I never did finish the series about my career in theatre did I? (No, NOT my career in theatrics - that's far from over).
My first ever performance was in a school Annual Day production of The Pied Piper. The play itself went something like this (you all know the story):
Scene 1: Townspeople (children dressed up in 'grown up' clothes) enter stage right. Mill about pretending to have conversations with each other. Rats (children dressed up in oversize brown overalls with black whiskers painted on them) enter stage left. Charge at townspeople. Townspeople run away in fright.
Scene 2: Scene opens to find Mayor and his cronies sitting on a table stage centre. Pied Piper enters stage left and is begged to help with the rat problem. Pied Piper agrees and goes off to fight cri...errr..rodents. Mayor sits at table and thinks about what he wants for dinner. (okay, okay, I made that last bit up - but I was trying to add a touch of realism)
Scene 3: Flute music plays. Enter Pied Piper stage right, holding pipe to lips and skipping. Enter rats from various corners of the stage, and begin skipping behind Piper. Skipping continues until end of track.
Scene 4: As in Scene 2. Pied Piper enters and demands to be paid. Mayor scoffs at him. Pied Piper exits in anger and forgets to look back.
Scene 5: As in Scene 3. Different flute music. Pied Piper enters, pipes, skips. Children (children) enter and begin skipping after him. After Piper and children exit stage right, Townspeople come on and mime crying.
I was the Mayor. It was a demanding role. I had to wear a bow-tie. I had to wear about 4 kgs of make-up. In Scene 2 I had to look all haggard and humbly implore the Piper to take on the rats, quiet desperation bleeding from my voice. In Scene 4 I had to do my officious 'have your people call my people' act and say "No, we shall not pay you your money. Now Go!" and then join with my yes-men (I had yes-men - everyone in class had to have a role, you see) in an evil laugh.
It's a heavy responsibility being Mayor. Especially when you're 7. It's not just the tangled affairs of the State, it's also that you're trying to kick the guy sitting next to you under the table without having any of the 2,000 people watching you (or, more importantly, your teacher) notice. Or the knowledge that half your citizenry is wearing their elder sibling's clothes. Uneasy lies the head that wears the silly top hat.
The play was a success. Oh, there was the usual healthy name-calling between us and the other acts, and some of the more fastidious members of the cast complained about the oversize rats running amok in the green room, but on the whole a good time was had by all. And audience reaction, of course, was spectacular. None of this business of people getting up when the thing was over, putting on their coats and slinking off to try and remember where they'd parked their cars. When was the last time you went to a Broadway performance where after the show the audience came backstage, picked up the performers in their arms, hugged them, took pictures of them in their costumes and promised them double, even triple scoops of icecream on their way home? See what I mean?
Needless to say, my own performance was exceptionally well received. The critics (consisting of my parents and two pairs of random aunty and uncles) were unanimous in their praise. Particular mention was made of the realistic way in which I angrily dismissed the Piper when he insisted on payment - somebody said they could almost hear my teeth chattering in outrage. I didn't bother to point out to them that my teeth were chattering because it was November, were were on an outdoor stage, I was in my shirtsleeves and there was a wind blowing.
Thinking back on it now, the whole story seems wildly improbable. I mean the parts where the rats scamper out and follow the piper is fine. You have only to look at Britney Spears fans to know that even subhuman intelligences can be attracted to some sorts of sounds. But who in their right minds would think that being stuck with the task of permanently babysitting a whole town's worth of kids could be seen as a victory?! Obviously whoever wrote this tale had never met a real child in his or her life.
There's this whole business of having the children follow the Piper, for starters. Children don't just meekly follow you. Think about the number of bags full of toys you would have to carry with you. Think about the first aid. Try to picture the Piper and his entourage trying to cross a street. Some kid at the back wanders off or stands still in the middle of the road. The Piper goes back to get him. When he turns around having collected this kid, he realises that the other kids have followed him into the street because he was still playing his damn pipe. So now he has to get them turned around again (not an easy thing to do if all you can do is play your pipe and lead). This could take hours.
And think about the number of toilet breaks on the way. Think about the time it would take to order a meal at the wayside inn. Think about hundreds of shrill little voices asking you "Are we there yet?"
I've always wondered if there was a Mrs. Piper. You can imagine the scene. Pied Piper walks into his house. Stands about in the corridor looking sheepish. Mrs. Piper asks him how the job went. He says, "Oh fine! fine! Well, almost. The thing is, honey, they wouldn't pay me any actual money, but don't worry, I've managed to get along all their children instead. Don't look at me like that. They won't be any bother. They'll just sleep on every available surface and swiftly eat us out of hearth and home."
Ah, you say, but the whole point is that he was trying to teach the townspeople a lesson, get back at them for their meanness, as it were. Oh he was, was he? Some lesson. Here's a townload of people all of whom have magically got someone else to take care of their kids, and now have legitimate reason to procreate on overdrive. What do you want to bet that there were some serious orgies in Hamelin that month?
Frankly, the whole thing strikes me as extremely unlikely. Let's face it, the Piper was either a) a kind of medieval Michael Jackson b) a slave trader c) a cannibal or d) short-sighted and couldn't tell the difference between rats and children.
On a separate note, isn't it a good thing that we don't know what tune the Piper was actually playing? Some idiot would almost certainly have made it into a ringtone, and before you know it you'd have people wandering about city with their cellphones ringing, being followed by other people's children. And you thought Himesh What's-his-name was a menace.