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It was too darn hot and they kept warning us oldies to be careful – optimistic they’re not. As luck would have it, it was the First Night of Year 6’s Bugsy Malone and I couldn’t risk pegging out too early in the proceedings as granddaughter 3 was starring as Roxy (The Weasel) Robinson in Act 1, Scene 1, page 1 and Roxy was dead by page 2. So I armed myself with a hand-held battery fan, a paper fan, a bottle of water and marinated my feet and sandals in Odor-Eaters All-Day Antiperspirant Deodorant for good measure. To be honest, granddaughter 3 had been a bit miffed about being killed off so soon as she’d auditioned for a part with slightly more longevity. Her mum told her that opening the show was immensely important as, of course, it is. But the casting director rapidly spotted her obvious stage presence and given her not one, not four, but six more parts – ok, that’s a lot of characters to learn but also seven costume changes and all in 31 degrees in the shade – I felt a bit worried.
The school hall was packed and, thanks be, they left all the doors and windows open. There were three stages: one to each side and one up front which had a giant screen with a black and white photo of a dingy 1920s street projected on it. The lights dimmed and on ran granddaughter 3 (costume 1: hat; shirt and trousers with braces; moustache) chased by some bad-assed hoodlums. Gee, can she act terrified! Bang bang bang – RIP Roxy Robinson stage left, cue Funeral March: da da di da, da di da di da di da and a huge cloud of acrid smoke drifted over the audience – was it gunsmoke or Roxy’s damnéd soul wending it’s way to Hell? It mattered not – what an opener!
OMG, things got frenetic with gangsters dashing about stages left, right and centre, shooting plastic string at each other and, what with my tinnitus, the music, the dancing and the shooting, I rather lost the plot – it doesn’t take much these days. At one point granddaughter 3 (costume 2: dress; red shrug, no moustache) sashayed across the stage – and, boy, can she sashay! People shouted ‘Hi’ at her – I wasn’t too sure why, but never mind. I’d forgotten about the heat and granddaughter 3 and the whole cast were giving their all like on Britain’s Got Talent.
The photo on the screen changed to a bar – enter stage right a group of gangsters’ molls led by a sassy Tallulah and they sang a song while granddaughter 3 (costume 3: hoody; shorts; moustache) and some boxers did boxers’ moves, as they do. Is Bugsy something to do with boxing? I don’t know. But then he and Blousey (a wannabe singer) were in a restaurant like in First Dates – were they falling in love or was Blousey playing him along so he’d get her a part in Hollywood? I pondered.
Five girls, including granddaughter 3 (costume 4: dress; red shrug; no moustache) came on to the left-hand stage. Tallulah sang but they all danced – much like Little Mix but with flapper moves and a tad more demure. Then there were telephone calls from a red telephone box from one stage to another and a bit later two gangsters climbed into a cardboard car, lifted it up by its sides and trotted off – where were they going? I wondered. Then Bugsy was with his mobsters. ‘Hey Snake Eyes,’ he said. ‘Yes, boss,’ replied granddaughter 3 (costume 5: hat, black suit, moustache). Every now and again a hoodlum was peppered with plastic string and dropped to the ground – cue: da da di da, da di da di da di da and a cloud of smoke. All very atmospheric. Then, OMG, was that blood coming from Bugsy’s nose? But I’m sure he hadn’t been bopped. Into the wings he went to return a couple of minutes later with a bit of toilet paper up his left nostril – what a trooper!
I’ve kept the best till last – the bit where granddaughter 3 (costume 6: dress, gold shrug, no moustache) sang a solo. She came on with two other girls, like the Three Degrees, perhaps, but no, they didn’t break into ‘When will I see you again?’ (though it would’ve been apt as everyone was moving on to various secondary schools), but each sang a verse of something even more poignant: ‘It’s a lesson I’ve learned/And a page I should have turned/I shouldn’t cry but I do…’ sang granddaughter 3 with all her heart and it brought tears to my eyes. Gosh, had she turned the page! – so much confidence after the horrible bullying at her first primary school – she’d done herself proud. I looked around the audience to see if lovely will-i-am from The Voice had come to talent-spot – well, you never know.
All too soon, it was the Grand Finale, cue jolly, jazzy music. The whole cast flooded on to the stage and granddaughter 3 was a gangster once more (costume 7: hat, black suit, moustache). It had been a ‘Spectacular Spectacular!’ (as that gorgeous Ewan McGregor shouts in the film, Moulin Rouge). A cool breeze wafted in through the open doors of the hall and the whole company was dancing a rip-roaring Charleston, smiling, laughing and singing: ‘We could’ve been anything that we wanted to be/Yes, that decision was ours/It’s been decided that we’re weaker divided/Let friendship double up our powers!’ – now there’s an anthem for today’s world.
*Jill Garner is Granny on the frontline, grandmother of six.