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Day thirty-eight – Filling the Void Part 6

December 11, 2017

Here’s the story (of the panto):

The evil earl, Edward De Vere, creator of the world’s worst poetry, is determined to win a poetry contest being held by Queen Elizabeth to decide who the new manager of the Globe Theatre will be. With the assistance of his not-very-bright henchmen, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, he has, at the start of the show, bribed all but two of the other poets in the land, to not enter the competition. At the top of the show, he pays off Ben Jonson (hilariously played by Nick).Next he visits the remaining poet, Will Shakespeare, who will not be bribed. Running the Globe Theatre is his dream.

Will lives in lodgings with three members of his company: Henry Burbage, Alexander Cooke, who specialises in playing female roles, and (in a nod to Shakespeare in Love) a young woman, pretending to be a boy in order to be an actor, named (in a nod to Black Adder) Bob. They are cared for by their housekeeper, Helena Handbasket, and maid, Rosie. Rosie is madly in love with Will, but he is so fixated on his work and ambition to run the Globe theatre that he simply doesn’t notice her.

When Shakespeare refuses to play ball, DeVere devises and elaborate scheme to convince Rosie that, if Will wins the Globe, he will never notice her. He persuades her to swap his poetry for Will’s before the competition is held.

Will reads “his” first poem to the Queen without realising what he is saying.

There once was a monarch named Lizzie, whose hairstyle was overly frizzy. Her clothes were a joke, she had hands like a bloke, and a face like a moose getting busy.

The Queen is not amused. DeVere then wows her by comparing her to a summer’s day. Despite Will’s protests that DeVere has stolen his poem, the Queen awards the Globe to DeVere and banishes Will and his troupe from London.

At which point they decide they’ll just have to look on the bright side of life. (Lyrics amended to omit lines like “life’s a piece of shit, when you look at it” for this family show.)

End of Act One.

I’ll spare you a full synopsis of Act Two. Suffice to say the evil Earl kidnaps first the Queen, then Rosie and Helena. Will, Burbage, Cooke and Bob save the day.

The play was absolutely bloody hilarious.

But I get ahead of myself.

Heading into the auditions, I was still trying to convince Victor (Reverend Brown in Inherit the Wind) to play the evil earl. He hemmed and hawed, not giving me his final “no” until everything else had been cast. A fellow named Joe, who was new to the group (and acting) had been cast as Burbage. I asked him if he would consider learning a lot more lines to play the villain. He agreed. (Which worked out well. The guy was born to play pantomime villains.) That left us minus a Burbage. Joe had a friend named John who he thought might be interested. Happily he was and what a great job he did. I’d also written a running gag into the play: a group of singers who crept on stage to take part every time there was a song. They really wanted to join Shakespeare’s troupe, but, as Helen reminded them every time she chased them off stage, there was no money to pay them.

Most of the songs had been selected, but I really needed to add one during a set change. It was at the point in the play when Rosie had been tricked into swapping the poems. I asked Aleksandra for ideas and she came up with “I’m Sorry”. It turned out to be one of my favourite moments in the show after I added another sneaky appearance by the chorus.

2014 Im Sorry

Other favourite moments?

Well, one of them had to be Jenn (my marvellous Queen Elizabeth) bringing the house down with her rendition of “Dancing Queen”.

2014 WS DQ

If I had to pick an absolute favourite, it was the scene in which Cooke (played by my mate Paul) explains to Bob, who’s just voiced an interest in one day playing Juliet, why this would be impossible.

2014 WS Cooke

COOKE My dear boy, one does not learn to play a woman overnight. It takes years of training to master the feminine mannerisms and the subtle inflections of voice. Observe. (Cooke adopts an over the top feminine pose, speaks in falsetto voice) Hello, I’m a lady. (Normal voice) You see?

BURBAGE Uncanny! My dear fellow, if I didn’t know it was you I’d be propositioning you right now.

COOKE It’s a simple fact that a teenage girl is only convincing onstage when played by a ridiculously tall bearded man in his fifties.

During the rehearsals Paul asked if I wanted the full Monty (Python) for Cooke’s falsetto. I told him that would be great if he could do it. The first time he tried his face turned purple. I told him I didn’t want him to kill himself. He assured me practice would make perfect. And indeed it did.

With rehearsals progressing well, it was time to start dreaming up a promotion strategy. Somewhere in my internet travels I stumbled across an interesting piece of information which was quite promising.

Did you know

Yes, that’s right. Trawling further on the internet I compiled 24 Shakespeare related knock, knock jokes, posting one a day on our Facebook page.

It was around that time that Joe noticed something I hadn’t when I ordered the script: 2014. Was it possible we were going to be performing the world premiere of Will Shakespeare the Panto? I contacted the publisher and it turned out this was indeed the case. In fact, the script had only been published in July 2014, which meant, had Jean pointed out to me a month earlier that I was going to have to direct the panto, the script would not have been there to find. Phew.

I’ll spare you most of the 24 knock, knock jokes. (If you’re really interested, click on this link pantovent calendar.)

Four days

Three days

Two days

One day

(Okay, this one I made up myself.)

To my surprise (and relief) there had been quite a few entries in the competition to win opening night tickets for the best new knock, knock jokes. About a week before the deadline I contacted the publisher again to ask if the author, Robin Bailes, might be interested in choosing the winner. Robin answered me directly and said he’d be delighted. This, written by a man named Laurence Lee, was the winner.

Knock knock winner

It wasn’t the one I would have chosen, but Robin said it made him laugh out loud. Fair enough.

Suddenly it’s the dress rehearsal. Joe’s friend Bill, an island photographer, has come to take pictures. (Thank you, Bill, for the photos in this post and all the others you’ve taken since.) I told him he was free to photograph anything – except me.

2014 WS tea

Some other bugger managed to get this photo of me (with Alex, my Shakespeare) just before opening night. I include here because it is a good illustration of a running gag during the rehearsal period: If you want to keep the director happy, make sure she always has a cup of tea.

Alex, when he first read the script, was only concerned about this scene, in which Will defeats the evil Earl with nothing except his words.

2014 Will Shakespeare 2

WILL I would challenge you to a battle of wits but I see you are unarmed.

DE VERE Was that an insult?! You do understand I’m planning to take your life?

WILL Life… is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

DE VERE That’s it! You’re going down!

WILL And what if I do? To be or not to be? That is the question. I mean you’ve got to ask yourself whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing end them? After all, these violent delights have violent ends. And though there is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune, there’s also something to be said for the quality of mercy. It’s not strain’d you know, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. (De Vere holds the knife to Will’s throat) If you prick me will I not bleed? Go ahead. Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player, that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. But if I’ve learnt one thing today it’s this, above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.

At the end of this speech, the guards are so blown away they drop their weapons to applaud. They weren’t the only ones. The audience gave Alex a well-deserved ovation. He was fantastic.

At the end of the show the cast were given a standing ovation. Also well deserved.

If I’d been worried (which I had a bit) that island audiences might not take to a Shakespeare-based (rather than previous fairy tale-based) panto, I needn’t have been. There were packed houses for all four shows and there seemed to be general agreement that this was the best panto ever!

After opening night Bill gave me an envelope of 8×10 black and white prints of the photos he’d taken which he wanted the cast to have. I handed the photos out before the following day’s matinee. Except this one, which I kept for myself.

2014 Will Shakespeare

It’s in a frame, hanging on a wall in the house as my reminder of a truly wonderful experience. It had been so much harder than Inherit the Wind, but worth every minute. The world premiere of Will Shakespeare the Panto did Robin Bailes proud.

That said, when people started asking me if I was going to direct another panto, I said, “Oh, no, no, no. I took my turn. Next year it’s up to someone else.”

Oh, ha bloody ha.

 

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