Saturday, 4 January 2014

That's All Folks!

Naughty Shoreditch, as we christened ourselves, seemed to get told off for everything from talking in the wings, to getting ballet moves wrong, to messing up the costumes – and for a while as chaperones we took it really personally, until Amanda said to us that everyone had been told off for something, and that it was all part of backstage life.  However, by this point we all quite liked the moniker, and so it stuck.  All in all, we had 9 performances in total – with every single one of them throwing different things at us.  

As I have said in a previous post, we had a team of chaperones with no experience – and by the end of the run, we knew our stage lefts from rights, could tell a child off for ‘corpsing’ on stage, and had worked out who out of the technical and production team did what.  We learned that Kirsty, the Deputy Stage Manager, was the boss when the performance was running as she also called the show, that Chris the Stage Manager was the boss before the performance started, and that Thomas, the Production Manager was the boss of all things technical.  We met the likeable Josh, who battled daily with the sound problems thrown up by the Harlington’s aged wiring, and we relied heavily on Sue, the wardrobe mistress, whose needles flashed in and out mending tears or replacing buttons, or in the case of Little Man, refitting one of his costumes every time he was performing as he was so much smaller than the other two Freds.  The two male principal dancers would wave cheerily at us before the performance started, and as one of them had to strip under the stage at every performance, we took it in turns to hold the door open on stage right (wink).  The three principal girls were much more reserved, but one of them was officially part of team Shoreditch as she was technically still a minor, and so she would give us little snippets of gossip as she signed in each morning.  The kids soon got used to the cues, the quick changes and any costume dilemmas were soon speedily resolved by either one of us, or Sewing Sue (she too learned to live with that moniker).

Little Man

Occasionally, just to keep us on our toes, something from the last team’s performance would spur the production team into making a change.  This was all well and good if we as chaperones knew what they were talking about – it was near disaster if the kids had no idea.  There was a particular sequence in which the girls quickly changed from bad rats to beautiful lilac pirouetting ballet dancers, which involved not only a change of tights, but ballet shoes, some with ribbons, some with elastic, one with pointes – and all had to have two pairs of plastic bells attached by hair clip to their lilac leotards (which doubled as their base –or privacy- layer) and two glitter butterflies in their hair.  We had roughly 5 minutes to assemble them all together, and then from that sequence they then had to quick change back to rats.  Aside from the dance itself, which was split into three parts – little ones, inters and seniors (which meant three people led at three different stages and therefore there were three chances of going wrong) – there was a curtain to negotiate and a scenery change. Once off, the girls would be frantically tugging at the knots in the ballet ribbons, battling with glitter butterflies that got caught in their hair nets and the gold bells pinged off at alarming tangents in the haste to get back into the black rat costumes. After one performance where two of the three leaders went wrong, Vicky the choreographer came up and went through the paces step by step.  It was only then that we realised that the girls were actually doing the dance incorrectly, hence the problem on stage, this was quickly corrected and from then on there was no issue.  I had a friend in the audience who had sat through the whole performance blissfully unaware of the panicked faces of the ballet dancers who skewed off beat all over the stage….

As a team, we had a rota of 4 chaperones who were to attend each performance. All well and good, but fairly early on I realised that our inexperience meant that we would struggle with 4 until we all became a little more au fait with the script and the show itself.  And so the Shoreditch Facebook Cry Out became de rigeur, with an extra chaperone drafted in for the morning shows at least, when we needed to ensure all costumes were present and correct and that all kids were present and correct before the shows began.  Thus it was when one day we discovered that five of the Walkdown (or Finale) dresses were ripped from the night before, and Sewing Sue set to them with less than two hours to go before they were actually worn.  We found missing masks, rats noses and a pair of leggings with minutes to spare.  All hands were on deck initially to change the kids, until they got used to the outfits, and one scene which involved the use of ultra violet lights, if done correctly took 4 of us, and the fifth person was always useful in grabbing the props from the kids. As a team, the kids and the chaperones bonded really well – and Naughty Shoreditch had the biggest smiles on and off the stage.   

The parents got used to hanging around the dressing room until I gave the all clear – costumes were put away and stations tidied for the next team to come in – and only then were they all allowed to leave.  One mum kept getting the timings wrong, and she was mortified when she turned up 20 minutes late – I assured her that the others had only just left due to a missing rats tail.  It was only later that I realised why she looked so confused…

The cast and crew party took place just before the end of the show run and was a riotous affair in which everyone let their hair down.  The Shoreditch chaperones met at a local pub before going to the restaurant which had been booked for the event, only to find half of the cast in there already.  Layton Williams, Greg Airey, the two principal dancers (with clothes on…sigh…), Rob Rawles the Dame, and various other people were having a swifty like us before the meal.  We raised glasses at one another companionably and they arrived at the restaurant five minutes after us to make their Dramatic Entrance. 

And all too soon, the pantomime hurtled towards the last few performances.  Little Man at this point was now totally self sufficient – he got to the dressing room and would lay all of his outfits out on his floor, in the order in which he would be getting changed.  He would appear only occasionally to ask for someone to do up a shoe or a belt.  He brushed his hair and fixed his various hats in the mirror downstairs.  He would sit and chat quietly to the girls who would mill about him, or sometimes he would chat to Sewing Sue or Amanda’s mum Marie, who would be there to help out.  He seemed to be very much at home in the chaotic world around him.  I was truly amazed at how unfazed he was, and one day Sewing Sue came up to me and gave me a telephone number.  ‘I’ve had nearly thirty years in the business, and your boy has got something special about him. Call it’, she urged, ‘He’s just what they are looking for’.  I looked at the number, and the name beside it.  This was an unexpected avenue…

It was New Years Eve, and for the first time Little Man was actually in front of the stage watching his counterpart in the Dream Team playing his role.  At last he could see what the show was about, and how the storyline worked. He had done his last show that afternoon, and yet it was as if he was just another excited little boy seeing it for the first time.  He joined in enthusiastically with the songs, shouted Boo and Hiss at the baddie, and through his eyes, I could enjoy the theatre of pantomime afresh.  Afterwards, I caught up with some of the cast and crew.  Layton was looking forward to going back to his fast paced life in London, Greg wanted to get home from ‘the insanity of panto’, Sewing Sue had a small break before working on La Traviata and the Rock Choir, Vicky had to refurbish her new dance studio, and Amanda was already starting on plans for the next one, Cinderella. 

And what lies ahead for Little Man?  He has had an experience of a lifetime this pantomime, and has definitely got the bug.  He has in the past expressed a wish to be on television and was sad to turn down a small part as an extra in a film with Keira Knightley during panto rehearsals.  So it was with baited breath that I asked him what he wanted to do next.

He was wearing his Dominos Pizza badge and playing with his snow cone (slush puppy) machine that he had got for Christmas.  He turned to me.  ‘Did you know,’ he asked, ‘That you can also buy a candy floss machine?  I could get one with my Christmas money and then set up a stall, with a name and everything!’  I looked at him quizzically as the machine churned the shaved ice.  ‘And,’ he continued, his eyes shining, ‘I would also like to learn to play the harp.’

Looks like it will be another interesting year...

Naughty Shoreditch Chaperones (and Layton)

Amanda and Greg

Amanda and Kirsty

Josh and Thomas 

Layton and Vicky