“One night only?” Denise stared at the banner across the front of the school gates. “I thought your mum had been rehearsing for weeks. Why is the play only on for one night?”
Katya MacGregor hooked her arm through her best friend’s. “Don’t know. Usually, the plays run for at least a week. Maybe it clashes with exams? They’ll need the hall for those, and that’s where the stage is. Aren’t you glad you came all the way from London for the opening night? I mean, who needs the West End when you have the magnificence that is Invertary community theater?”
“Absolutely,” Denise said with a straight face. “I’ll take Macbeth in the Invertary school hall over Mamma Mia at the Palladium any day of the week.”
“You made the right choice,” Katya said with equal solemnity. “I’m sure you’re in for a world-class theater experience.”
Her father snorted. “I don’t want any theater experience. I’ve been dealing with this damn play for weeks, and I’ve had enough of your mother’s method acting. Every day, I’ve had to listen to her wail about how she can’t get her hands clean. And don’t even get me started on the lectures she’s given me when I didn’t do what she wanted. Last week, she told me I was a poor excuse for a man, and…well…” He cleared his throat, his cheeks turning ruddy. “Let’s just say she questioned my manhood.”
Katya and Denise shared a grin.
“Who did she want you to kill?” Katya asked. “Dougal? The mayor’s as close to a king as we’ll get around here.”
“Thankfully, she hasn’t thrown herself that far into the part. She just wanted me to turn off the game so she could watch Graham Norton. When I refused, she became testy. I ask you, is that reason enough to challenge a man’s…maleness?” He didn’t wait for an answer, not that Katya had one to give. “I’ll have you know I’m plenty manly. In fact, I suspect I have more testosterone than any of these young lads.” He waved an arm toward the crowd lined up to get into the school hall. “It’s the kilt. You can’t be anything but a man’s man when you wear one.”
Denise looked away, but not before Katya saw her face scrunch up with the strain of trying not to laugh.
As they approached the doors to the hall, Katya spotted Morag McKay—local baker and leader of the town’s morality society. In her sixties, with a permanent air of disapproval, she wore her usual polyester A-line coat, headscarf, and brogues. And in her hands, she held a placard: Leave now. You will regret watching this play.
“We’re protesting Shakespeare?” Katya muttered to her father.
“Any excuse to get out the placards,” he mumbled back.
When Morag spotted Katya and her father, she sniffed the air as though scenting something rotting. “Fergus Savage, if you had any sense, you would have stopped your wife from taking part in this abomination. It’s an insult to Shakespeare.”
Two of her cronies, dressed almost identically and standing on either side of her, nodded with equal disgust. Unlike Morag, they didn’t hold placards. Which Katya thought was a bit lazy.
A growl escaped Katya’s father. “Aye, right. I should have stopped her, because it’s so damn easy to stop that woman from doing something once she has her mind set on it. And anyway, it’s no’ like this is the first time she’s played Lady Macbeth. You’re getting your knickers in a twist over nothing.”
At the word knickers, the color drained from Morag’s face. She pursed her lips before speaking. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you. What you see in there cannot be unseen.”
“Aye,” one of her cronies piped up. “I still feel faint from the dress rehearsal.”
“Shakespeare will turn in his grave tonight,” the other said.
Katya rolled her eyes. “Considering he populated his plays with lewd phrases, men dressed as women, and crass comments, I’m pretty sure nothing my mother does in there would shock him.”
“I can see there’s no talking to any of you Savages,” Morag said before focusing her attention on the next in line.
“They’ve got too much damn time on their hands,” Fergus muttered as they stepped into the hall.
“Mr. Savage,” a young girl called as soon as they’d cleared the door. “Follow me. Delia said to make sure you got the best seat in the house.”
There was nothing they could do but follow the eager teen to the front row.
“You’re right there in the middle,” she said. “Your rain ponchos are under your seats, and you should probably put them on before the play starts.”
“Rain ponchos?” Denise asked.
The teen nodded solemnly. “Delia says it’s important to always take care of your audience.” And then she rushed away again.
Denise gave Katya a bewildered look. “Is there a storm in Macbeth?”
“I think there’s one right at the start, but I’m pretty sure the school principal wouldn’t let them flood the place.” She dug out her poncho. “This is probably just a precaution.” She turned to her father to check that he’d heard the teen, only to find he’d already pulled the transparent poncho on over his shirt and kilt.
He was a big man, and the poncho was snug on him. He sat on the wooden seat, knees spread, arms folded, and a scowl on his face. “I feel like a haggis in a condom.”
Denise started choking on nothing, and Katya helpfully thumped her back.
“I’m here; what’d I miss?” Brodie MacGregor said as he rushed toward them. When he spotted Fergus, he grinned wide. “Never seen a vacuum-packed Scot before.”
Katya’s father scowled at her husband. “You might be back in the family fold, but that doesn’t mean I won’t dig out my shotgun to teach you a lesson in respect.”
“Aye, ’cause that worked so well last time.” Brodie seemed unconcerned by the threat as he kissed Katya hello.
“Your poncho’s under your seat,” she told him.
“Hell no.” Brodie sat between her and her father. He cocked a thumb at Fergus. “Real men don’t wear plastic.”
A deep, feral rumble started in her father’s chest, making Brodie grin. “If you murder your son-in-law, your chances of having grandkids go down dramatically. Keep that in mind when you feel that Berserker rage of yours start to rise.”
There was another rumble, deeper this time as Fergus glared at Brodie.
“Dad!” Katya snapped.
Thankfully, before things could escalate, the lights dimmed, and a chorus of excitement went up from the crowd crammed into rows of wooden benches and old desk chairs. As the burgundy-colored curtains twitched, the audience fell silent. A gap appeared between the curtains, and Katya’s mother stepped onto the stage. Dressed in a silk dressing gown patterned with vibrant purple flowers, she held a mic in her hand.
She beamed at the crowd. “Thank you all for coming tonight. We’re thrilled to present this interpretation of Macbeth for your viewing pleasure.”
There was raucous applause, including a few loud whistles that Katya was sure came from Brodie’s brothers, who were propping up the back wall with their large frames. It appeared the performance had become standing room only. That would delight her mother.
Delia held up a hand for silence. “As you know, most of the violent scenes in Macbeth take place offstage. Well, tonight, you’ll get to see those hidden scenes in all their glory because we’re performing them in the background of the main body of the play. Imagine the stage like a split screen. On one side, you have the main play. On the other, you have what’s happening offstage. We’re calling it a three-sixty performance!”
She looked so pleased with herself that it was hard not to groan. Instead, Katya shared a look with Brodie, who knew full well that the reason for this directorial decision was her mother wanted more stage time.
“Also,” Delia said, “we’ve condensed the play from five acts to three to increase the intensity of your experience.”
Brodie elbowed Katya and whispered, “Or maybe because Lady Macbeth isn’t in two acts.”
He wasn’t wrong. Her mother did love being under the stage lights.
“So,” Delia said, “without further ado, may I present the Invertary Amateur Dramatic Society’s performance of Macbeth!” She took a deep bow before disappearing behind the curtains again.
To thunderous applause, atmospheric music blasted from the speakers hanging around the room, and the curtains slowly opened to reveal a stage covered in black plastic bin liners. They were on the walls, the floor, and even hung from the rigging. There was no other stage dressing, just black bags everywhere.
“Interesting choice…” Denise sounded bewildered.
Dry ice filled the stage with smoke as the three witches—all wearing beige polyester coats and headscarves—shuffled out from the wings. The crowd went wild.
“Well, that explains why Morag’s protesting Shakespeare,” Katya said to anyone who could hear her over the ruckus.
“Am I mistaken,” Denise leaned in to whisper, “or does the music have a rap beat?”
“Steven’s in charge of sound.” And Katya’s younger brother was yet to find a situation where rap wasn’t appropriate.
“Ah.” Denise nodded and settled back in her seat.
Macbeth and Macduff appeared on stage—dressed in hessian sacks with their names printed across their chests. They were barefoot and riding hobby horses.
Katya’s father groaned as Brodie fought to smother his laughter.
The play appeared to follow the standard format, with the cast all dressed in matching sacks, until it came time to kill the king—which should have happened offstage. Instead, Duncan lay down and pretended to sleep while Macbeth threw a bucket of red paint at him before rubbing his hands in it and staring at them in shock.
It all went to hell after that.
The paint flew as the violence grew. Lady Macbeth was covered in it as she wailed her “Out damned spot” soliloquy. The stage was clearly slippery, with actors fighting to stay upright as they moved across it. Torn between stunned silence and hysterical laughter, the audience watched the red-splattered chaos unfold.
The music increased in volume until Katya thought her eardrums would burst. Denise gripped her arm, nails digging in.
“I’ve just remembered.” Denise looked horrified. “There’s a huge battle scene at the end.” She shot to her feet. Ready to make a run for it up the aisle and out of the hall.
But it was too late. Every actor on stage, and there were a lot of them, was armed with a bucket of paint for the big finale. It flew everywhere, including over the front row.
As Katya ducked to avoid getting hit in the face, her father roared, and Brodie cursed. There was a thudding noise, and she peeked up to see that an actor had slid right off the stage and landed in front of her. He grinned, gave her a thumbs-up, and clambered back on.
Stunned, Katya followed his progress back into the fray on stage, where bodies slipped and slid all over each other. You couldn’t tell who was who. You couldn’t hear the dialogue. There was nothing but paint-covered carnage. And it was mesmerizing.
At last, there was a wail, someone shouted something, and the curtains closed. After a moment of stunned silence, the building shook with applause. Katya looked for Denise, but she’d made a run for it to the back of the hall. Instead, she turned to her husband, and for the first time in her life, found herself lost for words.
Brodie was red. There wasn’t a part of him, from top to toe, that wasn’t soaked in paint. He just sat there, unmoving, arms folded as he glared at the stage.
“Bet you’re wishing you’d worn that plastic now,” her dad said as he stood and tugged off his poncho. It fell to the floor in front of him with a splat. “But then, you’re a real man and didnae need it.” Laughing, he headed down the aisle.
“Oh, Brodie,” Katya whispered. She reached out to touch him, but there wasn’t a paint-free space on which to rest her hand.
“Don’t,” he snapped. “I hate your family.”
“I know,” she soothed.
“I should have divorced you while I had the chance.”
“There’s paint in my shoes.”
She bit her bottom lip as a smile threatened.
“I think it’s soaked through to my underpants,” he added grimly.
Katya held her breath to stop the bubbles of laughter rising inside.
He narrowed his eyes at her. “If you laugh, I will kill you before I slaughter the rest of your family.”
“No laughing.” But her words sounded strained.
“Delia Savage!” came the bellow from the back of the hall. “You promised the paint would stay on the stage. You gave me your word. Who’s going to clean this up? My hall. My beautiful hall! There’s red paint everywhere.”
Katya’s mother appeared through the gap in the curtains. “I’m sorry,” she told the school’s head teacher, Mr. Hunter. “You know how it is with performance—sometimes you have to go where the muse takes you.”
“Well, the muse better bloody take you to a bucket and mop,” Mr. Hunter raged. “Close the doors. Lock the damn things. Nobody leaves until this place is clean. Do you hear me? Nobody leaves!”
The doors banged shut, and the audience grumbled as they shuffled back toward the stage.
“You,” Mr. Hunter ordered someone, “go get cleaning supplies. Now! And somebody get a hose rigged up. Brodie MacGregor’s sticking to the chair!”
At that, Katya could no longer fight the laughter, and it erupted from her.
“I hate you most of all,” Brodie told her.
“I know,” she said when she could catch her breath.
*** If you haven’t already read Brodie and Katya’s story, you can find it in Come Fly With Me. ***