Calamity Jane

Edinburgh Playhouse – Run Ended

Set in the ‘Wild West’, this is the story of a woman who is quick with her gun and quicker only – paradoxically – in acting on her utter desperation to please. Calamity Jane insists she can bring back the world’s most revered actress, Adelaide Adams, to perform and placate the herds of sex-starved men of Deadwood, while encountering the twists and turns of loss and love.

This is predominantly a successful comedy, where mistaken identities and subversions of gender stereotypes are the main source of laughter. Calamity Jane’s strong moral compass and gutsiness make her not intimidating to the other characters, but reduce her to a source of amusement. Despite her unflinching allegiance with all that is good, trouble still follows her everywhere she goes. Her androgynous sprightliness is Peter Pan-like and Jodie Prenger’s portrayal completely carries the performance. However, the magic slowly drains as Calamity moulds herself to what others want her to be.

Without a doubt it was the choreography and song that had the audience’s unanimous approval. Everyone participated in clapping along to feel-good tunes, while Katie Brown’s warbling solos were particularly impressive. Yet it is in the way the cast tapped and danced with such vivacity that will make you want to witness the show, with its vast spectrum of talent, all over again. In terms of the set, it was often what was physically lacking that made it endearing. For example, many convincing transportation scenes were born from simply flitting blue lights over a row of chairs.

To improve, the lyrics could have been more discernible and the script could have paid greater tribute to the characters’ quirks. Calamity’s voracious sexuality, and possible bisexuality, was very subtly hinted at, and could have been brought more memorably to the forefront.

Overall, it is a blessing and a curse that real people, and real problems, can never truly breathe beneath the veneer of the musical. A great portion of the production’s popularity will have stemmed from its schmaltzy ending, but therein also lies its compromise: the individuality and agency of the character.

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