It is almost Pantomime Season here in the UK so I thought that this tale might be appropriate. For those who don’t know, Panto is a wonderful chance to play roles of the opposite sex. For example, the principal boy is played by a woman etc. I wrote this tale sitting on a beach near the Island of Nose Ve (means 'Call that an Island?'), Madagascar in November 2006 while photographing White Tailed Tropic Birds.
I stood back and looked at the billboard outside the theatre. I smiled happily to myself. My name was up there in lights at last. One of my ‘Bucket List’ items can be ticked off. Only another 49 to go.
I stood there for some minutes fantasizing. Ok, I was only playing one of the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella but the woman I really fancied was going to be on stage with me playing Cinders. That was about as close as I would get to her as she was well… the local ‘hottie’.
The role of an Ugly Sister is a very easy one to play. Apply lots of makeup, padding in all the wrong places, put on a garish wig (usually red) and a totally unsuitable dress. Then go on stage and shout all your lines in a hysterically high scream. Most of the lines are “Cinders do this, Cinders do that. Cinders is such a dunce. She will never find anyone thick enough to marry her?”, and lost more besides.
Before you think dear reader that I am some curmudgeonly old Git after a young waif, Cinders and I went to school together. Sadly, I worshiped her from afar in those days because all the ‘hot’ boys lined up around the block to date her. Now, some years later, we are cast in the same play that will run for two nights only at our lovely lottery financed village hall Theatre a week before Christmas.
I knew all the lines for all members of the cast as I had adapted the script and as is the norm for Panto, I added some local colour and references to local people into the dialogue. Some of the bigger stage shows change their lines daily to reflect current news items. In the village, things didn’t move so fast so our highlights were more on the state of Mrs Perkins Garden Gnomes that regularly go ‘Walkabout’ around the Village. The downside of being the director was having to change the play to accommodate one of the other Ugly Sisters who was going to be hobbling around the stage on crutches. Naturally his accident on his bicycle (riding it into the village pond after a heavy drinking session in the pub) was going to be mentioned several times. At least it makes a change from wandering Gnomes.
As I said, I was the Director and I’d also adapted the script. I was doing it because it was my turn to perform this role in out theatre group. It meant that I would be close to the woman of my dreams for most of the rehearsals. Oh Bliss. Mind you, Cinderella is about the easiest Panto to direct. Everyone knows the story so all I needed to do was to make sure the cast were word perfect and generally moved around the stage according to my directions.
As a result, the Rehearsals were a breeze and everyone looked forward to opening night.
The dress rehearsal went very well and the finale with Cinders marrying her Prince Charming was delightful. Her dress was made from yards and yards of gold and silver fabric. Every time I saw it, a shiver went down my spine. It was even worse when she was wearing it.
As the cast (less Cinders who was still working) gathered for a final run through and some last minute dialogue changes we all grew anxious that Pauline who was playing Prince Charming had not turned up. I tried calling her house and mobile but go no answer.
Around 4pm, a worried Vicar came into the village hall.
“Pauline is in Hospital. She got thrown by her Horse this morning over on Handley Common.”
I started to put plan ‘B’ into operation. I looked for Grace who was her understudy. Grace was not here either.
The vicar piped up.
“Grace was out riding with her. She is at the Hospital.”
There goes the show I thought. I felt crestfallen. I’d been working on the Panto for more than four months. All that hard work had gone up in smoke.
Then Farmer George who was playing Buttons piped up.
“Jeff, you always said that the show must go on. The only thing to do is for you to play Prince Charming yourself.”
“But that’s the Leading Boy’s part?” I proclaimed.
(In Panto, the leading boy is played by a girl.)
“You will just have to look like a girl playing a boy won’t you?” he argued.
“But. But…” I stuttered.
“No Buts young lad. That is the only way it can happen.”
I looked around the cast for support but no one really dared argue with George. He put a lot of his own money into the Panto each year.
I got none. They were all nodding in agreement.
My head sank.
A voice piped up from the background.
“Don’t just stand there. We have lots to do if we are going to be ready to go on stage. Curtain up is in less than three hours.”
It was Freddie, our venerable Stage Manager.
I was half in desperation and half in elation. I was elated that I would get to marry even if it was pretend to my secret sweetheart. I was desperate that I would not make myself the laughing stock of the village. I resigned myself to a bit of one and a lot of the other.
All the things that had to be done had suddenly vanished from my mind. All I could think about was walking down the steps arm in arm with Cinderella.
My daydreaming was cut short by Ms Pile. She was the Wardrobe Mistress and generally in charge of Backstage.
“Come on Jeff. We need to get you fitted into Pauline’s Costumes pronto.”
There was nothing to do for the next half hour as I went through the various costumes and alterations were made. Then it was time for makeup.
It was all very well playing the part of Prince Charming but I had to wear lots of Makeup and hide the fact that I regularly wore it. I went into the dressing room and locked the door and sat in front of the mirror.
I looked at myself for a while and then decided
“To Hell with this I thought. I’m going to do this properly.”
I set to and started applying the makeup for the first act.
The altered costumes arrived as I was putting the finishing touches to my face.
“Oh my Mr Jeff” exclaimed Ms Pile. “You have done that before haven’t you?” she continued.
I nodded slightly
“Don’t worry my love. This show is going to be a great success. Break a leg!”
She left me to get dressed.
One possibly enjoyable thing about Cinderella is that the male roles all get to wear tights as it is set in the 18th Century.
As I was putting on mine for the first act Joe, who was playing one of the Ugly Sisters commented.
“Don’t worry Jeff; I’m sure things will go well tonight. Break a Leg!”
I grunted a reply as I heard the local brass band strike up the opening tune.
The next hour and a half went by in a total blur apart from the moment Prince Charming meets Cinderella for the first time as she slips her dainty foot into the glass slipper.
Cinderella smiled at me. Not the sort of smile that is in the script but one that immediately had may heart racing and other parts of my body reacted. Luckily I was able to hide my embarrassment behind a page-boy.
For the finale, I was holding my beloved’s hand for the whole scene apart from the kiss at the end to which she played her part well beyond that dictated in the script.
The show ended with the expected acclaim from the audience and as the curtain came down I felt relieved. I was not expecting what happened next.
Cinderella wrapped her arms around me and kissed me hard. Her tongue forced itself into my mouth and tantalised me with its touch. I was sure that I was blushing radiantly. The kiss went on and on until my euphoria was interrupted by the sounds of applause coming from the cast and the audience. Someone had raised the curtain again.
Totally embarrassed I broke the clinch and we took another bow to the cast and audience before I made a hasty exit stage left still holding Cinderella’s hand in mind.
We got into the wings and then I let her hand go and fled. I was totally embarrassed and ashamed. I headed for the exit.
I was totally unaware that Dianne aka Cinderella was following me as fast as her voluminous skirts would allow.
“Stop Jeff!” she shouted.
“I’m sorry, I have to go.”
I stopped in mid flight.
I turned and looked at Dianne.
“Jeff, I’m sorry for embarrassing you like that.”
“And am I not going to be the laughing stock of the whole village?”
“No you are not. Everyone admires the way you stepped into the breech and made the show a great success.”
I shook my head and avoided her gaze.
“Look at me,” she commanded.
I shook my head once more.
She put her hand on my chin and lifted my head up.
“That kiss was for real. I meant it you know.”
I could not speak
“I really mean it Jeff. When I first saw you on stage playing Prince Charming something inside me clicked.”
“You saw a stupid male acting the part of a woman playing a man in a Panto. Nothing more,” I replied angrily.
“No Jeff, I saw a beautiful person. I saw you in a totally different light.”
I just shook my head.
“It’s all the makeup. That’s what you saw. Not me. You never saw me all those years at school. You’ve never seen me when we’ve worked together on other productions so why now?”
“Look at me Jeff,” came her reply, more of a command.
I looked at her through tearful eyes.
“For the first time in my life, I saw the real you. Yes you. You wearing makeup and tights, I don’t care.”
“What do you mean you don’t care?”
“I have suspected for several years that you were different from other men. I knew you were not gay but I couldn’t work out what it was, but now I know what made you different.”
“And you don’t care?”
“Not at all. I’m actually interested in you as a person and I’m not ashamed who knows it..”
“But what about your boyfriends?”
“What Boyfriends? Two failed marriages before I was 25 tends to have an effect on one’s desirability. But,I have never felt this way before about someone and I’m not going to let it go.”
“Come on, we have a post show party to go to. Then I’m taking you home to bed.”
Then she grinned at me.
“We have to do it all again tomorrow and I’m going to really enjoy the show together.”
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