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Ninnoli2In case you wonder, last Saturday wasn’t the unqualified disaster I feared. I won’t say it went well – that would be too much – but it didn’t go all that horribly, either.

Yes, well – when I arrived at the theatre about half past three with a bag of Saint Lucia candy, it was to find that, what with the band’s instruments and loudspeakers, we’d have to play in a sort of corridor, against a background of the ugliest sky blue, with barely room enough for our very scant scenery… All of which sent the director in a passion, and then in a fit of the sulks, and she wouldn’t be talked, reasoned or bullied out of it. And this made the electricians very jittery, and there was a row, and the leading man hadn’t got over his doldrums yet, and we lost so much time bickering that in our allotted stage time we only managed to fix the lights for one of the plays. The other I had to talk through with the head electrician, and pray to the Spirit of the Bard. All the while, the director sulked, and our current stage manager devoured all the candy, and the ingénue – who had recovered just enough of her voice – being a young and biddable thing, was very upset by the general atmosphere, and fit to go into hysterics…

Yes, well.

By ten to nine, when I emerged from backstage and took my place at the lighting board, I was contemplating to give up playwriting in favour of some quieter  career – such as, say, war correspondent…

The electrician patted my shoulder. “Look at it this way,” he said. “In an hour or so, it will be all over.”

True: as we were to open the damn thing, it actually would take a good deal less than an hour for our (my) reputation to go downhill. And this is how cheerfully I set to work when the curtain opened.

Then… What shall I say? Then things sort of patched themselves up, in the way they often do when it comes to theatre. I Ninnoli di Vetro, that is The Glass Baubles is a ten-minute little thing of mime and narrating voices. There was some little panic onstage, but thankfully if was of the quiet, limb-freezing sort – so in the end nothing irretrievable happened. The narrators did a great job, the unrehearsed lights somehow worked, and the thing looked well enough, if a trifle less dynamic than it should have.

Applause. Then it was the turn of the boys’ choir, and then us again. Nin2

Christmas Joy was harder. It’s more complex, it has more people onstage,  more scenery to dance around, and in a moment of unconscionable optimism, I wrote into it a montage-like sequence that proved the tiniest bit harrowing, time- and lighting-wise… And the ingénue panicked, and thank heaven for the quick wits of the leading lady, who covered up so well that it all seemed done on purpose, and the ingénue is no fool, either: it was her first important role, and she went blank, and quickly recovered, and sailed happily through the rest with flying colours…

And, at one point, I noticed something: the little singers, after their performance, had been sent to sit in the first two rows. Forty children between five and fourteen. And, you know, children don’t get bored silently… Well, the first time I stopped to take a breath, I noticed that our choristers sat open-mouthed, round-eyed, barely breathing to see what would happen to Joy and Emma and their Christmas tree…

That was when I knew that, in spite of the ugly stage, of the panic, of the tantrums, of the scant rehearsals, of the rows, of the rickety whole, we weren’t heading to disaster.  Then I relaxed, and nearly gave a stroke to the electrician, by changing the lights of the ending on a whim…

And, once more, applause.

So… was it perfect? Far from it. Was it irksome? In the extreme. Will it kill the company’s reputation? Or mine? I don’t think so. Was it good? Well… In absolute terms, perhaps, not terribly. When gauged against how very ugly it could have been, though… it was good – more than enough.

I was wrong, see? We weren’t as badly doooooomed as I thought, and I believe that most hitches will be smoothed as we do it again – but, ye gods, this time… this time it was a close thing.