2002: James Bond in 0.07% Our Final Offer
Now correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't it say here the following quote: "We do intend to start earlier this year (2002) because things became a little hectic closer to the performances". Well that was a load of old nonsense wasn't it? As Mark said after the show, next time anyone says that a performance was left until the last minute you can say "This is nothing. I was involved with the 2002 British Library Panto. And lived!" Yes, if ever there was a miracle at Christmas, that this panto was a huge success was it.
Things that a normal performance usually has.
- A dress rehearsal with everyone there.
- A technical rehearsal before the first performance.
- Actors that have seen the whole performance at least once.
- A single script that all the actors are working to.
- No cardboard cutouts of Gandalf standing in for a sick actor.
We had none of the first four and, as can be seen from the photos, plenty of the last one.
The story revolved around the new Library logo being stolen and the Chief Executive having to send the lowly James Bond up north to retrieve it. Of course the logo hadn't really been stolen, this was just a ruse by the branding company to cover up the fact that it cost a fortune and was crap (this part of the panto was based heavily on reality).
Bond then suffered the stress of interrupting a rather unique presentation that gave some painful truths behind the famed Integrated Library System and falling into a hole in the car park that was occupied by members of the redeployment pool. In between finding out just why certain people are unemployable and avoiding psychotic rabbits, he discovered that a well known member of the Library had been digging tunnels from Yorkshire to London, Dover and the continent in order to avoid paying Customs and Excise duty.
The finale took place at a planning meeting hosted a fake spiritualist trying to earn herself extra money. It was rudely interrupted by Bond, returning triumphantly with the recovered logo. Of course the payoff was that the logo wasn't the new one, but the famous flying book from about fifteen years ago.
Cast wise we carried over about half from the previous year, had a number of returnees and even a few new members. With Lionel dropping out due to illness on the Dress rehearsal, who better to fill his part than Sir Ian McKellen himself (or at least Gareth reading his lines from behind his cutout) although Janice deserves praise for working with probably the most static actor we've ever had. Clare and Jean took on the roles of the Chief Executive and 001 respectively and were suitably hoodwinked by Roderic as the Branding consultant. Judy as the put upon Moneypenny got to showcase a variety of accents as the conduit for the Library's Spiritual Advisor, the not quite dead yet Dick Van Dyke.
Bottom of the Library's special agents was Mark as 007 and it was he who had to journey up North in search of the logo. After witnessing Gareth's wonderful Power Point presentation he met up with Gnomes 1 to 4 played by yours truly, Roger, Suzanne and Sue respectively. Unfortunately Sue and Roger did not escape the wrath of the evil, killer rabbits and left the stage either feet first or in a box. The remaining cast member was the ever present Jeremy as agent 000 the twisted mind behind the multiple tunnels.
Backstage crew consisted of Derek, another new person. His previous real theatre experience being a boon although he did look disappointed when the "lighting desk" consisted of two mains switches. Mark and I took the mid show song, a slightly changed version of 'We're a Couple of Swells' and the finale was 'Stand by Your Brand'
We definitely will be starting earlier next year.
www.GODBLUFF.com best joke in the show folks:-
Moneypenny I will now contact my spirit from beyond the grave, Dick Van Dyke
Chief Executive: But he's not dead!
Moneypenny: He's doing daytime TV, it's much the same.
2003: The Kray's Kristmas Kracka
Well, taking on board all the negative aspects of last year's logistical nightmare this year's effort was started slightly earlier. Or at least part of it was since a rather key element, the ending, only appeared two weeks before the performance but more of that later.
So what of this year's effort?
Only at the British Library could be write a pantomime where the two main characters were based on the Kray Twins and have all the villains dressed straight from the cult film A Clockwork Orange, complete with white boiler suits and bowler hats. And we still managed to get laughs; although the link to Kubrick's film appeared to have gone over everyone's heads.
The plot revolved around a group of dodgy East End villains travelling up to the Library at Boston Spa to rob the bank that was on the site. The joke being that the bank had been closed down when the Library changed its banking partner. All that remained was an unreliable cash machine. Without any safe to rob and with their van having been discovered, the villains pretend to be the new site engineers and end up performing a whole load of menial duties.
These duties included fixing shelves, helping readers with books and breaking into cash registers. Along the way they encounter a photocopy machine, upset at its brethren being replaced with scanners and workstations, that had taken a number of staff hostage. Unfortunately for it, the quality of the staff that it had kidnapped wasn't enough to make it worth meeting its demands.
Their last job was to change a light fitting in a room next to where the Executive Team were holding one of their secret meetings. A meeting so secret that no-one would know that they were in fact have a massive jacuzzi party. In a scene shamelessly nicked from Only Fools and Horses, when Gareth as Charlie cut the cables in the ceiling, the intended light fitting did not drop into the waiting towel. The first fell on the fourth villain while the second fell into the jacuzzi thus electrocuting the whole of the Executive Team (to the cheers of the audience which ought to tell you something).
All the villains can do to cover up their mistakes is to swap clothes with the directors and pretend to be them, hoping for a swift journey to York Station and back to King's Cross before anyone discovered the horrible truth. The plan all goes well until Jeremy playing Ronnie pretending to be Lynne Brindley the Chief Executive is seduced by the power and £160,000 salary (including Key Performance Indicator bonuses). He decides to stay on and is just about to make a few welcome changes when the panto ends.
That in itself would be quite a tidy ending but there was still a lot more nonsense that the audience had to be subjected to.
The person playing Ronnie is taking voluntary redundancy (although it's technically early retirement) in January and leaving the Library. Jeremy has been a stalwart of pantos since 1992 (only one year less that I have been). Since this was to be his last performance, and because he is extremely well known throughout the Library at Boston Spa, it was decided to have a This is Your Life segment to close the show complete with guest stars and taped messages from people who couldn't be there.
This is where I came in. Due to project work commitments, I couldn't take on large role because I wouldn't be able to make many rehearsals (in the end I made two including the dress rehearsal). I therefore offered to stand in as the Eamon Andrew/Michael Aspel role to host the show. Over two evenings in mid December I'd written the short script required. Unfortunately the nature of the panto meant that Jeremy's responses had to be scripted which was a shame but doing five performances in a single day would have been too much of a strain for people to be spontaneous.
Once we had the This is Your Life script, we set about recording the two pieces for absent friends. Mark presented me with a selection of recordings made by Frank who is on long term sick from the Library to which I set about adding various farmyard noises (for some bizarre reason). Judy and I has lots of fun recording her voice as a demented stalker who had followed Jeremy throughout his career and was threatening to kill him at the next meeting. For your reference, the two files are presented on this site. Frank's rant against all who are listening and Judy's chilling message of impending doom for Jeremy. Just as the show is going nicely with many pleasant reminisces, the payoff is that the surprise guest at the end is in fact his stalker who rushes on knife in hand to do the deed. With the maniac suitably restrained the show ends.
Except that it didn't. After the song we presented Jeremy with a copy of the awful branded British Library sign outside the gate (which looks like a cheap and nasty packing crate). You can see it in one of the accompanying photographs. The interesting thing here is that Jeremy knew nothing about this and so his reaction of complete surprise and amazement was absolutely genuine.
Cast wise we were at similar levels to the previous year although we had to draft in Judy who had been made redundant earlier in the year. New recruits were Marjorie, who is Jeremy's wife, and at the last minute Tracy playing an audience member with a couple of lines. Hopefully they will both be available for enlarged roles next year.
The four villains were played my Jeremy as Ronnie, Mark as Reggie, Gareth as Charlie and Roger as Wilbur. Clare, Suzanne and Sue played dedicated and highly motivated British Library staff (proving that this was a panto and not reality). Marjorie and Roderic played two visitors; the former a normal reading room attendee while the latter played an interstellar visitor mistaken for a cataloguer (easy, I know). Yours truly was the host of This is Your Life while my other half, Judy, was Jeremy's stalker. Derek kept his role as sound and lighting man adding to his collection of technical stuff with a video camera and small screen so he could actually watch the action.
The show was played to five largely full houses and raised £725 for two very deserving causes. What made this latter part all the more important is that Kim, one of our irregular regulars for over ten years, lost her battle with cancer and died earlier in the year. She was and will be missed by everyone involved with the panto.
So another rip roaring success enjoyed by cast, crew and audience alike. The programme had a chilling warning on its last page stating that unless there is an influx of new people that there may not be a panto in 2004. This is possibly a slight over exaggeration but I doubt that many people would want to see Mark and I doing forty minutes of stand-up.
www.GODBLUFF.com best joke in the show folks:-
Reggie: I'm the bloke who put the "Reggie" into cash register!
2004: Aleph in Wonderland
Well, the rather ominous warning on the back of the 2003 programme about there being no panto in 2004 without new people obviously hit the right spot as there were a host of new people wanting to be involved and a couple of previous faces returning. As you can see, it's quite a full cast photo!
As can be guessed from the title, the panto was based on Alice in Wonderland. The Aleph refers to a piece of cataloguing software that was implemented at the Library as a universal replacement for a great many obsolete legacy systems. There are very few areas of the Library that do not have some contact with the software so it was an obvious choice.
The three other themes seamlessly integrated into one piece of theatre were the refurbishment of the Library's canteen into a staff restaurant, the Library's victory on University Challenge-The Professionals and a new building being erected to house low use material from London.
It was this latter issue that provided the overall plot line since the building will be placed in an area where there are reasonably rare plants, orchids, growing wild. Obviously we aren't talking endangered species, but it has illicited much discussion through the year and so is a good subject for a script.
Basically the plot sticks to the Lewis Carroll book with Alice following a white rabbit down a hole, going to a tea party, attending a trial and finally discovering it was all a dream. Alice stumbles upon a conspiracy to paint all the white roses in the garden red so that she can put up here new building. A building light on structural stability and also light on the purse strings. On the way, Alice ventures into the new restaurant to be served by a pretentious chef and a two headed waiter.
We take a slight break to present "Grade Your Cards Right" where suspecting and unsuspecting members of the audience have to guess whether grades on cards are higher or lower. The winner receiving free dancing lessons. Finally, after inciting the staff to strike, Alice views the evil Queen of Hearts as she tries the audience for striking, leaking stories to The Evening Standard and for being Northern Oiks. A chase ensues and eventually Alice arrives back where she came from.
Cast wise we had the usual bunch of old stagers, recent additions, returnees and a large intake of new people. Unfortunately there was no Jeremy as he left early in the year and we couldn't really get Judy back for a second time after having left 18 months previously. The part of Alice was played by Clare, complete with blonde wig and Alice band. Marjorie had the dual role of a palace guard, being dressed normally early on and then appearing in a playing card. Gareth donned the white ears to play the always late White Rabbit. The details of the new building, and a nice history lesson in the existing site buildings was given by two newbies, Gerry and Dominica as the Turtle and Bodge the Builder.
Eventually Alice stumbles into the ILS tea party where mad chef Roderic ably assisted by two-people-in-one-costume, Louise and Suzanne. Thankfully they didn't have to walk too far otherwise it could have got tricky. Louise and Suzanne also played palace guards wearing playing cards. The party's first guests are Sue as the sleepy dormouse and a face painted Roger as the Cheshire Cat. The game show, hosted by Gareth as the March Hare (only difference, brown ears), had two planted members of the audience, Lynda and Clare, and one poor soul picked at random. This individual's prize for winning was a free belly dancing lesson given by Sarah. Participation in the spectacle varied according to the inhibitions of the audience member. When finally Queen appeared it was none other than Mark in drag. Assisted in her courtroom by Maggie as the Duchess and expert witness Jonathan as the Walrus, the cast was all but complete.
That left only myself. As with every other year, it seems, my work commitments meant that I had little time to get involved with the acting on stage. Since we weren't going to have music as interludes, it was decided that while scene changes happened that some poor soul would witter on trying to keep the audience interested. Thus was I playing the Caterpillar, leaning against a four foot toadstool dressed in hippy T-shirt, green painted face and large moustache. Oddly enough, when Mark and I got more involved with the writing back in the early 90s this position was the first to go! Still, the part worked well as a sort of narrator, linking scenes together with plenty of opportunity for ad-libbing.
Production wise, it was probably our biggest endeavour since Batman Returns the Empties and that only wins because of the huge cast to control. As can also be seen, there was a huge amount of effort put into the costumes and set. All the cast members had some sort of outfit made for them by Marjorie. They really captured the spirit of the story. Gareth had also been just as busy in building a number of flats that could be used from this production onwards. As can be seen they provide good coverage of the back of the stage and make a huge difference to usual pink wallpaper of the room.
Unfortunately on two performances while being manhandled into place during a change one of them fell into the audience. No-one was hurt but it was decided for the last performance that no-one would touch the flats. We'll have a rethink about how they are secured to the stage next year. The backstage crew were completed by Derek and his ever increasing son et luminiere collection plus Candy doing the face painting. We also welcomed back Heather and her great talent for building huge props (namely my toadstool).
So all in all another great success work with positive reviews, full houses, lots of smiling faces and a large £950 cheque raised for charity. Add to that the new cast members and things look very rosy for the future of this great institution.
I can't let this nonsense finish without mentioning the odd picture just above this text. Beneath the cast photograph is a collage of images of Marjorie as the guard. All were taken during the final courtroom scene at different times and show our costume designer with a variety of facial expressions. While looking for pictures to select for the page, I decided to create a feature. Fortunately she doesn't look too bored in any of them.
www.GODBLUFF.com best joke in the show folks:-
White Rabbit: Why don't Marketing look out of the window in the afternoon
Contestant: I don't know
White Rabbit: Because if they did, they'd have nothing to do in the afternoon.
The old ones are the best.
2005: Charlie and the Chocolate Library
Short report for this one as I played almost no part in the production whatsoever. Not due to "creative differences" as has been the case in the past, but due to me not actually being on site for the performance and week leading up to it. I didn't even have a hand in the script save for a pre-recorded advertisement that was used as a scene changer, but more of that later.
I have (almost) read the script and watched (parts of) the video and so can make a reasonably "informed" comment on what the thing was about. Based on the book and film that was released during 2005 it tells the story of Charlie and his desperate attempt to get a job working for the (in)famous Chocolate Library. The only way to get into that illustrious organisation is to have a golden CV.
Hidden in newspapers, Charlie finally manages to find a golden CV and duly sets off on the quest in the Library to get that much sought after position along with a handful of other hopefuls. The position on offer is that of a Change Manager; a role within an organisation designed to bring about changes in processes to effect a reduction in costs. Usually it involves redundancies and often doesn't result in any savings at all but that's just me being cynical.
Charlie and the others are shown a series of bizarre areas of the library during which one of the other hopefuls succumbs to a rather nasty and befitting end.
Unfortunately there is a twist in the tale. Just as Charlie thinks he wins out over the other contestants he discover that they have all become change managers themselves (you can never have too many change managers). Thankfully their plans are foiled by an Ompah-Lumpah uprising lead by an ex Library staff member making a triumphant return.
Acting wise it was the usual gang although watching the video, it did seem to be based heavily on Mark who appears in almost every scene and sort of carries it. The returning staff member was Jeremy, on his knees, orange painted and fuelled by helium to get that perfect Ompah-Lumpah voice.
So what of me? As mentioned earlier I wasn't there on the day so I naturally couldn't be on stage but still wanted some involvement. The answer was that I would record a piece as a scene transition. The format would be as a radio advertisement for the fabled Pulp-U-Like waste processing plant. This organisation has had two previous mentions within a Library pantomime in Missing Impossible and Toni's. A few train journeys later with my trusty notepad, I had a basic idea for a script that included a variety of voices and was a thinly veiled attack on recent practices at the library.
So armed with my notes, I set about recording. I decided that one of the voices would be better served being recorded by my other half Judy, reprising her previous role as Natalie. Backed by some spacey Tangerine Dream music, a well vocodered narrator expounds the virtues of their paper disposal facilities to rid an organisation of request forms, books and updating slips. I even managed to shoot a cataloguer which went down well with the audience.
The finished advertisement is presented here in mp3 format for your pleasure.
And that's it. Whether I take part this year depends on what I'm doing.
www.GODBLUFF.com best joke in the show folks:-
Stores manager: 'Ere Natalie! Get your fat arse over here and issue these forms!