Panto 2021: Hybrid edition – Semi-Lagrangian Rhapsody! 

Charlie Suitters – c.c.suitters@pgr.reading.ac.uk
Hannah Croad – h.croad@pgr.reading.ac.uk
Isabel Smith – i.h.smith@pgr.reading.ac.uk
Natalie Ratcliffe – n.ratcliffe@pgr.reading.ac.uk

The pantomime has been one of the highlights of the year for the last 3 decades in the Met department. This is put on by the PhD students, and usually performed in person at the end of the Autumn term. Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the panto is going from strength to strength, with a virtual instalment in 2020, and adapting to the hybrid format this year. It’s amazing to see the department tradition continue.  

This year the four of us (Charlie Suitters, Hannah Croad, Isabel Smith and Natalie Ratcliffe) agreed to organise the panto. It was clear that the panto this year would need to cater for both people joining in person and virtually, and with the lingering uncertainty of the covid situation in the UK, we came to a group decision to pre-record the performance in advance. This would provide the best viewing experience for everyone, and provided a contingency if the covid situation worsened. In hindsight, this was a good decision. 

This year’s panto was called Semi-Lagrangian Rhapsody, an idea based on the story of the band Queen. On Thursday 9th December 2021 we screened our pre-recorded pantomime in a hybrid format, with people watching both in the Madejski lecture theatre on campus and at home via Teams (probably in their pyjamas). Our story begins with our research group, Helen Dacre, Keith Shine, and Hilary Weller, on the lookout for a fourth member. In an episode of Mets Factor, the group sit through terrible auditions from Katrina and the Rossby Waves, Wet Wet Wet, the Weather Girls and Jedward (comprised of John Methven and Ed Hawkins), before finally stumbling upon Thorwald Stein (aka Eddy Mercury). The research group QUEEN (Quasi-Useful atmosphEric Electricity Nowcasting) is formed. Inspired by an impromptu radiosonde launch on the MSc field trip and skew-Ts (Chris knows!), QUEEN develop a Semi-Lagrangian convection scheme for lightning. Our narrator, SCENARIO administrator Wendy Neale, tells the story of the ups and downs of QUEENs journey, culminating in a presentation of their Semi-Lagrangian Rhapsody to the world at the AMS conference.  

Natalie suggested the idea for the panto, and we all agreed that it was a great idea – especially with the potential for lots of Queen songs! Once we had our storyline, next came the script writing. This was a daunting task, but working as a team we managed to produce a decent first draft in one intensive script-writing week, full of amazing terrible meteorology puns. Whilst writing the script we decided on the best Queen songs for the plot (and for reasons that we cannot explain/remember, a Rebecca Black song too). Now it was time to alter the lyrics, which was a lot of fun! Only once we had written the songs did we actually consider the complexity of Freddie Mercury’s voice and how we, a bunch of non-musically talented PhD students, were going to attempt to do these songs any justice. It was too late to go back though, and we had to break the news to the band. Thankfully they were up to the challenge! 

From week 6 onwards, we were able to start recording scenes; we were lucky that we were able to film in-person in and around the Met Department. We were still able to include students who weren’t in Reading at the time by writing in virtual parts into the panto. This worked perfectly well given the very hybrid nature of life currently anyway. 

Like last year, we wanted to start earlier as we knew that we needed to be finished at least a week – preferably more – before the big night to give time to edit everything in time (there were still a couple of late nights just before the big night). The final late night session did lead to the incredible slow-mo shot of Nicki Robinson (Charlie) turning around in Bohemian Rhapsody, so there is something that can be said about late-night-induced-insanity!  

Come week 10, we had nearly finished all of our filming and only had the songs left to record. We arrived at the London Road music rooms not yet having heard any of the band’s rehearsals. They sounded amazing. Many thanks to James and Gabriel who had been organising the band throughout the term. Then we started singing and immediately reduced the quality! But with a bit of practice around the piano, we started to improve, though the beginning of Bohemian Rhapsody was still a little questionable… With lots of pizza, we managed to record all of the songs in two nights! The band did an amazing job to put up with our musical incompetence (we are so very sorry). 

Over the next week, our three video editors worked hard to put the whole panto together and I hope you agree that they did a good job. This all led up to the big night where we were able to offer a small pre-panto reception in the Met coffee room before the panto started (somewhat attempting to mirror the normal pre-panto buffet). Apart from one slip up in scene 4 (my apologies hehe – Natalie), the screening went nearly perfectly with very few hybrid IT complications. Additionally, we had the return of an in-person performance of Mr Mets by our own Jon Shonk, and a heartwarming singing performance from the staff, organised by Chris Holloway and Keith Shine. Not only were we gifted this, but we were able to enjoy an in-person after-party in the coffee room with DJ Shonk. Of course there were a few Queen songs scattered in the mix, though we realised we struggled to remember the original lyrics and were only able to sing the panto versions! Following the story of Queen may have been a good idea, but have we forever ruined their songs for ourselves forever now? Quite possibly… 

And on that bombshell, we’d like to thank everyone who was involved in this panto, whether that be those who we convinced to act, sing, play in the band, help organise the event or even just come along to the screening. The whole process of creating this panto was exhausting, but so incredibly fun. I (Natalie) am so glad I did it and had a great time, but I now understand the ‘I’ve done my time’ sentiment of the previous organisers. (Hannah) Organising the panto was a lot of work, but so much fun (see bloopers). This has been a really rewarding experience, to see it all come together on the night, and to contribute to a fantastic department tradition. 

This year we sold tickets for the in-person showing and asked for donations to the David Grimes Trust from those viewing from home. Thank you to everyone who has already donated. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. We have managed to raise £170 for the David Grimes Trust. If you would like to donate still, please find our email with details on how to do so from Hannah Croad. 

Thank you to everyone who watched Semi-Lagrangian Rhapsody on Thursday, we hope you had a fun evening whether you watched at home or in-person! 

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