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Nothing like a dame

Staging a Pantomime, By Gill Davies, A C Black Pounds 11.99. 07136 4120 7

I don't know who that is talking in the wings but you are behaving thoroughly selfishly." Familiar sentiments to anyone who has put on an amateur pantomime. In fact, in the gaps between performances I once offered to kick someone's expletive-deleted head in for that very crime.

Yet if tension runs high backstage at the panto, there is enormous fun to be had stalking around small stages in draughty halls egging the audience on to greater and greater feats of participation or lovingly ramming custard pies into the faces of your fellow cast-members.

Gill Davies' handy little book hits just the right note with its rueful lists of things not to forget, tips for acting and staging techniques (you really can't beat the dried peas in a tin for hailstones) and authentic photos from her own production. If you want to embark on a panto, you could not make a better beginning than its chapter on scriptwriting, which both gives the budding dramaturge hints on how to break down scenes into dialogue and incident and humorously guides the director-to-be through the advantages and disadavantages of each kind of plot.

Staging a Pantomime is also a firm guide on some of the incidentals which beset producers who are also human beings living in such small communities as build up around schools. Tips on how to cope with intrusive children at rehearsals, your leading lady who is having an affair with the stage manager, co-ordinating posters, programme and tickets (instead of giving in to different people who offer to do them all differently) and, I would thoroughly agree from my own experience, where people are going to undress and how they feel about it, are all of the very stuff of am dram - we are talking people here, not theatre professionals. But, of course, you will want to put on as good a show as possible. Ms Davies' lists of things to remember for all the backstage and front of house staff, her suggestions on scenery and props, not to mention special effects are all good stuff. Definitely a good buy, but not a book to read on the dress rehearsal night. Otherwise you'll be thinking: "O no, I didn't! O yes, I did!"

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