On the run from her wicked stepmother, husband, and family lawyer who are out to kill her to benefit from her father's fortune, Antoinette Lily is taken in by Bronco Billy and his travelling troupe of performers. Concealing her identity, she discovers a life she never knew she could have, but keeping a big secret like this can only mean drama...
When the theme of your show is "camp cowboy chaos", this technical team more than delivers! Sarah Mercade's costumes effortlessly evoke the 70s Western era and are consistently fun without being needlessly distracting, and Nick Richings' lighting design ensures the audience is enveloped in disco flare! Amy Jane Cook's scenic design is an utter triumph, utilising the small playing space and its revolve to excellent effect, with a phenomenal central set piece of the tour bus hosting a number of brilliant surprises.
Emily Benjamin, much like her character Antoinette, is an exemplary leading lady with stunning vocals, a sincere acting performance, and consistent energy that warms us to her character from the get-go. Tarinn Callender's voice, as leading man Bronco Billy, is a delectable treat for the ears; his acting performance certainly comes into its own in the second act, though we long for more depth of character throughout and clearer chemistry between the pair (whether this is a script/directorial or performance note could be debated).
Where this show falls short is the sense that it isn't quite finished. Direction feels lacking in all areas - character relationships don't feel meaningful or real; individual character arcs are lost in the pandemonium of the overall plot; and in a production that relies so heavily on visual comedy and cheesy gags (as it absolutely should with it's glittery tongue-in-cheek feel), they feel like after-thoughts that aren't even clear focal points on stage! Much of the physical side of the show (whether choreography, illusion or simply blocking) feels under-rehearsed or performed without commitment, which is a shame as we do get glimpses of what could be. As it currently stands, the physical comedy is child-friendly entertainment, but frustratingly has the potential to be very clever slapstick.
The script is generally very sharp, though many of its comedic beats are lost in delivery, and some revisions could be used in order to more potently convey the evolving narrative and multiple plot threads with more clarity.
One performer who relishes every glimpse of gold in this script is Victoria Hamilton-Barritt, playing the villainous Constance Lily. Though occasionally the performance leans a little too pantomime, it is clear she understands what is required of this role and delivers camp and iconic fabulousness whenever she is on stage.
A highlight of this show's material is its musical arrangements. The toe-tapping soundtrack is excellent, the group songs certainly feeling more powerful than the solo numbers, and whenever harmonies are introduced our hearts begin to sing along! In particular, the Troupe of performers offer astounding vocals that could (and should) be listened to on repeat for hours on end!
Stand-out performances, alongside Benjamin's lead, include Josh Butler as endearingly sweet Lasso Leonard James; Jonathan Bourne is truly exceptional as he takes on many (ten-gallon) hats with wonderful Western flare. But it is Karen Mavundukure as Doc Blue who really takes our breath away! She opens the show with vocals that could bring the house down, charming the audience as she oozes charisma and is perfectly placed to introduce us to the story; the sheriff's star of this show, it is simply a crime that she is so underused in the production!
Filled with flare (not just in the costumes!), though with rhinestones in need of some polish, Bronco Billy runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 7th April.
Review: Penny Lane Photos: The Other Richard