Thursday, September 21

Oklahomo – The Old Joint Stock Theatre

“Oklahomo” is an endearingly ramshackled, delightful kitsch and joyously indulgent piece of … what? Well, that’s the question. Is it a revue? Is it cabaret? Is it drag? Is it slapstick? Is it art? Let’s settle for post-modern Dadaist agit-prop performance piece with knock gags. I’m sure I’ll think of a better description later in the review.

The Old Joint Stock Theatre, now under the confident management of James Edge, is a gem in the heart of the second city – small, compact, bijou. Climbing the stairs is like sneaking away to your own secret playroom away from the grown-ups and that, in essence, is what tonight felt like. Maybe a hundred people, joyfully crammed into a hot room with many a-fan fluttering would usually be my idea of hell, but this was a crowd clearly out to enjoy itself. And they did in bucket loads.

It’s cabaret. Well, that’s how it begins anyway.  Each performer in turn delivers an eclectic and disjointed selection of songs from the Golden Age of Broadway with variable results, but when they are good, they are very, very good. Ten minutes in, after a faintly surreal re-enactment of the birth of the musical (with the musical symbolised by a small tub of margarine. No, really.) Alanna Boden grabs the show by the throat and gives us a vibrant and kick-ass version of “Don’t Rain on My Parade” which blows the audience away and shifts the bar considerably. Though the first half could have benefitted from ten minutes snipping from it, it was, as they repeatably tell us, thrown together in two days. At times it seems like it, at others it buoyantly bounces along on a cloud of joyful, carefree silliness which proves irresistible. Fat Butcher (not her real name) seems to be the hostess or compère or narrator or referee of the events continually popping in to oversee or arbitrate or belittle or inspire or, well, anything she feels like doing and concludes this section with a belting version of “Rose’s Turn” from ‘Gypsy’.

The second part is entirely devoted to a satirical take down, yet loving tribute, to the Sound of Music wherein our other two performers, Dahliah Rivers and Blu Romantic, in turn play Captain Von Trapp, the Baroness, assorted Nazises and every Von Trapp child who has not been banished to the attic. And it’s here the show really takes off. Having something approaching a storyline to cling onto really helps pulls us through and the referential nods to the more familiar elements and tropes of a show/film which has woven itself into our cultural DNA gives the comedy greater context. Wow, didn’t that sound pretentious? It’s not a pretentious show by any means. It’s spirited and messy and naughty and absurd and ad-hoc and subversive and at its heart kind, caring and sincere.

The high point of the show happens twenty minutes before it ends when Alanna Boden’s stonking and powerful version of “Climb Every Mountain” climaxes with a truly hysterical coup de theatre involving a very baggy habit and an industrial fan which I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget. Just go and see it.

Then there’s twenty minutes of plot to tie up, they all live happily ever after (apart from Maria who suddenly morphs into a rabid, snarling homophobe for reasons I didn’t quite catch) then they all sing “Waterloo”. Obvs.

For a small, low budget fringe show some moments are masterful and all four performers have moments of exquisite comic timing. Of course, it could benefit from some judicious clipping and some tighter direction, but, hey, they threw it together in two days and we’re very glad they did! Go and see it. Don’t forget your fan!

Reviewer: Peter Kinnock

Reviewed: 8th September 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 3 out of 5.