Thursday, November 3, 2011

What’s in a name?

Apologies for lack of updates recently. Facebook friends will know I have been smitten with the cold from hell. (After wondering for some days where the hell the chicken soup fairy is when you really need her, I discover she’s in Belgium, so no bloody use to me.) The cold drags on and on. It’s as much as I can do to haul myself to rehearsals (where I am semi-quarantined by other cast, fearful of catching my lurgy). Rest of the time spent under a quilt on the sofa feeling sorry for myself and rewatching The Wire. (Every cloud has a silver lining…) Lemsip with whisky helps, but nothing kills the cold.

So, let me see if my phlegm-soaked brain can summon up some panto highlights.

(Slight detour as the word phlegm coming so soon after a mention of Belgium reminds me of the excellent Monty Python Prejudice Game sketch.)


It is in the lead up to our first rehearsal of the panto’s long final scene when Herb and I finally find our shtick. We appear halfway through the scene and between us share one one-word line. In response to the Piper yelling “Rats!” when he realises we have escaped, we reply “What?” Not a lot to work with, and yet suddenly it becomes obvious to us: We’re the Rat Pack, right? So, of course our response should be a rat packish shrug and a somewhat insolent “What?”

The first run through we do our big shrug “What?” Big laugh. Well, reasonably big. Enough to let us know we’re on to something. How has it taken so long? Never mind channeling Del Boy or Arthur Daley. I am, of course, Dean Martin personified. Sorted.

Well, not quite. At the next rehearsal, Jean, who plays Mayor Stevens, asks if my character has a name. No, I tell her, Herb and I are simply Rat 1 and Rat 2. Oh, no, you aren’t, says Jean in true panto fashion. She insists we must have names and decides I will be Sammy and Herb will be Dino. Sammy? I want to be Dino. No, no, no, says Jean. Herb’s the tall one, I’m the short one, ergo he is Dino and I am Sammy. Well, I can’t fault her logic, so Sammy it is.

While we’re in the rehearsal room wowing them with the fancy footwork for our big number (well, okay, it’s more like semi-synchronised swaying), the make-up artists are busy in the back room. Having used me as the guinea rat, they are now taking on the challenge of using the basic formula to create variations. Although Daisy does have to look like a rat, she also has to look at least a little bit pretty.

These people may be amateurs, but they’re bloody good at what they do.

The next challenge is creating make up for BJ's doddery old Rat King. Again, bloody brilliant.

There are certain characters it is already clear will be scene stealers. Sonia's Widow Wobbly is quite endearing - and we haven't even seen her wobbly costume yet. Ginny's General Scurvy is also going to be a hit. And then there's BJ. The Rat King voice is good, but it's the facial expressions she comes up with which are truly hysterical. I don't know how far back the audience will be able to see these, but those who do will be howling with laughter.

Yes, it's all coming together nicely.

Or so I think until we have our first off-book rehearsal of act one. One of the most frequently uttered words is "Line", addressed to the prompter. So, not as off-book as we're supposed to be. Rather a lot of fluffing of lines, too. Oh, dear. Not to worry, says Ginny. There is apparently always one rehearsal during which everything goes wrong. It seems this is it. (How smug are Ginny, BJ, Herb and I when the only two scenes Jenny does not want to repeat are the ones we’re not in? Pretty bloody smug, truth be told.)

Three weeks to go. Yikes.

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