Three minutes and fifty five seconds
Sweat beaded on Jeremy’s forehead. Rupert’s arse was far too close to his face for comfort, everything was dark and Jeremy’s back already ached from holding himself hunched over Rupert’s denim clad backside.
Three minutes and fifty five seconds Jeremy told himself over and over, repeating it in his head like a mantra. The director had made them time it five times and the longest he and Rupert would be zipped inside this hot, cramped costume together was three minutes and fifty five seconds.
“Bet you’re wishing I’d skipped the curry at the lunchtime buffet, aren’t you mate?” Rupert whispered back to him with a muffled giggle, an ominous rumble coming from the depths of his jeans. Jeremy closed his eyes and prayed for patience.
With relief Jeremy heard the cue and, as they had so carefully rehearsed, he and Rupert shambled on stage. Left, right, left right. Jeremy’s back screamed at him.
Three minutes fifty five seconds.
A pantomime tiger is a completely different beast to a pantomime horse, and Jeremy should know; he and Rupert had been horses, donkeys and even a camel one year and Jeremy always ended up playing the arse end. But a pantomime tiger was new for them both. Jeremy thought that the thick fur fabric raised the temperature inside by at least 10 degrees. Under the stage lights, he began to sweat in earnest.
He mouthed along with Aladdin’s lines, listened with distracted satisfaction as the audience laughed at their antics. He and Rupert had managed to get the pantomime animal thing perfected over the years and, really, he did enjoy it. Usually he enjoyed having done it, and the congratulations of the congregation afterwards, more than the reality of the hot, cramped performance of it all.
Rupert’s bowels gave a gurgle and Jeremy rolled his eyes. Playing the arse really was a bum deal. He heard Aladdin deliver the line that let them shuffle from the stage with relief.
As they stumbled into the cool darkness of the wings, Jeremy was panting, he was longing to stand up and stretch the aching muscles of his back, to breathe air that hadn’t been exhaled already by another man. He heard the hurried footsteps of Janine, that evening’s stage manager, scurry over and she began to tug at the zip.
But the blast of cool air didn’t come. Janine’s fumbling took on a new, panicked quality and the tiger costume was jerked wildly from side to side.
“Come on Janine love, I’m getting a bit desperate in here,” called Rupert.
“The zip’s stuck,” Janine hissed, panic seeping into her voice. “I can’t get it open. Larry - you try.”
A second pair of hands, more tugging, more shaking and still the costume wouldn’t open.
Jeremy heard the audience laughing at Widow Twankey and thought he would give anything for a mouthful of cold water right now. Rupert began to squirm.
“Mate - I’m really sorry. I thought it would be ok. It’s the curry - it was only meant to be three minutes and fifty five seconds. I didn’t think this would happen, but...”
Jeremy heard the mounting panic in his friend’s voice and had only a moment to wonder what he meant before Rupert’s guts gave their loudest protest yet...