Nov 28 2015 | By More

★★★★☆   Warmly funny

Saughtonhall United Reformed Church: Wed 25 – Sat 28 November 2015
Review by Hugh Simpson

There is a great deal of laughter in Saughtonhall Drama Group’s Geronimo. There is also a decidedly warm and comforting feeling to the whole show, despite a few odd moments.

Those oddities are not necessarily due to the Western setting of David Buchanan’s script, which is surprisingly close to a traditional pantomime in structure.

Geronimo Photo Sarah Howley

Mark Kirkbride and Ruth Grey. Photo Sarah Howley

The title suggests that the man known to history as Geronimo will play a central role in the narrative, but his part in proceedings is small and decidedly peripheral. This is fortunate, as his depiction here owes more to the Beano’s Little Plum than any real Native American, and strikes a jarringly out-of-date note.

The actual plot, as in so many pantomimes, is purely incidental to what is happening onstage. It deals with young Billy Star, fresh in the Wild West from ‘Scotchland’, and his attempts to find his grandfather’s goldmine.

Most of the usual elements are present and correct. As saloon owner Belle, Scott Kerr combines the traditional Dame image with something more like a cabaret drag act, in a very funny and effective performance, featuring hair just perfect for her cowboy hat.

Black Bart, the bank robber who takes on the traditional baddie role, is excellently played by John Webster. He combines the requisite dastardly villainy with some genuinely hilarious moments. Like many of the performers, he makes very good use of the tight confines of the acting space and the close proximity of the paying customers; his particular rapport with the audience makes his character particularly appealing.

self-deprecating charm

This connection is also demonstrated by Murray Petrie, whose hapless Sheriff has a self-deprecating charm. Throughout the evening, the feeling of community and inclusiveness that characterises Saughtonhall productions is enhanced by a sense that all concerned know just how ludicrous this particular set-up is, but are having a rare old time all the same.

Cast of Geronimo. Photo Sarah Howley

Scott Kerr, (not credited), Gavin Watson, Daria Renka
Front row: Judith Petrie, Abbie Paige. Photo Sarah Howley

Such self-knowledge is badly needed at times, when the parade of deliberately terrible jokes gets too much. It also seems impossible that a pantomime could have too many occurrences of ‘oh no you’re not’ or ‘behind you’ but that is in real danger of happening here. Thankfully, we have a double act like Betty Meston and Eleanor Watson (cowboys Clyde and Skeeter, complete with gallant steeds), who can bowl through their audience-participation schtick with aplomb.

Gavin Watson, Judith Petrie and Gillian McEvoy, as Black Bart’s villainous sidekicks, also manage to extract real comedy from their roles mainly by being ridiculous, with some particularly good use of Monty Python and the Holy Grail-style coconuts. Thankfully, this ludicrousness also applies to those ‘Indians’ – this scene could be utterly toe-curling, but instead comes across as just plain weird, with Mark Kirkbride’s laconic Geronimo and Daria Renka’s White Dove both being about as far from being American as is possible, and all the better for it.

Elsewhere, we get accents of varying degrees of success, which only enhance the comedy, particularly in scenes like the one where the barman (a stately Ian Inglis) only understands Billy (Ruth Grey) when he affects an American drawl.

a Buttons-like naif

Billy is far from being a typical Principal Boy, being more of a Buttons-like naif, but Grey’s performance has an openness and charm so often missing from panto juveniles. Billy’s love interest Annie Oaktree, meanwhile, is the impressive Beth Williamson, who displays promising stage presence and a strong singing voice.

Geronimo cast. Photo: Sarah Howley

John Webster, Betty Meston, Ian Inglis, Eleanor Watson
Front row: Gillian McEvoy, Beth Williamson, Ruth Grey. Photo: Sarah Howley

Such musical success is not in evidence 100% of the time. The songs are well chosen and largely familiar, singalong potential is enhanced by the lyrics being displayed as part of the fantastic projections supplied by Keith Wilson and Liz Swinburne, and some of the biggest laughs come in the musical interludes. However, there are moments when these laughs threaten to sabotage the songs, and even musical director Morag Stevenson’s dogged persistence is not up to the task of accompanying the unaccompaniable.

Disaster is always averted, however – and frankly, anyone who goes to pantomime for the quality of the singing rather than the comedy will always be disappointed. There are many other things that make the genre attractive, such as the real sense of fun provided by Mr Jinks the cat – here played by young Evie Moonie, who alternates with Abbie Paige – sneaking across the back of the stage, scratching the scenery, or miaowing with real panache.

Such straightforward glee is reflected throughout the production, with John Webster and Colin Mitchell’s direction keeping the pace steady. The asides and playing to the gallery are all the more effective for being kept (relatively) in check, local references are sparing and clever, and the overall effect is thoroughly satisfying.

Running time 2 hours 5 mins including 1 interval
Saughtonhall United Reformed Church, 87 Saughtonhall Drive, EH12 5TR
Wednesday 25 – Saturday 28 November 2015
Wed – Fri 7:30pm; Sat 2:00 pm and 6.00 pm
Tickets and info from

Geronimo Cast. Photo: Sarah Howley

Scott Kerr, not credited, Gavin Watson, Daria Renka, Mark Kirkbride, John Webster, Betty Meston, Ian Inglis, Eleanor Watson
Front row: Judith Petrie, Abbie Paige, Gillian McEvoy, Beth Williamson, Ruth Grey. Photo: Sarah Howley



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