FAM: Up Close and Personal

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Now that the Show is Over ...

By FAM :: 13 February 2006

They’ve been most exhilarating, the past two weeks. For the moment, however, I want to focus on "Sleeping Beauty", which came to an end on Sunday 5 February.

It had been a headache almost to the last minute. The tech rehearsal on Monday night, 29 January, apparently was delayed because the venue was being used by a male choir, which the management hadn't told us about, so the whole thing started two hours late. Then on Tuesday we had a first complete run-through on stage complete with orchestra with yours truly conducting. It was a fun experience apart from the fact that my inability to read music and an orchestra of highly competent, classically trained musicians made it a bit like the blind leading the extremely keenly sighted. Still, it could have been worse. Anyway, two old friends of mine, who'd both been involved in both previous pantos I wrote were part of the informal audience, and they only sniggered a few times, which did precious little to put my mind at rest about the script (for which I am responsible) and the show (for which I wasn't entirely, but would be associated with). Props weren't ready or wrong, neither was the set and there was a major struggle getting light and sound effects to work, neither of which did to an uncomfortable degree. So there wasn't much to put my mind at rest. Hence the rather agonised previous entry. The mood that evening was rather subdued on everybody's part, but whatever happened during the night it lead to a much better final dress rehearsal. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that everybody had their costumes, made and/or organised by our trusty Anna Lehmann, who looked as though she had only a vague recollection of what a bed looked like these last few days. To cut a long story a bit shorter, the last dress rehearsal with all the bits and bobs in place ran smoothly enough for us to think that we had a decent show.

And then came the First Night and I still wonder what it was that the cast and the tech crew had in their breakfast cereals. It was magic to see how the enthusiasm of the cast and the energy of the orchestra combined to fire up and audience, which frankly were all rearing to get into the panto spirit, shouting contradictions and laughing, giggling and chortling their amusement through the performance. This in turn kicked the cast into overdrive in the second half, which had always been a bit slow, and even the gremlins that used to make the technical aspects dodgy took it so easy that only a few very minor details went wrong, unnoticed by anyone except Simon Hicks, the director and tireless spiritus rector, and me. The evening ended on a note of elation and everybody was both happy and exhausted but not exhausted enough not to go out and party, in hindsight, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.

Unsurprisingly the following show was a classic second night after a successful premiere: a slightly subdued cast, some still a bit green around the gills, who were coasting on First Night success while trying to overcome morning-after fatigue found that a more Swiss typically audience, especially in comparison with the rowdy bunch of Brits that filled the theatre the night before, were a bit more work than the somewhat too complacent cast had expected. For the orchestra, who could see the faces of the audience, it was clear that the folks were enjoying themselves -- it was more a matter of smiles than guffaws-- but naturally the cast didn’t see this across the footlights. What they realised was that the audience was much less audibly amused. As a result, the first scenes were, shall we say, more than a bit non-descript. Simon gave folk a pep talk behind the scenes and the second half went much better. And then, in a crucial scene just before the end of the show, I saw Rose (Sleeping Beauty) turn and go off, as I found out later, to faint in the wings. There was frantic ad-libbing not really helped by the fact that only about half the cast had seen what was going on and the other half thought they were being set up. The practical upshot was that one faction tried to save the scene by steering back towards the script while the other half were making unscripted remarks that effectively torpedoed all attempts to get the show back on track. Fortunately the first faction won out after what must have been some of the longest two minutes in my life and the show went on with Rose, heroically coming back on to deliver the final lines before going off again and collapsing once more. The final curtain, we never have individual curtain calls because all our productions are seen as team efforts, took place without Rose and it was only then that most of the audience realised that something was amiss. It is a great credit to Kathrin aka Rose that she was so professional to get back on stage to give the odious Prince Hank a dressing down before going backstage to succumb to exhaustion a second time. What professionalism on the part of everybody!

I must have aged visibly that night, but fortunately by next evening Rose, after a good night's sleep and the TLC of her father in the show and her fairy tale prince in real life (her words not mine) was fine again and the cast delivered a total knockout of a performance, better even than the first night, which I had thought, would be hard if not impossible to better. Everything worked better than it had done and the consensus in the audience was that here was a bunch of well-cast young people with great talent who’d made the show their own, who were having a whale of a time romping their way through the show. So impressive was this evening that a few days later we got an enquiry if we were prepared to allow the show to be performed by another theatre group later this year. If it happens I shall be very keen to see how a different troupe take on a show I've come to associate with such lovely young people (that's enough sentimentality. ed.).

Again there was a night of partying but this time, even though some members of the cast were out dancing salsa until about four in the morning, there was less heavy-duty imbibing. As a result the last show, with a slightly more Swiss audience (again, smiling rather than guffawing) was a beautifully relaxed affair that worked well and even got the smaller children in the audience -- it was a matiné -- drawn in. The show ended with an extended and rousing finale that had everybody singing along and clapping their hands. Unsurprisingly, the after-performance party was a very happy but also a rather sad affair, the realisation dawning on everybody that this was it, the exhilaration a memory.

So, was it worth it? If you count the endless hours that went into these four two-hour performances, clearly not. If you looked at the faces of cast, and what a superb cast they were, and at the huge grins on the faces of the audience, it would seem like a ridiculously superfluous question.

The call to start thinking of the next panto is out there, but in all honesty, this being the third and the one I found hardest to write I’m not sure I could pull it off again. It seems best to end on a high, and even if I say so myself, this one was a dizzying high, the perfect high to end on…

What the punters said:

"We had a fantastic evening and are still marvelling at all the work behind the performance and the tremendous enthusiasm and talent shown by the students during the performance. They seemed to be enjoying the whole thing as much as the audience! It's hard to pick out the best participants - at the end we had got to know and love them all - ... all in all, it was a great success and I hope you won't wait another 4 years before you do another one."

"Congratulations to you both and everyone else involved with Sleeping Beauty! It was a hugely enjoyable evening and I hope all the other performances were as much of a success with the audiences as the first night was ... It was wonderful how the cast threw themselves into it all with such verve and enjoyment, they were brilliant and the casting was too. How amazing their English is,... And the music was perfect, with the chamber group an inspired touch – you looked great Franz ... and I particularly enjoyed watching the delight on your face as you watched the performance (obviously they were doing your text proud)."

"It was great, and I enjoyed it! All actors, musicians, people backstage - everyone did an excellent job, ..."

"A quick word to say that the panto was delightful ... It was a wonderful evening ..."

"Thank you for the marvelous panto! Puns and idioms and good jokes ... . It was a real treat, and I hear no one shouting, 'No it wasn't!' ..."

"I just wanted to tell you that I have enjoyed the show very much. You people have put so much effort in it and it shows. "

"I attended the panto last night and it was ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT! Although this, of course, is reason enough to write an email, I first and foremost wanted to briefly express my gratefulness: I have had a (terrible...) toothache for some time, but yesterday, as I was so completely taken with the ingenious word plays and the actors' and actresses' skilful performances, I even forgot those nasty "teethies" of mine … So, thanks to ALL who contributed in any way to the pleasant play."

"Of course, the most impressive aspect is how much fun everyone clearly had. I don't know if the actors really had as much fun as the audience, but it always looked as if that was the case! ... thank you for making the pantos of my youth come alive again"

"We would like to congratulate you on a great piece of work! The music and the script were just brilliant and we still find ourselves laughing at some of the jokes a few days later! … Sitting just behind the orchestra we were able to follow everything very closely and were much impressed by the musicians - and they were even laughing at the jokes, too, even though they must have heard them a few times. I hope you can now all enjoy a well-deserved rest and maybe start thinking about the next panto..."


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