Father's day

3rd February 2006 at 00:00
Michael Cook finds the key to beating nerves is preparation, preparation, preparation

Every year at Christmas, my parents buy us pantomime tickets. Before our very first panto, we worried if the children would enjoy it, but they were not fazed by the bright lights, loud music or cross-dressing, although I do still have a small scar on my upper arm where Poppy dug her fingernails in abject terror at the sight of one particularly evil villain (Boo! Hiss!).

Anyway, as sensible middle-class parents, we know it is our duty to share the joy of live performance with our children, even if they say they hate it and wet the bed for weeks afterwards.

Theatre is intrinsically educational. For example, this year's production of Jack and the Beanstalk taught us that it is morally courageous to steal from your neighbour, and then to murder him if he tries to prevent your act of theft. Just as long as he is a giant.

The only disappointment - aside from the extortionate cost of four tubs of choc chip and a bottle of sparkling mineral water - was towards the end of the show. Year after year, Alfie has put his name down on the list to go up on stage, chat to the Dame before the communal singing and bring back the bag of goodies that is handed out to all the lucky children. And year after year he has not been chosen, until this year - the very last time he would be young enough to take part. We spent the whole of the interval reminding Alfie of what would happen. That he should speak up. That he should listen to what he was asked. That he should try to remember his favourite part of the pantomime, and the name of his favourite character. But we forgot to rehearse one answer. So now, our enduring memory of the show will be of our small boy, blinded by the spotlights, stammering and sweating in front of 800 people, and unable to answer the question: "And where do you live, Alfie?" That image of him stays in my mind on my first morning helping in the new school. Because here he is, the new boy in class, outwardly confident and bright and keen, but I worry that inside he is feeling like that tiny figure who peered up at us from the stage.

And today, funnily enough, Alfie's class has a theatre workshop with actors from the same production of Jack and the Beanstalk. Yet I needn't have worried. Alfie interacts well with the class. He works with a new friend.

He even volunteers to take a role in the recreation of the giant's garden.

And it seems he hasn't brought his stage fright with him into the classroom. Yes, I am biased, but I think he puts in a tremendous performance.

Admittedly, the part he volunteered for was that of the giant's garden fence. He didn't have to speak. But he didn't wobble or bend or fall down in the wind. Surely that is progress.

Michael Cook is a freelance writer and parent-helper at Jesse Gray primary school, West Bridgford, Nottingham, which his children Alfie and Poppy attend

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