“Will you help me boys and girls?”
The journey to put on a panto where I live is strictly long haul. We start in July with a meeting of interested participants and, after around 40 rehearsals, we end with 2 performances for other residents, family and friends in mid-December. We chose Dick Whittington (with Beatles’ songs) for our performance this year, I agreed to direct it and we recruited a mix of usual suspects and newcomers to our company, including our Activities Manager who agreed to play the cat. Rehearsals started in August. Given that the residents who take part range in age from mid-60s to mid-80s, it’s a massive commitment of time and effort for all involved.
“It’s behind you!”
I sometimes felt like a cat chasing my own tail: huge changes to the original script, mainly because it had far too many characters for our small company to cast – so Long John Silver for example, had to go; two changes to the cast for one character as people dropped out due to illness; changes to the rehearsal schedule as people remembered holidays or hospital appointments….I could go on.
“Oh yes they are! Oh no they’re not!”
We are actively involved in an intergenerational project with a nearby primary school and, before the long summer holiday, we agreed that some older children could be involved in the panto in some way – acting, dancing or singing. In re-writing the script, I took account of this and included a chorus of around 8 schoolchildren who would play rats (famously vanquished by Dick Whittington’s cat). I needed them to run around causing mayhem on stage – and perhaps in the audience – and sing appropriate Beatles’ songs as commentary to the story. However, once the autumn term started, communication from the school dried up, and by half term I was forced into a further re-write. “What are we going to do?” I was asked. ” Easy,” I replied, ” We’ll make rats on sticks to be operated from the wings – and you will have to do the singing.”
“The notes are all there, but not necessarily in the right order.”
Because of some marked tone-deafness, unwillingness to attempt a tune or, like our resident pianist, lack of familiarity with the Lennon & McCartney songbook – sadly I had to cut quite a few Beatles numbers. For those that survived, I had a great deal more fun tinkering with John and Paul’s lyrics than the cast had learning and singing them! Classics such as Help, Ticket to Ride, and From Me to You for example, were repurposed (in time-honoured panto fashion) to fit with what was going on, or signal what might happen,in the story. Just before the interval, for example, the characters who have made sure that Dick is sent away in disgrace, sing (to the tune of Get Back) :
That’s got rid of Dick, I’ve stitched him good and proper. Alice thinks he’s just a thief.
Now it’s time for you to go and get a cuppa, and give your bladder some relief.
Get back, get back etc.
“Rats are back! Rats are back!”
We did have rats, beautifully drawn and painted, huge, characterful rats with long tails, stapled to two long, sturdy poles. They were thrust onto the stage from left and right of the wings by our Mr Shifter scene changers whenever the script required. Every time they appeared, the audience obligingly screamed and shouted, “Rats are Back! Rats are back!” The children especially loved this and shouted it whether or not the rats had made an appearance.
“Three cheers for the cat. Hip, hip, hooray……!”
Not just for the cat but for everyone involved on the stage and backstage, in however small a way. The set and costumes looked magnificent. The cast had a glorious time camping it up thrillingly as the story, and their performances, fell magically into place. The audience booed, laughed and shouted out as prompted and, sitting amongst them, I could see and hear people having a good time. Our panto season has come to an end.
But will we do it all again next year?!
18 December 2019