Off to the Rollo Centre to find out who else has been cast in the panto and have our first read through of the full play.
As I suspected, Michael and Nadine have been cast as Rattle and Daisy, the young lovers. Process of elimination, really. They’re the only ones young enough to play the roles. (Michael, I am told by another cast member, actually wanted to play the Rat King and had to be cajoled by Jenny, the director.) I commiserate with them about this blatantly ageist casting.
Widow Wobbly, the pantomime dame, is to be played by Sonia, whom I have not met. As she’s been involved in past productions, Jenny agreed to let her audition before she went off on a holiday which conflicted with the casting call.
Fear not, panto fans, despite the dame being played by a woman, there will be a considerable amount of cross dressing in the production, including the Pied Piper, the Rat King, General Scurvy and the Mayor, all to be played by women. In fact, Michael is the only man playing a leading role character. The only other male involved in the production is Bas, a 12-year-old boy who will be playing Rat 1 to my Rat 2.
Before we start there is tea and cake. How jolly. Made by one of the cast members, whose name I will eventually remember, the cake is chocolate zucchini (courgette, for any UK readers), an end of summer attempt to use up the overflow. (This is a challenge for anyone who’s ever grown this crop. Although I haven’t, I’ve ended up with several, thanks to my neighbour Pat. I plan to make a lot of my friend Becky’s delicious soup.) The cake is… okay.
We are given our copies of the play. I am armed with a highlighter so I can mark all my lines. All my lines? Hmm. In the scene I read in the auditions, Rat 2 had two lines. In total, I discover, Rat 2 has five lines. I know I wanted to ease into this with a small role, but… Like Rupert Murdoch, testifying before the Parliamentary Select Committee, I am feeling humble. Five lines in the whole show? Oh, well, I’m here for the fun of being involved, not to land a Broadway role. (Just as well, really.)
A round of introductions before we start the reading. In addition to the cast, various members of the crew are present, including the women in charge of wardrobe who will, we are told, be measuring us all during the course of the evening.
Young Bas has not been able to come tonight, so I get to read both Rat roles, bringing my total of lines to eleven.
Although there have been some rewrites to add Gabriola-specific jokes, the script is obviously British in origin. It is quickly noted that references to pounds will need to be changed to dollars. There is also a bad and quite funny pun delivered by the Mayor and involving Weston-Super-Mare. Ginny says this will have to go. Catherine, another ex-pat Brit, and I argue for keeping it. There is, after all, a reasonably large ex-pat Brit contingent on the island. Besides, as I point out, the non-Brits will think he’s said Western Super Mayor, which is also funny. The line stays.
One of the wardrobe women taps me on the shoulder and asks if I can come to be measured. No problem, I say. I don’t appear until page 31. We go off into the other room. Somehow the surprise voiced about how remarkably slim my wrists are does not compensate for the grim reality of the other measurements they have written on their chart. It’s not as if my metamorphosis from bean pole to pear shaped is news, but, sheesh, are these really my measurements? One of the wardrobe women kindly points out that I am wearing a fairly thick shirt. My, isn’t she sweet? (The shirt’s not that thick.) Oh, well.
Back to the reading. Woo hoo. Between Rats 1 and 2, I have six lines to read before the break. People actually laugh after two of the lines. Obviously my funny rat voice is working.
Not included in the read through are the songs which feature in all the pantos. It occurs to me that, under the circumstances, it is likely that a Rat Pack song will feature somewhere. It also occurs to me that one thing I am quite good at is rewriting lyrics. During the break I mention this to Jenny, in case help in this area might be welcome. She confirms there will be a Rat Pack song, which she’s nearly finished. It will be That’s Amore. She then tells me it will be sung by Bas with me doing back up vocals. Seeing my alarm, she assures me that I will not be expected to carry a tune.
I am suddenly reminded of a time, many, many years ago, when my friend Lynda (a professional singer) and I for some now inexplicable reason sang the whole Janis Joplin Mercedes-Benz song together. At the end of it, Lynda looked at me, somewhat surprised, and said I’d found my song, the only thing I can carry off without hitting a bum note. (Of course, the song only has about two notes, so not a major achievement.) I tell Jenny about this. She immediately sees some potential there. Oh, dear.
We finish the read through. It’s taken two and a quarter hours and that’s without any song or dance numbers. Cuts, Jenny says, will have to be made. I point out that if I lose any lines I will disappear. She laughs and tells me I’m safe.
Good grief. We have homework. Between now and the first actual rehearsal next week we are to read the play at least twice and then answer various questions, including:
What is your character’s main objective in each scene? Well, gee, with no lines in most scenes, I suspect my objective is to get noticed at all.
How is your character distinctive? Hmm. Well, Rat 1 is a 12-year-old boy who’s at least a foot shorter than me, so I guess I’m the taller one.
Does your character have any personal dreams or desires? Yes, my character wishes she wasn’t pear shaped. Oh, no, wait a minute, that’s me. Hmm. Getting my hands on some cheese?
With this thought in my mind, I come home, pour myself a glass of wine, sit down at the computer and write:
Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a big round of cheese?
I’m counting on you, Lord. I’m down on my knees.
Prove that you love me and answer my pleas.
Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a big round of cheese?
What, am I crazy? Am I trying to give myself a song? The lack of lines is going to my head. Darryl and Morag are coming down from Sointula to see the panto. Hardly worth it for five bloody lines. Yeah, but me singing? Oh, no, no, no. I have to live on this island afterwards. A song is out of the question.
Next day there is an e-mail message from Jenny. It seems Bas will not be able to take on the role of Rat 1. He’s been replaced by someone named Herb who I may or may not have seen at the auditions.
Does this mean I am no longer the taller rat? Shit, I’m going to have to dig deep to come up with some other distinctive trait.
Does this mean That’s Amore is off? Although the idea is oddly disappointing, it is also a relief.
The wardrobe women have told me I’m going to have furry legs. I think that will make me ridiculous enough, without singing.