Review - Calamity Jane


In case you've just blown in from the Windy City, amateur theatre company Cotswold Savoyards production of Calamity Jane is on just now at Cheltenham Playhouse. So is it deader than the Deadwood Stage or will you find your Secret Love...

Read our interviews with director Sheila Ham and lead actress Joy-Amy Wigman here. 

Set in Deadwood City, Dakota, the musical ‘Calamity Jane’ tells the story of a feisty and fierce female, Calamity, who won’t conform to how she is told she should look and act, until she travels outside her small town and meets Katie Brown who opens her eyes, encourages her to try new things and be who she wants to be. It is a musical all about love, relationships and kindness, and is one production you won’t want to keep under your hat!

The Cotswold Savoyards show opens with beautifully played music, expertly directed by David Manifold, and immediately my toes were tapping along with the well-known show tunes.


Joy-Amy Wigman immediately draws you in playing leading-lady Calamity, and what was particularly lovely, was her engaging physicality, drawing you in with her eyes, smile and luscious vocal tones. Wigman got the balance spot on, confidently showing Calamity’s feisty yet vulnerable ways perfectly. Wigman couldn’t have done this without her wingman though, Wild Bill Hickock expertly performed by Robbie Gardner, the pair are show besties before realising their love for one another in Act 2. The performers had a lovely chemistry and conveyed the relationship beautifully. Robbie’s portrayal as grumpy Wild Bill was well done, and it was only during a solo about his love for famous singer Adelaide Adams, that you really warmed to him. There were certainly no feelings of ‘men, men, horrible men’ in this scene, and his solo was superbly backed up by a very strong male chorus, with particular mention to Tom Mullins vocal strength. It was a very touching, yet funny moment in the production, with outstanding harmonies and vocals from all.


Samuel Taunton hilariously encapsulated Francis Fryer, if you want to laugh out loud then do go and see it just for his talented performance and beautiful vocals, albeit questionable accent which just adds to the humour! In song and in the show, Fryer ‘certainly is the amorous type’ who quickly falls in love with Susan, confidently played by the unflappable Heather Gallagher. Susan’s protective Aunty Millie is not happy about the relationship, leading to some funny moments between the trio. Millie, performed by Bronwen Carless is not happy throughout the show, and Carless illustrates the stressed and uptight character with ease.

The female chorus also performed well, particularly whilst backing Calamity during ‘Men!’, this show would not be as successful and enjoyable without the ensemble. The troop of dancing girls both looked brilliant and danced fabulously. Every time they appeared, they immediately raised the energy which was sometimes slightly lacking throughout the production. Choreographer Hatty Davis did an excellent job with lots of thigh slapping, toe-tapping, yee-hawing which added to the overall feel and pace.

Caroline Kendal played arrogant performer Adelaide Adams well, with her powerful voice & flamboyant acting. Sadly, Adelaide only appears in the show briefly, and the brief time she is present, Kendal spent most of the time looking down. It would have been nicer if we could’ve seen her face more, in order to engage with us as audience members.


In the show, Adelaide’s assistant Katie Brown desperately wants the chance to perform and idolises her, despite being cruelly put down by Adelaide. Amber Smith, playing Katie does so with grace and could easily give Adelaide a run for her money with her talent.

What starts as a somewhat fraught relationship turns into a rather lovely onstage relationship between Calamity and Katie. Another fraught yet extremely funny relationship, is one between Wild Bill and Lieutenant Danny Gilmartin, strongly played by Robert Barton-Ancliffe, the two men are love rivals, vying for Katie’s attention in another comedic moment in the show.

There are some lovely moments throughout this fun, touching and brilliantly directed show - one particularly great moment was during Katie and Calamity’s duet, the performers changed the scenery which enhanced and strengthened the emotion of the scene, it was a great idea and very professionally done.


Overall the set was cleverly designed and built, though there could be a slight sight problem for seeing taller performers on the upper decks when sitting high up in the auditorium. The production team cleverly added flowers and smaller pieces of decoration, which was a welcome lift to the set. The lighting on the whole was very good but it left me wanting more specifically during Act 2, when all cast were in the auditorium singing exquisitely, whilst solely lit by candles, which, whilst a heart-warming idea, I wanted to see the performers faces, engage with them and appreciate their talent. Costumes were in keeping with the show and towards the end, looked magical.

Collectively there were very strong performances all round, there were some moments where pace and volume could be improved, and some performers' accents were definitely questionable at times, but overall this is an outstanding, directorial debut from Sheila Ham.

You’d be loco to miss the show, it is heart-warming, hilarious, with some deliciously catchy tunes that will stick in your head and get you dancing in your seats – that’s if you can still get one as the show has nearly sold out!


Images - courtesy of Trevtography