"It's not going to happen, Anna. I mean it. No."
"Geoffrey, while I appreciate your concerns, it really is going to have to go ahead. We're fully booked!"
The flier, which has appeared on his desk between him unlocking the door and getting back from the bathroom (with a brief stop in the kitchen to pour a coffee) five minutes later, reads "UNLOCKING YOUR RELATIONSHIP'S POTENTIAL THROUGH SHAKESPEARE with GEOFFREY TENNANT." Geoffrey picks it up with two fingers, brandishes it gingerly at Annie like he's concerned that it might actually bite him.
"And why does it have to be me? Why can't it be...Darren? Or Ellen? Or Richard. Tell Richard that I'm delegating. Tell Richard he's going to have to do it."
"Oh, don't be silly," says Anna, with a dismissive gesture of her hand. "Ellen's out of town - you know that. We can't just...set Darren on the public. And Richard. Well." She sniffs. "No, Geoffrey. It just...has to be you. Your name's on the flier!"
As usual, as ever, Anna's cheerfulness has a brittle quality that Geoffrey is loathe to actually shatter. She is, he thinks, one of the few genuinely good people at New Burbage. She isn't flawed like the rest of them, not broken or jagged or cruel. She is soft, and sweet and she deserves better than what she's ended up with. She deserves better than actors.
"Alright, Anna," he says, getting up and walking around his desk, clasping her by both shoulders and dropping a kiss onto the crown of her head. "I will rise to the occasion. Once more unto the breach, etcetera, etcetera. Any thoughts on what play would be best?"
"Richard mentioned Much Ado?"
"Ah, yes," says Geoffrey, darkly. "The story of our lives, don't you think?"
"Oh, Geoffrey," says Anna, fondly, giving him her best, somewhat watery smile. "If you need anything, you just let me know."
Right then, he'd have paid good money for a bottle of unblended scotch and an escape dingy.
He just shakes his head.
"Just some photocopies please, Anna," he says. "If you would."
He is, for the record, completely unequipped for this. Things are good with Ellen right now, but whoever thought that he was the one who was best fitted to delivering relationship advice needed to put the hallucinogens away.
There is one woman, in particular, who has caught his eye. She's come to the workshop with her husband, who is a loud, brash, corporate type - the very antithesis of Geoffrey himself. He's split them into rough groups, given them scenes to talk about, sheets of flip-chart paper, handfuls of markers. Quickly, they've reverted to classroom dynamics - the person with the neatest handwriting scribes, the rest squabble, very little gets done.
He finds himself watching her. She sits slightly to one side with a copy of the text, reading. Mousy blonde hair tumbles around her shoulders, a little limp, a little dull. She's made an effort with a floral scarf, fringed with sequins but Geoffrey can see in her the shadow of a woman who has fought her entire life to be interesting, to be noticed. Geoffrey was in his twenties when he met Ellen for the first time, so he's spent over two decades with the noise that she generates, the light that she throws off. This woman, this solitary soul, reminds him more of Kate, the way Kate was at first, Kate who made the most beautiful Ophelia that Geoffrey had ever seen, even if it was Ellen who made more noise.
What was it that Oliver used to say? That theater needed to be filled with fury and ecstasy. And revolution.
"Hello," he says, coming to sit beside her.
She looks flustered. Geoffrey might feel a bit like a ruin now, but he remembers being handsome. He slides down in the uncomfortable plastic chair, folding his arms across his chest.
"I love this play," he says, conversationally, his voice pitched low, so it really is just between the two of them. "People have a tendency to dismiss the comedies out of hand, to focus on your Hamlets or your Macbeths...your, god forbid, Romeo and Juliets. But I think there's real grace in this one, too." He offers her his hand. "Geoffrey Tennant. I'm allegedly in charge."
"Rebecca Fox. Becky, really. And I've heard of you," she says. "My mum used to bring me to see the plays when I was a little girl. I...actually talked Steve into coming because it said you'd be doing it."
She blushes. Geoffrey grimaces.
"Well, I'm sorry, at least, for that." Together, they watch the squabbling at the group tables for a moment or two. "Do you mind if I ask what you were hoping to get out of today?"
"Oh, I don't know," she says, shaking her head, brushing her hair back over her shoulder. "Confidence, I suppose. I...always find it so difficult to make myself heard. I...tend to let Steve do all of the talking."
"So you're more of a Hero," says Geoffrey, a smile lifting the corner of his mouth. "But you'd like to be a Beatrice. People always focus on the flashy roles with the big dresses - Gertrude, Cleopatra, Lady Macbeth - but Beatrice is one of Shakespeare's best parts for a woman. She has so much to say for herself. She's Shakespeare's comment on what women were expected to be, at that point in history. Beatrice doesn't have to fight against what she's supposed to be - she doesn't shout to make herself heard. She spends the whole play refusing it. Benedict's cruel to her and she comes right back at him with, ' I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.' She has all of the best lines and she matches Benedict word for word. Most of Shakespeare's women end up dwindling, either into death or marriages. Viola does all of these brilliant, brave things but she still ends up begging for her woman's weeds at the end. In this play, though, Shakespeare gives us two versions of womanhood - we've got Hero who is...castigated and slandered, her life almost ruined and then we have Beatrice, who stays strong until then end, marries a man on her own terms, of her own choosing. They hate each other at first because they're so similar. She's just as loud as he is because she knows she's just as right." She's staring at him. He realises that he's been talking for a long time. He gives her a slightly sheepish smile. "Sorry. I have a tendency towards..." He fumbles for the right word. "Lyricism."
"No, no," she says, shaking her head and, just for the moment, the strands of gold in her hair catch the light. "That was wonderful."
"Come on," he says, offering his hand. "Let's make a Beatrice out of you."
It's not a role that he's ever seen Ellen play. Sometimes, he even lets himself regret that. He wasn't lying when he said he thought it was one of Shakespeare's best.
"How's it going?" asks Anna, appearing at his elbow with a very welcome cup of coffee. On the other side of the room, Rebecca and her husband are starting to walk through a scene.
"Not so very badly, actually," he says. "Things seem to have fallen into place."
"Don't they always," says Anna, with a happy little sigh. "Oh! Richard wants to see you."
Geoffrey rolls his eyes.
"Think not on him till to-morrow," he murmurs, "I'll devise thee brave punishments for him."
"Oh, Geoffrey," says Anna, shaking his head.
He really does love this play. It reminds him of how it felt to feel brave and in love.
Bold. Equipped for anything.
And how it might have felt to live unbruised. And love.