Ginger Hibiscus | Ginger Hibiscus | Review: Billy the Kid at the Rosemary Branch Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Review: Billy the Kid at the Rosemary Branch Theatre
Ginger Hibiscus | Review: Billy the Kid at the Rosemary Branch Theatre
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04 Dec REVIEW: Billy the Kid – A Panto Western at the Rosemary Branch Theatre

There’s a widely-held view that panto is the lowest form of theatre, and it comes with the temptation to expect poor-to-serviceable singing, mediocre acting and jokes that are more “ho ho ho” than “ha ha ha.” But Billy the Kid: A Panto Western, the Charles Court Opera’s eighth annual panto, proves the panto snobs gloriously wrong with a brilliantly original creation that could stand amongst non-festive shows when it comes to imagination and vocal delivery.

At the Rosemany Branch Theatre, or rather, the Rosey B Ranch, Buckaroo Dan (Joanna Marie Skillett) owns the finest goat from here to Alabama, Billy the kid (Matthew Kellett). But dubious cockney trader Mr Mumford (Bruce Graham), who runs his stall with the help of his heirs, Pilfer, Pinch and Prat, has his eyes on Billy – and not for his compelling conversation. Meanwhile, the increasingly desperate Sheriff (Amy J Payne) has been rejected by Lenny Knockers (John Savournin) yet again, but stoically refuses to give up hope that one day they may get a “happily ever after.”

David Eaton, the musical director, arranger and composer has done a remarkable job of putting together a foot-stomping, thigh-slapping panto with swinging saloon doors, featuring a plot that hangs together (however tenuously) but more importantly interweaves the songs seamlessly, taking well-known tunes and giving them a twist, with new lyrics, new sounds and most definitely new meanings. With songs spanning the decades and genres, we have everything from a barn-storming version of Dolly Parton’s Nine to Five, to Nancy Sinatra’s Bang Bang, adapted to covey the nuances of bison milking, amongst other absolutely normal cowboy pass-times. The songs are the stand-out feature, and through music, the show also does something quite remarkable: it creates a moment of poignancy in a pantomime.

This kind of moment epitomises what’s great about Billy the Kid. It brings something slightly different to the normal fairytales- heck, we get to play cowboys and Indians (with the help of native American, Poca Beaver)- and it does it with vocals which are outstanding across the board, with Joanna Marie Skillett and Nichola Jolley particularly notable. Also outstanding is Bruce Graham’s evil turn; poetic, menacing and thoroughly nasty, he makes a convincing panto baddy.

Billy the Kid is a pantomime that makes no apologies about being a pantomime, and it has everything you’d want from one. It has boos and hisses and cheering and innuendo. There are “boys and girls,” cross dressing, dung slinging and audience singing. But for all the standard panto fare, Charles Court Opera hits a level of quality that really is extraordinary…perhaps explaining the dearth of sequins. Yet sequins or not, it’s laugh-out-loud funny for all the family, with clever nuances to appeal to all ages, and aspirational singing that will universally impress.

Dates:Friday 28 November – Saturday 10 January 2015.


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Image: Bill Knight

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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