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"The Emperor's New Clothes" from Behind the Curtains - Literally

The final weekend of January heralded of course the St Marys' Panto Gang Pantomime. This year it was Hansel and Gretel in the Emperor's New Clothes. With a full time job, two choirs, a music group, and a 66 mile sponsored swim before Christmas, I took the decision this year to be a curtain (holding them up) and a member of the chorus. This at least meant I would have until January before I was required in my role.

And let me tell you, being a curtain is equally as much fun and in many ways you end up multi-tasking even more, because you have some spare time in the rehearsals.

So, on the first weekend in January, I reported for duty: the curtains were not even made yet so this was a case of working out where we would be needed on the stage and how everything fitted together. It also meant that the main cast got some laughs at the appropriate points when the script was moving because we were hearing the jokes for the first time. Martin, Liz, Myself and Yvonne all had a song to learn, too. Vanessa wanted us to do 'Who Will Buy' from Oliver with her, so a milkmaid I became even if it was for only a couple of minutes.

We thought we had forever, but actually the month rushed by with costume fittings, curtain adjustments, songs and dance routines to learn. Not to mention acting as prompt and helping to round up children in time for their entries at various points. Before we knew it we were only one week from opening: cue an entire weekend (no kidding) spent at the church. I'm talking a rehearsal 3 - 9 pm on Saturday and then the Sunday was 2 - 9.30 pm with costumes and make-up. But it was worth it! The atmosphere at the end of the Sunday rehearsal was one of complete euphoria; we had finally managed to get all the way through without stops. Our director Sarah Palmer was proud of us. We now had a matter of days before our dress rehearsal which would be done in front of a handful of cubs - or were they scouts - anyway an audience.

Those of us who needed a little extra help with the song and dance routines, and were available, turned up on the Monday evening and we finally polished it off on the Wednesday. Thursday, and the dress rehearsal was upon us: with one last team talk from Duncan we were off.

Congratulations to George and Rosie for some excellent ad-lib work when they slipped up a little. Our thanks also had to go to our stand-in Chancellor (Duncan) who was deputising for a very poorly Penny.

Friday night, our opening night to the paying public, the atmosphere back stage was fantastic. We knew we could do it. And you remember I mentioned about multi-tasking curtains. Tonight it was Liz Greenwood's turn, making Bacon Butties for all those who had come straight from work / school. Or indeed the make-up team who needed to be there hours before the rest, to get themselves ready before we all arrived. And the show went really well too, congratulatory comments that night went to the Dame and Prince Ivor - and those are just the ones I heard from my family.

Saturday, and it's two shows to do with a short break in between and - "hurrah!" - we had our Chancellor back. The matinee was heavily attended by children so we had a very lively audience. Congratulations to George and Rosie again, this time for not needing to ad-lib. And after a short break for food and a touch-up of make-up we were into our final show. Ad-libbing must run in the Swan family because tonight it was James, as the unforgettable Bush (who always got forgotten), who managed to slip in a line about Chelsea being the best team - much to Duncan's delight.

So now you know both how hard we work, and of course how much fun we have in the Panto Gang. Even if you are just a curtain and chorus, there is no "just" about it - you will find yourself enjoying the experience as much as the main cast.

Sarah Benham

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