Gordon Leeder was born in Melbourne, Australia, and first appeared on stage at the age of five in a school concert. From that moment on, he was hooked and later worked with the New Theatre and the National Theatre. At the same time, he was apprenticed to the joinery trade – this stood him in good stead as he became involved in scenic design and construction.
He helped build and establish both the Arts and Viaduct Theatres in Melbourne.
In 1984, he moved to Queensland where he joined the Caloundra Chorale and Theatre Company as their resident set designer. Since then he has won a number of awards.
By the same author:
The Imaginary Menagerie. Self published, type set and printed by Queensland Complete Printing Services. 1998.
Light-hearted Poems about Animals and Some of Their Problems
Greece Through the Eye of a Needle. Self Published through Oracle Press. Printed by Watson, Ferguson & Company. 1999. Biographical Travel.
t would be hard to imagine a more startlingly dramatic effect, even created by the most avant-garde director. The body was hanging about one metre above the stage and towards prompt side. It was dressed in some sort of robe, rather reminiscent of a Chinese wrap-over kimono. A spotlight had been placed on the apron of the stage and directed up and towards the corpse, accentuating the bulging eyes and the lolling tongue in the sagging head. The body was swinging slowly from side to side like a pendulum...to stage left and back to stage right and back to the left again. It was suspended about halfway between the footlights and the back wall of the stage, and as it swung back and forth it cast a grotesque shadow which increased and diminished in size as it passed the source of light. On a music stand directly below the dangling feet was a sign which looked as if it had been part of something larger. It read:
‘Tis said a hideous curse, my friend,
Brings me to this untimely end.’
At some stage someone had taken a thick texta colour pen and crossed out the first two words.
The stark whiteness of the cyclorama, the circle of red light and the swinging body itself, all created a stage effect that screamed for applause. However, the one and only cast member was well and truly beyond accepting the plaudits of any audience.
Act 1 Scene 1
Early Sunday morning, June 13th
t was around eight on Sunday morning when William and Daisy Doherty let themselves into the Bridge Theatre to clean up after the previous night’s party, which had followed the final performance of the current production. Daisy was the first of the couple to have started working at the theatre, before encouraging her husband to join her when he was ready to retire. They had two children but they had moved interstate and so the theatre provided a very pleasant extended family for the two of them. Although neither of them could claim to have been great theatre-goers in their youth, they had come to enjoy the ever changing atmosphere of The Bridge, as new plays were performed and new faces appeared from time to time, to supplement the basic crew and actors who kept the theatre alive and active. This Sunday morning clean-up was a break from their usual routine and occurred every six weeks at the end of each run. Normally, during the four weeks season of a play, they would arrive at the theatre about five in the afternoon and go about their chores. Daisy cleaned, dusted, polished and vacuumed, while William saw to the bar, which he also ran each evening until the second interval was over. The bar did not operate after the show and if cast members and their friends wanted a drink they went around the corner to one of several bars or clubs that stayed open until the wee small hours, catering to the theatre patrons and cast members, as well as the local yuppies and jetsetters.
Bill the Barman, as he was known to one and all, set about re-stocking the shelves and refrigerator, making sure that there was a good supply of ice. He washed and polished glasses as well as the ashtrays, and checked the supply of nuts and nibbles that were offered to the patrons with their drinks before the show and at the intervals. This ploy was intended to encourage members of the audience not to take confectionery or bags of chips into the auditorium. However, the rustle of paper as sweets were unwrapped and boxes of Roses Selection opened, continued to annoy at most performances. The public were notoriously naive, thinking that because they were sitting in the dark, their neighbours could hear as little as they could see. Also, very strict rules had been enforced, insisting that all mobile phones be left in the cloakroom. This followed several occasions when one had rung in the middle of a performance, throwing the cast into complete confusion, thinking that the sound effects man had mistimed his cue and caused the on-stage phone to start ringing.
During the run of a play, Bill would run Daisy home about six o’clock, have a bite to eat, and be back at the theatre by seven-fifteen when the theatre opened and drinks were available.
“Oh, what a terrible smell of cigarette smoke,” Daisy complained before going to a small storage cupboard behind the ticket box, where she put on her apron, got out her dusters and the vacuum cleaner, and prepared to enter the auditorium before starting on the foyer. She opened the double doors of the auditorium and pushed the bolts down to prevent them closing, and entered the body of the theatre.
Bill was in the storeroom at the back of the bar when he heard her scream. As he moved out from behind the bar and headed for the doors, Daisy shot out as if all the devils in hell were after her. Her face was ashen and her shaking hands were trying to stem what had become a series of choking sobs, which she seemed unable to control.
“My God, Daisy, you look as if you’ve seen a ghost. Whatever’s the matter?”
Daisy had collapsed onto one of the couches which were placed around the walls of the foyer, and looked as if she were about to pass out.
“Bill, get me a brandy, quick, there’s a luv. Then go into the auditorium and have a look for yourself. But be ready for one hell of a shock. I can’t believe I didn’t imagine it ... or maybe it’s some kind of dramatic effect for the next production.”
Seconds later Daisy had a stiff brandy in her shaking hands and Bill prepared himself for the shock that was evidently awaiting him. The Bridge was not a large theatre and from the back of the stalls he had a clear and uninterrupted view of the stage.
“Oh, my gawd. No wonder Daisy got such a shock,” he thought. “I’ve got goose bumps just looking at it.”
He moved forward down the centre aisle until he was at the edge of the orchestra pit and stared up at the macabre spectacle. There was a slightly mesmerising effect about the way the body was swinging to and fro, which reminded him of the theatre’s revival of ‘Trilby’ in which Svengali had hypnotised his victim with the swinging watch and chain. He was to discover later that he knew the person hanging there, but what with the dramatic lighting effect and the fact that the face was so contorted, he didn’t recognise him at that stage.
Bill hurried out into the foyer and sat beside Daisy.
“Give me a mouthful of your brandy, dear. I’m all of a tremble.”
He took a large mouthful and coughed as it burned its way down, causing his eyes to water slightly.
“I never could drink neat spirits. But I certainly need it this time. What a sight to come up against first thing in the morning. The whole thing looks like something out of one of them Grand Guignol horror plays. And did you see the sign under the corpse?”
“Yes, I saw it, but there was no way I was going to go close enough to be able to read it. What did it say?”
“It was a quotation of sorts and for some strange reason it rings a bell. I’ve read it or heard it somewhere before.” Bill spoke the words quietly, half to himself and half to Daisy. “Tis said a hideous curse, my friend, brings me to this untimely end.”
“Bill, we can’t just sit here wondering what it’s all about. We’d better call the police and let them handle it,” said Daisy in hushed tones. “Or should we call Mrs Wolfe first and let her know what’s happened.”
“Yes! Mrs Wolfe first and then the police. After all, we have all the details. I think that’s best.”
Nora Wolfe had been the artistic director of the Bridge Theatre as long as anybody could remember. With a small band of dedicated supporters, including her not-so-willing husband, she had established the original theatre in an old bond warehouse beside a railway bridge in the less salubrious part of town. The premises had been the home of an illegal club catering to merchant seamen. When it was finally closed down by the licensing squad, it became available for conversion into an intimate club theatre seating about one hundred patrons. It had taken weeks of scrubbing and the use of gallons of bleach to get rid of the smell of stale beer that had soaked into the ancient floorboards. Several performances were given in other hired premises to raise funds for building materials and stage equipment, including a rather cheeky production of Noel Coward’s ‘Hay Fever’, in which the lead role of Judith Bliss was played by a well-known female impersonator who had starred in an all-male army review after the war. Some members of the club were highly critical but a sell-out season and several thousand dollars taken at the box office won them around and enabled the conversion of the warehouse to go ahead.
When the theatre was finally opened, the current Governor’s wife had agreed to be the guest-of-honour. Having established the location of the theatre, her chauffeur made a point of checking out the lane where the building was situated to ascertain whether he could get the Rolls to the door. Several office workers in neighbouring buildings were rather puzzled to see an immaculately uniformed gentleman with tape in hand, measuring the width of the lane and the space between the car and the entrance to the theatre. All was well, and Her Ladyship, who had agreed to attend on condition that she made no speeches, had a highly enjoyable evening and helped to spread the word amongst her friends. It was quite an auspicious beginning.
Bill picked up the phone in the box office and dialled Mrs Wolfe’s number. After several rings, her husband’s voice was heard on the other end.
“Hello. This is Allen Wolfe speaking. Who’s calling?”
“Mr Wolfe, it’s Bill the Barman from the theatre. I’m glad you’ve answered the phone and not your wife. Is she there at the moment?”
“Yes, well she’s home if that’s what you mean. But she’s still in bed and rather tired after last night’s party. Is it important that you speak to her?”
“I’m afraid so. I have some rather shocking news for her. Perhaps you can break it to her gently. She is going to be very upset.”
“What are you talking about? Don’t tell me that the theatre has burnt down. That really would break her heart.”
“No, nothing like that. Someone has chosen to commit suicide by hanging himself on the stage of the theatre. And because of certain conditions and the distortion of the face, I can’t tell who it is. But he does seem familiar.”
“Well, there’s a nice start to a pleasant Sunday’s relaxation. Nora and I had planned to drive into the hills today and just forget about the theatre and have lunch somewhere.”
“I’m sorry to be the bearer of such disturbing news. But there it is,” Bill said lamely. “Can you inform her of the situation and we’ll ring the police. Daisy and I decided that it would be better if we rang you first in case the police rang you and got Mrs Wolfe on the phone. I’m sure it will be better coming from you. Also, I wonder if she should ring Louis...that’s Terry Underwood, the flyman. He may be needed to get the body down. I just hope he’s sober enough to answer the phone after last night’s little shindig.”
“Right! I’ll talk to Nora as soon as you put the phone down. As for Terry, I think it best if we wait for the police and see what they want to do about the body. Probably at this time, the fewer people around the better. I gather that you are in the theatre to clean up after last night. I don’t imagine you can do any harm by sticking to the front of the house...that’s if you feel like doing anything under the circumstances. It will probably be the stage area that the police will seal off. Thank God we are not in the middle of a season. We’ll see you within the hour,” Allen Wolfe said as he prepared to hang up.
Bill put the phone down and returned to where Daisy was seated, looking a little less traumatised than she had when she had collapsed on the couch.
“How did Mrs Wolfe react? She must have been shocked. Is she coming over?” enquired Daisy in a rather dazed tone.
“Well, actually, I didn’t speak to her, for which I was grateful. Allen answered the phone so he has the unpleasant task of breaking the news to her. I told him we would ring the police. I got the distinct impression that he considered it very unsporting of anyone to do such a thing on a Sunday and ruin all the plans that he and his wife had made for the rest of the day. Of course, he has never been entirely happy with the amount of time that Mrs Wolfe spends in the theatre. And the amount of money that he forked out in the early days,” reflected Bill.
“He suggested that we carry on with our chores until the police arrive. It will probably help to keep our minds off what’s in there,” Bill said, with a nod of his head in the direction of the auditorium.
“Bill,” said Daisy, as she placed a slightly steadier hand on his, “please shut the doors for me. The last thing I want to see is that body hanging there every time I pass. I wonder who it is. And besides, I really don’t think we should do any more work in case we disturb something. You know how it is on that television series, ‘The Bill’. It’s always the first thing they ask the people who find the body. ‘Have you touched anything?’”
“OK, love! That’s all right by me. Don’t feel much like it myself. And as to whose body it is...well,” Bill hesitated, “I’m sure I know – but because of the way the light is contorting the features and the result of the hanging, I can’t put a name to him. The dressing-gown that he’s wearing is vaguely familiar but I can’t quite place it. Well, I guess it won’t be long before we know who the poor bastard is. What a way to go! Something pretty terrible must have driven him to do himself in like that. Sleeping pills or gas I think would be my choice. Nothing so violent,” mused Bill.
“Bill, don’t talk like that. It would kill me if I came home and found you with your head in the gas oven or dead in bed from an overdose. And I’d spend the rest of my days wondering why you had done it. I’d probably blame myself,” said Daisy.
Bill leaned over and kissed his wife tenderly as he said, “Don’t you fret. I was just thinking aloud, and any man would be a fool to do himself in when he had someone like you to come home to.”
“Thank you, love, that’s a great comfort to me. And now you had better get onto the police. The sooner they are here and starting their investigations, the sooner we can get on with our work.”
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