The team behind The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Sisters could have hardly wished for a more buoyant audience last night at Coventry’s ‘B2’ Belgrade Theatre. Just thirty minutes before the performance, a vastly overcrowded theatre foyer erupted in a celebration at Coventry’s award of UK City of Culture 2021, broadcast live on BBC’s The One Show. The elation seeped through the doors and walls of the auditorium, supplying the actors with an upbeat and easy to play audience. They took full advantage, with several ad lib references receiving large cheers from the revellers.
The play itself was a cheerful romp, described as an “alternative pantomime”, based on a spaghetti western theme replete with sound snippets from the CD The Best of Ennio Morricone. A fistful of dollars purchased a scenic backdrop of a painted sheet hinting at the Nevada Desert, for a few dollars more the production budget even extended to couple of plastic cacti. Of course none of this really matters in a show that doesn’t take itself too seriously, as it is the writing, cast and direction that make or break performance in this genre, and none of the three were either bad or ugly.
The script was easy to follow and fully loaded with gags, some cleverly constructed and others groan-worthy, but all funny. Although billed as “an alternative pantomime” for a grown up audience, this was more of a mature family panto than an ‘adult’ themed one. The language and humour were mainly clean, and I would have been very comfortable taking a teenage relative. There were plenty of local references to Coventry, Warwickshire and the Wild West Midlands, that were greatly appreciated by the partisan audience, even the risky ones that poked fun at the fortunes of Coventry City FC, and “the most deserted, isolated and lonely place on earth”, the Ricoh Arena. Proof of the old adage, that many a true word is spoken in jest. There were so many gags coming thick and fast that I didn’t get them all, but others were picking up what went over my head and often I found myself just laughing along with everyone else, even though I didn’t really know why.
The plot begins with a gun-slinging shootout. Then we were taken back in time to the backstory behind the opening scene by the narrative lead, Doc, played by Katy Stephens. The backstory relates to a Mexican bandit called Ugly, a misnomer if there ever was one, played by Aimee Powell. He (almost all the characters are male played by a cast of four women) is in town to do a bank robbery, but finding the vault empty sets out on a quest to find where the contents are buried while the townsfolk try their best to stop him.
Stephens and Powell were joined by Miriam Edwards whose main role was as the town Sheriff, and Laura Tipper who played at least five different roles. All four actresses were strong performers with well-seasoned natural comic timing, and the ability to interact informally with the audience. They kept the pace going brilliantly, and indeed the pace of the performance was a key element to its success. The writer, Nick Walker, also directed the production and he clearly understood how his work needed to be delivered. Any let up in the pace would have killed the atmospheric build up of the comedy. That was not allowed to happen, and the play, lasting about an hour and ten minutes, whizzed along merrily.
This was a short performance, but jam-packed full of comedy and feel-good factor, which is what pantomime is all about. If you like a seasonal panto, but have grown out of wanting to spend three long hours of young children screaming “Oh yes he is! Oh no it isn’t!”, then this alternative pantomime might well suit you. I certainly enjoyed it. ★★★☆☆ Robert Gainer 8th December 2017
Photo by Robert Day