Several moons ago, probably not long after Queen Victoria died, I was part of an amateur drama group that staged a selection of vignettes and longer excerpts from plays and literature as a post-lunch entertainment. Our audience was a large group of people who, somewhat unfairly, were considerably more refreshed than we were.
They had the advantage, being able to relax and let the fun roll out before them. We, dry-mouthed and anxious, had our nerves to conquer and costume changes to contend with in a very small space, not to mention our cues to remember.
This all took place when I was living in the Far East, which gives one – or certainly this one – more confidence than might otherwise be the case when stepping on to a stage and trying to encourage an audience to suspend its disbelief.
I was various people that day, and one of them was Queen Victoria. I want to think I was chosen for the role because I had long hair at the time which lent itself to being coiled into a sort of sausage-in-a-bun effect on my head, but I suspect the producer resorted to me because of my height, or lack of it. A quick glance along the row of press-ganged volunteers and the decision was, presumably, only too easy.
There I was, coiffed and regally dressed, reading from Victoria’s diary, dated October 15, 1839, in which she expressed the unutterable joy she felt after Albert had accepted her proposal of marriage. “I really felt it was the happiest, brightest moment in my life,” were her touching words.
With that, I exited stage left and transformed myself into a less than convincing version of Laurie Lee to read from Cider With Rosie. Judi Dench would kill for such versatility.
Stage appearances were a regular feature of my life in those days, including revues and several plays. Pygmalion was one, a simply terrifying crime thriller another, and there was even a deep and meaningful feminist one-act, but it was Sleeping Beauty that was the maddest and the greatest fun.
There’s nothing like a pantomime to bring out the silliness in everyone involved, actors and audience alike. Inhibitions are cast aside and, if everything goes as it should, a great time is had by all.
This was certainly the case when a gang of pals and I went to lend our support to a friend in her village panto last week. She was brilliant, in fact the whole cast was brilliant – and the audience was pretty wonderful, too. It’s a long time since I stamped my feet and cheered and whistled in appreciation for something in such an unbridled way.
You just don’t get to react like that anywhere other than in a village hall, where everyone is giddy with the love of being together in the name of entertainment.
There are downsides to taking part. The learning of lines is one of them, although the prompt is always there as a backstop.
This generally works well until, as in the panto the other day, the prompt gets left behind and, when offering a line, is treated to a loud retort from the stage: “I’ve already said that.” Of course, it brought the house down.
The biggest downside, though, is literally a down: the huge let-down that comes when the final curtain falls. After all that teamwork and creativity, it’s suddenly all over. It’s a yawning gap that nothing seems big enough or exciting enough to fill.
Happily, with panto, there’s always next year.