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A very different take on the traditional pantomime, which brought lots of fun and audience participation.

The script was written by Lea Pryer, who always manages to strike the right note with her pantos – and although not a fan of backing tracks on this occasion it worked really well, as the typical cowboy hoedown music is lively and the cast were able to match it with their energy.

What I did like, was that some of the characters spoke their songs, which had much more effect than singing. It gave a nice edge to the musical numbers, and meant that the ones that were sung had more impact.

The set was perhaps a little more toned down than normal – but was suitable for the story.  The lighting from Paul Horsler helped add colour and interest, whilst there were some good sound effects from Josh Halsey.

Mostly the costumes were colourful and looked good and I thought the red dress won by the Mayoress was lovely.  Ima’s dress for Act 2 was a little strange – to my mind she needed something more upfront and colourful, however I liked her shoes and spurs!

There were some recognisable western tunes, with interesting lyrics that linked in well with the characters and situations, Malcolm Stevens as the Mayor had a very wry take on his life and family in his song – very humorous.  I particularly liked No One Loves a Tomboy which was an original song written by Lea for the pantomime, and sung by Nadia McMahon-Wilson as Dusty Rhodes.

There was some basic choreography that I thought was very suitable for the music, and which the three girls, Daisy (Sophie Venn), Dolly (Susie Conder) and Dixie (Charlotte Taylor) performed well.

Calamity Jon was played by Rachel Price, who always creates such a good character, with loads of energy and personality.  I loved her relationship with Gerald the upper class English horse, played by Judy Palmer, an unlikely pairing but very good, and I thought the fact that the horse talked and stood on two legs just added to the fun.  Their number was very enjoyable!

I thoroughly enjoyed Nadia McMahon-Wilson’s portrayal of Dusty, the Sheriff’s tomboy daughter, she projected very well, was lively and full of expression, very well done.

Rory White played the out of tune Hank Hoedown – who was kidnapped by the Indians at the beginning and made an appearance at the end as their chief.

Dave Corbett in his first panto Dame role, looked gorgeously ghastly as saloon owner Ima Willing – he got the audience involved after a shaky start, and created some very funny moments.

Steven Pryer was the baddy of the piece, as Big Bad Bill Boon, who we really enjoyed booing and hissing!  His 3 brothers were very diverse – Judy Palmer as the dim-witted Bert, Rory White as the camp Brian and Michelle Chamberlain as the full-on Benny.  They created a typical family gang, all waiting for their leader to tell them what to do.

Malcolm Stevens, Michelle Chamberlain and Emily Venn created a good family unit – the money-grabbing daughter Annie, her mother the Mayoress, and the poor downtrodden Mayor.  The sound effects of the money dropping into the ladies hands from his purse were very good.

Louis Varty in his first role as the Sheriff, who had an unfortunate illness where he spent most of his time asleep, did well, but could have spoken a little more slowly to allow us to grasp everything he said.

Kevin Birkett played the super cameo role of Phil de Grave the Undertaker!  The fact that he was measuring everyone up for their coffins, only to find that they weren’t going to die, was very funny.  Kevin kept a lugubrious expression the whole time – which was so amusing.

The finale was rousing, although there appeared to be a problem with the lights, as we were kept waiting a very long time between the end of the show and the finale.  However we were all clapping along, and the epilogue from Phil de Grave was fun.

Not a traditional pantomime, although the elements were there, but lots of audience participation, pace and energy, made it a fun evening.


 “CALAMITY JON” TADS Theatre, Toddington

review date 19th Dec 2014

Writer & Director: Lea Pryer


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