Is life worth living? Any doubts about the answer to that can be dispelled by taking in this ‘boutique panto’. Now in their eighth Christmas season at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington, the Charles Court Opera have contrived, with a cast of six and two musicians, to create an evening of pure joy and hilarity. The Rosemary Branch is a good, old-fashioned pub with a nice range of London-brewed real ales and excellent food, and the little theatre upstairs was packed last night with an audience that really entered into the spirit of the occasion. This pantomime may not be on a traditional theme, such as Mother Goose or Dick Whittington, but many of the traditional ingredients are gleefully present : dreadful puns, disgraceful innuendos, cross-dressing, and the audience being moved to exclaim “Oh no he isn’t!” when a character insists that he is.
The script is very clever, and the story line very inventive. I will not spoil it for the reader by giving away what happens, save to mention that Billy the Kid is a young goat. There are lots of allusions to popular culture to be picked up, e.g. movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, while some classic hit songs have been adapted to glorious effect. The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun, the Bee Gees’ Staying Alive, the Righteous Brothers’ (and Jimmy Young’s) Unchained Melody and Frankie Lane’s 1959 Rawhide are among those pressed into service. The singing is of the highest quality – which is to be expected, I suppose, as the show is being put on by an opera company.
Just to mention one or two nice touches which particularly tickled my funny-bone, the villain is a Cockney costermonger whose rhyming slang meets with incomprehension in the badlands of Arizona, while the proprietress of the saloon is a pantomime dame of the old school, in the persona of a Northern stand-up comedian. This show taps such a rich vein of comedy that I would urge anyone who is troubled about the meaning of life to go and see it, and be cured!