Once he was in the desired seat, the supervisor gave him a long, furious glare, just daring him to move. She then hurried back up the aisle. Peter gave a small sigh of relief. It didn’t matter who the person was, once you put a clipboard into their hands, they instantly became a tyrant.
Peter shifted, trying to get comfortable. He was glad his stay would be short. The seats of the Pinnacle Theatre were the worst in the West End. How anyone could suffer the entire four-hour ceremony in them was beyond him. As the announcer droned on through the best sound design category, the young actor stole a glance around. Peter Towers (always Peter, never Pete. Pete Towers sounded like a dodgy solicitor) marvelled at the sight around him. Anybody who was anybody in the world of theatre was gathered in that auditorium. From revolutionary producers and directors, to world-class actors and actresses. It was a smorgasbord of talent, and Peter felt a glow being in the centre of it all. This was where he belonged. Of course, he would have preferred to have been there as a nominee and not a simple seat filler. But small steps, he told himself.
His eyes travelled from row to row, until they finally settled on gathering of talent immediately around him. Peter felt his heart stutter and his cheeks warm up. In the seat beside him, lazily studying her nails, was Elsa Myers; stunning fashion model, reality star, and regular attendee of his late-night fantasies. She was also the girlfriend of Adrian Sutcliffe, the current front runner for best actor, thanks to his performance in The Way the Willow Bends. In fact, beside Elsa was Ingrid Flannery, the show’s purple-haired director, and beside her was Ben Jenkins, nominated for best supporting actor. The rest of The Way the Willow Bends’ creative team were scattered in the row in front and behind. The only one not there was the man himself. Peter felt a flush of excitement as he realised what that meant. That excitement, however, soon drizzled into jealousy. He had auditioned for Adrian’s role; it was the first time Peter’s agent had managed to wrangle him into such an important audition, and he was sure he had put in his finest performance since playing Danny in Grease at his drama school’s final year show. But, of course, as soon as Adrian Sutcliffe and his tousled blond hair had walked into the room, that had been it. Peter and the rest of the auditionees may as well have been grease stains on the floor for all the attention they were given. Now, to add insult to that injury, Peter was keeping the man’s seat warm whilst he went for a piss before, undoubtedly, winning an award that very well could have been Peter’s.
He felt more than a little irked. After all, he and Adrian didn’t look too dissimilar. He, like the successful actor, was six-foot-two, although years of disappointment had given his posture a distinct stoop. His hair was the same shade of thatch gold, though its style was less than charming after, in an effort to save a few quid, he had tried cutting it himself. And, if he really squinted, his eyes could have the same smouldering effect as Sutcliffe’s. But, still the privately-educated son of a director and actor, famous for a stint in the eighties, was the one with all the luck. Peter considered it a mystery.
As these thoughts stomped through his mind like an angry child through a puddle, the ceremony edged closer to the categories that mattered. His head flicked up as they rounded off the best-supporting actress category. How long had he been sitting here? He checked his watch. Then he realised the battery had stopped last week; he kept meaning to take it in to be fixed, but then always realised that he hadn’t the money to spare. The last of his ready cash had been spent on renting this moth-bitten tuxedo. He had to have been there for a good ten minutes, surely? His eyes flickered over to Elsa Myers. She hadn’t spared him a glance as he had taken his seat, and she didn’t do so now. In fact, she didn’t spare much of anything a glance. Her interest was focussed entirely on either her nails, her mobile, or an errant thread on the hem of her expensive, plum-coloured dress.
The young actor shifted in his seat, craning his neck to try and catch a glimpse of the clipboard-wielding woman that had dumped him here. The crowd gave a huge applause as Dame Julie Macklemore won her fifth Olivier. Peter half-heartedly joined in, his eyes still desperately seeking out some sign of escape. Where the Hell was Adrian Sutcliffe? Surely, on the day he was nominated for his first best-actor award, he wouldn’t spend this long taking a shit?!
He peered down the aisle, hoping to see that arrogant prick come sauntering along. Peter would have given anything to have the actor tell him to piss off. But the aisle was empty. “And now,” the host of the ceremony announced, his voice echoing through the auditorium, “we come to the best actor category!”
Peter felt his heart yo-yo up into his throat. He had to escape! It was better they saw an empty seat than some spotty-faced imposter. But just as he was leaning forward to scurry into the shadows, Elsa’s hand gripped his arm. She wasn’t looking at him, of course. Her eyes were glued to the stage, gleaming with an almost child-like excitement. The young man felt a familiar stirring as he watched her bite down slowly on her bottom lip. Now he had another reason to make a quick get-away.
“Timothy Clydesdale, for Uncle Vanya in Uncle Vanya.”
The hall filled with appreciative applause as the wrinkled old-timer’s face was beamed onto the stage’s screen.
He was dripping with sweat now. He had to run! He’d give up acting, he promised. He’d go back home up north, become a truck driver like his old Math’s teacher said he’d be, and he’d never return. Please, anything but having his panic-tattooed mug streamed in front of all his idols by mistake.
“Elmo Franklin, for John Proctor in The Crucible.”
Elsa’s grip tightened around Peter’s wrist. He saw the fingers on her free hand cross themselves. Damn it, he thought wildly. Just look around! Look around and see that I’m some nobody who spends six evenings out of seven cleaning empty ice cream tubs off the floors of auditoriums just like this one!
“Sir Hugh Earl, for Tinker in That’s the Story We’ll Tell When We’re Old.”
Peter took a moment out of his panic to politely applaud that one. He had seen that play when it was on at the Old Vic, and Sir Hugh had been a revelation. Once that was done, he made one final, mad stare up the aisle. Maybe he was doing it for the drama. Sutcliffe was young, arrogant, and, judging by how handsome everyone said he was, a bit of a bastard. Of course, he was waiting for the last minute to come waltzing down the aisle. He had no idea someone was having a coronary attack in his seat.
“And Adrian Sutcliffe, for Randy Brady in The Way the Willow Bends.” The announcer had barely finished the title before the eruption began. A thunder of applause roared throughout the auditorium. Peter, feeling as if someone’s hand was gripping the top of his skull, turned to look around. There it was. Beamed onto the screen was his own sweaty, pallid, terrified face. His eyes, wide with horror, were sunk into darkened hollows. His mouth was dangling open, revealing a set of teeth he would, when he had enough funds, travel to Turkey to fix. His was not the face of an Olivier-nominated actor. Yet still the applause went on. Did no one see him there? Or, perhaps, they thought the shock of his first nomination had warped the once handsome Sutcliffe’s features. Or maybe they were all too drunk on complimentary champagne. Not even Elsa Myers seemed to notice that the man on the screen was not the man she was frequently intimate with. Peter didn’t know what was going through these peoples’ minds; all he knew was that the shame and humiliation was about to burn him alive. There was his face sharing a screen with three of the greatest actors the country had to offer. All he could hope now was that one of them would win the award, and he would be able to crawl away. With any luck he’d be lampooned on Twitter, have five minutes of fame as a meme, have a casting agent see that meme, and then be offered a job. Peter began to brighten up. Maybe intense humiliation had its perks.
The announcer, sharing a cheeky, drama-building smile with the audience, flicked open the envelope. “And the winner of the Olivier for Best Actor goes to . . .”
Elsa finally released Peter in order to cross the fingers of that hand. Peter also crossed his fingers. Every fibre of his body yearned for Sir Hugh Earl to win the award. The man’s in his seventies, this’ll probably be his last moment of relevancy, let him have it!
“Adrian Sutcliffe, for Randy Brady in . . .”
The rest of what he said was swallowed by the fireworks of applause. Elsa burst into tears. Peter wasn’t far behind her. Fortunately, his body couldn’t decide between tears, vomit, or violent diarrhoea. In the end it settled for a state of paralysis. There was his face, once more broadcast above the stage, for the whole auditorium to see. Surely now they must realise that he’s the wrong man?
The runway model threw her arms around Peter’s shoulders, then planted a fat kiss on his sweaty cheek. What the Hell was happening? People behind him were slapping him on the back, the people in front were reaching around to shake his hand, and everyone seemed to be rising to their feet. Adrian’s performance hadn’t been that good! His chest began to ache; it felt as if his heart was going to gallop its way out of his ribcage. He gripped the back of the seat in front of him. He was suddenly aware that Elsa was trying to push him to his feet. “I’m . . .” he tried to murmur, but the roar of the audience around him was too loud. In the end he was powerless to stop himself from being dragged out of his seat.
He was standing in the aisle, his mouth still gaping and his eyes still wide. Peter’s eyes turned pleadingly towards the exit. That clipboard-wielding woman was going to be furious.
“What are you waiting for, silly?” Elsa asked “Get on up there!”
There was no escape. Everyone’s eyes were on him, their hands slapping together like insane seals. Slowly, his trembling legs as heavy as lead, Peter made his way down the aisle. What the Hell was happening? That was the only thought that was bouncing through his mind. I’m dead, that has to be it. I’ve died and this is Hell. Halfway towards the stage he felt himself trip and begin to fall – as if the day couldn’t get any worse. Maybe, if he was lucky, he would trip over and crack his skull open on the stairs. But, of course, Peter had no such luck. Someone put out an arm and steadied him, then gave him a hearty slap on the back and urged him forward.
With sweat pouring down him, his heart doing a Bob Fosse routine in his throat, and his bladder about to explode, Peter Towers mounted the stage. Ever since he was a child Peter had loved the warmth of the spotlight on his face. Now he felt like a convict who had been caught scaling the walls. No hope of being shot at though. Wanting to weep, Peter shuffled towards the podium where the announcer stood, grin tattooed to his face, and the Olivier award held out. His expression didn’t even flicker as he pressed the statue into Peter’s trembling hands. In fact, no one’s reaction changed. If anything, as he turned, their applause grew louder. Only the award itself saw Peter for what he truly was. Its imperious, disapproving face glared up at the young seat-filler. Terrified that the statue might start talking, he turned the award upside down.
Peter’s stomach began to knot itself up as he realised the commotion was starting to die down. Still, no one had realised what a dreadful mistake had been made. A lull was descending in the auditorium. The announcer was stepping back, an expectant smile on his face. The audience members were starting to sit back down. They were waiting for his speech. How many times had he dreamt of this moment? How often had he practiced in front of the bathroom mirror, a bottle of conditioner standing in for the award he now held? He’d spent most of his life dreaming of being on this stage, accepting this award. He had never thought it would come about thanks to a case of mistaken identity.
His throat felt the size of a pinhole. His mouth kept opening and closing, but only a strained wheeze ever escaped his lips. Peter needed to speak. Needed to say something! That’s it! He could say he was accepting it on behalf of Adrian Sutcliffe. Then it wouldn’t look like such a catastrophic cock-up! Even with this revelation, the words still refused to come. His shirt was soaked, the sweat now beginning to seep into the fabric of his rented jacket. His whole body trembled, as if he was standing on an active jackhammer. Out in the murky, silent shadows where the audience lay, someone coughed awkwardly. Finally, after what felt like an eternity of being cooked under those merciless spotlights, Peter managed to squeak something out. “There . . . there’s been – there’s been a mistake!” he squealed.
There was a swell from the orchestra, the audience burst once more into manic applause, and then someone place a friendly but firm hand on Peter’s elbow. Realising that he had run out of time, the young actor was escorted off the stage.
Peter was in a daze. People in tuxedos much nicer than his had ferried him off the stage, down several corridors, and out into a room full of photographers and journalists. He had been asked a dozen questions, had a hundred pictures taken of him and the statue, and then when the flashing lights were about to blind him permanently, the smartly dressed usher had reappeared and whisked him off down several more corridors and left him in yet another room. Someone had taken the Olivier out of his hand, finally giving Peter a sense of relief. Finally, the mistake had been realised. Here, out of the fantasy lights of the auditorium, someone had spotted Peter Towers for who he truly was.
That was what he had hoped. In reality, the statue had been taken and then handed to a young woman sat at a table. She had then begun the process of engraving his name onto the little bronze plaque at the statue’s neck. Well, not his name.
Peter turned, not because he was committed now, but because he was terrified to see the real winner come storming in to break his nose. His fear was momentarily banished by the sight of a diminutive, but excessively well-dressed woman zooming towards him. With her distinctive platinum-silver hair, her large, red-rimmed glasses, and a wide grin that revealed small, piranha-like teeth, Peter recognised famed talent agent: Margo De La Paunch.
He remembered her from his own drama school showcase. She had watched them performance with a vulture-esque intensity, downed a complimentary glass of chardonnay afterwards, and then made her exit without speaking to any of the students. She was renowned for being able to spot world-class talent, and Peter had always hoped for her to be his agent. Now, seeing Margo descend upon him, the young man fervently hoped to be in a different continent. If anyone was going to recognise that he wasn’t Adrian Sutcliffe, it was surely the man’s own agent.
She grabbed hold of Peter’s elbows, dragged him down to face level, and then planted a dry kiss on each of his flushed cheeks. “Didn’t I tell you, darling?” she remarked, releasing him from her clutches. “I knew that Olivier was yours from the moment you first walked into my office!” She swept around him, up to the engraver’s desk, and then snatched the award out of the woman’s hands. She pressed it up against Peter’s chest. “And that show of humility, my love?” she went on, her voice booming around the room with the volume of a man twice her size. “A masterstroke! A Masterstroke! They’ll be talking about it for weeks, darling! Weeks!”
Even she, a woman declared to have the sharpest eyes in theatre, thought that he was Adrian. Then again, Peter thought, she must have hundreds of clients. And, when it came down to it, leading actor types all looked much the same these days. He wouldn’t be surprised if she had Adrian’s name scribbled onto her palm as a reminder. “This suit, Adey, darling, this suit?!” She peeled open the cheap tuxedo jacket, gave a dramatic sneer, then let it drop back closed. “You can go too far trying to look humble,” she crooned. “Fortunately, I had a fresh suit brought for you to change into before the after-party.”
After-party? Had Peter heard that right? A place where he would be up close and personal with people who knew and worked with the real Adrian Sutcliffe? People who would see Peter’s pimply, almost-malnourished face and realise it was the last one who should be in possession of an Olivier.
Somehow, in the moment he had taken her eyes off her, Margo had acquired two glasses of champagne. She forced one into Peter’s free hand, and then downed her own in one practiced gulp. “There are so many people I want you to meet, Adey. And they want to meet you! Dying, in fact, to meet you! Dying!”
Then again, Peter thought as he watched Margo accost a waiter for another glass, the party would be full of ludicrously drunk people. People who would be drinking away their sorrows at losing, or guzzling enough bubbly to preserve their euphoria. They wouldn’t know they were talking to a coat rack, rather than the real Adrian Sutcliffe. For the first time that day, Peter felt a smile crawl across his lip. He’d gotten away with it so far, why not now have some fun with it?
“Adrian Sutcliffe! There’s my boy!”
Peter gasped like a child. Approaching him was Sir Clive Crouch, enigmatic theatre producer, and owner of seven West End venues. He was a wide man of six-foot-three, with a wild mane of white hair. He was grinning like a friendly uncle, displaying a set of expensive-looking dentures. He rested a companionable hand on Peter’s shoulder. “Here’s the man of hour,” Sir Clive purred, keeping his hand where it was. “Congratulations on a well-deserved win.”
“Th-thank you,” Peter squeaked, fearing he was about to wake up.
“You know, you and I should have a meeting some day; have a good, long chat about your future.” The old producer’s grin widened.
“Clive!” Margo exclaimed, taking his hand away from Peter’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze. “They let you out of your coffin, I see?”
“Margo, Margo, Margo,” the man said, his smile slightly souring. “A pleasure to see you, as always.”
“I’d be happy to discuss Adey’s future with you,” Margo said, her eyes behind the glasses flashing with fire for a moment. “But no shop-talk right now. Adrian needs to celebrate!”
“Of course, of course,” Sir Clive said. He clapped his hand back onto Peter’s shoulder and gave it a soft squeeze. “I do hope we’ll see one another again, Adrian, my dear.” He tipped the young man a wink, and then slunk back away.
Margo took hold of Peter’s elbow and quickly dragged him out of the room. “Trust me, Adrian,” she said in a hurried whisper, “that’s not a man a handsome young actor like you wants to owe any favours.”
The meaning of the agent’s words fell on Peter like a lead weight. He opened his mouth to protest, but Margo was already pushing him back towards the auditorium. “Now, go and enjoy the rest of the ceremony,” she said, patting him on the lower back. “And then, go wild at the party tonight. You deserve it!” With a final pat, this time on his backside, Margo sent Peter back to Adrian Sutcliffe’s seat.
Peter woke with his head banging like a bongo drum, and his tongue feeling as if he had spent the week licking cement. He didn’t dare yet open his eyes. Even the light bleeding through the curtains and against his sealed eyelids was strong enough to burn.
Just what had he been drinking last night? Something poisonous, obviously. Something potent enough to give him the most bizarre dream he had ever had. Lying there, his body tangled in with the sheets, Peter replayed as much as he could remember in his mind. If it hadn’t been for the first, nightmarish half, Peter wouldn’t have minded the rest of it being true. Partying with the best of the theatre world until the first fingers of dawn tickled the horizon, who could complain? But, alas, it was just a dream.
Peter’s eyes burst open. “Fuck,” he murmured, his throat cracking like an aged plastic bottle. The miserable hangover was proof that nothing of the previous night had been a dream. And, if he needed anything further, he looked around and realised, with a Titanic-sized sinking feeling, this was not his bedroom. Peter leapt up, the thundering in his head forgotten for a moment. That most definitely was not his bed. For one thing, it was large enough for three people, with room to spare. And, for another, it wasn’t currently being propped up by a copy of Stanislavksi’s Art of Acting. Along the wall beside the bed was a large closet with mirrors on the doors. Another mirror was on the far wall facing the bed. Already knowing what he was going to see, Peter felt his eyes slide upwards. Above the bed, a reflection of his pale, haggard face stared down at him. Yes, Adrian Sutcliffe was that sort of man.
With ever-increasing horror, Peter gazed around the room. How was he still stuck in this upside-down world? The bedroom was bigger than Peter’s entire flat, and he had to share that with three other hungry actors. His flatmates! Of course, he could phone them up and have one of them come to his rescue! But come where? He had no idea where he was. Luckily, Adrian’s bedroom led out to a balcony. Stepping out, Peter found himself surrounded with enough plants to fill a garden centre. He also found that he was still clueless as to where he was. The successful actor’s flat was located in a charming, but non-descript cul-de-sac. On the very edge of hearing was the sound of distant traffic, but that was it. Still, Peter had to try.
He stumbled back into the bedroom and, after twenty-seven minutes of frantic searching, realised that he couldn’t find his mobile. Where had he left it? The last thing he remembered was taking selfies with Dame Phillipa Fontaine . . . The rest of the night was a boozy blur. In fact, he didn’t even know how he had gotten back here. A sudden shrill buzzing filled the flat. Peter threw his hands over his ears, but it did nothing to quiet the storm that was filling his head.
A doorbell. Someone was at the door. Panic skittered once more through the young man. Would the cold light of day finally force people to see the truth? That piercing wail tore through the flat once more. Whoever the person was, they weren’t taking no for an answer. Between a choice of being asked some very difficult questions, and having to endure that doorbell once more, Peter could only see one clear winner.
He tumbled through the grand flat, getting lost only twice, and then collapsed by the front door. Here the hawkish squeal was even more torturous. A strangled yelp escaped his throat as he peered out of the spyhole in the door. There was no one in the corridor.
“What the . . .?”
The shrill scream sounded, yet again, and this time Peter threw open the door. Margo De La Paunch, her bony finger jammed into the bell, looked up at him. “Adey, my darling!” she exclaimed. Then her expression changed. It went from barely-restrained glee to darkened concern. Peter felt his pulse begin to quicken. His eyes darted up and down the hall, knowing he would never be able to escape. The woman was as fast and vicious as a velociraptor. All he could do was steel himself for the worst.
“You look dreadful, darling, dreadful!” The agent then brushed past him into the flat. For a brief second, Peter felt affronted. Of course, he then remembered that it wasn’t even his flat. “Elsa told me what a state you were in when she left you last night,” Margo went on, trotting into the gloriously-sized kitchen and flicking on the espresso machine.
So, that was how he wound up back here! A sudden lead ball of worry landed in his gut. “Erm . . . Elsa stayed here . . .?” he murmured. Momentarily stealing a man’s identity, that was fine, but to go and . . .
“No, darling. Remember? She had to fly to Zurich first thing this morning.”
Peter vented a huge sigh of relief.
Margo shot him another studious glance. A shiver ran once more down Peter’s spine. He had long since sprinted past the opportunity to give himself up, to explain the horrible mistake that had been made. All he could hope was that, once the agent realised what had happened, he would be able to beat her to the door.
“I thought you went to the gym?” she remarked.
In that moment, Peter remembered that he was wearing nothing but his boxer shorts. His sinewy, pale body was on display, and it obviously didn’t impress. “I – erm – missed a few sessions,” he murmured, raising his hands to his bare nipples.
“You’d best get back to it, darling,” Margo said. “Especially if you’re going to star in that Simon Soderbergh film.”
His hands plummeted to his side, and his mouth dropped open. “Simon . . . Soderbergh?”
“That’s right,” the agent went on, handing Peter a steaming espresso. “I was on the phone to him last night. He adored your speech; adored it!”
“I . . . I get to be in a Soderbergh film?”
“It’s not a big role, darling, but everyone needs to start somewhere.”
Peter felt an unfamiliar flutter in his stomach. Was this it? Was this his Big Break? In the span of twenty-four hours, he had won an Olivier, drank tequila with the best of British theatre, and was now starring in a film with the greatest living director in the world. And it was all because he had sat in the wrong seat! His hopes faltered again. It wasn’t his success though, was it? He wondered again about Adrian Sutcliffe. Just where was he? Yesterday was understandable. He had probably been passed out in a toilet cubicle, missing out on the greatest night of his career. But this morning? Surely the man knew how to make his own way back to his flat? How long would it be before he inevitably walked through that door, wanting his life returned? Peter hesitated. It wasn’t his offer to take. He couldn’t answer. Not until he had given Adrian a chance to come back. His eyes turned to the front door.
That was probably long enough, Peter thought. He turned to Margo, matching her wide grin. “When does filming start?” he asked.
Screw Adrian Sutcliffe, Peter decided. This was his life now.
“Shall we call in the next one, Adrian?”
“What? Oh, yeah, sure.” Despite three years passing since that fateful morning, Peter still couldn’t get used to answering to that name. A little ember of guilt still smouldered away. He’d spent years smothering it with films, theatre, and television roles, but still it burned. He’d travelled around the world, twice, acting in some of the most beautiful locations, but still his conscience had been singed. No number of nominations had been able to douse it. Maybe, he told himself, if he actually won one of those awards, it might go away.
Now, in another attempt to settle himself comfortably into his life, Peter had decided to turn his hand to directing. When he described his decision to Margo, he had argued that no one would expect a young, successful actor like himself to explore such a unique avenue. His agent had given him her patented, drill-bit glare, and then eventually relented. She still got her cut, after all.
Easing himself back into his chair, Peter waited for the next young hopeful to shuffle in. He allowed himself a small smirk as he remembered his days of being in their place. The sick anxiety he had felt sitting outside, desperately trying not to forget his lines. Wondering if he was wearing the right shirt for the role, or whether they’d like his haircut, or the way he walked. In a way, he kind of missed those days. At least back then he wasn’t the one trapped behind the desk watching a dozen nervous look-a-likes deliver the same script in the same anxious way.
“The next auditionee is,” the casting agent said, glancing quickly at her notes, “a Pete Towers.”
Peter’s eyes snapped open.
The casting agent snorted quietly. “Sounds like a dodgy solicitor.”
His heart was going manic. It couldn’t be, surely . . . there had to be hundreds of Petes and Peters, right? And surely a few of them also had the surname Towers? His breath coming in ragged wheezes, Peter watched the young actor step into the room. A mild whine left his body.
“Wow,” he heard the casting agent murmur.
His face was a little leaner, his clothes looked more Clearance Sale than Clavin Klein, and his hair appeared as if he had tried, and failed, to cut it himself. But there was no mistaking him. Adrian Sutcliffe, now going by Pete Towers, moved into the marked position. He gave the casting agent a brief nod, then turned to Peter. He gave him the same, indifferent greeting; but it seemed as if his eyes lingered a little longer, and grew a lot colder. In spite of effects the three years had had on the actor, there was still the smouldering appeal in his eyes. His jaw had that same well-defined cut to it. And that thatch of golden hair still seemed to glow under the lights.
In that moment, seeing him standing with the script rolled in his hands, Peter knew the game was up. He slumped back in his seat, and barely heard the casting agent beside him.
“Right then,” she said brightly. “Shall we get started?”