THE framed posters of numerous pantomimes decorating our stairwell are a reminder as December approaches, of Christmases past and the plethora of special memories that they trigger.
Early on in our panto adventures, our sound engineer had devised a system of mini microphones in sequence that could be positioned across the apron of the stage, and up and over the proscenium arch in order to distribute the sound more evenly throughout the auditorium.
Everything seemed fine at our technical rehearsal, but the real test would come later when the theatre was packed with people.
The only adjustment the actors needed to make was to wear soft soled shoes such was the sensitivity of the apron mics.
What with audience participation and much ad-libbing, our panto prompt had her work cut out; it was almost impossible to know when to intervene with an appropriate line.
The rule therefore was to look meaningfully at the prompt if the actor needed to get out of a tight spot.
Opening night. I was aware that the Dame standing beside me on stage had forgotten ‘her’ next crucial line and moreover had not remembered the prompt rule.
In panic‘she’ muttered desperately in my ear: ‘I’ve forgotten the f^@*<?# line!’ at which point the audience fell out of their seats with shock and laughter. The words had reverberated around the hall with perfect clarity, confirming that the system worked beautifully.
In later years we reserved the opening night for an audience of special needs children and their carers.
It was provided free,and in addition every kid received a goody bag and programme signed by members of the cast.
A Bury St Edmunds firm laid on free coaches with the drivers donating their time, and to make it a complete evening all the children were first taken to McDonald’s to get them in the party spirit.
On one occasion as the first half was coming to an end, a small boy leapt to his feet and berated one of our actors with language that would have embarrassed a Liverpool docker.
As director I was trying to placate the actor in question during the interval when I was informed that a lady was at the stage door asking to speak to me.
She was the carer of the offending boy, who it transpired suffered with Tourette’s syndrome and in his case the meatier the language the more he was enjoying himself.
I passed this information on to the relieved actor, who bounded on to the stage in the second half fervently hoping for more verbal abuse.