The day dawned for the Press launch and there was silence in our household. For once we had all overslept, probably due to the fact that we had forgotten to set any alarms. I showered and dressed in haste and the boys awoke to much excitement. We had been invited to the event, and even the older boys were enthusiastic about seeing some real live Hollywood glamour (well, as good as…) in Fleet. Little Man emerged from the bathroom with a dab of gel slicked through his hair and Eldest Son looked at him suspiciously. ‘Are you wearing my aftershave?’ he demanded, as his youngest brother grinned at him.
‘Leave him alone,’ I laughed, as I packed Little Man into the car – he was needed early morning for a rehearsal before the actual showcase event.
A woman looked me up and down as we entered the Harlington. ‘Pantomime?’ she enquired cheerfully as we looked around and did a double take. It was like walking into a cross between a Turkish boudoir and Austin Powers’ apartment. You couldn’t see the ceiling for the swathes of purple satin. I fully expected to see Laurence Llewelyn Bowen jump out from behind a curtain, or a belly dancer shimmying her way through the coffee shop, but instead, as I stubbed my toe on a fake rock milestone (marked This Way to London), I saw a tall lithe feline, helping himself to a bottle of water.
‘That’s LaytonWilliams!’ squeaked Little Man in excitement. I looked in curiosity at the cat. He smiled, and padded over to Amanda, who was back in her lilac Fairy Bow Bells outfit, a professional grin etched on her face as she talked to what I can only assume were various members of the Press. Little Man seemed a tad disappointed that The Press weren’t dressed in dirty camel raincoats, brown trilbies with cameras around their necks, but he waved as we made our way into the theatre, where the rest of the troupe were hard at rehearsals. I left to the strains of ‘Have You heard the News’ and the rustle of many newspapers – the only props requested for the day.
One of the many jobs that fall to the parents of the kids in panto, is that of unofficial show promoter. Whether it is distributing flyers, putting up posters, telling the kids schools, or publicizing it amongst your friends, it can become overwhelming in its ferocity, especially when the pantomime is in a first time venue, and is competing against well established local theatres. So every sale is valuable. When I discovered a couple of nights before the launch that there was a problem with the online ticketing service, I called the Harlington immediately and spoke to a very nice man, who assured me that he would speak to the right person and get my order sorted. As I hadn’t heard anything, I doubled back to the ticket office and stood behind the counter.
‘May I help you?’ a young man asked brightly as he looked me up and down. As I identified myself he looked a bit crestfallen and I assumed that he had hoped that I was a reporter. Anyway he assured me that it was all in hand.
‘Can I call you tomorrow?’ he asked, ‘We’re a bit inundated with Press at the moment.’
‘So I see…’ I agreed solemnly, looking around the empty office, expecting the purple tumbleweed to roll by…
That afternoon, hundreds of people took their seats expectantly in the Harlington Centre. The Panto Mums promotions had gone well, and as well as the Press, family and friends came to cheer on the stars in their showcase. Eldest Son, Middle Son and I sat in the front row, trying to make ourselves as small as possible when the Pantomime Dame emerged – sallying forth with rouged cheeks and a flouncy skirt, with a song about all the people who came to Fleet for the nightlife. She looked Eldest Son straight in the eye and announced ‘I’m looking for a Man’. Eldest Son went a strange shade of lilac, whilst Middle Son stuffed his wrist in his mouth trying to stifle his giggles and turning a complementary puce. Then came the fire eaters – throwing balls of fire from one hand to another, whirling fire on chains and juggling fire. It was only when they left the stage did the audience breathe out collectively.
Layton sprang on to stage, fur flying everywhere, back flipping and cartwheeling, singing all the while. ‘Wow’, said Middle Son. That was his sole contribution to the whole event. Greg Airey (Dick Whittington), and Victoria (who plays his love interest Alice) sang a duet. Fairy Bow Bells talked a bit about the storyline. Jeremy Edwards wandered on stage looking like Mr Darcy in white ruffles and tight fitting trousers. There was a rapturous sigh from all the mummies in the audience as they smiled up at him.
And then the whole troupe of juveniles dressed in their purple and gold t- shirts sprang into action, running through the theatre, waving newspapers, jumping around in song. A very rousing end to the Press Launch.
As we all left, the stars were lined up outside and chatting to members of the audience. Purple flyers, scattered around the room, were stuffed into purple press packs and distributed to anyone who wanted them. Jeremy Edwards disappeared under a flurry of female hands auspiciously waving pieces of paper for him to sign as Layton and Greg fielded questions from one persistent reporter.
We staggered out of the purple haze of the Harlington Centre, Little Man clutching a purple balloon.
‘Oh look’, said Middle Son to his younger brother, ‘There’s Barney’. I glanced up wearily, half expecting to see a big purple dinosaur walking towards us, and relieved to see a small boy with his mum.
As I loaded the kids into the car, a man passed me and gave me the thumbs up.
‘Been to the Pantomime ‘ave we love?’ he said cheerfully.
I nodded in surprise, and then followed his eye line. It was only then that it dawned on me – in my hurry to get dressed in the morning, I hadn’t really thought about what I had put on.
I was wearing purple jeans…