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Review: Calamity Jane at Sunderland Empire

Calamity Jane
Sunderland Empire

We love going to the theatre as a family and we are lucky to see, and enjoy, lots of great shows in the North East. Most of the reviews on here are indeed extremely positive as we enjoyed them. From big shows such as Singing In The Rain to much smaller shows such as Best In The World. I guess it was only going to be a matter of time that we ended up with a night like the opening night of Calamity Jane. I know reviews usually appear much quicker, on the same night usually, but this was needed a night’s reflection.

First signs were not good as the large crowd gathered in the foyer and theatre staff rushed backwards and forwards not passing on information. Elderly theatre goers were left with nowhere to sit as the advertised time for the show to start quickly approached. This is not the first time this has happened on this tour as this review shows: York Calamity Jane Review. Eventually the doors opened to the auditorium and we could take our seats, though the safety curtain was still down. Eventually an announcement is made stating technical difficulties are delaying the start still further. The recorded message about mobile phones eventually is played but seemed to be quiet. Was it the sound that was causing a delay? Finally after a quick announcement about a change to the cast the show begins.

The trouble in reading a review is that you are faced with opinion rather than fact. In my opinion the early sound levels were not balanced and not all voices could be heard clearly or with the same volume. In fact it sounded like some microphones were not in the right place in that first few minutes. The following day I read a review in the local  press that makes a direct reference to both the smooth running of opening night and the fabulous balanced sound. Both are unusual things to see in the local rag. I wonder if they were at the same show? As I say, this is my opinion and in my opinion the sound wasn’t good in row O of the stalls.

The story of Calamity Jane is light and breezy. The songs were probably great but I was struggling to decipher the lyrics through a combination of sound quality and quality of the accents. One thing which was good was the musicianship. The instruments were the one thing we could hear clearly. I also liked the fact that the recent trend of sticking the musicians on stage seems to be continuing. It is great to see instruments being played rather than stuck out of sight in a pit.

The actors were trying very hard in the show. The choreography was tight on a number of the numbers.

The show slipped into The Play That Goes Wrong territory when an attempt to lasso Calamity failed and a nearby member of the cast had to loop the rope around Calamity. Matters reached a peak when the cast seemed to be holding a pose for a long time at the end of the first half before the curtain finally came down – much to the obvious relief of some of the cast.

After sampling the £4 ice cream and comparing its size to the small £3 tubs, the second half began.  The second half was much better and the delightful story was given an opportunity to shine.

Tom Lister, as Wild Bill Hickok, and Pheobe Street, as Katie Brown, stood out as very strong players in their roles. Jodie Prenger as Calamity Jane was charming and engaging.

A member of theatre staff had told me when I discussed it with them that I should expect it as it is first night. I go to a lot of first nights and I haven’t known a night like it. He also suggested that the company had only arrived that very same day and were trying to perform and the same day as they set up.  For a show that has been on tour for as long as this it surprises me that the first night wasn’t smoother.  Chances are the shows will be better later in the run. The trouble is that I don’t have a spare £100 to find out.

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