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The Life & Adventures of Billy The Kid
Published on Thursday, 23 May 2013

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2 stars

The Nightingale (venue website)
21-22 May, 9:00pm-10:00pm
Reviewed by Darren Taffinder

 World Premiere.
 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.

To be honest, I have no idea what to say about The Life & Adventures of Billy the Kid. It’s a bit like trying to review Airplane! after watching heavy versions of Hamlet for a month. Was it good? I’m not really sure if good or bad, or even relevant. Some of it was awful. Some of it was really funny. Some of it was a complete mess. Did I laugh throughout? Yes, but that might say more about me than the show.

The play is part musical, part theatre, part storytelling on the life of William H. Bonney, aka Billy the Kid. This makes it sound much more serious than it is. Essentially Rex Horan (and his very impressive Appalachian-mountain-man beard) plays an OAP, Acapulco Beans; and Chris Johnston plays another OAP, Chevron Malaise. They’re friends of the notorious outlaw who are trying to set things right.

A woman who is either their nurse or their care-in-the-community caseworker – I couldn’t tell which – pushes them on stage at the beginning and then hooks them off at the end. Neither Horan or Johnston look old enough to be in a retirement home, and their way of acting aged is simply to stoop their shoulders and appear confused, but in the context of the play that’s neither here nor there.

In between their arrival and departure we are treated to a number of songs and stories about Billy. I learnt that Billy The Kid didn’t wear glasses, making the poster to the 1966 horror western Billy The Kid vs Dracula historically inaccurate. I found out how to combine the cowboy walks of John Wayne, Burt Lancaster and Clint Eastward. I was taught how to play a glass with a hairpin (glass and hairpin supplied by an audience member).

I’m honestly not sure if it was unrehearsed and shambolic, or whether it had been carefully designed to appear that way. A story of Billy escaping from a farmhouse narrated by Johnston, with Horan switching between cowboy hats to show the different characters involved, seems to collapse under its own weight – and then to end in a song because, well, why not?

This makes it sound like I didn’t like it; in fact, I found parts of it hilarious. Some of the songs, in particular, are great. But it needs to be shorter by at least thirty minutes, and a lot tighter, and it’s just not as funny as the cast thinks it is. There’s a bit with a loop machine that just didn’t work, and brought the whole momentum of the shop to a dead stop.

Weirdly, I feel I know less about Billy at the end than I did at the beginning, and I think the show would have benefited by having a stronger viewpoint on him. At times it felt like they were narrating his Wikipedia entry. Objectivity is great for references, but not so much for a show; I need more of sense of his personality.

I feel a bit Pat Garrett giving the show two stars. Like I’ve shot it in the back as it stood in a doorway, asking “who is it?” in Spanish. Billy the Kid is a unique character – almost mythic – so there’s a great idea for a show here, but there’s just too much that didn’t quite work.

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