The audience are taking their seats - literally, in some cases because I have just seen a couple of ladies hefting a sofa through the foyer and setting it up next to the end of the front row and then proceed to hide behind it.
'Weird,' I say.
Mrs Bennet nods. 'We might need to watch them,' she says. 'I distinctly heard the clinking of bottles as they went by. And I caught the smell of warm mince pies, too; we should point out the house policy of only consuming foodstuffs purchased on the premises. We'be got a lot of cheesy wotsits to shift.''
'To be honest,' I say, 'I'd just rather get on with the show so we can get Camilla back. How long until curtain up?'
Mrs Bennet checks her fob watch. She's tried wearing a conventional wrist watch but, what with having no wrists, gave it up as a bad job and got a watch for her fob instead. 'Ten minutes,' she says. 'Can you go and check if everyone is in their place, please?'
'I can,' I say. 'P'raps I could let Mrs Miggins out of the prop cupboard. She's been organising the whole thing after all, and I feel that things would go a lot more smoothly if...'
'Absolutely not!' says Mrs Bennet, with all the steely glare of one of those garden sculptures in full sunlight. 'Shove another slice of pizza under the door if you like, but under NO circumstances release her.'
I know better than to argue with a determined hen, so I do as I am bid. As I check the wings to make sure the cast are ready for their opening number, dubiously titled, 'Dick's Going For Gold', I glance up at the Phantomime's box. I think I catch a shadow of a movement - a shadow with a hat and an impossibly large collar on his cape. I think I also catch a glimpse of the feathers of a ginger chicken but, after a lifetime of teetotal living I have been hitting the Archers and lemonade in a bid to make the evening pass a quickly as possible and obliterate any memory of it from...well, my memory. So I might just be having tipsy hallucinations.
Mrs Bennet is standing at the back of the auditorium, guiding the last of the audience into their seats using her usherette torch from her days usheretting at the Granada in the 1970s. I give her the thumbs up, she flashes her light towards the orchestra pit and the opening bars of the overture strike up. (Personally, I would have avoided the euphonium/ triangle combo as an opening, but hey - what do I know about music?)
Fairy Bowbells aka Daisy steps onto the stage, a vision in sequin hot pants and red satin waistcoat.
'Welcome to our story
Of Whittington and his Cat.
A story of laughter and tragedy,
And other stuff like that!' she begins, waving her wand with massive enthusiasm. I cringe. 'Sheesh,' I say to myself. 'Who writes this stuff?' And then I remember it is me.
Ptolemy Pheasant strides onto the stage as Dick, to many admiring gasps from the audience and a certain amount of spitting from Tango Pete.
'My name is Richard Whittington,' he says, pointedly.
'And I am big and bold.
I'm off to London to seek my fortune
From streets made out of gold!'
And then there is a big dance number which is admired enormously by the audience in the stalls on account of Ptolemy's very snug tights. The song is accompanied by many clicking sounds from the Circle and Balcony as the audience drop pound coins into slots in order to avail themselves of the opera glasses and enjoy the tights, too. From the Phantomime's box there comes a distinct, 'Boooooo! Booooooooo!!!' but Ptolemy continues on with dogged determination. He is such a professional. Nothing stops him once he gets going. Not even netting.
'I am so looking forward to going to London to seek my fortune,' says Dick after the song has faded. 'The streets are paved with gold, you know.'
'Oh no they're not!' shout the audience, encouraged by the Fairy.
'Oh yes they are!' shouts back Dick.
'Oh no they're not,' shouts some wag from the audience,'they're paved with dog sh...'
And he mentions something that is not appropriate to shout out at a family show but it's something brown and sticky and it's not a stick.
Dick Whittington struts and dances his way to London, meeting (bizarrely) a pair of cats on the way who perform some very good magic tricks involving hoops and cards and juggling balls and a bemused looking hedgehog. Meanwhile, Mrs Bennet has legged it from front of house, dragging on her costume as she goes because she is in the next scene as Alderman Fitzwarren. She gets there just in time to take in the now down on his luck and starving Dick into the Fitzwarren household.
'I'll let you stay, I think I oughta,
'But just you stay away from my daughter!' she puffs, putting a protective arm around Mrs Pumphrey aka Alice.
And from the Phantomime's box comes a loud cheer - 'Hurrah!' - and a small posy of flowers attached to a frisbee comes flying from therein and donks Dick on the back of his pheasanty head.
'Ouch!' shouts Dick. 'That caused a pain. I'll punch out your lights if you do that again.'
'Is that in the script?' I say to Phoebe who is ready to go onstage to do the comedy cooking scene in her role as Sarah the Cook.
'I don't think so,' says Phoebe, gathering up her spatula, whisk and bowl of comedy batter. 'I think that is what's called ad-libbing.'
'Oh good grief,' I sigh, topping up my Archers and lemonade with more Archers. 'Can it get any worse?'
Glancing up at the Phantomime's box and seeing it begin to glow red I decide it probably can.