I’ll be all right on the night, says Norfolk panto super-trouper

A pantomime's keyboard wizard has told of the magic he felt when he was able to play to packed houses, just weeks after undergoing triple bypass surgery.

As he lay in bed at Papworth Hospital, Ian Futers never dreamt for a moment that he would be able to take his place in the orchestra pit at Dereham Memorial Hall for the town's annual post-Christmas production.

But, in true panto style, good triumphed over bad and the super-trouper musical director played the keyboards for Dereham Operatic Society's entire six-day run of Mother Goose.

Retired schoolmaster Ian, who is in his 60s and lives at Foulden, said he had begun to feel unwell after the society's previous pantomime, Robin Hood and the Babes in the Wood, had ended almost a year ago.

'Once you end one show, you start thinking about the next one,' he said. 'But I had been a bit breathless, so I went to the doctor's and had some tests.'

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He and his wife Amy – already lined up to be the choreographer for Mother Goose and one of the dancers – carried on as normal, sorting out suitable music for the production.

But, in due course, medics broke the bad news: that Ian would have to undergo a major heart operation. And eventually the call came for him to turn up at the Cambridgeshire hospital in November, not long after the start of rehearsals and only six weeks or so from the start of the panto's run.

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Ian had prepared a CD for the show's performers to rehearse to in his absence.

Meantime, the operation went just fine. But the prospect of his getting better in time for the show seemed as dim and distant as ever.

'I honestly thought I wouldn't be able to do it,' he said. 'The first few days after the operation, what with the anaesthetics and everything, I was basically out of it!

'But I really wanted to be there because we were putting it on in the Memorial Hall after its refurbishment, which is amazing. I've done about eight pantos for the society and I really didn't want to miss it.'

And he didn't – oh no, he didn't. Ian, the former headmaster of Swaffham Infant and Nursery School, was there for the opening night and the rest of the performances, including two on some days. He said he felt fine, except for a little discomfort around the wound when he stretched to adjust his musical scores.

'After I realised I'd be OK following the dress rehearsal, I thought to myself that I'd only be sitting around at home doing nothing so I might as well be at the hall,' said Ian.

Dereham Operatic Society was thrilled with the turnout at this year's show, with the cast playing to a succession of packed houses up to the final curtain on New Year's Day.

Vice-chairman Peter Havis – who stepped in at short notice to play The King of Gooseland and ended up learning his lines on Christmas Day – praised Ian for his fortitude and added that everyone was delighted with the excellence of the new-look Memorial Hall.

'We are really pleased,' he said. 'I think we like to credit ourselves that people came to see us – but I think they wanted to see the hall too!'

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