Tuesday, 1 June 2010

The Blizzard of Oz

I have mentioned King Cravat before. He is one of the grossly overpaid 'Senior Managers' at the School of Hard Knocks. It has to be said, as fat cats go, he is more slothful than Garfield. His title is Community Engagement Manager, yet all he actually does is work in the school office answering the phone and occasionally covers classes for absent teachers. However, there are many classes he is not allowed to cover. Cravat is dangerously close to the edge at the moment, it is feared that some of our more challenging classes are too tough for the prozac-addled cad and will push him over the edge. Indeed, the last time he took the Year 5 hoodlums next door to me he managed to TERRIFY my special needs children with his screaming and door slamming. For all of his weighty responsibilities Cravat is paid double that of a lowly class teacher. That thought depresses me terribly. My Dad always used to say, the higher up you go, the less work you actually do. He was right.

Cravat is a failed thesp. When speaking to the school in assembly he booms and blusters like a geordie Brian Blessed. His only other responsibility is to run our school's community theatre program. The school was given a huge lottery grant to set up this 'aspiration raising' scheme. The aim of the program is to engage 'hard to reach' (translation - booze-soaked dole-hound) members of the community and get them involved theatre projects.

Over the years Cravat has passionately tried to persuade me to get involved with his community theatre. I have a degree in Drama and Theatre studies, you see. Not a chance in hell. Miss Underscore is not for turning. Thankfully, the buffoon has now admitted defeat and leaves me be. No longer does he try to corner me in the art cupboard and attempt to instigate a passionate deconstruction of the theatre of the absurd and whether its nihilistic principles could be adapted to a school production of Bugsy Malone.

Cravat's recent production was The Wizard of Oz. It was 18 months 'in production'. It should have been premiered at Christmas, but Cravat kept putting the opening night back. He missed his Easter deadline too. In the end, his opus took longer to produce than the original Hollywood film. Although, I expect Victor Flemming did not have to schedule rehearsals around court dates. Nor did he have to drag his cast (with the exception of Judy Garland) out of the off licence or betting shop. I suppose having actors that could actually read would also have been a boon for Flemming, most helpful when it came to learning lines.

Cravat's overdue opus was launched last week. I sashayed along to the final performance. A few of my class were appearing as munchkins, so I felt obliged to attend. I'd heard rumours all week that the play was a shambles and that no one knew their lines. I hoped that by the final night Cravat would have magically brought everything together. That he would have been able to disguise his floundering turkey, gussy it up with a some greasepaint and sequins and pass it off as a majestic, graceful swan. Reader, I was sorely mistaken.

Looking at the program I noted the whole production was due to last a little over an hour. Hurrah, I thought. I'd be home in time for spaghetti on toast and a bubble bath. Of course, I had not factored in the agonisingly epic silences where cast members stood gazing at each other, not knowing whose turn it was to speak next. Incredibly it was true, after 18 months of rehearsals no one knew their lines. The ensuing 'tumbleweed' moments added a wearying three quarters of an hour to the overall running time. Believe me, by the final scene, Dorothy wasn't the only person in the hall clicking her heels together and wistfully whispering 'There's no place like home.'

My favourite moments were the Eric Morecambe/ Andre Previn snippets, where lines were remembered, but not necessarily in the right order.

Scarecrow: This forest is scary.

Tin Man: It says 'turn back all hope is lost'.

Scarecrow: What does that sign say Tinman?

Nor did the inept ingenues feel the need to be constrained by the conventions of sound effects.

Dorothy: Who's at that knocking at the door? (deafening silence, followed, eventually, by a loud knocking on the door)

The complete idiocy of the cast was astounding. And I am not talking about the child actors here. In the scene where Dorothy helped the scarecrow down from his post, the straw-filled bozo was supposed to fall, jelly-legged to the ground. Only he forgot to do so. So why then did Dorothy still utter the line.

'Oh here Scarecrow, do let me help you up.'

The scarecrow, who was at that point as erect as a fanny rat in the Playboy mansion, quickly realised his faux pas. He tried to cover up his mistake by violently flinging himself to the ground. But by then, Dorothy had already moved on to her next line.

'There you go then, back on your feet, that's better isn't it?'

That poor scarecrow, up and down like a bride's nightie.

Of course, accents were always going to be an issue. In the end most of the cast adopted a sort of Kansas Mackem - several of them couldn't help adding the word 'like' to the end of their sentences.

Cowardly Lion: Why, I'm king of the jungle, like.

(note to Southerners, it might be helpful to imagine Cheryl Cole saying that line)

But, the highlight of the show, for me was Cravat's own Gielgud-esque performance. The egomaniac had cast himself in the role of the Wizard. Given that he was Wizard of the Emerald city this obviously required a very chichi costume. Can you imagine Graham Norton celebrating St Patricks Day? Well, that is the razzle dazzle look one expects of the Wizard - more green sequins than you can shake a shitty broomstick at. Cravat though, went for a more understated look: khaki chinos and a faded green polo-shirt. Indeed, this is what he wears every day at the SOHK. So, at first, when he ambled on stage, I assumed he was only there to move some scenery.

Our down-at-heel wizard was also sporting reading glasses, they were perched jauntily on top of his head. The reason for this soon became apparent. The oaf did not know his lines either!!! He had, though, cunningly sellotaped copies of HIS lines around the set. He may have got away with this theatrical skullduggery had not kept lowering his glasses to read the surreptitious prompts.

Oh dear. The Blizzard of Oz. It made Acorn Antiques look like the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Rochester cynically summed up the whole tawdry ethos of 'Community Theatre' in one of his poems. You can read it here.


  1. Oh, how I have laughed at this entry, Miss Underscore! It has cheered me and warmed my cockles after a day at shitty central! x

  2. Oh, Madam Noir, fret not about your shitty day down the salt mines - remember, somewhere over the rainbow, way up high, there's a land that you've dreamed of once in a lullaby.