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Over The Top Arthur Guy Empey

Staged Under Fire

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We hoped they all would be soon in Blighty to give us a chance.

This company charged an admission of a franc per head, and that night our company went en masse to see their performance. It really was good.

I had a sinking sensation when I thought of running my sketch in opposition to it.

In one of their scenes they had a soubrette called Flossie. The soldier that took this part was clever and made a fine appearing and chic girl. We immediately fell in love with her until two days after, while we were on a march, we passed Flossie with her sleeves rolled up and the sweat pouring from her face unloading shells from a motor lorry.

As our section passed her I yelled out: "Hello, Flossie, Blighty-- What Hopes?" Her reply made our love die out instantly.

"Ah, go to hell!"

This brought quite a laugh from the marching column directed at me, and I instantly made up my mind that our sketch should immediately run in opposition to 'Blighty--What Hopes?'

When we returned to our billet from the march, Curley Wallace, my theatrical partner, came running over to me and said he had found a swanky place in which to produce our show.

After taking off my equipment, and followed by the rest of the section, I went over to the building he had picked out. It was a monstrous barn with a platform at one end which would make an ideal stage. The section got right on the job, and before night had that place rigged out in apple-pie order.

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The next day was Sunday and after church parade we put all our time on a dress rehearsal, and it went fine.

I made four or five large signs announcing that our company would open up that evening at the King George the Fifth Theatre, on the corner of Ammo Street and Sandbag Terrace. General admission was one half franc. First ten rows in orchestra one franc, and boxes two francs. By this time our printed programs had returned from London, and I further announced that on the night of the first performance a program would be given free of charge to men holding tickets costing a franc or over.

We had an orchestra of seven men and seven different instruments. This orchestra was excellent, while they were not playing.

The performance was scheduled to start at 6 P.M.

At 5.15 there was a mob in front of our one entrance and it looked like a big night. We had two boxes each accommodating four people, and these we immediately sold out. Then a brilliant idea came to Ikey Cohenstein. Why not use the rafters overhead, call them boxes, and charge two francs for a seat on them? The only difficulty was how were the men to reach these boxes, but to Ikey this was a mere detail.

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Over The Top
Arthur Guy Empey

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