Minibeast coup follows memory lapse

7th July 2006 at 01:00
September: staff vote unanimously to have a less ambitious school production this year. The consensus is that you can have too much of a good thing, especially when it consists of turning pipe cleaners into alien tentacles at 4am and stretching latex gloves over sawn-up cardboard tubes to make last-minute drums, accompanied by a colourful range of phrases, none drawn from the national curriculum.

April: The first sun of the year induces collective amnesia. Nobody can remember anything about the last school production except what fun it all was. The vote is rescinded. The school production is go, go, go.

We've done pirates, jungle animals and aliens, so it's time to turn to something closer to home. "Minibeasts!" somebody says, enthusiastically. I volunteer to co-ordinate the script and sit down one evening with an empty screen and a full bottle of wine. After two hours, the screen is still empty and so is the bottle of wine. While Roald Dahl was able to summon invertebrates with characters so wonderfully drawn that they leapt off the page, I do not share this ability. By midnight, I have come up with three pages with the narrative drive of a Sinclair C5 and a central character - Mr Centipede - so flat I might as well have cast him as a pancake.

The subsidiary characters are supposed to be sparky, funny - and educational. Mr and Mrs Bee are required to share their knowledge of pollination in a way that is memorable but not coarse, while Mrs Ladybird is to deliver a soliloquy rivalling that of Hamlet, on the eating habits of her greenfly-devouring offspring. I delete everything I've written and start again.

The characters, while not exactly springing to life, are at least propping themselves up, and the narrative drive is no longer the dramatic equivalent of wading through partially set jelly. Back at school, Mr Centipede's role comes under intense scrutiny. He may have potential for numerous multiple foot puns but is he a force for good? This prompts a long staffroom discussion on invertebrate ethics. "I mean, what do centipedes actually do?" somebody asks. There's a move to give Miss Ladybird a bigger role and to replace Mr Centipede with a Mr Rose. I explain that multiple feet jokes don't translate easily to a petal format and offer to make Mr Centipede morally neutral.

MayJuneJuly: The script is finished - cast with equal speaking parts for every child to avoid parental angst; songs with at least some relevance are shoehorned in at five-minute intervals. The cast is decimated by colds, the children learn their words - but not necessarily in the right order - and staff spend the small hours making bee antennae out ofpipe cleaners and stretching latex over carpet inner tubes to make last-minute drums.

Everyone makes a mental note that, come September, we will do something different.

September: Go back to the beginning and repeat.

Charlotte Phillips teaches in the pre-prep department at Newland House school, Twickenham, Middlesex

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