In 1597 Queen Elizabeth I signed a Royal warrant giving theatre managers Henry Evans, Nathaniel Giles and their deputy, James Robinson authority to ‘impress’ boys to be actors in the second Blackfriars Theatre. In reality it was kidnapping against which there were no laws in Elizabethan England. As a result two of the greatest boy players of the age, Nathan Field and Salomon Pavy, suffered ‘impressment’. The setting up of the new Blackfriars indoor theatre and its fluctuating fortunes ushers a cavalcade of characters into the former Dominican Priory.
On the second day of his incarceration at Blackfriars, Nathan Field heard the jangling of keys outside his monk’s cell door. He turned to face the door and put his hands behind his back as was so often his way. The key turned in the lock and when the door swung back there was John Boynton, the Warden.
“Time to begin your training, young Master Field.”
Without speaking Nathan Field simply left the cell and fell in step with the Warden who guided him up the steps to the theatre area. Waiting for them on stage was Nathaniel Giles.
“Thank you Warden, just leave him with me now. Oh and could you tell Matron that Master Field will require a hot bath and some clean clothes after our lesson?”
“Yes, Mr. Giles. How long do you anticipate the lesson will last?”
“That is hard to judge. It could be less than an hour or it may be more than two. The Matron will have to be flexible in her preparations.”
“Yes, Mr. Giles.”
With that the Warden left amid a jangling of keys, which would become his signature tune. In his own mind Nathan Field processed an upcoming lesson. What might that entail? Then there was the prospect of a hot bath and clean clothes. That was something to look forward to at least. Mr. Nathaniel Giles who turned to examine his new young project broke his reverie. Giles saw the handsome boy standing in front of him with his hands behind his back looking straight at him. He judged that young Field was resentful of his situation, but was determined to grin and bear it and not risk punishment by being deliberately uncooperative. He now began the first lesson which was either going to produce a young actor who would be the leader of the troupe or a sullen young man who would be taking the first opportunity to abscond from this unwanted circumstance. Mr. Giles spoke softly:
“I hope you managed to get some sleep. When this lesson is over you can have a hot bath and put on some clean clothes and then we will eat. That will be our morning pattern.”
Nathan Field did not change his expression or acknowledge the intelligence he had just been given in any way.
“I know I cannot be your friend at this time as you are still very resentful about how you were brought here and made to stay against your will. However, I will give you this undertaking. If you see out the spring with us and work with me and the other boys when they arrive, then I will guarantee that on the first day of summer you will be given a choice to stay or go and resume your previous life.”
For the first time Nathan sensed a glimmer of hope. There were just two and a half months of spring to go. He could treat that time as an adventure and if Giles was true to his word he would be able to get out of here. Even if he wasn’t an honourable man, then Nathan thought he could use the time to gain the Managers’ and the Warden’s trust, secure a measure of independence and plan his own escape from there. He was not going to give Giles any encouragement though. He was angry at what had been done to him and so he remained silent and did not acknowledge what had been said to him.
“So Nathan, when we do our lessons on the stage you must work in tights only. I want you to feel and sense your body as much as possible. So will you make yourself ready?”
Without any sign of protest Nathan Field slipped off his shoes and then loosened the neck lacing of his shirt and pulled it over his head. He then undid the drawstring of his breeches and let them fall to the floor and proceeded to step out of them. Now he stood in his crimson tights only. Mr. Giles indicated he should put his shoes, shirt and breeches on the side of the stage. Unbeknown to the teacher and reluctant student on the stage they were being watched. The Warden had delivered the message to the Matron about a hot bath and clean clothes and then had gone to the entrance of the auditorium and had sat down quietly in the gloom of the backbenches. He felt a responsibility to this young man and he was going to watch and see that no harm came to him and that Nathaniel Giles and his fellows were genuine in their dealings with the boys who were going to be in his care. For the next two hours he was going to be mesmerised by what he saw and totally reassured about the motives of these theatrical men. Giles began the lesson:
“Now place the palms of your hands on your diaphragm and feel it control your breathing as you follow my timing.”
For the first time Nathan Field took his hands from behind his back and placed them on his abdomen and waited for the instructions:
“Now breathe in deeply and hold.”
Mr. Giles counted ten beats and then said:
“Now breathe out slowly through your mouth controlling the way you expel the air and feeling your diaphragm as you do so.”
Once again Giles counted out ten beats and Nathan closed his eyes and sensed the muscles in his abdomen working as he tried to control their progress. The deep breathing exercises involved ten repeats and Giles was pleased with the way the young man was responding.
“Good work, Nathan. Now down on the floor and make yourself as small as you can. Tuck your arms and legs and head into your body and retreat into the tightest ball.”
From the back of the auditorium the Warden watched as young Field sank gracefully to the floor and literally contracted his body into a small ball. Even from his observation position the Warden could see the effort the young man was putting into the exercise. He was handsome and lithe and quite beautiful to watch. Giles waited until he thought young Field could not tighten his pose anymore and then he directed.
“Now slowly, with as much control as you can do it, unwind one section of your body at a time until you are lying flat on your back.”
Nathaniel Giles watched as the young man in front of him lost himself in the control exercise he was undertaking and was pleased. He ordered three repeats of the exercise with a different starting point for the body each time. When young Field was lying relaxed on his back on the floor Giles outlined the next exercise:
“Now begin with your toes. Wriggle them about. Good. Now hold the muscles in your toes as tense as you can. Now tense your calf muscles and hold the tension, now your thigh muscles and all the muscles in your abdomen, chest, shoulders, arms, neck and face. Hold then as tense as you can. Nathan fought all the muscle groups in his body and forced them to be tense and hold the tension. He was working extremely hard.
“Now relax all the muscles at once.”
Nathan did so and his body slipped into a completely relaxed state and he felt wonderfully refreshed. Again Giles ordered three repeats of the exercise. From his gloomy vantage point the Warden was reassessing what he was witnessing. The boy on the stage was in no danger either physically or morally. He was being guided by a Master artist and he was responding almost in spite of himself.
“Very good Nathan. Now stand up.”
Nathan Field did so and instinctively he put his hands behind his back. Giles wondered about this submissive action. It was clearly deeply ingrained and he could only ponder on where it had come from and why it was so often repeated. However he had work to do and he proceeded:
“When I say so I want you to run in the area of the stage. Go in any direction you choose and run as fast as you can, but when I clap my hands thus…”
Giles clapped his hands and the sound reverberated around the auditorium and even startled the Warden in his concealed position.
“… you freeze in what ever position you find yourself. Try not to move and hold the pose for as long as you can or until I tell you to run again. Now run!”
Nathan took off and initially circled the space. He was lithe and athletic and ran with style and grace. Then Giles booming clap made him freeze and he was caught in suspended animation. Giles watched the young man strive to hold his pose and his balance. Then Giles restarted the process.”
From the back of the auditorium the Warden sat forward on the bench and watched the action unfold. Giles stood centre stage and Nathan circled him and then crisscrossed his position and then changed direction with the agility of a cat. Then his movement would be arrested by the claps, which seemed to become softer. Young Field changed his body positions as he ran and when he froze he was seemingly always in a different pose. The running went on for what seemed an interminable time and then Giles shouted:
Nathan did not freeze, he simply stopped and walked back to centre stage and stood in front of Giles. His hands slipped behind his back and there was perspiration on his brow and it was forming and trickling down his torso. This told the instructor that his young charge was giving great effort. All through the lesson so far, Nathan had remained silent, but now he was breathing in gasps trying to catch his breath.
“Hands on your diaphragm and breathe like we did at the start of the session.”
Nathan did so and his breathing returned to a normal pattern. He opened his eyes and for the first time looked at Giles without resentment and perhaps a hint of anticipation for the next instruction.
“Sit on the stage in a cross-legged position and rest your hands on your knees.”
In one fluid movement Nathan went from standing to sitting cross-legged on the stage floor in front of his Master. He rested his hands on his knees and enjoyed the relaxed position.
“Close your eyes and listen carefully.”
The Warden strained to listen, but could hear nothing from the back of the theatre.
“Listen to the music in your mind. It is a strange and ghostly sound. It forebodes danger. Be alert to it. It is slow and threatening and may be approaching. Now let your body respond to it.”
The magic had begun and although he could see it the Warden could hardly believe it. The boy sitting cross-legged on the stage floor began to sway. He was alert and listening for sounds of presumptive risk.
“The music is changing. The danger has arrived and your very existence is under threat. Hear the increasing speed and intensity of the music and react, your life depends upon what you do.”
Now Giles simply watched as the boy sprung from the seated position and fled from an unseen presence that was being orchestrated by music only he could hear. He ran and he stumbled and fell and cowered and crawled and regained his feet and fled again only to fall once more. He fended off crashing blows and tried to weave out of the path of swipes and lunges that no one else could see or hear. The Warden was stunned and was drawn into the scene and felt the boy’s fear and pain. Then Giles said quite softly:
“The danger has passed. The music tells you this. It is slowing and there is a calm and peace descending. Hear the music, respond to what it is telling you.”
There was a release of tension and the boy’s body expressed it. He waved his torso as if it was being caressed by a gentle breeze and then he relaxed completely and fell to the floor with controlled grace, rolled gently from side to side and then in a manoeuvre that astounded even Giles he presented himself back into a cross-legged position and put his hands gently on his knees and allowed his eyelids to droop. From the back of the auditorium the Warden wanted to stand and applaud, but he knew he could not reveal himself. This had been a one on one lesson and no other person should have been known to observe. After several minutes of silence Giles said:
“Stand up Nathan.”
The boy did so, but now his hands hung loosely at his sides. He was in a lather of perspiration and his torso glistened with it. He controlled his breathing and his lips showed the faint hint of a smile that was expressing personal satisfaction.
“Well done, Nathan.”
The remainder of the lesson was built around some dumb show interpretations of well-known characters and activities. Nathan was asked to mime a blacksmith at his anvil and a fisherman hauling in his nets. The final interpretation was much more subtle. Giles asked Nathan to mime a knight standing alone preparing for single combat. There was almost no action and the young man was stretched to try and present the scene. The Warden was in no doubt that Nathan Field was a young knight facing his mortality in the challenge to come. It was so understated and yet so thrillingly real. At the end of the lesson, Giles did not physically touch his pupil. He had refrained from doing so throughout the two hours that had elapsed. The only change in Nathan’s demeanour was that he no longer stood with his hands behind his back.
“A good beginning Nathan. You have talent and unlimited potential.”
Then Giles peered into the gloom of the auditorium and projected to the backbenches.
“You may tell the Matron that Nathan is ready for his hot bath and something to eat, Warden please.”
The Warden was surprised that his presence, which had been unacknowledged for the past two hours was now so easily addressed. Clearly Giles had known he was watching throughout the session and was happy for him to do so.
“Pick up your clothes and go and get a hot bath. You deserve it.”
For the first time Nathan Field spoke. He looked his mentor directly in the face and with no hint of artificiality or staged performance he said:
“Thank you Mr. Giles.”
Then he turned picked up his clothes and was joined by Warden Boynton who had moved from the back of the theatre and they walked together off to the bathing room. Nathaniel Giles stood in the centre of the stage and pondered on his great good fortune in stumbling upon a pupil with such talent. If only he could hang on to him beyond the spring.
The Warden directed Nathan Field via the Buttery and when he appeared in his tights only, he attracted the attention of Susan James, who glanced at him briefly as she looked up from the pot she was stirring on the stove. Maggie Erskine, the kitchen maid took a much longer look. The beauty of the boy in tights transfixed her and she froze in the act of kneading bread to drink in the image. However, as soon as he appeared he was gone and the Warden guided him via the laundry area to the bathing room where Sarah was pouring the final bucket of hot water into the large copper bath. John Boynton introduced Nathan to Sarah.
“Sarah, this is Master Nathan Field. He is the first of our boy players to take up residence here. He has just completed a demanding session with Mr. Giles and is looking forward to a hot bath.”
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Master Field. Your bath is ready and the water is hot so be careful when you get in. There are towelling sheets on the shelves.”
“Thank you, Sarah.”
“Just leave your clothes by the door. Matron has provided a clean set for you and I will wash yours. They will be ready by tomorrow morning.”
“Thank you again, Sarah.”
The rotund woman was matter of fact and businesslike. Of course she had noted the handsome young man’s proportions and looks, but she had sons of her own and boys’ bodies no longer distracted her.
“There are sponges and soap on the shelves. Take them before you get in. You are the only one bathing this morning so take as much time as you need.”
Warden Boynton smiled and said:
“I think you are in good hands, Master Field.”
With that both he and Sarah left and closed the door of the bathing room behind them. Without hesitation Nathan felt the water in the bath and it was delightfully warm. He slipped out of his tights, selected a sponge and some soap from the shelf and then lowered himself into the soothing water. He washed himself thoroughly and then luxuriated in the bath. He could not remember when he had had a more satisfying bathing experience. Sarah knocked at the door, opened it and collected Nathan’s clothes. She left and returned soon after with a pile of neatly folded clean garments. At no stage did she see the need to look at the boy in the bath and Nathan barely noticed her.
After a wonderful and refreshing cleansing process Nathan hauled himself out of the bath, dried off and dressed in the clean clothes that had been provided for him. He wanted to comb his hair but didn’t have the means to do so. He took the towelling sheet with him as he opened the door into the laundry area and for the first time met Matron Hampton.
“Well that was fortunate. They are my son’s old clothes but they fit you very well. Hello, Master Field. I am Matron Hampton.”
“Hello Matron. Thank you for providing the clothes, I have no others of my own at present.”
“You do not appear to have a comb either, Master Field. Come here.”
With that the Matron pulled a comb from her pocket and proceeded to comb out the boy’s damp black hair.
“Now that is better. Here give me the towelling sheet and hurry into the dining hall, Susan is about to serve.”
When Nathan reached the dining room he saw that everyone was there sitting on either side of the table. He took his place on the bench alongside Mr. Giles and Maggie Erskine served warm bread rolls, while Susan James ladled steaming vegetable broth into bowls in front of the seated group. Matron and Sarah joined the throng from the laundry and when everyone was about to eat, Nathaniel Giles said a simple grace, which surprised a few people at the table. Then they ate.
When lunch was completed Warden Boynton rose, thanked Susan James for the meal and said to Nathan:
“Come along, Master Field, we will go for a walk before you must return to your cell.”
Mr. Giles interrupted:
“Thank you Warden. By all means take Master Field for a walk, but when you return show him to the leading boy’s cubicle in the dormitory. It is his by rights now and there will be no need to lock him in a cell in future. He may have the freedom of all the areas within the priory walls.”
“As you wish, Mr. Giles.”
Mr. Giles turned and smiled at Nathan, who quietly said:
“Thank you, Mr. Giles.”
“No, thank you Master Field. Our next lesson is tomorrow morning, I will see you then.”
As James Robinson ruled a line through each passing week on his time line chart, the final preparations for opening night went forward at a hectic pace. Mr. Giles nominated three boys to ‘learn the ropes’ actually the control cords for the flights of Charlie Sharpe and Nathan Field. The boys he chose were all former apprentices from various trades and they were strong and reliable. He selected Freddy Turner, Johnny Warwick and Jamie Brown and they were asked to remain behind when the other boys were sent off after the afternoon rehearsal.
Walter Randall and Will had installed a winch grinding gear mechanism to control the heavy rope lift of the boys and now Will could raise and lower them in a smooth and controlled way with little effort. It left him free to watch the action and see that all the control cords and his own height adjustments were creating the correct illusion. Freddy, Johnny and Jamie were intrigued by the roles they were given and watched in fascination as Charlie Sharpe stripped down and climbed into the harness, which had also been refined to give the boys greater flexibility and comfort. Then the three ‘control cord’ boys, climbed up to the first level gallery and with Mr. Giles directing Charlie was raised and then ‘flew’ like he had never done before. It was thrilling. Charlie changed places with Nathan Field and Will and the ‘cord controllers’ made him swoop and then soar up as he swept around the stage.
After a brief pause Salomon Pavy was required to perform as Ganymede tending his flock and then Nathan appeared as the great bird on the upper gallery and swept down and terrified the youth. Then in slow motion with each move carefully choreographed by the director, Nathan swung low grabbed Simon Pavy in his arms and Will cranked him to a height above the stage. For young Pavy it was his first flight and he had implicit faith that Nathan would not drop him. Gradually the pace increased and Pavy was returned to the floor and gathered up again. Initially he did not struggle, but as his confidence grew Salomon began to act out the part of the struggling Ganymede with greater energy.
Nathan and Charlie changed places in the harness and the whole process was repeated. Charlie swept Salomon from the stage and the struggle in the grip of the great bird of prey was very convincing. The ‘cord controllers’ quickly learnt their roles and made Charlie swing and sweep across the stage. They did their task responsibly and neither of the suspended actors was put at any risk. Watching from the auditorium Mr. Giles noted that their was something special about Charlie Sharpe in the role of the Eagle and in his own mind he made a decision that the parts would not be interchanged as originally planned. Charlie would be the Eagle at all times and Nathan would play Jupiter in all the dialogue scenes. It would make the transition scenes simpler.
The scene painters arrived and decorated the upper gallery behind the stage with clouds painted on stage scenery. Behind the clouds diaphanous drapes added to the illusion of the domain of the Gods. Costume designers and seamstresses set up in the auditorium and the boys were dressed in androgynous short Greek togas, which came to half thigh length and then had a loose diagonal drape that went over the left shoulder and was secured on the waistband of the toga behind. Nathan Field and Christopher Beetson were given beautiful flowing robes in white and gold that indicated their status as Jupiter, King of the Gods and his wife, Juno. The boys who were representing girls were given long wigs to wear.
By far the most dramatic costume was the Eagle outfit now designed exclusively for Charlie Sharpe. He had to work for hours with the costume designer as giant wings were strapped to his arms and then formed into a configuration that Charlie could control. The harness itself was painstakingly disguised with the application of many hundreds of feathers. He wore a complicated headdress that evoked an eagle’s head and beak and came down to cover much of his face. This restricted his sight and he had to learn to perform with limited visual awareness. Finally on his feet he wore leather strappings that supported large talons, but left the soles of his feet bare so he could get traction on the upper gallery balustrade. When he appeared in this costume in its entirety for the first time, the whole company fell silent and just stared in wonder at what had been created. Then there were many more hours of practice as Charlie learnt to fly in the cumbersome outfit. It was physically taxing work and when he had Salomon Pavy in his arms there was extra strain and no margin for error.
Henry Evans and James Robinson prepared themselves for their front of house roles. They would collect the admission money and then extinguish the auditorium candles before the performance. At the only interval they would relight the candelabra and usher patrons into the foyer where Susan James and Maggie Erskine would sell drinks and light refreshments. Henry Evans would ring a town crier’s handbell to indicate the intermission was at and end and the second act was about to begin. Susan and Maggie would then return to the Buttery to prepare drinks and refreshments for the boys when the performance was completed. Matron Hampton and Susan Ireland controlled all the costumes and because the play’s wardrobe requirements were so extensive these were also arranged in the dining hall, rather that the green room which was quite small by comparison. Where necessary Matron and Sarah would apply cosmetic makeup to the boys’ faces who required it.
The rumour mill and gossips had done their work and the city was filled with anticipation for the opening of the new indoor theatre on mid summer’s eve. James Robinson had cleverly leaked some salacious details of aspects of the performance and when the leaflets and posters proclaimed that the audience would be restricted to ‘gentlemen only’ the titillation level reached fever pitch. The boys themselves were becoming increasingly excited and nervous as the final rehearsals proceeded. Being a perfectionist, Giles kept driving the Mount Olympus’ ballet boys almost to the point of exhaustion until his detailed choreography was being enacted without one missed step.
So midsummer’s eve dawned bright and sunny. The boys were allowed to sleep for an extra hour and Susan James prepared an excellent breakfast. There was a meeting of all the cast and crew on the stage mid morning and then the boys were given a light lunch and ordered to rest during the afternoon. As was their habit Nathan Field and Charlie Sharpe took a cold bath in the late afternoon and chatted quietly about the night to come. They were both on edge and they saw it in one another, but they discussed it and tried to settle each other’s nerves.
The first patrons arrived at 6:00 o’clock in the evening almost an hour before the performance was scheduled to begin. Most of the early arrivals paid sixpence for an auditorium seat and filled up the benches from the front to get the best view. Closer to the start time the more fashionably dressed gentlemen paid two shillings and sixpence to occupy the upper galleries. Henry Evans had one minor incident where a self- important gentleman demanded to be seated on the stage, but Evans explained that that was not possible for this production. He finally placated the man by selling him and his friends a box on the side of the stage, which he had planned to use for himself. Evans charged the men an exorbitant five shillings each, but the gentleman didn’t quibble feeling the cost was simply reflecting their own importance and they were later Jupiter and Juno and their attendants were seen for the first time among the painted clouds presumably atop Mount Olympus. There was some clever dialogue and the boys’ delivery was word perfect, which pleased Henry Evans. The plot developed when Jupiter initially spied Ganymede and the audience was left in no doubt what his intentions would be and they were filled with anticipation at what they might see. As the play gathered pace and moved towards the conclusion of Act One the paying patrons were engaged. Then they were enthralled.
Salomon Pavy as Ganymede and his two brothers appeared carrying shepherds’ crooks and began playing out tending their flock in dumb show. Ganymede broke out into a sweet pastoral song and was joined by his two brothers in a lyrical piece in three-part harmony. The former choirboys voices blended and enchanted and when the song was over the gentlemen of the audience broke into spontaneous applause for the first time. As the applause died Jupiter appeared on the gallery balcony and the first transition scene began. As Charlie dressed as the Eagle wound his way up from the gallery floor there were audible gasps. Nathan as Jupiter entwined with Charlie as he rose up and they circled briefly and then Nathan wound his way down to the floor leaving Charlie, as the Eagle, to leap on to the balustrade feel for his secure footing and then spread his giant wings wide as he let out a frightening screech. These were echoed by shouts of shock and delight from the audience.
Ganymede and his brothers went into their frightened and defensive routine as they looked up at the Eagle and then the audience gasped in horror and then delight as Charlie launched himself into the air and swept and swooped the stage as the terrified trio of brothers cowered beneath him. Will was lifting and lowering Charlie on the rope and Freddy, Johnny and Jamie operating the ‘controlling cords’ pulled him backwards and forwards and from side to side with amazing synergy. The audience was dumbstruck. Then Charlie swept down low grabbed Salomon in his great winged arms and Will lifted him immediately upwards with the crank handle. Now the audience were leaning forward on their seats experiencing something they had never seen before on the stage.
Charlie felt Salomon’s body in his hands. He was wet with perspiration and slippery to the touch. Salomon began his rehearsed struggle and screams and then he slipped out of Charlie’s grip and Charlie was just able to grab him at the last minute with one hand. Salomon now hung precariously in Charlie’s grip high above the stage and being pulled from side to side. Salomon’s rehearsed screams became the real ones of a frightened boy. The audience lapped it up thinking it was one of the most realistic, dangerous and challenging pieces of staging.
With remarkable control Charlie calmed himself. If he let Salomon go and he fell to the floor, he would probably break bones or worse and the scene and the play would be in a shambles. Charlie was physically drained and the boy hanging on to him was terrified, but then things slowed down and proceeded in Charlie’s head as if they were happening in slow motion. He calculated that if he could garner the strength to pull Salomon upward with one almighty jerk he might be able to wrap his legs around the little boy’s torso, momentarily let his hand go and then grab him with both hands under the armpits. Will watching from the wings saw the unfolding drama, but could do nothing except hold Charlie steady at his current height. The ‘control cord boys’ could not be alerted to stop the action.
With the last of his strength Charlie pulled Salomon up towards him wrapped his legs around him and then did a somersault, which he had never rehearsed with Salomon and let go of the boy’s hand and then grabbed for him again under the armpits. Salomon felt Charlie’s desperate embrace with his legs and then his arms and grabbed at his harness and held on. When Will saw Salomon was secure he raised Charlie quickly to above gallery height and fortuitously Freddy pulled him back to the balustrade at the same time. Charlie felt for the woodwork and then fell backwards. Nathan spiralled up from the floor and clutched both Charlie and Salomon and they twirled as rehearsed and Charlie slumped to the floor leaving Ganymede in Jupiter’s arms as was scripted. The King of the Gods then led his captured boy off the gallery and down the steps. Charlie remained slumped on the floor.
From the audience point of view they had witnessed an amazing performance and thought it was all part of the play. The drama of the final seconds of the flight and the desperate transition had been brilliantly portrayed. They were on their feet applauding and shouting and some jumped up onto the benches in their excitement and whistled and clapped almost uncontrollably. Henry Evans and James Robinson sped down the sides of the auditorium and lit candles to illuminate it and indicate the end of the act. The excitement was palpable as Walter Randall extinguished the stage candles.
Charlie lay on the upper gallery floor gasping for breath and ‘Silent’ Will got to him first and detached him from the black rope. Freddy, who operated the back controlling cord knelt over him and asked Charlie if he was all right. Charlie took a minute to regulate his breathing and then with Will and Freddy’s help he crawled out of sight behind the painted clouds and got slowly to his feet. He was then guided off the gallery and down the stairs to the Buttery. By now everyone knew what had happened and watched the young man struggling to gain his composure. ‘Silent’ Will unbuckled his harness and helped him step out of it and Matron Hampton threw a blanket around his shoulders. Sarah Ireland pressed a mug to his lips and he felt a burning liquid in his mouth and then experienced its fiery descent down his throat. He spluttered and coughed and Sarah was reassuring:
“Believe me it will help.”
Nathaniel Giles flew into the Buttery from the auditorium and embraced Charlie.
“That was magnificent. So brave, so physically strong, so calm in the crisis and an absolutely brilliant performance into the bargain.”
Charlie half smiled and Sarah gave him another swig of brandy.
Nathan Field was the next one to come up to Charlie. He hugged him and almost whispered:
“Well done. You were magnificent. I doubt I could have retrieved the situation as you did.”
Finally Salomon Pavy approached. He tucked his arms under Charlie’s blanket and held him tight around the waist. There were no words, but there were a few tears. Charlie was finished for the night and Sarah Ireland had already began boiling the coppers so he could have a warm bath. The other boys reassembled and Act Two began with the Mount Olympus’ ballet, which delighted and aroused some patrons. It was performed with every step perfectly executed.
At the end of the performance the applause was thunderous and lasted a long time. The boys took their curtain calls with Charlie back in his Eagle harness and costume receiving the loudest cheer. The patrons filed out of the theatre excitedly chatting and reliving moments of the play they had witnessed. Susan James and Maggie Erskine who had sold all their drinks and refreshments at the interval returned to the dining hall and laid out supper for the cast and crew. It has been a night to remember.
In Mr. Giles’ office Robinson and he tallied up the receipts. The opening night had returned thirty-five pounds in admission prices and another nine pounds nett from the intermission refreshments’ stall after costs had been deducted for the initial set up expenditure. It was an astounding result and there were still four more nights to play. Henry Evans winked at James Robinson and smiled as he said:
“Commission Simon Basil to install the hot and cold running water. I suspect it will be a very good investment for the future.”
During supper Mr. Giles stood on a dining hall bench and thanked everyone for their efforts. He alluded in passing to the drama of the opening night, but did not dwell on it. Then he cautioned everyone that there were still four more nights to play and they should get some rest. Warden Boynton announced that everyone would be allowed to sleep in and Susan James was asked to serve breakfast mid morning. Nathan Field insisted that all boys say their prayers before bed. He stressed there was much to be thankful for.
The run of ‘Jupiter and Ganymede’ was extended by two nights to accommodate the seemingly insatiable demand of the ‘all gentlemen’ audiences. When the play concluded Nathan Field sought Warden Boynton’s permission to take Charlie Sharpe to Polly Blackburn’s establishment to fulfil a promise. The Warden pressed some shillings into Nathan’s hand and said:
“Here, I will pay for both of you. The two of you are very deserving of a reward.”
Charlie discovered that Polly Blackburn was not a witch, but she did have some bewitching wares on display. Rosalind demanded to initiate Charlie as she had missed out on the other handsome virgin some months before. Nathan lay in Juliet’s arms. As they walked side-by-side back to Blackfriars theatre, Charlie sported a knowing grin. He knew, like Nathan, that it was girls and young women for him. Now his only role with Salomon Pavy was to protect him and keep him safe. He had made a great start at doing that already.
The printed and verbal reviews for ‘Jupiter and Ganymede’ were very good. The virtues and advantages of an indoor theatre were outlined and Nathaniel Giles’ dramatic and elegant staging was praised, as was the performance of the boys’ troupe who had surprised with their mature and convincing portrayals. One particularly noteworthy review tried to deconstruct the abduction of Ganymede scene and went into considerable detail about how the flight of the great bird may have been organised and executed. It singled out Charlie Sharpe and commented on his physical strength, athleticism and gymnastic skill. The reviewer stated that he had never seen such a realistic and potentially dangerous scene staged anywhere before and suggested the indoor Blackfriars Theatre had broken new ground in dramatic presentation.
However, the most fulsome praise was reserved for the beautiful boy who had played Ganymede. His outstanding singing voice and his terrifying screams in the abduction scene were both cited as indicators of a child actor with an enormous range of abilities and talents. The critics were already clamouring to know when next they would see Salomon Pavy?