AYT: THEATRE REVIEW: Billy the Kid: A Panto Western, Rosemary Branch Theatre

Written for and originally published on A Younger Theatre

The Charles Court Opera company has built a reputation over the last few years for creating one of the funniest pantomimes in London, and their eighth ‘boutique panto’ comes to the Rosemary Branch once again this year.

The show diverts from the traditional panto setting by transporting us to the Wild West, to the home of Billy the Kid (in this rendition, not a gun-toting outlaw but a prize-winning goat) and his best friend Buckaroo Dan. Unfortunately, life isn’t all rosy on the Rosey B Ranch, and the dastardly Mickey Mumford (of Mumford and Sons, of course) is out to ruin the day.

The cast of Billy the Kid: A Panto Western at the Rosemary Branch Theatre (photo: Bill Knight)
The cast of Billy the Kid: A Panto Western at the Rosemary Branch Theatre (photo: Bill Knight)

Billy the Kid is as slick a pantomime as you’ll find, despite being squeezed into a pretty confined space; set designer William Fricker has done a great job of bringing the small stage to life, and the cast of just six bring as much energy and verve as you could hope to get from a company of 20. The script has a sprinkling of contemporary references without overdoing things, and combines genuine wit with that pantomime classic, the fantastically bad pun. While there’s plenty of adult humour to keep us chortling, the room full of grown-ups was more than happy to indulge in sing-alongs, audience participation and fighting over sweets – a promising sign for the children’s matinees.

John Savournin gives a hilarious performance as the compulsory dame Nelly, although particularly delights as her sister, Indian chief Raging Hormone, in Act II. Meanwhile, experienced character actor Bruce Graham has fun with the dastardly – and constantly rhyming – villain Mickey, also doing more than simply fulfilling a stock role. Yet what sets this alternative panto apart from others on offer is the fantastic score and musical talents of the cast. David Eaton has created a joyous set of musical numbers, with classic tunes such as ‘9 to 5’, ‘Stayin’ Alive’, ‘House of Fun’ and even Ghost’s infamous ‘Unchained Melody’ scene as you’ve never heard or seen them before. To give you an idea of things, a close harmony group of coyote hand puppets performing a take on ‘Mr Sandman’ is one of the many highlights. The score is brought to life by impressive vocal performances from Nichola Jolley (Pocabeaver) and soprano Joanna Marie Skillett (Dan) in particular, showing off some serious talent amongst all the silliness.

With a fast pace and a running time of two hours, Billy the Kid gives you all that you could possibly want from an original pantomime this year: the chance to relive your childhood favourites (sweets, a pie in the face and the obligatory scene with a cow), a genuinely funny and innuendo-laden script, and a whole host of toe-tapping musical numbers. The Charles Court Opera company gets the balance just right to give audiences of all ages a riotously good time.

Billy the Kid is playing at the Rosemary Branch Theatre until 10 January 2015. For more information and tickets, see the Rosemary Branch Theatre website. Photo by Bill Knight.

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