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Thompson’s Lost Plimsole

Part 23

Friday evening and first house at the Hallifield Empire. This building was magnificent, it put the rest of the street to shame. A confection of gilt embellished plaster-work and etched glass mirrors. Underfoot was a thick pile red carpet with the letters HE in gold woven into its design. An ornate sweeping, mahogany hand-railed staircase led to the main circle and private boxes, whilst the auditorium was accessed by passageways either side of the main staircase. The cheaper seats in the upper circle were accessed via a small unassuming door at the side of the building with its own box office and a lengthy set of un-carpeted stone steps. The walls around the foyer were adorned with framed photographs of popular performers and playbills of past productions. The two pairs of doors leading from the street into the theater were at least eight feet in height, and in order to reflect the lighting from the foyer, each pane of glass in the doors had been cut like the finest crystal. The long, twisted brass handles and kick plates had been polished to a mirror finish and the doors were held open by two, white gloved and liveried commissionaires. The posters either side of the main doors advertised the current week’s billing, and at the top of the bill was the ever popular comedian, Billy Nutmeg.

Billy had a small number of routines that never changed, and why should they, it was what his audience expected so he had no need to update his act. Very popular with the public but not as popular with the other acts. Backstage he was often referred to as Bully Nutmeg. Not to his face obviously, as he could fly off the handle at a moment’s notice if things weren’t going his way. He’d been known to punch or kick stagehands for not placing his props in the correct order and only this week, he’d struck a young chap on the back of the head for supposedly putting him off his timing by coughing in the wings. The fellow had grabbed Billy by the throat and lifted him off his feet and threatened to knock the teeth out of his unfunny mouth if he ever touched him again. It was only seven years since the end of the war and most of these men working backstage had spent years in and out of the trenches. After the horrors that he had endured, this young bloke wasn’t going to put up with being knocked around by an overweight clown with a massive ego.  Of course, Billy had him sacked the next day.

This evening, Billy was standing in the wings waiting for the performers on stage to finish their routine. He had the habit of parading round in his silk dressing gown with very little on underneath, and sometimes, nothing at all. If there were any attractive chorus girls in the company, then he would stand in the wings, just like this evening, and would try to lean nonchalantly on the proscenium arch, just out of sight of the audience. By leaning like this, his dressing gown would flap to one side, partially displaying his wares. Billy was in his fifties but claimed to be much younger. After a heavy drinking session, he would often boast to having slept with more women than Casanova and at this present moment, he had his eyes on the nineteen year old twins Lily and Peggy Norman. The twins were starting to make a name for themselves as double-jointed acrobatic dancers and the lascivious Billy Nutmeg was imagining himself as the third performer in their act, but off-stage and in his dressing room. There were several more acts to go on, plus an interval, before it was Billy’s turn to go into his tried and tested routines. Closing the first half would be Shadwell Crump and his performing cats. Shadwell kept his feline performers just this side of well fed. It was the small treats handed out to them during their performance that kept them attentive and responsive to Shadwell’s commands. There were six cats of varying shades and hues dozing in a cage on an ornately decorated and wheeled table in the wings, passively awaiting their turn in the limelight.

The twins took their bows and then Billy stood to one side to allow them to pass, leaving just enough room so that they would have to squeeze by him. Peggy had put up with this nonsense for long enough, but trying not to make it too obvious, feigned a stumble and gave Billy a push backwards. “Ooh, sorry Mr Nutmeg”, she said, suppressing a grin, “I didn’t see you standing there”. This push resulted in Billy losing his balance and causing him spin round and to grab on to the cat cage to steady himself. The recumbent moggies were startled from their slumbers and saw, due to Billy’s dressing gown now being fully opened, what they perceived to be a pre-show snack dangling before them. At least two sets of claws found their way through the open mesh of the cage and latched on to Billy’s scrotal sack. Another set of claws dug deeply into the skin of Billy’s old chap. Billy let out a scream that could be heard in the cheap seats and also two floors above in the dressing rooms. Within moments, the backstage area was crowded with onlookers. Shadwell Crump had by now grabbed hold of the cage and was trying to pull the cage away from Billy, who was hanging on to it for dear life. The cats were not going to relinquish their prize that easily and refused all attempts to retract their claws.

The scene was chaotic, suggestions were coming thick and fast, the stagehands were convulsed with laughter and were passing saws, knives, and chisels to the stage manager whilst Billy continued to scream. He threatened to have all of them fired which just made them laugh even more. The audience were by now, getting restless, so the House Manager, Barrington Lodge, strode onto the stage and asked if there was a doctor in the house, strangely, on this occasion, there wasn’t. There were however, three chiropodists, a water diviner, an encyclopedia salesman and a retired sea captain. Mr Lodge was sure that they were all taking the Mickie out of him. He called for their attention, “Please, ladies and gentlemen, this is a serious business”. Someone shouted from the upper circle. “Oy, lofty, tell us a joke”. Barrington looked up towards the gods, “This isn’t the time for jokes, plus I don’t know any”. The disembodied voice came back at him. “Well get someone on who does”. Barrington retreated from the stage and pushed Lester Square, ‘a song and a smile’, on from the wings and told him to calm the audience down. Unprepared, Lester burbled something about there being a problem backstage and then made a few lame jokes about the local football team, Hallifield United, which gave the gentlemen in the orchestra pit time to find Lester’s sheet music. This was not only a painful situation for Billy but also an embarrassing one. He couldn’t let go of the cage in order to cover his nakedness, and his toupee had also come unstuck and was sliding forward over his eyes. Billy pleaded with Shadwell to put the cage down, but Shadwell was having none of it, He knew exactly what Billy was like, he’d worked with him long enough to know how cruel and vindictive Billy could be.

The only way that anyone was going to remove the cat’s claws would be by cupping Billy’s potatoes in one hand and then gently easing the claws away from the skin.  This was tried but simply resulted in the rescuer being savagely clawed. Billy was sweating profusely, and his toupee had fallen onto the cage and had been dragged inside. “For god’s sake give them something else to eat”, pleaded Billy. Shadwell refused. “If I feed them now, then they won’t perform later on stage”.  Billy snapped back, “If you don’t feed them now, I’ll make sure you never work on this circuit again and I’ll have those vicious little bastards put to sleep”. This comment infuriated Shadwell. “Oh, you will, will you” he snarled. At that, he started to drag Billy and the cage onto the open stage. Startled at what he thought Shadwell had in mind, Billy threatened him, “You wouldn’t dare”. Lester Square stopped singing mid-song, the orchestra stopped playing and a couple of the ladies in the stalls fainted when they saw the semi-naked, partially bald figure of Billy Nutmeg crossing the stage. There was an absolute uproar from the audience members up in the gods. They were howling with laughter and meowing, so much so, that the rest of the audience joined in. Just for good measure, several jazz enthusiasts in the orchestra struck up with the popular Dixieland song ‘Tiger Rag’. Once the pair had reached the other side of the stage the audience were clapping and cheering so enthusiastically that Shadwell simply turned around and dragged Billy back across the stage. At this point, the stage manager had the sense to bring the curtain down. As neither man would relinquish hold of the cage, then it seemed highly unlikely that either act would be appearing again this evening.  

To be continued…


Published by crispinunderfelt

All round good egg. Humanist and red wine drinker.

7 thoughts on “Thompson’s Lost Plimsole

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