Out waving goodbye to the retreating bluebells last week, I saw a dancing red butterfly; I smiled and remembered…….
September, a couple of years ago, the Norwich Playhouse – the interval of Arthur Smith at Large has ended and, from off stage, I introduce my special guest, the legend that is Leonard Cohen. Leonard, the audience are unsurprised to learn, looks rather like me in shades and a hat. They smile indulgently as I make my usual singing sound which is somewhere at the intersection of a groan, a croon and a croak (a grook?). So far so good. But then something terrible happens – the audience start laughing.
I am thrown. They are not meant to laugh until I get to the gaggy bits. Audiences are, by and large, predictable; if you have done a routine often enough (guilty m’lud) you get to know not just where the laugh will come, but how long and how loud it will be. This is as it should be; you are the comic – you are meant to be in charge, not stood around gormlessly wondering why people are chuckling.
Then I see it flit between me and the spotlight and I understand the source of this merriment; a butterfly has decided to join me on stage. I try, and fail, to shoo it away while singing. I cannot compete. I abandon the song as the cheeky crimson imp performs his flickering flutterdance to loud applause.
My only course of action is to improvise around my unexpected co-host; I berate the creature for interrupting me and observe that a butterfly is just a moth with PR. The tiny red fellow is clearly enjoying the attention and hovers awhile before taking centre stage again and performing some wing stretches. When I threaten to tread on him. The audience boos.
By now the butterfly is the star of the show and I have to cede the limelight. We name him Billy, identify him as a peacock and I make up some new lyrics in his honour for the end of my song. He seems to enjoy the applause and shows no signs of exiting but, as the more experienced performer, I decide Billy has only a small repertoire and needs to quit while he is ahead. I invite a man in the front row to gather him in his cupped hand and release him outside the theatre. He gets a big round as he leaves the building and I have no doubt Billy would have had a great future in showbiz were it not for the limitations of his species.
Billy’s brief career exists now only in the memory. Billy, the stage-struck butterfly, is gone but he had his dazzling afternoon in the sun. Like we all do.
Never work with children, animals or flying insects.