As the audience files into the bar to tank up on Pernod and black, Twiglets and those stupid little rock hard tubs of icecream with their stupid flimsy plastic spoons, the Phantomime gazes dreamily over the edge of his box.
'Isn't she just marvellous?' he says, fanning himself with the programme.
'Who, dear?' says Dame Hamlet, who hasn't really being paying much attention to the goings on on stage, preferring instead to catch up on some back issues of 'The Lady Arm Wrestler.'
'Madame Pumphrey,' sighs the Phantomime. 'Just watching her on stage trembles my quiver.'
Dame Hamlet puts down her magazine and takes a sip of her Irn-Bru. 'To be honest, Kenneth, I'm not sure she's your type. All those feathers. All that frontage. She isn't who imagined to be the bearer of my grandchildren.'
'It doesn't matter what you think, Mother,' says the Phantomime, rising to his feet. 'It is time to implement the second part of my plan.' And he wraps his cloak tightly around his body and pulls his hat firmly, but enigmatically, over his eyes.
'Is that wise?' says Dame Hamlet. 'I remember the last time you implemented a plan. Upset stomach for over a week if I remember rightly...'
'That,' sighs the Phantomime, 'was a flan, not a plan. And those eggs were definitely off. I did tell you, but would you listen?'
'Nonsense!' says Dame Hamlet. 'No food is off until it can walk out the kitchen by itself. Those eggs were merely ripe, and to be honest, if a chap's constitution can't handle a ripe egg or two, then he has no business making a flan in the first place.'
But the Phantomime is gone, the door of the box wide open and flapping in his wake.
Down the stairs he goes, avoiding members of the audience who are walking the corridors desperately searching for the toilet facilities or possibly the exit. He travels, light of foot and silent of breath, at one with the shadows and the luxurious, yet heavy duty carpet. Avoiding the foyer, he slips through the door to backstage, blending in with the scenery and props, the pulleys and flats. The stage hands are too busy preparing for the second half to notice a short, shadowy figure with the gait of a duck, making purposefully towards the dressing rooms...
In his dressing room, Tango Pete is fuming. The sight of Mrs Pumphrey making gooey eyes at Ptolemy Pheasant on stage in front of everyone has raised his dander.
'How could he?' he says to his reflection in the mirror. 'How dare he?'
'He dares because he can,' replies the reflection. 'He can because no one is stopping him.'
'How can I stop him?' says Tango Pete. 'I mean, look at him - all sleek and glossy feathered. All sharp edges and bright colours. No wonder she is in his thrall. How can a raddled old cock like me ever hope to compete with the youth and glamour of the likes of him?'
A voice behind him makes Tango Pete jump.
'I can help you,' says the voice, softly in Tango Pete's ear. 'I can win back Mrs Pumphrey for you...'
Tango Pete begins to turn his head but a hand on each shoulder (or, at least, in the places where shoulders would be if cockerels had shoulders) prevents him from moving.
'Look in the mirror,' whispers the voice. 'What do you see?'
'Well,' begins Tango Pete, 'I see a...'
'It was a rhetorical question,' sighs the voice. 'I'll tell you what I see. I see a cockerel who has been cruelly usurped by a young pretender...'
'What, like Richard lll and Henry Vll?' says Tango Pete.
'Ish...' says the voice.
'That Margaret Beaufort was one heck of a determined mother,' says Tango Pete.
'I know all about those,' says the voice, a tad bitterly. 'Look, can we dispense with the history lecture and get on with the question in hand, please?'
'Carry on,' says Tango Pete.
'Thank you,' says the voice. 'Right...I can help you win back your beloved. All you have to do is...trust me.'
Tango Pete stares at his reflection and at the strange top hatted figure behind him. 'Is this a dream?' he thinks. 'Is this an hallucination brought on by one too many dollops of brandy butter on my mince pie?'
'No...' says the voice.
'I thought I was thinking my thoughts,' says Tango Pete. 'I didn't realise I'd said them out loud.
'You did think your thoughts,' says the voice. 'But I can read your thoughts, Peter of Tango.'
'Really?' says Tango Pete. 'Okay - what am I thinking now? Go on, if you're so clever, Mr Whoever-you-are.'
The Phantomime raises his arms in annoyance (I don't want to say 'anger' because I am saving that for later when it really kicks off) and shouts, 'DO NOT TEST ME! For I am the PHANTOMIME!!! I am offering you a chance to win back the hen of your life and all I need in return is your TRUST! DO YOU TRUST ME, PETER of TANGO??!'
Well, dear pantomime audience...the question is this - should we trust anyone who is behind us?
Oh no, we shouldn't!
'Okay,' says Tango Pete. 'I'll trust you. What do you want me to do?'
'Just swap your King Rat costume for my superior evening outfit, take my place in my box and leave the rest to me,' says the Phantomime, tightening his grip ever so slightly on Tango Pete's shoulders.
Oh no! Don't do it, Tango Pete! Not for love or even the selection of delectable M & S Christmas nibbles laid out on a silver tray in the Phantomime's box.
But...'tis too late. The orchestra are warming up for the second half, the shutters are closing on the bar, the wings are a-bustle with the cast taking their places, and a King Rat with a walk like a duck leaves his dressing room and waits patiently for his cue...