Tag Archives: Sarah Mercadé



Charing Cross Theatre

BRONCO BILLY – THE MUSICAL at Charing Cross Theatre


“it has the thrill of a fairground ride that plants an irresistible smile on our faces as we bravely hang on”

Welcome to the Wild West. It’s not a place on the map, but a place in your heart – or rather Bronco Billy’s heart. A world that tells you that you don’t belong, you ‘gotta’ be strong, and never give up on your dreams. You can be anything you want. Or so it seems. But just in case you missed the greeting card message, it is repeated in verse, prose, rhythm and rhyme many a time over the next couple of hours.

Billy (Tarinn Callender) is a Brooklyn born go-getter, reinvented as a gun-slinging, gun-toting, gun-firing cowboy. A damaged Vietnam veteran he conceals his purple heart, but wears his real one on his sleeve. And it turns out his heart is as big as his personality. Callender is immensely likeable and engaging as the leader of his rag-taggle travelling troupe, performing their Wild West show across America. Part vaudeville, part circus, and wholly chaotic, these cowboys are as ramshackle as the tour bus that is their home.

It is difficult to place them in time. We could be on the frontier in the seventeenth century, or in the depression era of the 1920s, but a casual reference to Margaret Thatcher’s rise to power across the pond places us firmly in 1979. Likewise, Chip Rosenbloom and John Torres’ score wanders the wheat fields and Hillbilly highways in search of a hook; visiting the Grand Ole Opry before rocking up in the disco hostels of the Village People. And we’re back in the seventies. It’s a bumpy ride for sure; coherence hanging by a thread and plausibility in tatters. Yet it has the thrill of a fairground ride that plants an irresistible smile on our faces as we bravely hang on.

Based on the 1980 Clint Eastwood comedy-drama, original scriptwriter Dennis Hackman has adapted and updated the story for the stage, enlisting Rosenbloom and Torres, with additional lyrics courtesy of Michele Brourman. Billy and his company are en route to Hollywood chasing their dream opportunity. But back in New York chocolate heiress Antoinette Lily (Emily Benjamin) is running for her life from her family who have thirty days to make sure she is dead and buried so they can commandeer her inheritance. The two meet by chance at a gas station. Antoinette changes her name to Lily Rose and joins the travelling show and they embark on a will-they-won’t-they romance. The pantomime villains are in hot pursuit led by the wicked stepmother Constance (Victoria Hamilton-Barritt) and hired hitman Sinclair St Clair (Alexander McMorran).

“What draws the most attention are the vocal performances, which is where the principals shine”

Hunter Bird’s upbeat production is as pacey as they get, but somehow feels laboured, not quite sure in which direction it is heading. Stumbling on slapstick and tripping up on clichés that roll like tumbleweed across the dusty terrain towards its predictable finale. Overacting is the keyword, with Hamilton-Barritt, surprisingly, the main culprit. The sideshow players are more nuanced, most notably Karen Mavundukure’s powerhouse ringmaster Doc Blue, and triple threat Helen K Wint as Lorraine who keeps one step ahead of the rest.

What draws the most attention are the vocal performances, which is where the principals shine. Benjamin and Callender – both in fine voice throughout – have the range and refinement to carry the show, culminating in some magical duetting. Hamilton-Barritt delights with some villainous crooning. It is clear that the performers are all having a ball and eventually the audience are infected with the tongue-in-cheek glee that springs from the stage. The second act cranks up the gears, aided throughout by Amy Jane Cook’s revolve set design, centring on the tour bus: a life size box of tricks, ever changing and opening up to reveal the many locations; from the fields of Kansas to the plush New York interiors to the Hollywood film lots.

As ramshackle as Bronco Billy’s Wild West Show, the musical shares Billy’s dreams and ambitions. Like the journey he leads us on, it is a bit of a tough ride, but let’s hope the show doesn’t give up on those dreams. It will get there eventually.

BRONCO BILLY – THE MUSICAL at Charing Cross Theatre

Reviewed on 31st January 2024

by Jonathan Evans

Photography by The Other Richard




Previously reviewed at this venue:

SLEEPING BEAUTY TAKES A PRICK! | ★★★★ | November 2023
REBECCA | ★★★★ | September 2023
GEORGE TAKEI’S ALLEGIANCE | ★★★★ | January 2023
FROM HERE TO ETERNITY | ★★★★ | November 2022
RIDE | ★★★★★ | August 2022
PIPPIN | ★★★★ | July 2021



Click here to see our Recommended Shows page


Obsession – 3 Stars



Katzpace Studio Theatre

Reviewed – 10th June 2018


“the cast are competent all round, though there are no stand out performances”


Obsession is a word that’s thrown around by many of us on a daily basis. People are obsessed with celebrities and fashion trends and TV programmes – Sean, for his part, is obsessed with ‘Game of Thrones’. But Ivy’s obsessions are different. Ivy has OCD and it’s spiralling out of control. She doesn’t cellophane the surfaces, but she can’t take the rubbish out or touch someone else’s hand or stand on the pavement cracks. Now it’s affecting her job and her relationship.

‘Obsession’ is an eye opening investigation into living with OCD, written by Kate Marston who also takes the central role of Ivy. Jim’s character, a personal trainer who is terrified of his own wife, lends a light comic relief particularly to the latter portion of the piece, though Chris Udoh could afford to bring out this comedy a little more in his delivery. Sophie Winter-King plays the real and imagined ‘other woman’ and does so with ease. Chris Royle’s Sean is particularly strong, likeable and easy, until the moment that he isn’t. Overall, the cast are competent all round, though there are no stand out performances.

Sarah Mercadé’s design is simple but effective within the space, a slanting white bench framed by strips of light. The piece itself strikes a really lovely balance between establishing Ivy and Sean’s relationship, clear moments of fun and warmth between them, as well as documenting its breakdown. Sean’s journey seems less nuanced, less gradual than Ivy’s, and more development of his trajectory would help to support Ivy’s own narrative. The piece isn’t hugely formally inventive, following a similar arch to many plays I have seen approaching mental health issues. However it does do it better than many I have seen, and its goal is achieved – I leave with a considerably greater awareness of OCD, the way it can manifest itself and how best to support it.

This is a well balanced, thought provoking piece that sheds some much needed light on the impact of living with OCD.


Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by Ali Wright



Katzpace Studio Theatre until 13th June


Previously reviewed at this venue
What the… Feminist?! | ★★★★ | April 2018
Gaps | ★★★ | April 2018


Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com