And so it was that myself, Argent and my partner arrived in the small village hall, guitars in hand and carrying a bag with a papier-mâché hat: having previously sworn that I would never act again.
I had a brief flirtation with the stage about fifteen years ago now, but to be honest the commitment was just too much for the level of enjoyment it brought. Often rehearsals would be two, three or even four nights a week and be followed by a ten night run with matinee. You had to be really into it to commit, and at the end of the day I just wasn’t.
But when the Toastmasters group mentioned a Panto Party named “Aladdin And The Starship Enterprise” and El Presedente asked me to be involved and to play the Genie it seemed to be just the right side of insanity and I suggested that, in addition, myself and Argent would be willing to perform some songs on the evening.
“Great...great” El Presendente replied... “I’ll send you a script”
This was September 2009: the play was due to take place in December, but by the end of November we had seen neither a completed script, nor had any kind of rehearsal. El Presedente was still busy empire building by inviting a rival speakers group to attend and do an additional panto of their own and seemed to have forgotten to complete his script – sending me a version to learn that didn’t even have an ending.
And then the play was delayed until January – and Argent and I started talking about what we wanted to do musically. We eventually decided to do humorous songs in the style of famous singers, but I’ll leave Argent to tell her version of events there and return to the play
Aladdin And The Starship Enterprise was written in semi-poetic verse that would have left William McGonnagle speechless and potentially shunted Vogon poetry into fourth place (and if you don’t get the reference read The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy NOW!!!!!) and seemed to be constantly evolving. It included jokes that referenced Toastmaster procedures, as well as the band Tight Fit...I mean who’s going to get that reference after all these years? (one hit wonder – famous for “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”)
We never did manage a full cast rehearsal other than on the night and even then El Presedente was still adding new twists. This is the man that, when I first met him, was making a big thing about how he always ended up doing everything: and yet totally unable to relinquish control.
My role as Genie was small – just the way I like my acting parts (no responsibility and all the fun), but I still aspired to the school of acting that suggests that your role is THE pivotal role and had privately renamed the show Genie And The Starship Enterprise and was determined to apply for a bed in the hospital for over-acting as a role. Well – what else can you do?
My costume was grey tracksuit-style trousers (borrowed from my partner) with cycling shorts over them, a plain black t-shirt with a colourful waistcoat (again from my partner) and a specially made hat to look like the Starship Enterprise.
And then the other group arrived and started getting changed – and it was like watching the cast of Pirates Of The Caribbean getting ready for another sequel...there panto was bound to put ours to shame.
And so we started our stage rehearsal – with our villain the dastardly Captain Kirk, desperately in search of his lines and wearing a Star Trek uniform borrowed from my brother (technically a Next Generation science-officer top with a Voyager comms badge, but thankfully no one noticed), trying to trick Aladdin out of his lamp and with El Presedente rather bizarrely turning up as Snow White.
And it all went horribly wrong – lines were dropped, suggested, dropped again, buried in soft peat and recycled (again: read HHGTTG Now!!!) before finally being slotted into place – with me over-acting and refusing to do a humorous “gay voice” (how come it is acceptable to take the mickey out of gay people? Surely this should be confined to the same bin as black/Irish and other racist jokes – if you are a humorous gay person then fine, but otherwise steer clear)
And if the semi-dress rehearsal was anything to go by then it was all going to be terrible...only when we came to put on the costumes (me with my partners grey trousers, cycling shorts on top, black t-shirt, partner's waistcoat and papiermache Starship Enterprise being one of the more "normal" costumes) it ran a lot better. True - lines were still dropped, true - it still didn't rhyme and True - El Presedente was still unable to relinquish control and kept issuing directions to cast as we performed
But the thing is – that it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter that I had to say my line about “Tight Fit” three times before the audio cue came in, it didn’t matter that Captain Kirk couldn’t see to read his script: the audience was entirely up for it and willing to laugh along with us...but I won’t pretend that I wasn’t glad when the bloody thing was finished and I was able to dash back stage and start getting ready for our musical interlude between shows...
Only El Presedente had decided to change the running order again, putting us on after the second panto...neglecting to tell anyone other than us, meaning that the announcer was more than surprised when I came and took my seat...as did the other speakers group.
Finally the second group took their place – and although their costumes were better their panto was not – nor was their level or preparation: so we’ll call it a draw and leave it at that.
Back to the stage now with Argent and we took our places – me managing to sing off key throughout and putting my capo on half-cocked: but they laughed in all the right places and only a few of the wrong ones: and we both had good fun doing it and were happy to leave without having been lynched.
I think Argent would agree with me that our musical interlude was a success and we are now seriously thinking about that open mike night we've been threatening for so long...
NB: apologies - i had hoped to bring you a picture of the hat: but the library people wont let me!