The guillotine blade glinted in the light.
A smirk crossed the man’s face as he pulled the rope.
For a moment, the blade wobbled in its framework. Then it accelerated downwards towards the hapless victim’s neck. With a loud thunk it stopped dead, its work done.
In the crowd, a woman put down her knitting and clapped her bony hands together in appreciation.
The man pulled the rope again to lift the blade. As he did, he raised his hand to receive the adulation, a strained smile upon his face.
The Great Magneto wasn’t happy. He stomped around his dressing room. Standing in the doorway, the theatre manager looked on.
“Bloody pensioners matinees!” he roared, “What’s the point? I mean we get what, a couple of dozen of the old bats in and by the time I get to the crescendo of my act, half of the buggers are fast asleep!”
The manager sighed. He’d heard it all before. The audiences were never big enough. They didn’t appreciate the “talent” properly. They should be grateful that anyone deigned to take their valuable time to appear in such a godforsaken little town.
Magneto seemed to read his mind. The rant continued, “I mean who do these people think they are? I’ve appeared before royalty. ROYALTY! And yet here I am, reduced to bloody provincial theatre. On a Wednesday afternoon! Do they not understand how lucky they are to see an act like mine? Well, do they?”
It wasn’t like listening to the same moans every week from the latest touring act was how the manager wanted to spend his time. A cup of tea would be a good start, or perhaps Heather in the bar would knock him up a sly gin and tonic. That would take the edge off the migraine he was sure he felt creeping up on him.
“Well, what do you say to that?” enquired the great magician.
“Godfrey, I’m sorry”, he started.
“Magneto! Can’t you read? That’s what it says on the poster. You did put the posters up, didn’t you? Maybe that’s why no-one bothered to come in, because you didn’t bother to put up our advertising. Run out of sticky tape did you? Is there a Blu-tack crisis in Leighton Oxley this week?”
The manager sighed again. “Magneto. Yes, we put up all your posters and very nice they are too, although perhaps you should use a more recent photo.”
“More recent photo? What are you saying?”
“Sorry. What I mean is, well, the poster looks a bit, how shall we say, old fashioned. Have you seen the ones for Spark? He’s coming next week”. As the words left his mouth, he realised his mistake. If there was one thing a stroppy, failing act hated more than anything it was to be reminded of a younger, marginally more successful one.
The magician ceased stomping and turned around. He was silhouetted against the lights surrounding the dressing room mirror, several of which weren’t working. “Sparks? Bloody Sparks? That shyster? He walks on wearing some black polo neck from bloody Primark and acts as though he invented magic. Like all those of us who have been slogging our arses off for years never existed. It’s not like his tricks are new, he just wanders around being smug and acting like a rap star. Where’s the showmanship in that?”
A light bulb loudly gave out, interrupting the flow for a second.
“As for old fashioned, is it old fashioned to give the audience a bit of razzmatazz? To give them a treat. They want to see something special, not someone who looks like they work in a bloody mobile phone shop. I don’t know if you’ve noticed love, but this is hardly the West End. We’re a long way outside the M25. Good grief, this is basically a suburb of Birmingham and you know what that means.”
The manager could guess, but decided to let the tantrum run its course.
“It means, love, that this is a provincial backwater! No-one mentions Leighton Oxley in the same breath as London and New York. The only place they can be found together is in the back of my map book, and even then it’s in small print under a coffee stain!”
The migraine was definitely on it’s way. It was time to play the trump card. “Look Godfr.. I mean Magneto. I know this isn’t the West End but let’s be honest, if you could get a booking at the Palladium, you’d be there.” Magneto started to speak but stopped as he recognised the truth in what the theatre manager was saying. “I know this isn’t a big theatre but we do what we can. I’m sorry that the audience this afternoon wasn’t massive but we have to put on some shows for the old people. It’s part of our remit from the Council.”
“The Council? What the hell’s it got to do with them?”
“They own the building. You don’t think we could survive on these sort of audiences, do you? If we weren’t part of the Parks and Leisure department, this place would have become opulent townhouses for professional people years ago. As it is, we might be going that way soon anyway.”
“What do you mean?”
“Let’s just say that it’s hard to argue that we need funding more than meals in wheels or bloody children’s trips to museums or any of the other stuff.”
“They are closing you down?”
The manager’s face dropped. “Not yet, but I’ve heard plenty of rumours. You don’t need to be Mystic Mandy to predict our future if things don’t change.”
For once Magneto looked perturbed. For all his bluster, any closed theatre was one less venue to perform at and one step closer to an enforced retirement for him. Looking in the corner at a small basket, he saw the face of Floppsy, his rabbit. What would happen to her? They didn’t like pets in his apartment block. It was only because she was out with him most of the day he got away with keeping her.
“What are you going to do?” he asked.
“Well, I do have a plan.”
“It better be bloody good, I think I saw more red velvet in there than a showing of xx”
“Don’t worry it’s in hand. I’ve been talking to this group of business consultants and I’m sure they can come up with a plan to sort us out. In fact, I got rather drunk with their boss at the weekend and he gave me the impression that this was bread and butter for them.” Freddie smiled remembering his and Gareth’s antics at the weekend, they’d had a laugh but he thought Gareth was on his side. In fact, now was the time to strike when the iron was hot, he’d drop him a note as soon as he got back to the office.
“Sounds interesting.” Magneto stood there stroking his rabbit, he’d retrieved her from her basket as it soothed him in times of trouble.
Freddie looked at the Magician and saw a low-price Blowfeld smiling back at him. Well if push came to shove, he thought, he could always get him to kill the councillors in inventive ways, he certainly had the tools.