If we should fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we'll not fail.
- Macbeth, Act I, Scene 7
After four months, Molly Hooper should be used to how much louder New York is than London, but that transition is going to take a bit more acclimating.
Amidst the honking taxis and yelling delivery men, her arms strain under the weight of five binders full of scripts, casting breakdowns, calendars, set designs, costume specs, and the considerable list of demands from their leading man. She’s known Sherlock Holmes for a while – well, not a while. She’s worked on one other show with him, when Greg was kind enough to bring her onboard, but she’s never actually said a word to him. An impressive feat to pull off, considering she’s the assistant director.
She’s not sure why Greg continues to ask her to assist him on his shows. She read Elizabethan drama at Oxford and her dramaturgical work is impeccable, yet she thinks it has more to do with the way his eyes seem to always find her in a dark theatre, instead of staying on the brightly lit stage and the actors acting upon it.
The thought makes her flush as she passes through the glass revolving door, and her cheeks continue to burn as she moves through the crowded lobby, onto the elevator, and off again on the16th floor where the room they’ve rented in midtown is located.
Ripley-Grier Studios is bright – too bright with its pink walls and green doors for 10 in the morning, before her coffee has had a chance to kick in. She drops everything on the table and the binders slide across like a plastic cascade of stress. She opens the first and is about to put it in front of Greg, when the bright red markings scribbled across the casting list catch her eye.
“What on earth did he do to this?” she asks, examining the list that just has a giant “NO.” written across the actors’ names, deeming every man on the page unworthy of the role before they’ve even read for the part.
“Added his input,” Greg remarks dryly.
“Lovely,” she breathes, making a mental note to hit the Staples down the block and reprint the lists. “When is Mrs. Hudson getting here?”
“She’s stuck in traffic on Fifth. And you can call her Martha, you know. If she heard you call her Mrs. Hudson, she’d have a cow.”
“Oh to live on the Upper East Side in a penthouse apartment and have a man on retainer to drive me all over this godforsaken city,” Molly groans and Greg raises his eyebrows.
“Feeling homesick, are we?”
“No, just… small. It’s a big place. Doesn’t feel as cozy as London, does it.”
“No, it does not.” He offers her a small smile and squeezes her shoulder as he moves to set up chairs around the table. She tries to pretend like her face hasn’t just flushed scarlet once more.
“This is to discuss casting, yeah? Is Bernie joining?” If so, she realizes quickly that she doesn’t have enough folders.
“No, strictly internal. You, me, Martha, Sherlock, and Irene.” Greg is withholding something, which isn’t exactly news considering this meeting was called at 11:06pm the previous evening without any notion of why. “Martha’s going to float John Watson.”
And Molly bursts out laughing. “As what?”
The laughter dies quickly, the idea seeming bold, and yet obvious at the same time. She’d seen him do Kiss Me, Kate that summer and it was extraordinary. He was extraordinary. And Shakespeare in the Park is no easy stage.
But then she thinks of Sherlock and something inside of her dies. “Does he know?”
“Irene’s telling him now.” Greg looks both giddy that the job hasn’t fallen to him and terrified at what’s about to blow through that door.
Molly stares at the table with the kind of resigned horror an actor must feel when they go up on their lines in the middle of a show. “We’re going to need more coffee."
“And maybe some whiskey.”
The walls are a garish shade of pink and there are palm trees scattered about, despite the fact that it’s November. And somewhere, between the actors vocalizing in the bathroom and the dancers stretching in any spare studio, Sherlock Holmes is fuming.
“No! No! Absolutely not.”
“Jesus, Sherlock, keep your voice down,” Irene snaps, offering a smile for a group of actresses lining up for a chorus call. “You’re causing a scene.”
“I’m an actor – ”
“You’re a child.”
“ – that’s what we do.” Sherlock pauses for breath and his eyes narrow. “Did you just call me a child?”
“You’re goddamn right I did. Now stop making an arse out of yourself in the middle of the biggest studio rental company in New York City and get in the goddamn room.”
He huffs and curses the fates that brought Irene Adler into his life. “Not until you tell me that John Watson is not actually a serious contender for this very important, and quite possibly career-changing production.”
“John Watson is not being considered for Lady M.”
“Are you lying?"
“Of course I’m lying, you berk. Get in there.” She shoves him towards the door labeled 16D and he pauses on the threshold.
“Is this the place that has free chocolates?”
Irene rolls her eyes and gives him another shove. “No that’s the other place.”
“I want the free chocolates.”
“Well you can’t have the free chocolates. Those studios are the next block over and we’ve rented a studio on this block of Manhattan.”
“Pointless,” he mutters, stepping further into the room and greeting Greg and whatshername with a scowl. “Please tell me that Irene accidentally overdid the vodka in her morning orange juice and we aren’t actually considering what I think we’re considering.”
“Don’t you mean ‘whom?” Irene needles and he really must adjust her pay. She takes entirely too many liberties.
“Yoo hoo!” comes a voice from the door and Martha Hudson pokes her impeccably coifed head in. “Goodness, I’m glad I found the right room. This place is a zoo! I accidentally walked on a yoga class. At least I think it was a yoga class. Those young men are so bendy – ”
“Right.” Greg clears his throat and pulls a chair out for Mrs. Hudson, who gladly takes it, as whatshername mutters “Accidentally” in his ear, causing Greg to choke on his coffee.
Hm. That was nearly clever. He really should learn her name. Mary? Melissa? Megan? Sherlock decides now is not the moment to care and he remains obstinately standing in front of the velvet curtain hiding the mirror behind it.
“We are not going with John Watson.”
“Oh you’ve told him!” Mrs. Hudson claps her hands together as Irene pops her gum.
“Obviously. Only this kind of a strop could be caused by Sherlock Holmes not getting his way.”
He wants to argue against her accusations, but really, she does have a point. “I refuse to step foot on stage with that man.”
“We haven’t even – ” Mrs. Hudson begins as Greg cuts to the chase.
“He works in musical theatre,” Sherlock spits out, as if he had just revealed that the man had murdered his entire family.
“You’re just jealous because you can’t carry a tune,” Irene mutters as she folds her lithe body into a chair and pulls a binder in front of her. “Really?” she asks, holding up the list with Sherlock’s careful “NO.” written in bright red ink.
“I was being emphatic.”
“You’re being an idiot,” Greg snaps.
“Greg, tell him: is it typical for an actor to have this much input in the casting process?”
“No, it bloody well isn’t.” He lifts his feet off the table and stands, putting his hands on his hips as he moves toward Sherlock. “I welcome your feedback because you’re bloody brilliant, but you’ve got a temper that I just don’t have the patience for. You’ve driven off almost every actor that used to be willing to work with you and now I can’t find someone to take a role that actors should be killing themselves for. It’s career defining. But no one wants to touch it with a ten-foot pole and that’s your fault.”
“Yes, yours! And you’re going to see John Watson in A Little Night Music tonight if I have to tie your arms to the goddamn chair.”
Sherlock’s eyes narrow in a way that used to make directors piss themselves. “I beg your pardon?”
But Greg merely smiles and pulls two tickets out of his back pocket. “Center orchestra, row G. Bring your wallet because you’re buying dinner, you pompous arse.”
John squints into the lights as he takes his matinee curtain call, holding tight to Angela on his left and Kelli on his right, smiling as a couple of enthusiastic tour groups let out various whoops and yells to show their appreciation.
The cast breaks formation and he gives one final wave to the audience as he turns towards stage left, arms already opening to catch Sasha, the little girl who plays his daughter, Fredrika. She launches into him and he lifts her handily, groaning only slightly as his shoulder twinges.
“Good show, darling,” he murmurs, carrying her into the wings. It’s a tradition that began after their very first preview, when she had been so excited to complete her first Broadway show that she just catapulted into the arms of the person nearest her. That person happened to be John and she’s been doing it ever since. It caught on so quickly that even Ramona, who plays Fredrika every other performance, has taken to doing it, ensuring John gets an arm workout every time the curtain falls.
“Good show, John,” Aaron offers, as he claps John on the back.
“Cheers. Let’s do it again, shall we?”
Aaron laughs. “Sure, say 8 o’clock?”
“Nah, mate, I’m busy. Got a poker game downtown.” He winks at Sasha as he places her on the floor so they can wind and weave their way backstage without bumping into any wayward set pieces or crew. “Have a good day at school tomorrow,” he calls when they reach her dressing room and she waves and blows him a kiss. He makes a show of catching it and she giggles as she shuts the door.
His own dressing room is one floor up, slightly bigger than the rooms reserved for the ensemble. He shares it with Aaron, who plays the Count, but Aaron has a penchant for hovering near the ladies’ wing of the corridor, which means John usually gets the room to himself on two-show days.
His dresser helps him out of his costume – the multitude of period buttons and snaps a bit much for his post-show muddled mind. “Ta, Nate.”
Nate smiles with a promise to be back by 7pm with his cleaned costume as Harry appears in the doorway.
“Harry, I told you. Not on – ”
“ – matinee days, I know. I know,” she finishes. “I’m just here to drop off your new prescription, you git. Tom let me hide in the back of the stalls for the final twenty or so. I could see how stiff you were from row Z.”
“Tom needs to stop doing you favors.”
“Tom likes me,” she teases as she sits on the small couch in the room.
“Poor bastard,” John replies, smiling at Harry in the mirror as he wipes his smudged makeup off.
“You were brilliant, Johnny, per usual.”
“I stopped paying you to say that years ago.”
“I know,” is her quiet reply ands something inside his chest warms.
And of course, as if sensing the sentimentality, Harry clears her throat and chucks the paper prescription bag at his head. “One per day, with food. Two on two-show days if it’s bad.”
“And it won’t make me loopy?”
“You’re always loopy.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He stretches his shoulder and tries and fails to hide a wince.
“It’s me, or I hire that mean German woman again who worked your muscles so hard, you couldn’t walk for a week.”
“Fine,” he grumbles as he drops onto the floor in front of her feet and chugs a bottle of water, as if only now just registering his thirst.
Harry’s fingers dig into his shoulder, kneading the tight muscles through scar tissue and long-since healed ligaments. “Christ, Johnny, it’s just A Little Night Music. Imagine if it was something more movement heavy, like A Chorus Line.”
John laughs. “I doubt I’ll be doing A Chorus Line anytime soon. I don’t think I could even do A Chorus Line when I was young enough to be in a chorus line.”
“Point. Ow – ” she yelps when John smacks her arm.
“You’re supposed to be the supportive sister. The one who says, ‘Of course not, John, you could take the lead in 42nd Street if asked.”
Harry snorts. “Well, we both know that’s not true,” and John hangs his head.
“What’s the point of you?”
Harry shrugs. “I really have no idea. You still have that Tiger Balm stuff I gave you?”
“I do and it smells like shite,” he says, yet he points to his station at the mirror.
“But it works, doesn’t it.” She snatches it up and turns, leaning against his chair as she faces him. And he doesn’t want to admit that she may, in fact, be right about the whole thing, so he remains silent.
Harry’s smile turns from teasing to troubled. “You’re an old man, John Watson.”
He smiles sadly as he stares at his reflection in the mirror opposite – at the lines carving his face and the spark gone from his eyes. At the grey just beginning to fleck the blonde strands on his head. He’s 36. Ancient by musical theatre years and the wear and tear is beginning to show.
“Don’t I know it.”
Greg pulls the collar of his coat tighter around his neck as he walks down 8th Avenue, thoroughly wishing he had a scarf to keep away the biting November winds. His hotel isn’t far from the theatre district, making his week of meetings and shows an easy commute. When Richard II opens at the National in a few weeks, he’ll be moving into an apartment that the producers of Macbeth are setting up. He can’t bloody wait to finally have someplace to call home.
Joe Allen is a cozy restaurant situated in the middle of what the district calls ‘Restaurant Row’ on 46th between 8th and 9th Avenues, a local haunt of many a theatre professional. Greg gives himself a onceover to make sure the wind hasn’t blown him too much out of place during the walk and he opens the door, flooding the sidewalk with the din of the pre-show crowd.
He spots Sherlock nearly immediately at a table in the back, his tall stature and dark curls easy to find, even in the low lighting. He bobs and weaves his way through the dining room, stopping to shake hands with the owner of the theatre they’ll eventually be moving into before dropping into the seat across from Sherlock and shedding his coat.
“Scared the waitress away?”
“No, but I haven’t ordered a drink yet. Give me time.”
“Let’s try and make it through this one unscathed, yeah?” He remembers a London dinner many moons ago that ended with a glass of chardonnay in his face. Sherlock ended up with a cosmo, so Greg counts himself lucky that his was slightly less sticky and a lot less colorful.
They order a pair of martinis when the waitress does stop by with a flushed glance in Sherlock’s direction, eventually deciding on the filet mignon for himself as Sherlock orders the salmon.
“Are we really going through with this farce?” he asks, and Greg grins because he’s been waiting for some form of that question since this morning.
“We are. And you’re going to enjoy it. Angela’s in it and you love Angela.”
“I can’t say that the feeling’s mutual. She’s hated me ever since I stepped on her train in The Importance of Being Earnest and sent her flying into the fake shrubbery.”
Greg chokes on his martini and dabs at his mouth with his napkin. “Hate’s a strong word.”
“And yet sorely apt.”
“I didn’t think it was possible for Mrs. Potts to hate anyone.”
Sherlock frowns. “Mrs. Potts? Who the hell is Mrs. Potts?”
Greg shakes his head and steals a roll from the basket in the middle of the table. “It wouldn’t kill you to sit down and watch a children’s film every now and then.”
The rest of the meal passes without much incident; they stick to safe subjects such as The National’s new season, odd Americanisms, and why on earth the West End is choosing to remount another Hamlet.
“You could say the same of The Scottish Play,” Greg throws out and Sherlock scoffs. “You’re just tetchy because you and Jude Law did Hamlet at the same time – ”
“On separate continents.”
“ – and he got the better reviews,” Greg finishes as Sherlock glares. The waitress clears their plates and Greg rests his elbows on the table, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Sherlock, I’m going to level with you. No one wants to work with you.”
“Because I’m an idiot – as you’ve said on multiple occasions.”
Sherlock shrugs. “You have your moments.”
Greg sighs and eats the olive out of his martini. “Maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment.” And Sherlock still doesn’t seem to get the seriousness of the problem. He can’t seem to grasp just how far he’s fallen in the industry and how his name alone is enough to drive away both fellow artists and investors. “Christ, Sherlock, you’re 34. Young by Shakespearean standards – hell, Jacobi’s 76 – but those opportunities are dwindling for you. I can’t be the first to tell you. I know Irene’s brought it up.”
Sherlock remains silent, picking at a wayward thread on the tablecloth.
“I need you to do this for me. Martha wants John Watson and right now, she’s the only one who’s willing to put any money on you.”
“Macbeth is my golden fleece.”
“I know it is,” Greg reasons. “And I’m trying to put together the best possible production for you. But I need you to let me do my job and maybe, just maybe, trust me a bit. After ten years together, I think I’ve earned that much.”
Sherlock is silent for a moment, but he finally nods, the closest he’ll ever get to acquiescence and the weight in the pit of Greg’s stomach lightens somewhat. He signals for the check and they make their way out of the restaurant and down a block to the theatre on 45th.
The bulbs of the old marquees light up the sky over the theatre district, proudly displaying the names of the shows and the people currently pounding the boards. Greg inhales deeply, soaking up the energy of the audiences making their way into their respective theatres as he and Sherlock stroll towards the brightly lit sign for A Little Night Music.
“The Music Box,” Sherlock murmurs as they walk up to the door. “I did Godot here.”
“I remember. You were just a young punk and you were the most brilliant Lucky I’d ever seen.”
“Don’t sound so wistful,” Sherlock snaps with a glint in his eye. “My good days aren’t entirely behind me.”
And Greg laughs because he likes this Sherlock. The Sherlock who’s aware of how much of an arse he can be and uses self-deprecation as a bonding mechanism.
Sherlock snags a spare Playbill as they make their way through the lobby and examines the headshots. “Bit small for Sondheim, isn’t he?”
“You can get his height from his headshot?”
Greg shakes his head as they enter the theatre, taking their admittedly fantastic seats in the center of the orchestra. “Who’d you have to kill for these? This is hardest ticket to get on Broadway at the moment.”
“I’m surprised you know that.”
Sherlock shrugs, ignoring the stares of a pair of middle-aged women further down their row. “I did some research.”
The lights dim and the ushers do a final sweep of the aisles, asking people to turn off their cell phones just as the orchestra kicks in with the overture. And Greg can’t help the smile on his face as the voices swell, risking a glance at Sherlock and finding a look on his leading man’s face that seems to scream, “BORED.”
Greg ignores him and settles in, letting the music and the story carry him away from the chaos of the city, if only for a few hours.
Despite what Greg no doubt thinks, Sherlock spends the next two-plus hours absolutely rapt. And from the first time the lawyer who holds himself like a soldier enters, Sherlock can concentrate only on him.
“Now, as the sweet imbecilities
Tumble so lavishly
Onto her lap,
Now, there are two possibilities:
A, I could ravish her,
B, I could nap.”
Sherlock doesn’t breathe for the entirety of that first song and the fact that it’s four minutes long proves truly troublesome for his lungs. Nor can he explain his hatred for the young ingénue playing opposite the man onstage. Granted, Sherlock’s never really had much time for simpering, but this feeling in the pit of his gut is getting a tad out of control.
“So," John as Frederik begins.
"So,” his ex-lover, Desiree replies.
“Well, I think it’s time to talk about my wife, don’t you?”
“To boast or complain?”
“Both, I expect.”
His comedic timing is impeccable and his command of the stage unparalleled. He seems to dwarf men who have at least half a foot on him.
“With the crickets and the pheasants
And the orchards and the hay,
With the servants and the peasants,
We'll be laying our plans while we're playing croquet
For a weekend in the country,
That one has to lie down.
A weekend in the country
We're twice as upset as in town!"
Feigning indifference at intermission, he allows Greg to buy him a vodka soda and he proceeds to sip it while trying for the remainder of act two to keep his eyes off of John Watson.
But it’s a pointless endeavor. Again and again, his focus is drawn to the relatively diminutive man with a hell of a talent as he attempts to navigate the romantic entanglements his character has gotten himself into. And now here they are at the end, and Sherlock knows that they’re about to do a reprise of “Send in the Clowns,” one of his favorite musical theatre songs of all time (though he’d die before admitting it).
“Frederik? Frederik!” The woman playing Desiree (Kerri? Kelli?) throws herself on top of John and under normal circumstances, Sherlock would no doubt audibly sneer, but all he feels right now is… sympathy. With perhaps a dose of jealousy? Oh that just will not do.
He shifts in his seat, but he can’t tear his gaze away from the scene before him.
“I don’t suppose this is my heavenly reward, is it?” John as Frederik slowly sits up after his botched attempt at Russian Roulette.
“Hardly, dear, with me here,” Desiree replies.
“Extraordinary, isn’t it? To hold a muzzle to one’s temple, and yet to miss. A shaky hand perhaps is an asset after all.”
But Sherlock can already tell that John’s hands don’t shake. Not when it counts.
“Does it hurt?”
“It hurts… spiritually.”
The music begins and Sherlock sucks in a breath.
“Isn’t it rich?”
“Aren’t we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground.”
“You in mid-air.”
He’s crumpling the Playbill in his hand, but it can’t be helped. He needs something to hold onto and it sure as hell won’t be Greg’s hand.
“How unlikely life is to lose one’s son, one’s wife, and practically one’s life within an hour. And yet to feel relieved,” John as Frederik smiles and touches Desiree’s jaw. “Relieved and what’s more: considerably less ancient. Desiree…” he leans in and the actress playing Desiree (hateful woman) places her hand on John’s forehead.
“No, no, no, we will banish ‘poor’ from our vocabulary and replace it with coherent.”
“Don’t you remember your manifesto in the bedroom? A coherent existence. After so many years of muddle, you…” he takes her hand and presses it to his chest, “and me…” he presses his to hers, “… and of course… Fredrika.”
And damn it all, that part has always gotten him. The part when Frederik reveals that he’s known Fredrika’s been his child all along (and really, the name should have been a dead giveaway – how moronic are these Swedes?). But still, a tear tracks down his cheek, coming to the precipice of his chin and he daren’t wipe it away lest Greg see.
The music swells drowning out his audible swallow as he bows his head, unable to glance at the stage anymore. He’s not sure what happens in the final scene, presumably it ends happily – it is a musical after all – but his head is so full of that glorious melody, he can only stare at the shredded paper in his lap and wonder how the hell he let himself get here.
Before he knows it, people are clapping and standing. He does so automatically, though perhaps the nudge from Greg helps, and he desperately tries not to make eye contact with John Watson as he takes his bow.
Blue eyes clap onto blue and the corner of John’s mouth quirks a bit in recognition before he focuses on his conductor, giving the man his just recognition. The little girl playing Fredrika then jumps into her show-father’s waiting arms and is carried offstage, away from Sherlock’s studious gaze. And for some reason, he feels bereft.
Greg whistles lowly. “That was bloody brilliant.”
But before Greg can turn to Sherlock or ask what he thought or do anything at all that would require a verbal answer, the actor bolts from the theatre without so much as a glance backwards, losing his director in a sea of smiling faces.
John high fives Kelli as he passes her on the way to his dressing room, already dreaming of paracetamol – or acetaminophen as it’s widely known here – and at least three fingers of scotch. Those are the only things getting him out of his costume at the moment.
He tosses a goodbye to Aaron as he slips on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, and he’s just downed the last of his water as a knock sounds at the door.
“Mr. Watson? There’s a Greg Lestrade here to see you.”
“Tom, I keep telling you: it’s John. And send him on in.”
“Sure thing, Mr. Watson.” Tom, the burly house manager, steps aside, revealing Greg who’s already sporting an ebullient smile.
“Holy hell, John. I knew you were good, but jesus.”
“Ta very much,” he manages, blushing slightly, and gestures for Greg to take a seat on the couch. “It was good of you to come.”
“Wouldn’t have missed it. Though I can’t believe I’ve only caught you in one other besides this.”
“Guys and Dolls about five years ago.”
John chuckles and rubs the back of his neck. “Yeah, that was a good production. I’ve been staying on this side of the pond mainly. Ever since My Fair Lady.”
He only played Freddie, but it was still the show that launched his career. That got him on the list of every casting director’s call sheet. Usually at the top.
Greg is looking at the various knick-knacks and paraphernalia that have made their way onto the mirrors and walls and John takes a moment to study him. To catalogue the tension in his shoulders and the dark circles under his eyes. John can’t blame him; the man is putting up a show in London while also trying to do pre-production on an all-male Macbeth with only the most difficult actor in the business.
John would know that face anywhere, even in a sold-out house with the front lights blinding him, and he acutely notices his absence now.
“So I assume this is more than just a courtesy call,” he begins, cutting right to the chase and Greg practically winces.
“Yeah listen, mate. Your agent mentioned you were offer only – ”
“Mike thinks very highly of me,” John interrupts because he’s been to this rodeo before. “But I know I’m no one’s first choice for Shakespeare.”
“You’re Martha Hudson’s,” Greg points out and John ducks his head.
“That’s nice of her, but I’ll read for it. Despite what Mike says. He means well, but how else are you going to know whether or not I can do the part?”
Greg nearly sags with relief and John’s glad the man’s already sitting. “Thanks, John. Thanks very much. I’d invite you out for a drink now, but I know two-show days can be a bit rough.”
‘A bit rough’ is an understatement. He can feel every scene and song in every joint in his body at the moment. “Yeah, maybe dinner though? Sunday night after the matinee?”
“Perfect. We’ll discuss the concept and schedule a time for you to come in and read.” Greg stands and shakes his hand, and John tries to bite his tongue – truly he does – but as Harry says, he’s always been a bit of a moron.
“Was that Sherlock Holmes I saw with you in the audience?”
Greg hesitates just a fraction of a second, giving John all the answer he needs. “Yeah, but he had to run. Hot date or something.”
John’s smile is tight but he’s not a Broadway actor for nothing. “Right. Well, cheers. Tell him I said thanks for coming.”
“Will do,” Greg replies and then he’s gone.
But Sherlock hasn’t left and won’t for a good long while. He remains standing in the alley connecting 44th and 45th Streets, the late autumn wind whipping by him, wondering what on earth John Watson just did to him.