Walking past the former Habitat shop in Bath on a Thursday or Friday evening between now and Christmas, you might be pleasantly surprised to come across an installation that represents a glimpse back stage into a typical theatre dressing room. There are lights around the mirror, pots of exotic makeup, good luck telegrams, false noses and a proliferation of feather boas and novelty wigs, plus the obligatory pair of enormous bloomers. Someone has even written ‘Break a leg’ in lipstick on the looking glass.
Passers by will be able to peep through an invisible wall and watch fascinated while a grand knight of the theatre slowly transforms himself into a traditional pantomime dame…an Ugly Sister in fact, judging by the Cinderella script to which he keeps nervously referring between taking sips of gin from a fancy china teacup.
Despite the company never having actually produced a panto, several of the more strapping actors at Natural Theatre have leapt at the challenge. The whole transformation is meant to take an hour. The first chap to do it finished after forty five minutes. I peaked too soon, he declared disconsolately, peeling off a pair of gigantic gold eyelashes and reaching for the cold cream.
It’s quite a difficult act to carry out with aplomb. We’ve spared the late night shoppers’ blushes by making sure the actors put their tights on under their trousers before stepping out into the limelight. Wouldn’t want to see battleship greys on display in New Bond Street after all! But not catching the audience’s eye for a whole hour is no mean task, especially when some naughty boys seem to find it funny to endlessly bang on the window. I thought about copying the reptile house at Bronx Zoo where an alarming sign on the rattlesnake’s aquarium says ‘Do not tap the glass. What would you do if it broke?’
What indeed? To be chased down the road by a six-foot half-dressed Ugly Sister would be enough to turn a child off pantomimes for life.
Anyway, it’s all part of the Business Improvement District’s plans to make Christmas shopping a more enjoyable experience. If you have a penchant for hairy ankles in impossibly high heeled shoes, that is.