‘Stage of Fools’ is a quote from Shakespeare’s King Lear. However, I used it as the title of a short story in which a theatre director decides to stage a production of The Medea, a Greek tragedy by Euripedes. Peter, the director, is a pretentious fool with ideas well above his station and talent. In the meanime his marriage to his French wife, Justine, is falling apart and while Peter is looking for funding by seducing the daughter of a rich publisher, Justine (like Medea) is plotting her revenge.
I have always had a ‘thing’ about The Medea ever since I studied it in the second year of my OU degree. However, I never imagined it would become the plot of a short story!
Here is an exceprt from Stage of Fools, the last and longest story in An Irrational Fear of Dogs and other short stories.
It was a fascination with Greek tragedy, brought on no doubt by a boy’s experiences of the Classics at public school that led Peter Meadows to follow his childhood ambition and stage a West End production of Medea. Now approaching that milestone age which shall only be spoken in whispers when one is quasi-famous, he believed it to be now or never. Justine preferred never, but then always more pragmatic and less self-indulgent than her husband, she was the one who paid (or frequently didn’t pay when they had no money) the ever increasing bills that fanned themselves out on the floor of the porch like the spreading flare of a peacock’s tail feathers, vying for attention.
‘They’ll take care of themselves,’ Peter would say if she tutted and then throw them over his shoulder to land in a pile on the floor.
‘Non cherie, they will not,’ she replied and picked them up, stuffing them into the sagging pockets of her long brown cardigan, before adding them to the teetering pile that was now becoming a fire hazard in the conservatory.
Thus began the daily ritual of will they won’t they which perfectly demonstrated the widening chasm between two people who had met at university when the whole world stretched out before them, filled with happiness and opportunity. Peter, two years older than Justine, was dashing, attractive and extremely persuasive. The year was 1988 and he was in his third year reading Drama at Reading University when the beautiful exchange student walked into the bar of the Student’s Union and asked for a glass of Chardonnay in perfect, yet broken, English. Slim, chic and better dressed than the average university student, she was obviously French.
‘I’ll get that,’ Peter said to the barmaid (another of his recent conquests but no hard feelings eh), who was pouring Hock out of a wine box, ‘and I’ll have a beer.’
It didn’t take him long to discover that Justine, as her name turned out to be, was in her first year studying the Classics at the Sorbonne and was in England to discover the museums and art galleries.
‘J’adore Oxford, en particulier le musée Ashmolean.’
‘Then we must go there,’ Peter replied, everyone at his school had at least passed basic O level French, ‘I know, let’s go tomorrow and take a picnic and go boating on the river.’
Within a week they were sharing his digs and were head over heels in love.