The roar of the greasepaint and the smell of the crowd

Reporter Charlotte Morgan takes to the stage for the Alban Arena panto. JUST a quick swish of a sword and an Ooh Arrgh or two – that was the deal I made with the Alban Arena, which had kindly offered me the part of pirate number eight in The Little Merm

Reporter Charlotte Morgan takes to the stage for the Alban Arena panto.

JUST a quick swish of a sword and an "Ooh Arrgh" or two - that was the deal I made with the Alban Arena, which had kindly offered me the part of pirate number eight in The Little Mermaid pantomime.

Being the wide-eyed reporter that I am, I accepted the seemingly simple challenge straight away. Little did I know that lycra costumes, Strictly Come Dancing routines and cream pies lay in store for my theatrical debut.

Pirate number eight, quickly christened Pirate Charly by a booming Long John Silver, had quite a role to play. Contrary to what I had been told, I was to star in both acts of the pantomime and, as well as singing and dancing aboard the ship with my fellow pirates, Pirate Charly would also be escaping the wrath of evil aunt Nessie (the little mermaid's nemesis) and taking a pie in the face.

Quite daunting for someone who has never been on stage before (bar a brief stint as the Queen of Hearts in a primary school play), but the show must go on and so I put my new-found alter ego, Pirate Charly, in charge and marched off towards the costume department.

Backstage is like a warren at the Alban Arena (which begins at a secret entrance behind the vending machines downstairs), but thanks to a gentle nudge in the right direction from company manager Jules, I soon tracked down costume expert-cum-human pincushion Emma, who picked out a couple of swashbuckling outfit options for me.

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Now I would not wear skin-tight red leggings and an electric blue crop top for just anyone and only my dedication to the Herts Advertiser got me through those 10 minutes or so of trying on different lycra-esque outfits.

Luckily my fairy godmother (whoops - wrong panto) was looking out for me that night and I managed to find a few spotty sashes and a boy's pirate jacket to preserve a bit of modesty and complete the shiver-me-timbers look.

Costume sorted, I grabbed some 3D glasses (this is the first year the Alban Arena has gone modern with a Qdos panto) and dashed to a seat at the back of the Arena to watch the matinee performance of The Little Mermaid.

Jules had kindly written down what scenes I was appearing in and when, but, distracted by the novelty of 3D glasses and Long John Silver's bad jokes, her notes lay abandoned and I was left none the wiser at the end of the show about where I was supposed to be.

After the matinee had finished, there was only time for a hasty run-through of my scenes with Jules ("don't worry, someone will push you in the right direction," she said) before a quick costume change and a make-up session with my fellow female pirates, who kindly lent me some bright red lipstick and sparkly glitter.

By now my heart was thumping ("this is your 15 minute call", the tannoy echoed) and I could not believe how relaxed everyone else was. Long John Silver was sneaking off for a quick fag break, Horatio the hero (the Prince Eric of our tale) and a few of his pirate friends were enjoying Wallace & Gromit on TV and Aunt Nessie was calmly applying false eyelashes. Only at the last minute did we all rush - or glide, in the case of Sarah Jane Honeywell, who wore Heelys for her role as the Little Mermaid - to the stage wings.

With a deep breath I followed my pirate pal Phil (barely recognisable, what with the dreadlocks and heavy eye liner) into the audience yo-ho-ho-ing and trying to steal all the kiddie's sweets. Then it was a quick dash down to the front of the stage (was that my brother I just saw pointing and laughing?) and up the stage stairs, slap bang into the limelight.

Thanks to a push from Phil, I found myself in the right position for the Heave Ho opening song and, despite getting my heaves and hos mixed up for the first line, I managed to show Pirate Charly off a bit with a few "grrrrs" and "arrghs" before exiting stage left where Jules was waiting for me.

The nerves had settled, thank goodness, and I bounded back on stage to swab the decks and dance an improvised jive-come-tango with Zoe, another one of my fellow pirates.

Act one was over in a jiffy and, while my family spent the interval eating ice cream, I took the opportunity to chat to star of the show Sarah Jane - a bubbly children's TV presenter who apparently always gets nervous before a show, despite her pitch-perfect Disney-esque voice - and quickly practising the end of show dance ("right foot first", I wrote on my hand to remember). Fuelled on Sarah Jane's Werther's Originals, I bounded back upstairs for some more action.

The highlight of the second act - and the whole night for me - was getting a cream pie in the face. Marooned on the mysterious Voodoo Island, all the pirates bring to shore what supplies they have left - sweets for the audience, a half-eaten packet of crisps and the fateful cream pie - and it was my job to let Pirate Ben Gunn shove an unwanted cream pie (no wonder, seeing as it was a paper plateful of shaving foam) into my face. It got a great roar of laughter and I was chuffed with Pirate Bluebeard's later comment that "I took the pie very well indeed".

That spelled the end for my pantomime performance and only the final dance remained. By then my nerves had all but vanished and I had a great time miming along to a song I had heard only once (which I now cannot get out of my head, needless to say) and taking my final bow alongside Cecil the giant seahorse.

Despite the lycra overdose and a lingering smell of shaving foam, I had a ball with The Little Mermaid Crew. Pirate Charly and her clumsy ways will remain a part of me for many years to come and who knows, maybe I'll be Captain Hook in Peter Pan at some time in the future.