Review – Billy the Kid (a Panto Western) – Charles Court Theater at Rosemary Branch

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Walking up the stairs to the Rosemary Branch theater – three bus stops away from Old Street (and thus far, far from civilization) – and with a person I barely knew accompanying me, I suddenly had a very uncomfortable feeling about where my night was headed. I was going to see a panto I’d never heard of performed by an opera company in a pub theater. Hello, incipient night of a thousand horrors including the part where I have to apologize to my companion at the end of the evening for taking them to something naff! The cowboy hats on the box office staff suddenly seemed oppressive. And, seriously, how is a story about a frontier era murderer supposed to be a panto? GAAAH it was too late I couldn’t run away! IT WAS IN FRONT OF ME!

Fortunately my brief moment of pre-show nerves was completely uncalled for. I reminded myself that this was actually the company whose Patience still has me giggling into my hanky from time to time (“A Sports Direct young man!”) but there’s so much required to do good panto I struggled to see how they could manage it. As our cast slowly rolled onto the stage – Buckaroo Dan (Joanna Marie Skillett, took me a while to realize she was a leading boy and not just a blonde cowgirl), the Sheriff (Amy J Payne), and Nelly (booming bass John Savournin, also doing a turn as Nelly’s twin Lotta Hormones or something silly like that), I sat cringing a bit with fear, especially as the puns started to roll. Oh God, old songs with new lyrics and all the vibrato, it’s going to be hell! Then we had the grand entry of Billy the Kid … who, it turns out, was a goat, and Dan’s best friend. Suddenly it was all working and I was in Panto land and we were watching a fairy tale and having a good time!

Although this show steered (get it?) clear of political jokes, there was plenty of pop culture references, starting with a brilliant line up of parodied songs (“House of Fun” one of my favorites, but very surprised to hear “Bang Bang” as well) and extending to movie jokes (Ghost and Raiders of the Lost Ark). Then there was more sexual innuendo than you could shake a tent pole at (this in fact was one of the jokes) and even a hysterical peyote-fueled puppet scene in which coyotes did barbershop quartet (such an appropriate punishment for a bad goat, I think). There was plenty of audience involvement, from boos and singalongas to an, um, chance to pull on buffalo teats (more innuendo). Taking this right over the top into truly excellent, however, were the brilliant voices of the cast members. I have to say, the love duets that inevitably happen in panto to me are like unto farts that stink up the room, but in this case even the endless horror that is “Love Life Us Up Where We Belong” took on a Lakme like charm as delivered by the shimmering voices of Skillett and Nichola Jolley (playing – I kid you not – Pocabeaver). And the group work (with Bruce Graham as baddie Mumford) was just amazing – hearing those pro pipes attacking pop songs was just sheer pleasure. Frankly, I’ve probably never heard such a uniformly excellent group of singers in a panto, but to have it mixed with a charming story line and jokes that had the whole audience roaring was simply unheard of. As, I’m afraid, this panto was for me, so this cowgirl’s advice is to GET OFF YER HORSE and GETCHER FOOL SELF to the Rosemary B. “Ranch” for this rip-roaring bust up of a show.

(This review is for a performance that took place on December 1st, 2014. It continues through January 10th.)

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One Response to “Review – Billy the Kid (a Panto Western) – Charles Court Theater at Rosemary Branch”

  1. Review – The Zoo and Trial by Jury – Charles Court Opera at the King’s Head Theatre | Life in the Cheap Seats - Webcowgirl's London theatre reviews Says:

    […] warm about Charles Court Opera, given the three home runs in a row of Patience, Ruddigore and their extremely silly panto that proved the unexpected highlight of the Christmas season. So why not see a double header? And, […]

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