I hate being a divorced father.
I feel like an actor who went for the role of Hamlet and ended up playing the Gravedigger. Night after night I have to stand shoulder deep in dirt and watch some other bastard lift up the skull and make the ‘Alas, poor Yorick’ speech. And I can’t whack him over the head with a shovel because my son is watching and we must Set a Good Example for the child.
There are compensations.
Hamlet is onstage virtually the whole time and he has to learn a ton of lines. Plus keeping the Queen happy is a full time job on top of a full time job. I know. I was married to her. When my son was born I worried about how demanding a small child would be, but it was peanuts compared to a wife.
In contrast, the Gravedigger has only one scene which I now know back to front. Some nights I get some pretty good laughs and for most of the play I can sit backstage and do what the hell I want. In the early days following the divorce, I used to hang about in the wings watching the Queen in agonizing jealousy as she performed opposite the new Hamlets. I learned not to do that. Now, apart from my one scene, I let her do what she wants with whichever Hamlet she wants and I forget there’s even a play going on. Sometimes, I even forget I have a son and then I feel no jealousy at all.
Occasionally, I see the Queen backstage and we chat about our roles. Now that some other bastard has the job of making her feel like a queen and a princess at the same time she can be normal and I have discovered that she’s an honest, perceptive and highly courageous woman. Plus she loves our son more than life itself. She loves him so much she puts up with me.
‘Why do you do that?’ I once asked her.
‘Don’t thank me,’ she said. ‘Thank him. I wanted a clean break and a fresh start, but your son was adamant—he wanted to see his daddy.’
I looked at my gravedigger’s clothes and the dirt on my hands. The Queen saw the look on my face.
‘He doesn’t care about that,’ she said. ‘And if you were honest, you’d admit that this role actually suits you better. You never liked being Hamlet anyway. You just stayed because you didn’t want anyone else to play the role.’
The Queen rose and went back onstage for her next scene. I sat in the dressing room and looked at the first line of my script.
‘I hate being a divorced father.’