It's not Kansas, Toto

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
Hands up. My fault. Mea culpa. Maxima, maxima, maxima culpa. I appointed her, despite Joan's warnings. We were desperate for a drama specialist.

Our last one was a wee gem, and the kids really loved her. Their work improved too, and she was sadly missed. I interviewed the flamboyant Sheila one dark October morning, and I would have to say I wasn't at my best. The fault was mine: an overdose of Chardonnay and a night of broken "sleep" on the settee.

Sheila was one of those teachers who is totally disorganised, often unprepared, hopeless with planning and forecasting, frequently vague - but absolutely brilliant with children, especially the waifs and strays. She was a flair player, spontaneous, inspired and, I must admit, intensely likeable.

Sheila had decided that we would do an unscripted drama at Christmas and every single child would be in it and on stage. It was to be The Wizard of Oz, and I agreed after much deliberation. Anyway, rehearsals went well, and I popped in frequently. I was quite impressed.

The words were the children's own, yet they soon established a stage discipline and almost a "script" of sorts.

Sheila was invariably flying round the hall, glasses on her head busily looking for her lost glasses, and calling for Munchkins, Flying Monkeys or whatever group was next. I hinted that she should watch some of the local expressions which were creeping in, such as Numpties, Bampots and Tossers who, to the best of my knowledge, were in neither the Frank L Baum book nor the MGM film.

Brian's wee brother was outstanding as stage manager, although I didn't ask too many questions about the origins of the make-up and artificial flowers.

I had my suspicions.

The school board treated this event like the Last Night of the Proms, and had arranged for pre-theatre cocktails in the staffroom. The great and the good had been invited. Posters had advertised a cast of hundreds, which was true. Sheila was being touted as the greatest thing in children's theatre, and Marjorie Dawes had decided that she would bring the entire directorate.

Father McGregor would, of course, be there, and the Sisters would be out in force. I began to panic, as the usual coughs, sneezes and flu bugs started to decimate the cast as the great day neared. Could Tommy take over as Scarecrow? Would Linda be able to do the Wicked Witch? Would anyone notice if Carrie played Aunt Em and Glenda?

And then it happened. Sheila lost her voice. She couldn't speak a word. She whispered instructions to me and I tried to do my best, but only Sheila knew what was needed. There was no script. She scribbled notes to me feverishly, as I tried to rescue the situation. The show was 24 hours away.

I didn't sleep a wink that night, thinking of all that could go wrong. And lo - it came to pass. Friday, December 2, is a date that will live long in the memory. It almost ended my career, and certainly destroyed my faith in unscripted drama.

To begin at the beginning. Dorothy was off with the chickenpox, although several of her classmates suspected she had gone off to Uncle Jim's Florida villa with her mum. We needed a new female lead - and a new dog. The Tin Man was unable to get off the toilet. I didn't know whether to suggest Imodium or WD-40. The Lion had head lice. Don't use that costume again.

Don't panic? Corporal Jones was wrong. I panicked.

Lisa became Dorothy, and she had a dog as well. Cameron was the new Tin Man and Ian was the replacement Lion. Did they know the songs? We'd soon find out. I arranged for an emergency rehearsal at 9am sharp. Lisa was a star.

She had been watching every rehearsal and was word perfect.

Cameron was allergic to the silver body paint. Ian couldn't sing to save himself. Cancel? Too late. Drop the Lion solo. Mime the rest. Make a costume for Cameron using Bacofoil. Commandeer the kitchen. Never mind the dinners.

I will admit to having a wee refreshment after the bell went at the end of the day.

Sheila sat next to me during the performance, coughing, wheezing, sneezing as well as whispering instructions, pointing and scribbling notes for me. I was the midwife producer. All went well, until the Emerald City scene.

Dorothy chased after Toto, who had earlier widdled on the Tin Man's foot.

The curtain was pulled back and the Wizard was exposed.

Scarecrow shouted at the top of his voice: "It's no fair, it's a f****** swizz, the Wizard ain't a Wiz."

Sheila sniggered. The hall erupted.

The director slid down into his chair. I'm certain the Sisters fainted. I know I did.

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