Thursday, 26 September 2013

Have You heard the News?

As a family with three boys, two of whose sporting commitments have, up until now, ruled our lives, it has come as a bit of a shock with Little Man’s forays into the world of drama.  Indeed, on both the maternal and paternal sides, there is a strong streak of shyness, but Little Man seems unperturbed by it all, indeed, relishes the challenge.

Just as well really.  A couple of weeks before we had even heard about the pantomime, he had joined a local dramatic group – primarily because a friend’s daughter had recommended it, but also because we were conscious that he wanted  to do a club that wasn’t sports based.  As it happened, the group leader was excited to see him.  ‘Oh good’, she said enthusiastically, ‘Just in time, we are about to rehearse our annual production, this year we are doing Annie’.

I reported back to G.  He groaned.  We have sat through various school performances over the years, mainly of the tea- towel- over- the- head- nativity-type production, in which both of our older sons have shifted uncomfortably through the songs, Middle Son in his earlier years waving at members in the audience, and Eldest Son looking as if he wished the ground would swallow him up.  But when Little Man came on to the scene, things ramped up a bit.  Firstly, the school decided that for this year, they would do an Easter production of Tattybogle.  Secondly, they divided all the kids into animal groups, with strict instructions to the parents to coordinate costumes.  Little Man came back all excited.

‘Me and Matty are going to be bugs,’ he announced proudly. 
‘What kind of bugs?’ I enquired.
‘Green ones.  What’s for dinner?’ and off he wandered.  Luckily, Matty’s mum was known to me, and so we collaborated and came back with a simple outfit, comprising t-shirts and leggings, with Comic Relief deely boppers painted green as antennae.

Tattybogle went swimmingly, until the audience began to snigger.  The man in front of me grinned ‘Those Bugs are buggering about!’

Matty was swinging his head so that the deely bopper balls spun on their springs and careered into one another with a sharp smacking sound.  Little Man was pulling one spring down, popping the ball in his mouth and then releasing it with a loud satisfying popping sound.  A bodiless hand shot from behind the stage curtain and whipped off the offending items, as the audience tittered.

So when Little Man came back and announced that he had a speaking part in Annie, we held our breath.  On enquiry, we discovered that it was 5 lines, and that he was a Dog Catcher.  We breathed out.

‘And…’ he said excitedly, ‘I have to do it in an American accent.’

G choked.  We have sat through one of Little Man’s performances, when he had to do an accent… This was another school play, based on the origins of the Olympics, in the year that Britain hosted the Olympics.  The two main parts had sheets and sheets of script to learn.  The action took place in Greece, and France (where the first Olympic committee was formed).  Although Little Man was auspiciously one of the Olympic committee, all of whom were French, he was the only one selected to speak in a French accent.  To this day I have never found out why.

The main parts did marvelously that day.  Word perfect, great timing, lovely smiles.  And then Little Man stood up to deliver his 3 lines.  His accent did its own Olympics – running from ‘Allo ‘Allo, to the southern region of Pakistan, to the sunnier climes of the Caribbean and back again to the old East End of London.  He brought the house down, as parents rocked, crying with laughter in their chairs…

So along with the impending excitement of hearing his American Dog Catching accent, he has had to learn several songs as, of course, Annie is a musical.  We were getting used to hearing various renditions of It’s a Hard Knock Life and NYC as Little Man sang away to a scratched cd in his room, when Amanda announced that the pantomime cast needed to learn two songs for the forthcoming Press Launch.

I have great admiration for anyone who can learn lines of songs.  I am one of those annoying people who if I don’t know the words, make them up. Shake a Tail Feather we all knew, but the other song that Little Man had to learn was tricky, not only because the lines were slightly mismatched in terms of tempo, but the tune was a bit of an unknown to him.  It was called Have You Heard The News – and was littered with references to Fleet, the surrounding areas and of course the pantomime.  It was also one of those annoying songs that, once heard, stuck in your head – rather like the Macarena- and so between that and Annie, we were slowly going a little mad…

A couple of days before the Press Launch I noticed that Amanda had updated the cast Facebook page.
‘Oh look,’ I said, ‘JeremyEdwards is in the show.’
‘Ooh,’ said Grandma, who had popped in for a cup of tea, ‘I like him, he’s the tall dashing one that won Strictly that year’.
‘Don’t be silly Grandma’, Little Man piped up, ‘He’s the shouty one who tells mummies who the daddies are of their babies’.
I rolled my eyes and turned back to Facebook.
‘And it says here that Layton Williams is in it.  School for Starz, Bad Education.’

All three sons perked up with interest.

‘Wicked,’ said Eldest Son.
‘Sick,’ said Middle Son.
‘Phat,’ said Little Man.

I don’t know about accents, I’m struggling with a whole new language here…


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The Carnival

One of the caveats to being offered the position of Fred in the pantomime was that Little Man had to appear on the official Pantomime Float at the annual Fleet Carnival.  This is always a very long drawn out affair – with the main road in Fleet blocked out for 2 hours or so as float after float wend their way from the Station at the bottom of the hill, up the high street and turning the corner into the biggest park in Fleet (whilst avoiding the cricket ground, which backs on to it). And parking your car is a nightmare.  So we viewed this news with mixed feelings.

Little Man was required for all morning rehearsals, as not only was he actually with the float, the Pantomime cast had a 20 minute slot to fill once they had got to the park, before all the part time rock bands wake up the Fleet Yoof and end Carnival by partying heavily into the night. I was told that he would be provided with a T shirt, that he needed a packed lunch, and that because the forecast was sunny, he should be slathered in sun cream and bring lots of water.

We turned up at the Harlington, Middle Son looking terribly embarrassed as he was in full cricket whites, ready for his forthcoming match.  Little Man clutched his plastic bag of food, and looked miserably at the young girls wheeling in their Hello Kitty trolley bags, or silver make up cases.  (Note to self: Tesco bag not De Riguer, will have to find more suitable artistic receptacle for snacks.)  However, I breezed over to the sign in desk and announced our arrival.  The woman looked up. 

‘Ah, yes,’ she said, and looked down again at a voluminous register, ‘Sign here.’  And that was it.  An older girl took him over to the T shirt table where he was fitted with a snazzy purple and gold top.

‘He looks like a Quality Street,’ sniggered Middle Son, as I thwacked him across the head. 

Because of the hours involved in the pantomime, there are three teams of youngsters (or juveniles as they are known in the trade), and therefore three Freds.  There was Self Assured Fred, who was older and wearing a trilby for the occasion.  There was Floppy Haired Fred, lithe and handsome.  And then there was my Fred, who was rapidly looking like Terrified Fred, as he stood, surrounded by females in gold and purple tinsel, chatting away rapidly in staccato.  The chaos subsided as Amanda, the producer, held up a hand.  The rehearsals were about to begin, and so with a quick wave we departed.

In the afternoon, just before setting off to the Carnival, both my other sons suddenly expressed concern in the welfare of our dog, and that he needed a walk.  Weirdly, they both volunteered to do it, which meant that G and I were in the unusual position of actually going somewhere By Ourselves…  So we called Grandma and Grandad, and arranged to meet them there.  This is always dangerous, as Grandad has a horrible habit of wandering off, and so Grandma is constantly looking for him.  But we had no idea what time the Carnival would end, and had friends coming for dinner – so our figuring was that 2 cars would be better than one.

Thousands of people stood on either side of Fleet high street.  Music was blaring, the sun was shining and the roads were shimmering in a 30⁰ heat.  The pubs were doing a roaring trade, and parents, pints in hand, pointed out all the weird and wonderful as the floats progressed slowly down the road.  Local schools had pulled out all the stops – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with real live Oompa Loompas collecting for charity, an enormous Chinese dragon, Showboat, Pirates, they all kept streaming past.

And then we saw it.  The Pantomime float.  Preceded by the tallest stilt walker Fleet had ever seen, who had to duck several times under the bunting strewn from lamp post to lamp post across the street.  Following him were two fire eaters, with tattoos and piercings in places that looked uncomfortable, but muscles to die for.  Resplendent in gold and purple balloons with a smoke machine puffing gently, the float sailed majestically into view.  Amanda had changed into a fairy outfit, and waved her wand brightly.  The Pantomime Dame wore a heavy outfit comprising pom poms and tinsel, that I couldn’t help thinking resembled one of my Nan’s crocheted toilet roll covers that she kept for special occasions.  The older dancing girls and boys twirled and clapped as the float turned the corner with a lurch. 

The smoke machine went into overdrive, all the dancers suddenly became headless, and at one point Fairy Bow Bells disappeared in a billow of grey fumes, emerging spluttering, but still smiling. And amongst them all, sat Little Man, waving joyously at the cheering crowds and still smiling brightly.  I couldn’t see the other Freds, but the girls were still fresh in their pony tails and a smear of lip gloss, and did not appear to be wilting, despite the intense heat.

‘Oh good,’ whooped G, as we descended the hill into the park. ‘There’s a beer tent.’ And off he disappeared.  I found Grandma, who was looking helplessly around.

‘Oh there you are…’ she said vaguely. ‘Have you seen Grandad?’  I spied him sheltering in the shade and watching the Carnival princesses arrange themselves on thrones on the stage. The older one sat serenely, but the younger one, who was about 2, had had enough, and stamped her dainty foot, ripped off her crown and bellowed for her mummy.  Just then a compere with a dodgy microphone stepped into the fray, and all the prizes for the floats were announced.  Oompa Loompas, make up streaked and wigs askew, ran on to the stage amidst congratulations.  All sorts of floats won all sorts of categories. Little Man looked a little put out.

And then Fairy Bow Bells took to the stage and introduced her purple crew.  ‘Fleet’s first ever pantomime!’ she announced, and thanked the sponsors, Dominos.  And then, despite the searing heat, and the all morning rehearsals, and the long walk, and the bumpy grass caused by years of football, the little troop stood up and sang and danced their hearts out.  The crowds cheered as Little Man and Self Assured Fred leapt up in the air playing air guitar, they stood swaying as Fairy Bow Bells belted out I Could Have Danced All Night, and they laughed and joined in as the Pantomime Dame led them into a bawdy song.

As he settled on to my lap back at home, still in his t shirt, I asked him what had been his favourite bit of the day. He held up something.  It was his Dominos Pizza silver badge from the carnival, his name in shiny black writing. 

‘You know what this means?’ he said incredulously.
‘No?’ I enquired helplessly.
‘This means that I can go into Dominos, and take orders from people!’ His eyes were shining.

Oh well, I guess if this panto thing doesn’t work out, he may have something there….

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

The Audition

I’ve always had a bit of a problem with Pantomimes.  It’s not the enforced jollity, or indeed the tailormade songs, shoehorned into well known tunes.  It’s the Pantomime Dames.  I have the same issue with clowns.  I always get targeted by them.  It doesn’t matter where I sit in the audience, it’s always me who ends up standing up on stage, holding the bucket or balloon or potato or whatever it is that makes me the object of ridicule (and that’s when I wish that I had put more thought into what I was wearing that day…)  As a mother of three boys though, you can’t really get away with not going to a Pantomime at Christmas, and so my husband G and I sit through the whole rigmarole lying low in our seats, with our eyes peeping over the parapet of the seats in front.  And generally, when we realise that some other poor sop is thumping miserably around on the stage, we thoroughly enjoy it – the combinations of local knowledge and all round good entertainment a good way to start the Festive Period.

So imagine our surprise when Little Man, our youngest, and the only boy in his dance class, came back from his last lesson excitedly waving a piece of paper.  It was an invitation to audition for a Pantomime.  In fact it was the first ever professional pantomime to come to Fleet.  For those of you who don’t know Fleet – in the seventies for one moment in time it had the enviable reputation of being the wife swapping capital of Europe.  This reputation has since sunk like a stone, never to reappear, and has been replaced by a strong commuter belt in which the town empties in the morning to leave for London, and the bars and nightclubs are full at night.  There is no cinema, but there is a library and a skate park, a swimming pool, and about a million charity shops. 

‘Can I go, Mum, pleeeeeaaaase?’ begged Little Man.

Eldest Son grabbed the bit of paper. ‘Where is it?’ he demanded, his eyes narrowing suspiciously.  ‘Oh no, it’s at the Harlington…isn’t that the place that smelt of wee?’

‘No, of course it’s not’, I retorted, hastily shoving the piece of paper in my pocket.  Indeed, the last time I had been to the Harlington had been about 5 years ago and whilst not smelling of wee, it had been a bit run down.  But even I was aware that it was integral to Fleet – having been its only cultural provider for years.  Where else would you hope to have a police run disco for under 16’s one night, opera the next, Elvis the next and the Male Strippers on the weekend?  On a quick Google search I noted that the Harlington had been rescued from foreclosure three years ago, tarted up a bit, and under the beady eye of a new manager was venturing into new territories – hence Fleet’s first pantomime.

‘Pleeeeeeeaaassse Mum?’  my youngest son looked at me with begging eyes.

‘Oh all right then,’ I acquiesced, and filled out the form.

The day dawned.  We parked in a spacious car park and joined the throngs of eager kids that were heading towards the Harlington.  As we swung through the revolving door, Little Man stopped and sniffed the air suspiciously.  It smelled of fresh coffee.  We queued behind mums and daughters, with fathers and sons scattered intermittently throughout, shifting helplessly in the sea of pink that was aiming towards two officious women behind a desk.

‘First time?’ a woman and her daughter turned round and eyed us brightly.  We nodded.
‘This is our fourth panto…we’ve done Guildford, Aldershot and Camberley.  We’re very popular because although we are 12 we are small… how old is yours?’
‘I’m 8’, said Little Man clearly.
‘Oh, but you are so tall…that may stand against him, being so tall, that’s why they take your photo.  But never mind, they’re auditioning for Peter Pan in Aldershot, the Lost Boys, they may like him there, and he will get to fly…’

Little Man looked enchanted, and I began to wonder how I could saw a couple of inches off his legs before we got to the table.  Within nano seconds he was whisked from my hands, plonked in front of a screen, and told to smile as a flash went off  in his face.  Duly processed, he was issued a sticker and bade me farewell.

Two hours later I stood with all of the parents as a couple of hundred eager kids went through their paces in a short routine to a Madness song.  How apt, I thought, as hundreds of smiles grinned their way through Our House.  I scanned the room – my son was definitely the youngest boy, but not the smallest. But Little Man genuinely seemed to be enjoying himself, as I walked with him to the car offering him bits of sage advice such as ‘It’s all good experience’ and ‘How about this flying thing?’

The email came.  It was short and sweet.  Three boys had been selected.  Little Man was one of them.  He was delighted and ran to show his brothers-  ‘I’ve got the part of Fred!’ he shouted.  Middle Son looked up from his xbox game.

‘I thought the play was Dick Whittington?’ he drawled
‘Yes, yes, it is!’ exclaimed his little brother impatiently.
‘Well who’s Fred?’ shot back my son.

They all looked at me.

‘I don’t know,’ I said, with what I hoped was a slightly mysterious smile.
‘Oh yes you do,’ they chorused.
‘Oh no I don’t,’ I replied.

It’s catching, this Panto stuff…