Illness hit panto cast but I proved I’m still no hasbean

PUBLISHED: 23:28 04 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:03 05 January 2020

Helen was back in panto action over the Christmas period, standing in for another cast member who was unable to perform

Helen was back in panto action over the Christmas period, standing in for another cast member who was unable to perform


Helen McDermott had a mixed Christmas but proved there’s life in the old girl by answering a panto SOS which was sort of unscripted

So there we were, just a couple of days away from the threshold between 
2019 and 2020, and I suddenly found myself thinking I would be seeing in the New Year in A&E. The trouble was I'd collided with an old mangle in our garden. It was nestling among some hydrangeas by the back door when I slipped and then tripped and fell on it while putting some food out for the delightful family of blackbirds who turn up every day.

The poor old mangle is a family heirloom of sorts that once would have been a fine specimen, but with nowhere to put it neglect and the weather have done their worst, turning it to rotted wood and rusty metal. It was only by grabbing a nearby bush that I managed to break my fall. Nevertheless, the mangle handle badly bruised a rib. It was very painful, and my dears, you should have seen the colour in the next day or so.

Falling is never much fun, less and less so these days as it takes longer to recover. But the show must go on! Jack and the Beanstalk certainly had to at Gorleston Pavilion when Fairy Beansprout was hit by the terrible bug that's been creeping up on so many people lately. Ooh, she was poorly.

Pantomime time sees quite a few cast members falling ill during the run. Doing two and sometimes even three shows a day with only the odd day off is a strenuous business and can weaken the system leaving you an easy target for any bugs going. After Fairy Beansprout wilted 
and took to her bed the leading lady, Jill, fell ill and had to drop out for a day or two. Not even Doctor Theatre could work his magic and make them well enough.

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I'll say it again: the show must go on! And it did. With just a few hours' notice I headed to Gorleston to step in for Fairy Beansprout, a part that I was actually cast for but had to give up for various reasons.

I've written here before about how I struggle these days to learn a script. Having pulled out of the show I didn't bother to learn any more of the words. But now I needed them. There was no point in pretending you're not a stand-in, so with script in hand I went on and played the role as another member of the Bean Family. I became Fairy Hasbean (a name kindly offered by my other half). It got a laugh, even if only out of sympathy. I really enjoyed the sense of freedom, having the script to hand but able to play around with the part and ad libbing at will. We got away with it and the audience seemed to love it.

I did step in once before when Cinderella's Fairy Godmother was ill. In one scene the Fairy Godmother comes on dressed as an old woman (does this sound like type-casting to you?) gathering firewood in the forest with my script nestled neatly in her basket.

Kind-hearted Cinders offers to help this old dear who she's never met before. As they go their separate ways the old woman says "Thank you, Cinderella." Cinders is a little startled. "How do you know my name?" she says. The old lady points to the basket and says "Because I've got it written down here in the script." It got one of the best laughs I've ever had.

Now Jack's over. The beanstalk, the giant and the frocks have been put back in the store. Everybody seems healthy again and we're talking about the next panto while the germs are off gathering strength ready to 
attack again in December.

If you've got any resolutions for the year I do hope you manage to keep them and that your year really sparkles. And what about my resolutions? There's only one I can think of; we must see about moving that wretched mangle.

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