Will the Show Go On?
16th January 2011: Not destined to become one of my favourite remembered days.
Those Writebuzzers who have known me on site for a few years, or those who click up member's profiles, may be aware that my daughter and myself have for many years belonged to a 'gloriously English eccentric' pantomime production company operating annually out of a 'ramshackle old hall' in a small north Norfolk village. Indeed so; Jen has acted in ten different pantos, and is really rather good. Due to my deafness I do not venture on stage, but spend the rehearsal months helping to build the stage sets (February 2009, Jack and the Beanstalk, our semi-operational 'beanstalk lift' had to be seen - or experienced - to be believed!) wiring up the 50 year old stage lights, coaxing the 45 year old heating boilers to work, replacing fuses, tying together stage trestle legs … And during the actual performances I work the curtains - dark blue outer pair, light grey inner pair the right hand one of which is prone to jamming, both sets dating to 1935 - plus serving as prompter on stage left which given that I can't hear any delivered lines with even a vague degree of accuracy is just one tiny element in the 'eccentric' bit.
Pretty much everything is either too old, worn out, or broken - or more often than not a multiple combination thereof. But the show always goes on.
Because everyone willingly does their part, you see. It's a Team Eccentric effort.
The two ladies who make the costumes do a fantastic job. Mrs Hazelton operates the lights via a Bakelite switch board in a little gallery reached by a step ladder up above the doors at the opposite end of the hall to the stage. The main cast - ten strong - are all teenagers from Jen's sixth form college. Younger children form the chorus, as indeed Jen once did. Another gentleman is the artist in residence, he draws the back drop designs for others to paint in. Then there is the sound system, the front of house, the prop makers, poster and programme printers, ticket sellers …
This year's production, which has been in rehearsal since September, is Beauty and the Beast. And everyone involved with it is, as ever, there for love do you see? Once common, until the late 1950's perhaps, such places are now a rarity. Which makes them all the more precious ...
On the night of January 3rd a water pipe in the roof void directly above the stage burst due to the freezing weather.
So what of the 'ramshackle old hall' itself? The main part, built in 1919, is a former village hall. Newer extensions added in the 1950's include a vestibule and Ladies and Gents to the front, a kitchen directly behind the back wall of the stage, two changing rooms, and at the very back a lately derelict further changing room once leased to a village football club. To one side is the football field. To the other a small hard surfaced car park, a bungalow garden, and then the parish church. Across the road is The Manor.
By the time the burst was discovered (not by me I have to say) the water was four inches deep inside and streaming out from under the main doors. Ancient electrics submerged, all Bakelite sockets shot, ceiling above above the stage - about sixty square feet - down, stage sections soaked and bellied, back flats and the newly built Beauty and the Beast stage set drenched and part collapsed, four side flats a total loss, and the old pine wood floor - c. 1,700 square feet of it - buckled, lifting and, as we finally established today, still sitting in a lake of water which has collected beneath it. Then add condensation soaked walls, window curtains saturated, plaster dropping off, even the Formica worktops in the kitchen warping up.
The insurance assessors spent three hours inspecting last week. There will be a committee meeting in a few days time. The general consensus is that there is no remote possibility of admitting the public in barely five weeks time. And rightly so of course.
Compared to real disasters - Haiti, or African famine, or Australian or Brazilian floods for instance - this is really only a minor inconvenience. I do realise that. But it has still been personally a very sad day today. There is just no more mopping up, nor removing of mould, nor de-humidifying, nor 'drying out' which we can do for ourselves however much we might wish to.
The local rag featured our 'little event' the end of last week, under the headline: 'The Show Will Go On!' But after today I really don't think it will.
Anyone got a hug going spare!
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