There is nothing wrong with thinking big when staging a production but even I think The Royal Albert Hall might be a tad ambitious for our little panto performance.
'You make the fatal error of assuming the panto will be a modest affair,' says Mrs Miggins when we meet up for a recce of potential venues. She has taken to wearing cigarette pants and a roll neck sweater (both black), and a pair of dark glasses and a beret (deep red). The combination does not set her figure off to its best advantage but, to be honest, the only item of wear that does that job successfully is a tea-cosy.
'I mean, it's not just the usual cast this year,' she continues. 'We have guest artistes.'
'So I hear,' I say. 'And one of them seems to be making quite an impact on certain members of the crew. I was up early this morning, blacking the range, and I happened to glance out of the kitchen window and guess what I saw?'
Mrs Miggins shrugs in an existential kind of way. She tries to flick ash from her Gaulois in a casual fashion, but fails abysmally because she (quite rightly) believes smoking to be a filthy habit that makes your mouth look like a cat's bottom and therefore has failed to light the thing. It's all for show, really.
'What did you see?' she says.
'I saw Ptolemy Pheasant skulking around the gazebo, and I am pretty certain I saw a flash of white featherage á la Pumphrey, too,' I say. 'And my suspicion is of a hanky-panky nature.'
Mrs Miggins tries another Gallic shrug which serves only to make her beret slip over one eye. 'One has to expect these temporary dalliances when artistes of great stature are thrust together in the highly charged world of theatre,' she says. 'Now, are we going to look at a few venues or what?
'Yes, all right,' I say. 'But I think you should have a quiet word with Mrs P. Tango Pete is quite beside himself, you know.'
'Are you sure his brother isn't visiting?' says Mrs Miggins. 'I thought I saw Tango Pete beside himself once and it turned out he was standing next to his twin.'
'I didn't know Tango Pete had a twin,' I say.
Mrs Miggins nods. 'He does indeed. Rumba Dan he's called. Very slinky hips.'
I nod. 'Well, you live and learn,' I say.
And we hop on the tandem and set off to find a venue for what is rapidly looking like The Panto of the Century.
We check out the local theatre, the Hazlitt (this is actually the genuine theatre in Maidstone and therefore potentially the only truth to be found in this whole panto storytelling malarkey) but decide it is too small; plus the smell emanating from the Nando's next door but one would be offensive to a majority of the cast. We look at the room's above the pub next to a Tesco superstore but these are also too small and we'd have to share the hire with a crochet Scrabble group. (Apparently they crochet all the letters before the game, then use them to typeset the monthly newsletter 'Blascreb.')
Next we look at an amphitheatre. Personally, I like an amphitheatre. It brings urges of musical theatre to my feet. I want to wear fishnet tights and silver tap shoes and march up and down the stepped seating waving a bowler hat and cane á la Sally Bowles. I don't though. Not nowadays. Not after the restraining order.
'Potentially, I am with you on the amphitheatre,' says Mrs Miggins. 'It could look quite spectacular done out with fairy lights and velvet cushions. But equally it could look grim if the weather turns nasty on us.'
'We could provide enormous umbrellas,' I say. 'In lots of different colours.'
Mrs Miggins raises her sunglasses and looks at me askance. 'After Umbrellagate of 1977?' she says. 'I think not.'
She has a point. We continue onwards.
We look at a bigger theatre in the next town but cost proves prohibitive - we'd go well over our budget of £50 plus half a dozen eggs and a fruit cake. We look at many village halls, all of which suffer that heady and peculiar village hall smell of dust, plimsolls, lavender furniture polish and the time when someone let the tea urn boil dry and it blew up.
'This is hopeless,' says Mrs Miggins as, after several fruitless hours we pull the tandem into a tea shop and pause for thought over a pot of tea and a couple of anatomically correct gingerbread men, but there's the 21st century for you.
'Of course,' I say, 'there is one obvious choice we have neglected to consider.'
'And what's that?' says Mrs Miggins, dangling her gingerbread man into her tea until his leg falls off.
'The Trompe l'Oeil...' I say.
Mrs Miggins stares at me. 'You mean, the theatre painted on the wall back at the Manor?' she says. 'The one in the Leonardo de Vinci Drawing Room?'
'It's not a painting,' I say. 'It's an actual theatre.'
'So it's not actually a trick of the eye, as the French might say?' says Miggins.
I shake my head. 'Nope. I just called it that in an attempt at ironic humour.'
Mrs Miggins shakes her head. 'You try too hard,' she says. 'And for very little gain.'
And so it is decided. The Trompe L'Oeil will take its theatrical maiden voyage this Christmas with a classic pantomime. I am thrilled because it has been sittng there gathering dust ever since I had it built on the proceeds of my first best-selling novel....ahahahahahahahaha...HA!
Now, if only I can remember where I put the keys...