Rehearsing the pantomine


By W. Pett Ridge.

December evening. Busy, lighted stage of London Theatre, preparing for the Twenty-sixth. Battalions of ladies in walking-dress are coming on at back to rhythm of stately crashing march from overcoated, bowler-hatted orchestra. Small committee of Manager, young stage Manager, Maitre de ballet at footlights. Auditorium of theatre fast asleep under bed clothes of brown holland.

Manager (roaring). Stop! stop! stop for mercy's sake! (Procession stops and giggles, music also stops.) That's not the way to walk in a historical procession. I don't want you to take a short cut. You must go all round the stage twice, down round here, and then divide. See what I mean? And you, miss (to large young lady in giant hat), who are you supposed to be?

Large Young Lady (with hauteur). Lady Jine Grey.

Manager. Very well, then, keep time with the others, Lady Jane Grey, and don't you go and lose your head before you're axed. (Chorus much diverted. Maitre de ballet dances with ecstasy.) Go right back all of you, and come on again. (To conductor) Let's have it once more.

Irish Conductor. Ye'll pardon me venturing to offer a suggestion, but it shtrikes me that pwhen——

Manager. Oh something's always striking you. Play up!

(They play up. Procession comes on again followed by mature lady grasping parasol, seated in high car. Mature lady bows.)

Manager. Let's see, who are you?

Mature Lady in Car (shrilly). The United States.

Manager. Well, where's that girl that sings the song about America? (To lady with music case who comes on.) Hurry up, my dear. No time to lose, you know. Stand just here now and sing well out, there's a good girl.

Good Girl (apologetically). I've got the slightest touch of a cough, so that I'm not really what you'd call——

Manager. I don't want to hear your cough, missie; I want to hear your song. (To conductor) Now!

Conductor. Once more, sorr, I ask permission to remark

Manager (briskly). And get ready at the back for that comic scene with the hansom cab. And be on hand for the chorus there, and (severely) not quite so much chow-row; if you please. I can't hear myself speak. Fire away, my good girl. Don't forget the American accent.

Good Girl (sings),

"I guess you've heard of Christopher, Colombus
Was his other name;
He sailed across the herrin' pond, it was
A right down artful game.
He sighted land——"

Manager. Put your hand over your eyes and peer about.

Good Girl (obeying).

He sighted land and said "Hooray!" I've
Got here and come to stay;
And he looked out for a Yankee girl!

(Speaks). But wait a bit now. Don't you go and think that Chris had a straight flush that time. No, sir!


But the Yankee girl says "Reckon I'll wait,
I dunno what's your fighting weight;
But whatever it is, I'd like to state,
That I'm gwine to marry a marquee."

Chorus (swiftly to energetic beating of conductor's baton).

But the Yankee girl says——

(They finish song.)

Manager (critically). Not so dusty, but you'll have to practice a good deal. You don't put enough go in it. This is the way you ought to do it. A lot of coyness till the last line and then give it out for all you're worth.

(He sings refrain in hoarse bass voice, and pulls end of handkerchief modestly.)

Manager (concluding).

I'd like to state
That I'm gwine to marry a marquee!

See what I mean, don't you? And now where's that comic scene with the hansom?

(Front of stage clears. Hansom drives on with comic man as horse in shafts. Horse stops and slaps shoulders with front leg for warmth.)

Second Comic Man (as driver, to Manager). Let's see, what do I say first? Oh, I know.

Of all the fares that e'er I've had, this is the fairest.

(Looks through trap door.)

Oh sweet one, my 'ome and true 'eart wilt thou sharest?

Leading Lady (descending from cab with ill humour). Heaven only knows how I shall get out of this confounded cab. night after night, let alone matinees, if there isn't a step fixed or something (speaks her lines).

Take that old boy and have a liquor up
I know what 'tis myself to want to sup.

(Goes off grumbling to herself. Comic business between horse and cabman. Horse tosses for drinks and wins. Cabman discovers that the penny is two-headed. Horse fights him; eventually places cabman in shafts and himself takes seat and drives him off. Small children at side much amused. Manager goes up to see a dance tried.)

Young Stage Manager. Now wherever is she gone to again? That girl can never be found when she's wanted, somehow. The airs these—— (Sees her in box) Come along, Miss! We're waiting for you. I thought you were lost.

Leading Lady (in box, with acrimony). Well, you thought wrong, that's all. It isn't the first time you've made a mistake, and it won't be the last if that nasty temper of yours doesn't improve and—— (disappears grumbling; reappears at side of stage still grumbling.) Lots of boys lobbed into the profession by mistake, and then take it upon themselves to order people about like so many—— (To conductor resignedly.) Now when you're quite ready perhaps you'll start the music, or must I do your work as well as my own?

Conductor. We're waiting for you, madam, and if ye'll only give the worrud——

Leading Lady. Oh start, for goodness sake. Some of you musical chaps are all jaw. (Sings with restrained manner and some asperity.)

"I'm the best of all the boys in town,
I never am by chance cast down;
I'm a favourite one with all the chaps I know;
But it's no use having fine new clothes,
Or kissing sweet girls 'neath the rose,
For what you want, my dear old chaps

(Steps back and slaps her skirt)

Is rhino.

You're safe if in your purse you've r-h-i-n-o,

Without it you're an m-u-g:
It's no use trying to cut a s-h-i-n-o
Unless you've got the £. s. d."

(Marches round to chorus whirling crook stick; returning to face conductor at last note.)

Leading Lady (moodily). The whole blessed thing will go for nothing on the night. I'm perfectly sure of that.

Conductor. Will we try it over once more?

Leading Lady (amazedly). Try it over once more! (With indignation) Good heavens, man, d' you think I'm made of cast iron? D' you think I'm going to stand here hour after hour singing my songs just to please you? Eh?

Conductor (goaded). Your singing don't please me, my dear madam. It nivir did and it nivir will. But I thought perhaps ye'd'allow me to offer (Row imminent. Manager re-appears, soothes perturbed lady, tells her what he heard a man say about her to day; administers to conductor imitation reproof).

Manager (mopping forehead). Thank goodness that's over. Now we'll see about that nursery scene with the little kids getting out of bed. (To children at side). Come along, youngsters; lay down there on those pieces of wood and then when the band plays soft music wake up and rub your eyes like this and yawn, and then take up these bolsters and have a rare old game of shying them at one another. (Crowd of fifty pig-tailed infant girls obey confusedly). That's it. Go it? Throw away!

Conductor. Will ye kindly give me haf a minute in order that I may point out—

Manager (ignoring him). Now you all come down to the footlights here, and stand in two rows (to infant with cold). Do leave off sniffing, there's a good little girl.

Infant with Cold. I cad't help it, sir. I've had a dasty cold 'agging about be for dearly a bodth.

Manager. Well (vaguely), you'll have to take something for it. We can't have little girls here who sniff. The public don't pay their money to hear you sniff.

Infant (with spirit), It's do pleasure to be, sir, odly if I try dot to do it I'b ted times worse.

Manager. Do the best you can. Now then! (to conductor), wake up there! Give them the symphony.

Conductor. I'd like before we try this little tune over just to ask—

Manager, Play up! (orchestra plays up).

Infant Chorus, (singing shrilly).

"We are such happy children, and we love a bit of play,
(Nodding to each other) Oh yes we do, oh yes we do,
We sleep quite sound at night, you know, and gambol all the day,
(To each other) Oh yes we do, oh yes we do.
But when we say we gambol we don't mean a game of cards
Such dreadful things we never——"

(They repeat song several times. Manager looks at fat gold watch).

Manager (to other members of committee). I'm going to run out for five minutes and get some supper, and you two—

Small Child. Please, muvver says may I be a wabbit or a 'are instead of a little dirl?

Manager (definitely). No, my dear, you can't. You tell your mother it's too late now to make any change. (Resumes). And whilst I go out to get something to eat—and drink—that Quaker girl's song and dance had better be tried through again, and you might do that front scene with the restaurant and get What's-her-name to try her dance—she can't dance for buttons, that girl—and—

Conductor. I'd like to offer wan word before you—

Manager (appealingly). Now don't you begin to worry me, there's a good dear chap. It takes me all my time to listen to you. Save it up for another time.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.

The author died in 1930, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.