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The Pantomime Produced


Rosie Collard discusses her pro­ duction/or Cowes Amateur Oper­ atic & Dramatic Society. "Beauty & the Beast" was con­ ceived as a pantomime with a very strong story line, rather than as a number of variety turn's linked by a nebulous plot. Since we were starting from scratch and writing originally with our own

local amateur society in mind , we also wanted plenty of good parts for women and juniors as well as for men. We had to balance the need for ple.nty of audience par­ ticipation , slapstick and fun which our matinee audiences would demand, with the need for a strong, consistent story line that contained sufficient drama, pathos, romance and wit to keep the predominantly adult eve ning audiences involved for 2'10 hours.

THE PLOT, CHARACTERS AND CASTING Sir Marmaduke Mumble, who was down on his luck, lived with hi s three daughters, the high-spir­ ited Hilaria , the melancholic Lola, and the beautiful Belle, his sister Poppy (the Dame) and their French maid, Fit! in a lowly cot­ tage. Out gathering flowers one day Belle met the handsome Prince, Beauregard, and they fell in love. After Belle had gone, fate stepped in when th e wicked witch, Vendetta changed him into a beast. The good fairy, Rosebud , set to work with the help of a magic rosebush and the some­ time s muddled assistanc e of Floribunda, the inefficient fairy housekeeper and Cranberry, the fairy butler. An enchanted Palace was created in the middle of the


Forest, and the mischievious pix­ ies Bubble and Squeak, with their boss y leader, Pip led the journey­ ing Marmaduke, his mule, Mufty, and his sailor companions , Pitch and T o ss to it. Marmaduke's plucking of a magic rose led to Belle 's visiting the Palace and her meeting with the Beast. Many changes of fortune ensued before the happy ending when Belle 's kiss transfom1ed the Beast into her Prince, and in true Pan­ tomime s tyle, everyone, eve n Vendetta, lived happily ever after. Belle and Beauregard both had to be totally believable as REAL characters, and for my dramatic purposes, the Beast had to remain good and keep the absolute sym­ pathy of the audience throughout. On the one occasion when he DID lose his temper , when Mar­ maduke stole the rose, Vendetta was on stage, clearly influencing him. Similarly when Belle kissed the Beast at the end and broke the spell, Vendetta appeared to wit­ ness the defeat of her evil by Belle ' s 10viIlg him for himself. Ros ebud had been able to help the mortals , but in the end they had to be seen to be sorting thing s out for themselves. Of the principal pans in the pan­ t o mime , s ix were suitable for women, fi ve for men, four for either sex, and three for juniors, Eventually we cast 8 women, 7 men and 3 girls who played the pixies. We also cast other small parts from the chorus and had a total company of 42 on stage. Ironically , bea ring in mind our original concern about having lots of women's parts, we opted not only for a male Prince, and a real raucous male dame in Poppy, but we also cast a man as Floribunda, the fairy housekeeper. Floribunda was in no way treated as a second dame , but ended up as a hugely comic and lovable nonh-country fairy! Mufty the mule was played by a pair of tap-dancing teenagers , and the rest of the team caused no real casting headaches. The chorus was sp lit into fairies of the Ro se Garden, who were dancing juniors , villa g ers who had a lot of singing and dancing to do , and were mainly adults, and woodland animals who were

played by younger children. Our cast ranged in age from 4 to 65+, but knit together into a great team.

REHEARSALS We rehearsed three times a week - but because of the construction of th e pantomime I was able to split Act I rehearsals initially so that no principals exce pt Belle and Marmaduke had to come to every rehearsal. Dance rehearsals for young fairies and for th e woodland animals were held before each of the gen­ e ral rehearsal s, and so most youngsters were spared from hav­ ing too many late nights until well into the run of rehearsals. About three weeks before the dr ess rehearsals, [ had a " Rehearsal video" made of the first complete runthrough of th e show. This proved very useful to me, since I was able to consider it at my leisure and look at problem areas in detail. About half the principals chose to see it and felt that it helped to put their perfor­ mances into perspective - th e other half would have run a mile

rather than see themselves at that st age! Ro se bud , in particular. found that it helped her perfor­ mance, since at times s he had to remain VERY still as action moved round her- and she could see the point of thi s and gained the confidence to be very assured and authoritativ e when she saw it on video.

SET DESIGN, SCENERY & PROPS Our stage at Trinity Theatre has a prosce nium arch opening of 27 feet, and from the arch to the back wall measures only I! fee l. There is another 4 feet in front of the arch to the front of the stage and a spread beyond the arch of abou t 5 feet on either side. The stage is about 3ft. 6" above a level audito­ rium, and th e refore, since it is lacking in depth , tends to resem­ ble a s helf. When a large cas t assembles on stage they appear to present a "wall" of people, and to avoid this , [ d ec ided to split the chorus, so that not too many peo­ ple crowded the stage in produc­ tion number s, and we also incorporated a 3ft 6" hi gh ac ting

Amateur Szage December 1991

The Pantomime Produced

area Up Left which remained throughout the pantomime, and with different facing flats this rep­ resented an imposing pillared porch to the Palace in some scenes, and a grassy hill leading down to Marmaduke 's cottage in others. There was also a 15" level in front of this and along the back of the stage R. These different levels allowed for great flexibility in staging and caused less trouble with entrances and exits than we'd feared. In addition we built a four foot deep extension for the centre front of the stage, with large shallow steps leading to the auditorium. One of the full stage sets was Marmaduke's cottage and garden, with the entrance from the village stage L and the cottage stage R. There was also a working well down which the pixies had to dis­ appear in search of the lost magic rose. We have a trap in the stage, but decided not to use it , as we didn ' t want accidents happening to our young pixies, but since the well was placed on the hill, with the help of a false grass front we were able to make room for Bub­ ble and Squeak to climb down out of sight. For this set we sewed a collage backcloth of trees which was lighter than our normal back­ cloths and which was easily manoevrable by the stage crew for quick changes. Since the cot­ tage set was used for 4 scenes, speed in scene changing was of huge importance. The other full stage set was the Palace Rose Garden. which was al so used in four scenes, and the painted Palace backcloth remained in place behind the cot­ tage drop throughout the pan­ tomime. The Palace entrance L.was made up of flats, and two large pillar flats which we were able to fly sideways into the wings. We also used a forest drop cloth halfway up the stage for 11(, scenes . This we made by sewing tie-dye greenery onto a black gauze, and the subtle tones of the tie dye proved very sympathetic to different lighting moods. Being on a rolling pole system it allowed setting and striking times of about 20 seconds- which helped to keep the pace going. We also had a tree stump that remained S.R. in front of the proscenium arch for the whole pantomime, and this proved a Amalell!' Stage DecemiJer 1991

very useful piece of equipment. One problem was the need for clumps of bluebells, some of which Belle picked during her first visit to the forest. We made individual bluebells which were set in blocks of wood, fronted with false grass and with holes drilled in them so that the flowers were all moveable. The magic rose which features large through­ out the panto was made " extra large" size, and actually we had three, in case of accidents. One extra ro e was ALWAYS set in the well in case the original wasn't thrown down accurately. We found that this had been a wise precaution. Most props were quite straightfor­ ward, but we did need a trick table with a tank to take coffee poured endlessly from a huge cof­ fee pot into a tiny cup. Great care was needed in positioning the actors round this so that the trick area wasn ' t masked.

COSTUME When considering costumes for stich a large cast , I decided to "colour code" the principals to aid quick identification. Thus Belle

and the Prince wore blue and though they each had several cos­ tumes, they were all basically blue. Hi wore yellow, Lo mauve, Poppy orange and green , and all the fairies pink. C.A.O.D.S. has an excellent costume department, and they set to and copied faith­ fully the designs that I ' d drawn for some characters as well as bringing lots of ideas and designs of their own for others. The costumes of the mortals were largely mediaeval , except Pitch and Toss's , which were "panto sailor" and Fifi's. She was totally anachronistic and wore a saucy black maid's outfit, with flimsy apron and fishnet tights. The vil­ lagers wore neutral shades with wimples for the women and " Robin Hood" type outfits for the men. The immortals costumes were largely Grecian in style, in keeping with the classical looking Palace, Rosebud and the dancing fairies wearing pink draped tunic dresses with soft twinkle gauze wings attached to their wrists. Floribunda was treated separately and wore a dress of deeper pink with a crimson bodice to which

were attached massive wired wings. Cranberry wore an anachronistic butler's outfit with pink cravat and waistcoat and tiny wings sewn to his coat. In addition to the " regular" char­ acters, there was also Oddbod a running joke who kept appearing in the wrong costume. He was dressed variously as Aladdin, Charlie Chaplin, a frogman, a cowboy . and finally in correct chorus attire, and was a great favourite with the audience. The Beast's mask was made so as not to be too horrif·ic, since we wanted him to inspire pity rather than fear. It was built up on a bought rubber "Zeus " mask which was coloured, cut about and made much more hairy. The Beast's mask had to be quick to put on under cover of smoke and flashing lights, and the actor did find it very hot to wear, but he managed to get it , and the attached wig, on and off with amazing speed and dexterity. Mufty's head was a marvellous creation made from chicken wire, papier mache and other assorted materials. She had droll rolling eyes, with huge moveable eyelids made from intricately folded paper, and a working mouth which enabled her to 'eat' .

LIGHTING AND SPECIAL EFFECTS The lighting was 'bright daylight' for cottage scenes and normally pinkish for the Palace. For one eerie forest scene we originally had a lot of blue gels in lights, but had to cut these down because having too many lights set aside to blue restricted us in other areas. This eventually resolved itself since the forest did need to be very dim at first so that a "drop­ ping moon" routine wouId show up well. The moon was done with a spotlight oper;}ed up a tiny amount to gi ve a bright , small 'moon' with which the pixies played ball. This scene needed a lot of rehearsal so that the pixies could 'hold on' to the edge of the spot without light straying onto their hands, but after a lot of work it looked very effective. We also made a star gobo which was used for the Beast and Floribunda ' s duet "When you wish upon a star". The main difficulties in lighting and effects were the Beast ' s two transformation scenes. The first PAGE t5

Beauty & The Beast (Panto) - Dec 1991