A group of quite frail, elderly women are having an afternoon out at the theatre. They are waiting for the auditorium to open, sitting on the soft couches in the bar. They are here to see an uproarious Victorian farce and they only have one thing in common- none of them look entirely comfortable. They are clearly a group, but it is obvious that they don’t know each other well. I sit on a high stool at the bar counter and watch.
Two women who you would never remember, the epitome of anonymous older womanhood, sit turned towards each other in a bubble of contentment that is all their own. They are deep in conversation, heads shaking, mouths turned down, sharing the same drained Northern faces.
A solitary woman stares at her ticket, frowning, hand on cheek, listening blankly without being involved. She wants to be part of the group and makes small movements towards what is going on but she remains alone. She is not sure why she is there.
A woman with spiked hair wearing an unwise fluffy cardigan and a heavily patterned dress has a manic, fixed smile. She is pointing, talking, homing in on a man who comes up to greet her.
She has no real awareness of those around her. It is a performance of her younger self which she has revived for a new audience, eyelids batting, all animation and no substance. It frightens me a little. She laughs too loudly.
“We’ll have to have a whip round for you!”
A woman wearing a smart jacket, tailored trousers and severe glasses is turned away from the group. She doesn’t like them, especially the one with spiked hair. She surveys her programme as if it smells bad.
A woman sits in a tartan skirt which once fitted but is now too big for her. She has untidy grey hair made into two side bunches with tiny bows as if she were a child and she shifts her feet in bright red lace up boots, waiting anxiously for her friend to come back so that she can relax and feel safe again.
Two smart ladies move uncertainly from their seats the second that the opening of the auditorium is announced. They each have a glittery stick to lean on and the wine in their glasses is shaking. They don’t want to be late. Getting to their seats is an expedition.
Near to the group is a family standing at the bar. They have money. There are two tall teenage daughters, rangy thoroughbreds with long blonde hair, expensive boots and crumpled white cardigans. Their father has a shaved head and he is wearing a jacket that is a little too young for him. The mother has put on a bit of weight, cut her hair short and taken to dressing comfortably. She used to be skinny and beautiful like her daughters and she watches them proudly as they talk, tossing their heads and flicking back their hair.
Now get you to my lady’s chamber and tell her, let her paint an inch thick, to this favor she must come. Make her laugh at that.
Hamlet Act 5, Scene 1.