(above): Reginald Pringle of the Blackhaven Players being ejected from the RST while attempting to cadge another "bursary" from a Knight of the Theatre.
The Blackhaven Players
The Blackhaven Players were established back in the 1920s, and many generations of thespians have trodden the boards over the years, performing indifferently in such masterpieces as The Tempest – in which Prospero turned up roaring drunk and chased all the other actors round the stage while declaiming his lines – and Death of a Streetcar named Godot (by local playwright Enid Blunderbuss), which was somewhat spoiled by a very upset actress who had had a break-up with her boyfriend just before the curtain went up. Her furiously swearing ad-libs caused three grandmothers in the audience to faint.
But it is surely for the annual Panto that the Players are best-known. Over the years they have delivered Puss-in-Clogs (a Dutch adaptation of the Perrault classic) – this was mostly inaudible due to the noise caused by the footwear in question – Cinderella and the Hideous Sisters (they really were – no make-up required) – and of course Aladdin and his Magic Lamp (the ensuing blaze causing severe damage to the village Hall).
Nevertheless, the cast had evolved a strong sense of pride in their achievements, so when it was announced in 1997 that the nearby village of Finfoggelheim was to be staging its own panto (a very lavish and surprisingly well-funded version of Peter Pan) on the same nights as the Blackhaven Players had already engaged for their rendering of Jack and the Beanstalk – there was consternation and outrage. There had long existed a rivalry between these two villages: the one, a normal, happy, somewhat conservative and couthy place, content with its own traditions and values – the other, Blackhaven.
Blackhaven’s star actor at the time, “Wee” Willy McMickle, was a flamboyant character despite his diminutive size, and packed a lot of energy and verve into his five feet no inches. He was to play the Dame, and his big scene involved a comic song parodying some local figures, especially the hypochondriacal Doctor Leckie (qv) and Councillor George McMuffin, a self-important fool with an unfortunate stammer (m-my n-name is M-, Mc-, M-, Mc-, Mc M-, McMuf-, Mc, – call me George..) Willy’s song really was very funny, and he was not at all pleased at the thought of being upstaged by a rival spectacular, just down the road. Very few tickets had been sold for the first showing of Beanstalk, and the prospect loomed of a theatrical disaster for Blackhaven.
Something Had To Be Done.
So on the opening night of Pan, Willy arranged (at the cost of a few pounds spent on confectionery) for several of Blackhaven’s notoriously inventive Primary 6 pupils to attend the Finfoggleheim play.
Local newspaper coverage the next day related that the cast of Peter Pan had been attacked with water bombs, stink bombs, and flour bombs, while the seats of the audience had been smeared with treacle and superglue. Moreover the “flying harness” which was to have been the impressive special effect allowing Peter to soar over the stage, had somehow been adulterated with a highly elastic bungee rope, so that at the crucial moment the unfortunate actor (Annie Badger) had been catapulted into the orchestra, causing multiple casualties among the woodwind, and terminally puncturing the timpani. The rest of the run was immediately cancelled, while most of the cast and several of the audience were to receive counselling.
The following evening, and for the remainder of the week, Jack and The Beanstalk had a full house, and Willy McMickle’s song was a triumph – so much so, that Councillor McMuffin spent several years thereafter vainly pursuing a suit of slander. However he was unable to provide any character witnesses and his suit failed, after which I believe he joined a travelling fairground in the capacity of a dodgem operator.
The Blackhaven Allstars
The Blackhaven Allstars football team has in its time broken many records, mostly for all the wrong reasons. There was for instance that occasion when one of the spectators (Sandy “TwentyPence” Macleod) ventured to supply his own “beat-box” soundtrack to the second half of a match against the Raspberrydell Botanicals (a team who notoriously favoured performance enhancements of the pharmacological kind). The entire Raspberrydell forward line, already subject to a narcotic haze of their own manufacture, became so mesmerised by this incessant rhythm that they jigged and jived their way right off the pitch, down the street, and into the harbour before anyone could stop them. Tommy McNasty, the Allstars halfback, a man whose musical tastes never varied from the most turgid, traditional style of accordionism, incensed both by this modernist noise and by the interruption to his game, gave “Twenty Pence” the verdict of his right boot, skilfully and fiercely aimed below the belt. His victim left the ground bent double, and participated in no further football matches that season. He is believed to have taken up carpet bowls instead. Perhaps his now chronically stooped posture helped with that.
At least Tommy had stopped the rot in the scoreline as far as Blackhaven were concerned, as the remaining Raspberrydell players could only manage to score 2 more goals in the minutes that remained. It finished 18-0 to the visitors, who also managed to win the round-the-harbour swimming race that was happening at the same time.