell asleep. He looked so awful, sitting in that uncomfortable chair by my bed, his eyes all bloodshot.’

‘This isn’t going to stand up too well in court,’ said Haycock. ‘Neither is your buying him dinner. Do you have the receipts?’

‘He has to eat.’

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘If you have the receipts, burn them. How are you coming along with the breakdown?’

‘Not great.’

‘Are you trying to destroy me, Maddy? I was telling your story to Rube last night and he gave me the Tanning case – Rube worked on the Tanning case years ago. This Tanning decides he wants to write a novel about a colleague of his – so he starts writing down everything the guy says. Whenever he opens his mouth, there’s Tanning, waiting to write it down. Drove the poor guy crazy.’

‘What happened?’

‘It’s actually a pretty good novel. But Tanning got five years for fraud in a completely unrelated matter. And the other guy, I don’t know. Once he’d recovered he tried to write a novel about Tanning in response, but it sort of flopped. The whole Tanning wave had peaked.’

The line went dead.

‘I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along,’ said Charles.

‘Okay,’ said Madison. ‘I’ll come to the stupid sausage play.’

***

The dialogue between the sausages, manifesting only as jiggling movements, was noted in the programme.

sausage2: [Your attempt on my life has backfired.]

sausage1: [I was raised in a pit of snakes.]

sausage2: [When I found you I threw in more snakes.]

sausage1: [I’m reviewing a play at the Albany and I was wondering if you’d like to come along.]

In the interval Madison drank a slightly off-chill glass of white wine with Charles Thornton in the theatre courtyard. The sun was setting over the grey apartment blocks and Charles hadn’t said a word since she’d agreed to go to the play with him.

Somebody tapped her on the shoulder. She turned. Hey kid,’ said Haycock. ‘If I’d known it was Bullmori, I’d have taken you myself. Is this Charles?’

‘Hi,’ said Charles.

‘Good for you,’ said Haycock, patting Charles on the back. ‘I knew you’d get her sooner or later.’

Haycock had greyed since the last time Madison had seen him. He drank a champagne cocktail from a highball glass and his tie depicted the surface of the moon. ‘How are you enjoying the play?’ he asked.

‘It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen,’ said Madison.

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