I recall one occasion when a particularly upset girlfriend of mine, Hannah, descended into one of her typical fits of hysteria. Hannah was an actress. She had been involved in acting since she was a teenager and had also appeared in a Royal Shakespeare Company production of Hamlet. She played Ophelia. I found this rather apt. She loses her mind over the Prince of Denmark and drowns. Typical self-centred response. Poor Hamlet. His father dies and his mother shacks up with his uncle. Not only this but his uncle murdered his father and has taken the throne of Denmark leaving Hamlet cast adrift and mired in woe. His girlfriend Ophelia is meant to support him but what does she do? She gets all worked up about Hamlet telling her “Get thee to a nunnery” and climbs a willow tree and falls in the water below and drowns. I found Hannah to be prone to such similar histrionics. I put it down to her being an actress and her desire for everything to be achieved in one take. She was meticulous in her preparation for her acting. At first, I would help her and play the other parts to help her learn her lines. She was so grateful for my support in this regard, remarking how hard it was to find someone willing to do this and so often. If truth be told, I revelled in it. Not only was her gratitude all good fuel, I am of course something of the actor myself and the opportunity to grab the script and play a part was something I enjoyed. I did not pay much attention to Hannah’s delivery, only listening to what she was saying so I knew when to speak my lines. I was too concerned with ensuring I delivered a masterful performance. This would often draw praise from Hannah and she commented on a number of occasions that I appeared to have missed my calling. I was in agreement.
Of course, over time I grew tired of her repeated declarations of how good my delivery was and I began to look for ways to irritate and annoy her. I knew she put so much effort into her rehearsals and preparation because she wanted the final performance to be outstanding. Whether it was filming for a TV show (she has appeared in a couple of rather good British television dramas) or a stage production of a famous play, her performance had to be the best. I often gained the impression that she was doing this in order to outshine me. I may not be recognised as much as Hannah but that did not mean that what she did was better or more important than what I did. Quite the opposite. She needed to be reminded who was the leader and superior mind in our coupling. I began at first to fluff lines or speak when it was her turn to say her line which drew sighs of exasperation. I delighted in her irritation as I knew that it would soon become annoyance and she would erupt into one of her tirades. I would jump places in the script, says words incorrectly, use the wrong tone for questions and statements and then I began to hide her scripts so she could not practise. A meltdown was inevitable and foolishly she aimed all of this at me. I just continued to make comments that would keep her in a frenzy. You would be surprised to see this waif-like lady who usually is the picture of serenity on television react in the way she did. My goodness, did she have a foul mouth on her.
I rarely got angry with her. Her performances were so gratifying and amusing that I just could not generate a spark, even when she was blaming me. It was actually easier to keep trying to get it right and purposefully messing it up again. Several times I had to exit the room under the pretence of being upset so I could lock myself in the bathroom and stuff my hand into my mouth as I collapsed in paroxysms of mirth, her shrill voice echoing through the house.
The occasion that entertained me the most and which I began this post by recalling was when she was rehearsing her part for a six part dark drama that was part of a major channel’s Autumn drama selection. It was a fantastic piece of writing and Hannah had a chunky part. I got her so worked up and histrionic as I messed about, murmured the lines, said sections incorrectly and so on that she erupted into one of her fits. As the insults flowed I drank the fuel she poured over me and then she made a strange croak and gripped her throat. Feigning interest, I went to her side and she pointed at her throat, eyes filling with tears. It transpired that she had badly strained her vocal chords and a doctor instructed her to rest them completely. She could not rehearse and was unlikely to be ready for filming. The producers replaced her with another actress and dismayed by her fall from such a prestigious production, I sought out somebody else to entertain me.