It wasn’t the sound Tracey expected to hear as they entered the dressing room. Nor was the sight of someone’s bottom partially covered with a sequin-covered leotard the first thing they hoped to see.
“Oh God”, moaned the figure hunched over in the tiny toilet cubicle.
Gareth hid outside the door. “Is everything all right?” he enquired.
“Can I go and get anything?”, he stammered unsure what to do. “A cup of tea perhaps?” he added weakly.
Tracey stepped in. She might not be trained in first aid, but helping someone chucking up after a night out was her field. Leaning in, she gently took hold of the woman’s long hair and pulled it back away from her face. It’s bad enough being sick, but chunks of vomit clinging to your split ends made it ten times worse.
“Blimey, you’re having a good clear out”, she joked. Looking at her watch, she added, “Mind you, I normally save this stuff for later in the day.”
A deathly pale face looked up at her. Its owner paused for a few seconds to check that there wasn’t about to be a repeat performance and then slowly stood up.
“Thanks. I’m sorry about that. It’s probably something I ate. Our hotel breakfast looked a bit dodgy this morning.”. Another pause. “I’m Julie. Julie Todmonton. Sparks’ assistant.” She proffered her hand and then took it back quickly. “Can you give me a couple of minutes to clean up?”
Back in the corridor, Tracey found Freddie huddled with Gareth and a terrified looking Kelvin.
“How is she?” Freddie asked.
“I’ve been worse. Says it’s something to do with the hotel. Probably not going to be leaving a glowing review on Trip Adviser.”
“Hmm. Let’s hope so. They are on stage in twenty minutes.”
Tracey had seen the posters up for a magic act. Sparks was emblazoned across the top with a permatanned grinning face in the middle. Cartoon electric bolts shot out around him. She had to admit that if you ignored the orange skin and Photoshop white teeth, he wasn’t bad looking. This and the fact he would be the ‘big’ star in the upcoming pantomime had persuaded her to give up an evening in the name of research.
“Maybe it’s stage fright then.”
Freddie shook his head, “No chance. They are pros. When you’ve been doing your act for a couple of years in every town in the country, it gets pretty banal.”
Tracey wondered if wearing skin-tight glittery costumes and having your head cut off could really be a run of the mill way to earn a living. The clothes are OK, she thought, and I suppose it’s better than getting chewed up by Kate all the time.
As she pondered, the face from the posters appeared beside them. “What’s happening? Where the hell’s Julie?”
Freddie turned, “Ah. Tracey. Please allow me to introduce you to Barry Martin, better known as…”
“Sparks. Just call me Sparks, young lady”, said the magician.
Dressed in a sharp black suit that showed off his figure, he was a million miles from the traditional old school conjurer who would have fitted the age of the venue or its audience. The posters didn’t do him justice. For a start, he wasn’t orange. Maybe the photo was a couple of years old, but the teeth really did light up the room when he smiled and there was an undefinable ‘something’ about him. She felt a little flush looking into his blazing green eyes. “Pleased to meet you”, she stammered.
“Tracey is here to help us relaunch the theatre. She’s a management consultant.”
Sparks looked at her. “Management consultant eh? Perhaps I should consult you myself. I need a bit of bringing in to line sometimes. Isn’t that right Freddie!”
Freddie laughed. Tracey blushed again. Was he hitting on her? “Oh, it sounds more boring than it really is. We go in and shake things up a bit, that’s all.”
“Well, if you fancy giving me a quick jiggle, I’ll be back for the season in a couple of weeks. Perhaps we can discuss a little strategy?”
Bloody hell. He really was hitting on her. And she quite liked it. “Maybe we can”, she smiled, “But I think you need to check on your assistant first. She’s not feeling too good.”
“Oh god. Yes. I told her to lay off the yoghurt at breakfast. Bloody things all looked out of date to me. Stick to red meat, that’s what I say.” Then with a final flash of his smile, Sparks disappeared into the dressing room, slamming the door behind him.
For a moment, they listened outside. Inside there were the muffled sounds of a discussion that quickly became heated. Freddie gulped and lead Tracey back to the office.
Sat with a cup of coffee that would defy any barista’s description, Freddie relaxed. “I think Barry, sorry, Sparks, likes you.”
Tracey looked away. “You think so? I thought you showbiz people were all like that. Air kisses one minute and bitching behind each other’s backs the next.”
“Not me luv”, he chuckled, “but I know what you mean. There are some real bitches in this business – and that’s just the men!”
They both laughed. Then a thought crossed Tracey’s mind. “Sparks and Julie. Are they, you know, a couple?”
“Oh, I don’t think so. She’s been with him for eighteen months or so. Pretty good really. He tends to be, how shall we put it, quite demanding. He’s got a bit of a temper.”
“Really? That doesn’t sound good. It sounded like they were rowing when we left. Will she be all right?”
Freddie laughed again. “Don’t worry. Julie can give as good as she gets. That’s why she’s lasted so long working with him. The trouble is, he wants to be the next big thing. We’re really too small a venue for his ego. Don’t get me wrong, he’s good. Really good, but he wants his name in lights in Leicester Square, not on a provincial theatre.”
“Do you reckon he’ll make it?”, she asked.
“Maybe. I’ve seen some real no-hopers make it big on TV and plenty of huge talents spend their entire careers slogging around the circuit living out of a suitcase in cheap hotels. It’s all about luck and who you know rather than if you are any good.”
“You mean talent doesn’t matter?”
“Oh, it matters. Unless you are young and very pretty”, he looked sideways at Tracey, “then you need to be ‘discovered’ by someone and that means getting your arse out on to the stage every evening.”
“So how come he’s doing the panto?”
“Trains, my dear.”
“Trains?” she asked
“Yes. You see, we are on the line from London. The critics can get out to us and watch the show but still be back in time for last orders at the Groucho club. That way they can pretend to show an interest in the provinces and then scamper back into the comfort of a Zone 1 card on the tube.”
She nodded. “Clever.”
“Patronising bastards most of them. ‘Oh you do so well for a regional theatre’ half of them seem surprised we have seats and running electricity.”, his shaking hand spilt coffee on the table, “But we need the reviews. The councillors always look impressed when the papers from the capital give us a tiny mention, and as you know, we need to keep them on board.”
A bell rang. Freddie looked up. “Showtime I think. Would you like to see Sparks in action?”
Tracey nodded and leaving the undrinkable beverage behind, headed into the auditorium.