A play wot I wrote

Up until March, I thought Zoom was an ice lolly based on the 1960s children’s science fiction series Fireball XL5. Its flavours were red and green, with a strip of plain, or white, which is what we called vanilla then. Made by Lyons it cost six old pennies, that’s 2.5p in new money. Ha, when was the last time you bought anything for that?

Anyway, Zoom has changed the way we look at the world. Thanks to this wonderful online video chatting tool (other products are available, but they’re not named after lollies) we have been able to meet friends and colleagues as well as enjoy the antics of our pets. Yes, it was all 2D and none of us had legs, but on the plus side we could meet colleagues while wearing a smart top and jogging bottoms, shorts, or in my case this winter in the freezing conservatory, a blanket wrapped around my legs.

As the lockdown and restrictions rumbled on, it became clear that Christmas was going to be very different. If parties happened, they would be for a small, select number, with no kissing under the mistletoe, unless you were already part of the same household, but where’s the fun in THAT?

With the chance of taking a seat at City Varieties for the annual Rock and Roll Pantomime less than zero and even a cheeky conga around the block frowned upon, if only for aesthetic reasons, there was only one thing for it, someone had to write a Zoom pantomime. Dammit, that someone was me.

I was looking forward to the Hyde Park Harriers Christmas Do, and thought that would be the best place for the world premiere. Actually, it was the only place, but let’s skip that. Many years ago, when I ran the church youth group, I wrote our Christmas pantomimes, which were corny and fun. I’ve also been to many pantomimes (oh yes I have) so at least I had an idea what to do – and if it all went wrong, well, the audience would assume that was planned and would laugh anyway.

The pantomime was Snow White, with just five dwarves, because of social distancing! The main challenge was making it work with Zoom as of course I ended up directing it too, I like a bit of bossing around, don’t you know.

We had a good deal of faffing with features like spotlighting, virtual backgrounds and working out who was where and which direction they were facing. To make life easier, I limited the number of actors to four so they fitted neatly on the screen. That meant we had one person, the amazing James, who played all five dwarves by swapping hats and changing voices.

Of course it wasn’t the same, and the audience boos for the baddie were all muted, but many of them got into the spirit and made their own signs. And on the upside, there was drinking and no driving and you could wear pyjama bottoms, but most importantly for us Yorkshire folk, it was free!

I had great fun writing and directing, definite light relief as 2020 comes to a chaotic end, like a snowball gathering size and momentum as it careens down the mountain.

Hopefully we’ll reconvene the players for next year, but please let it be in 3D!

The audience

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