In the darkened recesses of the best box in the theatre, the Phantomime leans back in the plush, velvet seat and watches the cast of the Much Malarkey Manor Christmas Show of 2015 leave the theatre. Only when the lights are out does he dare stand and step forward, leaning his gloved hands on the padded edge of the box.
He gazes down into the auditorium and casts his eyes over row upon row of empty seats and virgin opera glasses. 'Soon,' he whispers, 'soon, my lovely, you will be hosting your first show. Soon the crowds will pour through your magnificent vestibule, and the air will fill with the excited buzz of anticipation of the performance. Soon the lights will blaze and the backstage corridors will fill with the bustlings of performers bedecked in their finest costumes of silk and lace and enormous powered wigs. Soon...'
The Phantomime stops. Who has dared to interrupt his rapture? Who dares intrude on his most private of thoughts? He turns.
'Mother!' he says. 'What do you want?'
'Kenneth! That's no way to speak to the woman who has dragged you up in the world in, I might add, rather trying circumstances,' says the mother, who hence hereafter shall be known as Dame Hamlet, the most famous of all great Dames. 'Why are you standing here in the dark talking to yourself again?'
The Phantomime sweeps his cloak bedecked arm dramatically across the box. 'There is going to be a performance, Mother,' he says. 'Out there, in my theatre.'
Dame Hamlet sighs. 'How many more times, Kenneth? This is NOT, nor ever has been, your theatre. We are just...well...hiding out here until...well, you know...things blow over.'
'But I am the star,' says Kenneth. 'It is me who is the leading man, not that trumped up pheasant, although I'll admit he does look rather tasty and would be nice in a pie. I am the Phantomime! And whilst there is a breath left in my body, I shall command any performance given here in this theatre!!'
Dame Hamlet wags a finger at her son. 'I'm going to make you a hot milky drink,' says she. 'You are way too excited and it's almost your bedtime.'
He waits until he is alone again, biting back the bubble of rage that is growing within. When he is sure he is safe, he begins once more his dialogue with his ornate mistress. 'My darling theatre,' he says. 'Fear not! For I shall make it my aim and my honour to ensure your halls are graced only with the finest of performances conducted by the finest acting talent the world has known. And if they will not listen to my direction then my revenge will know no bounds. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I break a chandelier or two. For I AM...The Phantomime!! Mwahahahahahahaha!!!!'
Outside The Trompe L'Oeil Mrs Miggins pauses in her step. 'Did you hear that?' she says, turning to Mrs Pumphrey.
'Hear what?' says Mrs P.
'That weird cackling sound.'
Mrs Pumphrey pauses and cocks her ear. 'Nope,' she says. 'Do you need syringing?
Mrs Miggins shrugs. 'Possibly.' She shakes her head to rid herself of the faint echo of phantom laughter. 'Right, can we run through the checklist, please? If we don't get rehearsals going soon this pantomime will never happen.'
'Righty-ho!' says Mrs Pumphrey, and produces her glitter clipboard and My Little Pony pen. 'Fire away!'
'Cast list?' says Mrs Miggins.
'To be published tomorrow,' says Mrs P.
'All in hand,' says Mrs Pumphrey, who has been fair drowning in chiffon and frou-frou based delight.
'Scenery and props?'
'Knockit, Sander and Plastered Building Services already engaged and on the job as we speak. Or possibly a tea break,' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'And I have the director's notes ready in all their glorious detail,' says Mrs Miggins. 'What do you think - Stanislavski or Brecht?'
Mrs Pumphrey sticks her pen in her beak and looks artistically pensive. 'I was thinking more Biggins or La Rue. Possibly Dawson?'
'I'll ponder on it a while,' says Mrs Miggins. 'And how about choreography? How's Tango Pete coming along with his step kick turn kick step step turns?'
'How would I know?' says Mrs Pumphrey.
'I just thought that with you and he being so close that well, you might be helping him out with his routines,' says Mrs Miggins. 'You know...Ginger to his Fred. Darcy to his Bussell.'
Mrs Pumphrey waves her pen airily in the air. 'Oh, I've been helping Tolemy with a silent P with his inflections,' she says. And she sweeps from the ballroom, humming merrily and looking exactly like a hen who is about to make an enormous prize pillock of herself.
'Hmmmm,' says Mrs Miggins. 'Something tells me there may be trouble ahead. But whilst there's moonlight and music and love and romance...who cares?'
And from the depths of the theatre, up in the Phantomime's box, a voice whispers,'Oh, you'll care, my thoughtless little hen. I'll make you care....'