One of the problems of running a first time pantomime in a first time venue for the first time is that there are teething problems right from the start. Not only are you competing with the established heavyweight pantomimes in the area, but you have to get the word out that you are there, and running, and that you are a bona fide contender for the Public’s money. The other pantomimes generally have well seasoned and reasoned modes of marketing and financing and attract big stars and sponsors with success.
As a first timer, you literally have to prove yourself every step of the way. And thus it is that the cast and crew of Dick Whittington have had to work extra hard to ensure that not only the people of Fleet, but also the surrounding areas, are fully aware that there is another Panto in town. And because all those in the Panto Know, Panto Show groups are keeping a close eye on everything the New Kid on the Block does, the rehearsal schedule at Fleet has ramped up a bit and everyone has to be that super bit better and slicker than anyone else.
Little Man and his juvenile cast have, for the past week and a half, been involved in evening rehearsals after school. These generally run for 3 hours, and on top of a school day and all that that entails at this time of year, it has been quite a feat. But they seem to thrive on it. The mummies on the other hand are getting more Stressed Looking each evening as they battle through the Christmas traffic, try and find a car parking space, pay for a car parking ticket (I swear the wardens wait outside The Harlington just to catch those dropping their kids off) and rush their kids in to rehearsals, whilst simultaneously divesting their little divas of school bags, blazers, ties – in short, anything that would get lost and cause chaos on the school run the next morning. The lady at Reception at Little Man’s school has become adept at grabbing him from class. I have become adept at whipping up sandwiches in Ready Steady Cook style from leftovers in the fridge (yesterday he had a cold croissant with cream cheese and salami – I told him it was a French-Italian dish called a Fromali) and my other boys have become adept at Eggy Bread until I get in and make a Hot Fromali, or some such other tempting dish… And it is not only the kids, but the stars who have put in the hours. Working long days, they come in the main from London, arriving early in the morning and staying until the end of rehearsals in the evening. In between hours of plotting moves (‘blocking’) and trying out lines, they manage to fit in personal appearances at functions as diverse as an under-teen disco to an NCT meeting with young mums and babies, and Amanda, as Fairy BowBells has become as ubiquitous as the Tooth Fairy.
But that has not been enough. Without the backing of the people of Fleet, the Pantomime would have struggled. But Fleet seems to like the purple bill board grinning down at them. They seem to like the fact that the stars nip down to the local sandwich shop during lunch breaks, and they are positively warm to the fact that many of their youngsters are featuring (often for the first time) so heavily in the show. The local traders of Fleet have given out flyers, put up posters and joined in with gusto in the latest campaign run on social media by a very savvy marketing department featuring Jeremy Edwards in a series of ‘Where’s Jeremy?’ poses in town. They are fully behind the panto – knowing that with it, the business will pick up in town and unlike the out- of- town shows, the restaurants and bars will flourish with theatre goers. Even the privately owned shopping mall in Fleet, which traditionally advertises another pantomime in Aldershot, is hedging its bets on the success of our pantomime and displaying Fleets banner as well – so rather strangely on coming in you will be urged to see one show, and going out you will see the other!
The set is being built, and the costumes have nearly all been made –at the end of one rehearsal I came in early and saw a production line of rats noses, yards and yards of blue velveteen and one mum (who is not known for her crafting talents) proudly displayed a box full of pairs of little gold bells that she had put together. I enquired what they were and she answered cheerfully ‘No idea…but do you like them?’ The songs have been sung and the scripts have been learned and now it’s putting actions to words.
Little Man came back last night and said that he had done a scene with Jeremy Edwards.
‘What did you have to do?’ I asked, trying to stop sounding impressed.
‘I had to fight him for a chicken’ he answered nonchalantly, tucking into a hot Fromali sans cheese or salami (ok, a croissant then…)
‘It’s a secret’
‘Oh No its Not’ I said, ‘I’m your mum’
‘Oh Yes It Is!’ he replied with a wink and skipped out of the room.
And we haven’t even started the show yet…