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Panto memories... oh yes they are

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In his weekly Ward's World column, John Ward has some panto memories...

I was watching a programme on the telly recently about amateur dramatic productions or things going wrong and, I must admit I did smile at some of the (scripted its true) ‘incidents’ portrayed as I was part of such a real performance many years ago.

I stepped in to help out a pantomime production of a group’s ‘Cinderella’ with many roles not filled, but the reasons why they weren’t filled soon became obvious – oh, yes they did!

Columnist John Ward (54560483)
Columnist John Ward (54560483)

I became an ‘ugly sister’ (this put a new slant on the phrase ‘type casting’) due to the lack of applicants, and overall half the cast were new, myself included, although I had appeared in an amateur stage farce some years beforehand but then I was originally just there to help make the scenery with other volunteers.

Having worked full time in a cinema/theatre etc that staged both professional and amateur productions, I was quite aware of the minefield some of these events can become as time progressed, usually over a given week’s run as you find that prima donnas are not just confined to those of the female gender.

Once the casting was sorted, the rehearsals began sharpish as time was by now running out as a lot had been lost due to getting everything together, but what could possibly go wrong now?

The director slung his towel in after a couple of weeks – the poor love was exhausted due to his full time job. It was a mystery to most as to what he actually did during the hours of daylight - as being at rehearsals two evenings a week ‘had taken their toll on him,’ bless.

So it was ‘with much regret’ blah, blah he departed to be then followed by Phil, a friend who was a prominent member of another theatrical group, but who had suggested I went to these auditions in the first place but I never held it against him, honest – ohhhhh, no I didn’t!

It was during the first week with Phil directing that word got back of the real reason why Director Number One was unable to continue: he was actually directing another company’s, non panto show some miles away so he was directing two shows at once plus his daytime whatever so consequently one had to go, so it was us who got the short straw.

However, we got more achieved in less time with Phil directing us rather than Uno Number One, plus he was very encouraging, more so to the younger members in the chorus who were quite nervous as might be expected with half of them being new to it as this was their first time ‘treading the boards’.

My fellow ‘ugly sister’ told me he had performed there in many pantos for ‘donkey’s years’ but judging by his apparent gift for not remembering his lines in the script that the rest of us were keeping to, possibly the mythical donkeys he was referring to were still out there on a beach somewhere, still giving children’s rides and posing for photos.

However, when this was picked up by assorted cast members, his domineering wife soon put us right by telling us: “Not to worry. He will be all right on the night,” but as ‘Buttons’ muttered under his breath: “On the night?! - we are doing this for six nights, so which one are we to look out for?”

As things developed that week of the run, we found out the hard way that every night was indeed affected as he forgot his lines and what side of the stage to enter from. In fact, just about everything that he could mess up, he did, with a one hundred per cent effort – oh yes he did!

Many suggested we club together to get him a thumb shaped hat to wear to remind him of his wife and the power she had over him but it came to nothing sadly - but with her ‘input’ we found out why people were deterred from joining.

Back to the rehearsals: everything, apart from my ‘ugly partner’, was going quite well as we actually looked forward to going to rehearsals so much so that many evenings the hall caretaker was waiting for us to finish so he could lock up.

“You’re gorn over yer time, yer know! - I don’t get paid any extra, yer know!” was his catchphrase but a few weeks before we were to open, the totally unexpected happened, and it came like a bombshell.

Cinderella had to cancel any plans in the script to ‘go to the ball’ as we suddenly got the news that she was ‘with child’ to coin a phrase with said child’s appearance in the world but mere weeks away – the dressmaker had been ‘slightly concerned’ as she thought her skills were at fault as Cinders seemed to struggle more and more to get into her assorted costume fittings as time ticked by, until she explained.

She regretfully bowed out the production for, by now, all too obvious reasons but we were so close to opening: the scenery and costumes sorted, posters printed, advance publicity or just about everything and anything to promote the production was so far advanced so this was totally unexpected or rather our worst nightmare was now a reality.

For the second time in its short production and build-up to being a full on-stage show, we were in crisis, what with the director jumping ship and Cinders now leaving.

A meeting was held and assorted options were explored as we spoke the old dog-eared phrase ‘The show must go on!’ but ‘how’ was the stumbling block as we were so near, but seemingly now so far away.

The fairy godmother did wave her wand as out of all this mess somebody came forward, through word of mouth, who took the role on and who was quite amazing in the role. To give the drag artist credit, he said he was keen to help us out plus had assorted wigs.

We eventually performed to nearly full houses each night with everybody having a ball but behind the scenes, it was a drama in itself - oh yes it was!

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