Review of Calamity Jane at New Wimbledon Theatre
Whip-crack away! Oh, the Deadwood stage is coming on…………. into Wimbledon. Not quite the same ring but here it is (briefly). This time though it’s not carrying the saccharin sweet, eternal virgin Doris Day. It has the ballsy, Blackpool babe Jodie Prenger perched atop.
The first thing you notice about this production is that everything is happening on stage. You are about to witness some very busy actors. They are also the orchestra. All of them play multiple instruments that throughout the performance will continue to be passed around the stage like parcels at a children’s party.
For the first couple of minutes it seemed that the cast were struggling to get into their stride. The opening number was lack-lustre and quiet. This may have been a technical issue rather than a performance one though.
The story is exactly what you will be expecting:
It is the late nineteenth century in Deadwood, located in the Dakota Territory. Jane Canary – better known as Calamity Jane (Jodie Prenger) or “Calam” for short – is a sharp shooter who takes it upon herself to protect the area, especially the stagecoach, from the marauding Sioux.
Only Wild Bill Hickok (Tom Lister), with whom she has a friendly rivalry, but she still considers her best friend, matches her skill and fearlessness. Calam shows no signs of femininity, despite being in love with a soldier, Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin. Unfortunately, Danny only sees her as one of the boys and has no idea that she loves him. There is a drought of females in the area, and as such, Harvey Miller or Milly for short, the proprietor of the local saloon, brings in actresses to perform whenever he can to entertain the men who are starved for female companionship. So when Milly’s latest attempt to bring in the latest ingénue doesn’t turn out quite the way he expects, Calam takes it upon herself to bring in the most famous Chicago actress, Adelaid Adams, to keep the peace in Deadwood. Calam’s attempt to bring in Adelaid starts a series of events that make her examine her feminine side, and what it may take to get Danny to propose. However, in doing so, she ultimately realises what she really wants in life. The love of a handsome man, Bill Hickok.
What is different though is that the majority of this production takes place in the Deadwood saloon, The Golden Garter but with clever lighting changes, swift handling of props and our imagination we witness stagecoach rides, see into Calamity’s cabin and a very brief glimpse of life in “Chicagi”!
There is a lot going on though. Apart from during the few slower numbers, there are people scurrying everywhere. They are all playing instruments and often have another one strapped about their person. Even parts of the stage set incorporate percussion instruments.
As a whole, the cast make a fantastic ensemble. The energy is explosive to the end. However, when Miss Prenger is on stage, her powerhouse of a voice seems to make the others fade into the background, especially the other girls. Again, I am not sure if it was a tech issue or if the woman is such a belter than nobody else can come close. There were a few dodgy American accents at times but our lead showed no signs of her Lancashire roots opting more for a hybrid of Dolly Parton with the added pathos of Tammy Wynette.
Tom Lister (probably better known as Carl King from ITV’s Emmerdale) should also get a mention for not only is he handsome, he has a beautiful voice, especially during his solo performance.
Prenger and Lister make a great comedy duo. The chemistry between them is obvious. This was highlighted by two little mistakes and the way they dealt with them. Firstly when Bill (Lister) was supposed to lasso Calamity (Prenger). Of course, despite I imagine many hours of rehearsal, the rope failed to land in the desired location. Another cast member swiftly slipped it over Calam’s head and with a few wry smiles, all was well. During act 2, Calam threw her evening gloves at Bill. They were launched with aplomb and landed beautifully on the brim of his hat. Flopping down in front of his face. Of course the audience were in hysterics and Prenger did have to turn away to hide her giggles. Their professionalism pulled off this mishap and if anything, it added to the humour.
Their performance of the song, “I can do without you” was where their harmony as performers was evident. The show only runs in Wimbledon until Saturday as part of its national tour.
Review by Dickie Neil
For details, see www.calamityjanetheshow.com
Thursday 19th March 2015