At this time of year I always suffer from panto withdrawal symptoms. For many years I designed the sets and costumes for a London pantomime and about now I find myself longingly eyeing fabric shop windows for sparkly fabrics to match my sparkly drawings.
Contrary to popular belief, I’ve never played a dame, but I have certainly dressed a few. I avoided the tacky fluorescent route and aimed for a classier look. Consequently, every November would find me scouring Soho’s fabulous fabric emporia.
The materials on offer were destined for mega-budget West End shows. Some were so thickly encrusted with rhinestones they could practically stand up unaided. And the prices were phenomenal. But eagle-eyed Ralphy could always spot an oddly shaped metre of gorgeousness lurking in the remnants box that would render your average principal boy’s tabard into a glittering masterpiece.
The seamstresses cursed me as they tried to fit the dress patterns onto the assorted snippets that I proudly tipped out onto the cutting table!
The dame’s outfits really taxed their ingenuity. It’s all very well Mr Designer choosing a horticultural theme for the finale, but how exactly do you fit a garden gate onto the front of a frock, or affix a watering can to a towering bouffant wig?
Some of my creations overstepped the mark, resulting in near disaster. One feathered outfit moulted so much it almost jammed the mechanism of the revolving stage. And an unfeasibly bejewelled bodice chafed poor Cinders in places that can’t be mentioned in a family newspaper.
My costumes were a triumph, but my scenery was questionable. Only after the doors from Sleeping Beauty’s boudoir didn’t match up with those of the witch’s lair on said revolving stage did we realise I was working in inches and the technicians had gone metric! As for the magic dragon that was meant to transport the cast to a desert island, I put the head at the wrong end, so it had to unceremoniously reverse at the dress rehearsal.
I solved this by attaching a second head at the other end, thus producing a sort of Pushme-Pullyou. I don’t think the director had seen Dr Doolittle, which is probably why I wasn’t invited back the next year!