The show begins before we set foot in the theatre. My friends and I are catching up over a drink when suddenly the actors are mingling with everyone in the BATS foyer, making jokes and small talk with those who engage with them. I struggle to pinpoint why this choice was made as we end up entering the theatre of our own volition, but I digress. When we enter, the darling Daisy (Phoebe Caldeiro) hands us a mysterious brown package to be thrown onstage upon her command. The set, designed by Scott Maxim, is a simple make up of wooden slats, dusty painted floors to create a saloon-like image and a bar on wheels that we only see at the beginning/end of the show. We’re informed that the front row is off limits for audience safety, my interest is piqued.
In classic Comedy Gold fashion, the show opens with a song sung by Daisy that introduces us to the characters and the world we’re about to find ourselves in. Caldeiro’s vocal and composition skills are a real treat, her soft voice and melodies create the quintessential Western atmosphere throughout the show. The story primarily focuses on the lovable orphan Daisy as she tries to save the town during a non-alcoholic beverage shortage, no doubt a nod to prohibition. Along the ride, we’re introduced to Madam Fiz (Nina Hogg), the quick-witted bar owner and sex worker who has no shortage of sex jokes; Moonshine Porridge (Troy Etherington), the town fool with a secret; and Amanda Mayor (Ashton Marla) the reputable but perhaps ruthless mayor of Spork. The story is a classic Western adventure with a journey through the desert, a number of betrayals, an unlikely romance, and a washboard.
Our characters cross the desert in an attempt to find the Sheriff of Spork who mysteriously vanished years before. As they travel, we see the relationships between these characters deepen as they learn more about themselves and each other. There’s a number of colourful characters they encounter throughout their journey, many of which are played by stage manager Dylan Hutton, who has us in stitches every time he enters with a different costume or hollers from backstage.
Some highlights of the show include Hogg’s incredible bull whip skills, Etherington’s relationship with his washboard - which is anything but carnal - and Emma Katene’s guest appearance as The Woman with No Name. The commitment of each person to their characters is obvious, and the costuming helps to solidify the stereotype each of them sits in. However, it's the reliance on these stereotypes and tropes that I struggle with at points. It feels as though much of the time that could have been spent on narrative structure and character development is sacrificed for jokes or a fun cameo, which takes away from what could be a really wholesome found family story. Each member of the cast is hilarious, that’s without a doubt, so I feel as though we could have the same level of comedy with a bit more nuance given to the characters and the story. For example, the moments where we get to see the relationship develop between Daisy and Madam Fiz are beautiful, I only wish there were more of them.
Our time in Spork ends and all of us leave giggling about the moments that stick with us, it really is a fun show. I would love to see the team work with a dramaturg if they were to restage it, someone overseeing the story and ensuring that necessary cuts are made, but I’d also love to see the team try something completely different. They’ve already carved out their niche, so it’d be interesting to see it explored in a wildly different context or genre, ghosthunters perhaps?
In saying all of this, the show does what it sets out to do. It’s exciting, light, and bursting with energy, allowing us a break from the world at large. The story includes iconic Wild West tropes and the characters are so fun, it’s like a Western film for the stage. With some additional development, I think this could be a hilariously wholesome story about found family that doubles as a rodeo of sorts (with less horses).
So head on down to the rootin’ tootin’ Stage at BATS to yee your final haw, and figure out what’s goin’ down in the town of Spork. I wish the team the very best for the rest of their season, and I can’t wait to see what Comedy Gold does next.
Cocked and Reloaded is on until Saturday 22nd April on The Stage at BATS.
Small disclaimer: a few of my fellow Art Murmurers have been involved in this project. Austin Harrison directed the first season of the show, Cocked and Loaded, and Katie Hill directed this iteration of the project. I am also friends with several members of Comedy Gold, but I have done my best to provide a fair and accurate review. If you have any feedback, please get in touch with the team at firstname.lastname@example.org