A pantomime? Oh yes it was!

John Ward
John Ward
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WARD’S WORLD: By John Ward

At this time of the year many people are debating the idea of booking up to see a pantomime although some are quite happy to sit and watch the other patients in their doctor’s waiting room as a form of light entertainment that is basic pantomime: “You think you have got what wrong with you?!” – “Oh yes I have!” – “So where does it hurt then?” - “Over there, behind me!”

It was while I was digging out or rather de-cluttering some stuff that had piled up over the years that I came across notes that I had written down some years ago when I had a bash at this wonderful old traditional winter stage show - “Ooooh, yes I did!”

It came about by an amateur company staging their annual event that were desperate (and I do mean desperate…) for people to take on the various roles as due to numerous (and vague) reasons of which I was to find out about the hard way later, that assorted roles were unfilled as those who had performed before previously were no longer available - or wanted to be.

A friend asked me if I would take a role based on him seeing me in an amateur farce a few years beforehand although some places of my gainful employment would have been more appropriate as being a farce. Oddly I was only helping the group out staging the said farce as I was there to help build the scenery, props etc. but the silver tongued producer talked me into taking an ‘hacting’ part - I only went to him at the time for two tins of paint, coloured, some wood and a box of screws, so he was quite a good salesman really.

Back to the panto then. I went along to the audition and within minutes I had become an ‘Ugly Sister’ - some might say it was typecasting - and I was grateful to learn also it did not involve any form of surgery or changing of name by Deed Poll.

The cast was picked and obviously Cinderella would be the next production in all its glory with an exciting (?) line-up including fresh blood, sorry, talent to boost the dwindling resident team or that’s how it looked to the untrained eye.

As we departed that night, we shook hands as we left not knowing that before the production would finish its run, a few would perhaps be strangled by some of the same hands. We had our scripts and away we went to learn 
our lines at home before the first ‘read through’ and rehearsal in a weeks’ time and just what could go wrong with such an upbeat team all raring to go?

Firstly the director did two rehearsals and said: “It wouldn’t work as we were ‘green’ to it all” and he walked off and left us - yes really. What he forgot nay neglected to say was he had agreed to direct another production in another town, at the same time a few miles away, and this was obviously a minor slip anybody could make of course, oh um.

The good news was somebody else took on the director role and away we sped and we had some not very clever rehearsals but this was good news as the old saying is ‘good rehearsal, bad show’.

My problem/pain was my fellow ugly sister as although he had been performing for ‘donkey’s years’, with the current state of the donkey being in question, his keeping to the script left a lot to be desired but his rather bombastic wife kept telling us “he would be alright on the night” and visions of the character Pte. Frazer the undertaker in the TV series ‘Dad’s Army’ sprung to mind with his catchphrase of “Doomed, all doomed” was or could be about right, all things considered.

In the interim our Cinderella suddenly informed us she was ‘with child’ mid way through rehearsals and rapid calculations told us a slightly large Cinders was not quite as expected (no pun intended) in the traditional or common sense way of thinking – there were wags at rehearsal once this minor point was known who changed the “It’s behind you!” punch line to “It’s in front of you!” much to the poor girl’s embarrassment.

The day was saved - “Oh yes it was!” - by somebody who would help out just the once and perform that week due to their other commitments but would not do any other shows in the future as in the next year’s effort – interesting comment I thought..

The first night came and it went okay-ish but this must have given my ‘sister’ a feeling of over confidence as Tuesday evening, he opened up Act Two with the lines to Act Three, which came as bit of a surprise to all of us on stage at the time involved in that scene.

I sort of saved the day or rather the night when I opted for my Field Marshall Hubert Whinter-Cumming voice and said: “I fay, I fay - if it’s okay with yoo, can we go on with the Act we rehearsed in the order of sequence we did them? - oh jolly good show, tally oh and carry on, what!” to which got a laugh from the audience who had realised what was going on and we then regained our composure and Ugly 2 got back to the lines and we started on Act Two as written.

On the Wednesday evening, Ken my then boss and wife Ivy, went to see the show and afterwards Ivy being Ivy, piled the patronising on by saying “You were great, you were - really funny you were and we both enjoyed every minute!” and then a slow pause I was dreading and with a perfectly straight face then said “Anyway, which one was you then?” to which Ken suggested we all popped along to the local pub to have a packet of crisps and something wet to drink.

Thursday evening came. Ugly 2’s wife asked me for a quick word and I replied “Fast!” but this was lost on her as she then told me her hubby “He always gets the big laughs’ and did I understand, to which I replied it would be nice if he understood that script thing most of us were working to and then if he earned the supposed ‘big laughs’, we would all be delighted including the audience.

Another chap who had also been persuaded into taking a role and played Buttons had the same ‘friendly advice’ from the same source and we both realised that we were in a clique of sorts and sadly these bodies usually turn away those with a genuine interest - or heaven forbid, even talent - as we realised why nobody in the immediate area wanted to take part. That apart we supposed ‘raw ‘uns’ enjoyed it but for certain elements within running the madhouse who made it hard work, so we never went back for another dollop as when the fun went, so did we although we did go on to slightly better things as history now shows.