I don't know why but the cast of 'Puss 'n' Boots' are very keen to run around in their undies during dress rehearsal. There is a lot of 'My costume is being taken in/ let out/ shortened/ lengthened' going on and I am beginning to think that the Wardrobe Mistress i.e Mrs Pumphrey, hasn't had her mind completely on the job in hand.
'You are being lax,' I tell her when I eventually find her daydreaming in the corner over a box of luxury Belgian chocolates which, I assume, are another tempting bribery courtsey of the Phantomime.
'It's this corset,' she says, giving her upper half a bit of a tug and a shuffle. 'I think the hooks may need shifting a little further away from the eyes and the laces may need loosening.'
'Or maybe you could lay off the chocolates?' I suggest, like I'm a fine one to talk. 'The Phantomime, I presume?'
Mrs Pumphrey nods happily. She is convinced that the Phantomime is the nom de plume de tail feather of Ptolemy Pheasant, and as such has been mooning around after him like a love-lorn mess. Ironically, his is the only costume that fits perfectly - Mrs Pumphrey has been VERY precise with her measurements. Snug, I think, is the correct term.
The remaining cast, however, are running through their scenes and dance routines in their undies and it's not such a good look for some of them.
'It's a nightmare,' says Mrs Miggins, sitting in her director's chair and making frantic notes on the script. 'I mean, I know things are supposed to go wrong in the dress rehearsal because that is what it is for, but really? It's like working with a bunch of amateurs.'
'Strictly speaking you are,' I point out, as Mrs Poo and Mrs Slocombe gallop by in, respectively, their boxer shorts and bloomers. 'Regardless, we had better get started, hadn't we?'
'I suppose,' says Miggins. She is beginning to look wearied by the whole experience and I know how she feels.
Anyway, we settle into seats in the stalls, five rows back and the dress rehearsal proper begins.
And it all goes surprisingly smoothly, once everyone gets into the panto swing. Cues are met, sets and props are where they should be at the right times. The comic timing of Mrs Poo and Primrose is spot on and Fat Phoebe Cat, who has come out of retirement especially to play Sarah the Cook is excellent, managing to stay awake a whole five minutes at a time.
Yet so engrossed are we in the happenings on stage that we do not see a strange glow emanating from THAT box up there. The one I call the Phantomime's box when out of the hearing of Mrs Miggins. It is a gentle glow, such as the one seen across the skies of London just before the Great Fire took its hold. Like the faint glow of a gently active volcano just before it erupts forth in a violent, spewy fury. Like the gentle glow of the skin of a lady of a certain age just before she has a massive hot flush and centrally heats the five feet radius around her.
Yes, all goes swimmingly until...
'Where's Camilla?' says Miggins, scanning her script and frowning. 'She's missed her cue as Alice. CAMILLA!'
The actors on stage are glancing across at both wings, peering into the gloom to try and catch a glimpse of Camilla, for it is most unlike her to miss her cue as she is a most conscientious performer.
'CAMILLA!!!' roars Mrs Miggins. 'WHERE ARE YOU?'
'She has gone!' comes a ghostly voice from the glowing box from above. 'You did not heed my warning, Madame Miggins, and so you have left me no choice but to make the decision for you. Mrs Pumphrey WILL play Alice Fitzwarren. The Pantomime can only continue with her in the role of the heroine, and until the performance takes place, Camilla shall remain in my care. And if you comply with this further list of demands...' and at this point a piece of paper edged in black comes drifting into the stalls and lands at our feet, '...then she shall be returned to you unharmed.'
Mrs Miggins climbs onto her seat and shouts at the box. 'And what if I don't comply? What if I don't listen to bullies and demands of blackmail?'
'Then,' returns the voice of the Phantomime, for yea 'twas he, 'I have only one thing to say to you.'
'Which is?' demands Mrs Miggins.
'Chicken nuggets,' comes the sinister reply.