I confess: I hate musicals and I’ve never been to a pantomime in my life. I’ve only ever been to The Book of Mormon because I won a ticket through a work competition (and, despite my best efforts, quite liked it!). Drag me over to ‘Mathilda’ or ‘Mama Mia’ and you will get to see my dark side. And yet, last Saturday I went to the Christmas panto performed by the local expat community at the theatre in Salies de Bearn and loved every minute of it.
As it turned out, the producer, a feisty lady with born stage directing skills, is a friend of the previous owners of our house and a massive fan of our chickens’ fresh eggs. She emailed me to introduce herself and to invite me to the panto rehearsals taking place in the next village from us. Why not, I told myself and went first to do a recce. We parked outside what seemed to be a community hall and resolved to come back later that evening when we indeed established it was the right place, by confirming with a local.
‘Ask the mayor for the keys if you need to use the hall,’ he said.
‘Oh no, I just wanted to make sure it is the community centre,’ I said, before a puppy made of fluff came running towards me.
‘Neal!’ I said recognising the puppy and, after that, its owner, having met him at the local auberge that Sunday. I remembered the puppy’s name, as it is the year of naming dogs with names that begin with the letter N, having narrowly missed being called Napoleon (which I secretly preferred). I suspect next year every dog in France will be called Ollie, Ozzie or Otto.
Not knowing anyone, I was really nervous as I entered the community hall later that evening. I tried to make myself invisible by siting down, but just as my plan seemed to work, the producer announced my presence and the fact that we had bought the property from a well-known couple in the expat community. I was immediately surrounded by approving smiles, having already heard from multiple sources that our home had hosted many parties in its days.
I didn’t expect to like the panto. But I did. And you know why? Because it was daft, and that’s the point, and the people were having a great time being in it.
I convinced Alistair to come with and, together with his visiting parents and brother, we went to see Cinderella last Saturday. Not only it was a great and funny performance, but we bumped into everyone we had met thus far (and I am happy to say there were quite a few, including our neighbours, people we met through our neighbours, our estate agents, people we met during our house hunt and people I’ve met at the conversation classes taking place at the organic shop every Thursday). We were surrounded by smiles and laughter and we realised it took very little for us to feel right at home in the community, be it French or expat. I’m also realising it may take very little for me to be on that stage next year…
Morale of the story: never say never. Everything is possible in France!