Connecting professional and amateur theatre in Newbury, West Berkshire and beyond

Proteus - Colonel Cody

On tour from November 2003 to January 2004.

From the Basingstoke Gazette.

Extraordinary adventure

The Extraordinary Adventures of Colonel Cody, Proteus in Central Studio

I must admit I had no idea of what to expect when I took my seat in the auditorium for this production, being, to all intents and purposes, ignorant of the story of Colonel Cody and unsure just how four actors would convey what was clearly a most intricate life history.

But I now have to declare my amazement at just how successfully this apparently simple tale was brought to life for the audience of both adults and children.

And what an audience, as Cody's actual grandson was there to witness the first night on which James Barry's super script came to life.

As Cody (Justin Webb) reminds us at the beginning, "Never let the facts get in the way of a good story", but that doesn't matter much here, as we have both. Cody's existence was truly exciting enough for fiction, beginning in the USA with his supposed Wild West exploits and then moving to Britain, where he introduced thousands to the West through his show, and eventually became the first man in the UK to fly.

Narrated by the deceased Cody, we were introduced to the love of his life Layla, who reminded him not to exaggerate when telling the story before Webb's Howard Keel-esque voice launched into the first musical number I was Born to be a Cowboy. Until the break, we witnessed Cody's rise in the US, which rounded off with the fabulous set-piece The Klondyke Nugget, a mini play within a play.

The second half focused on his flying dream, with a very well produced aeroplane scene, and the most magical moment of all with two talking porpoises!

The four actors who performed in this show, Webb, Heather Tracy, Aidan O'Neill and Andrea Sadler were frankly, beyond criticism. Their relentless enthusiasm and total immersion in every role was immensely inspiring to watch. Aidan's prospector character and Andrea's saucy French pilot were my own particular favourites, but on the whole, accents and persona remained intact and very impressive throughout.

The show has been directed in a most enchanting way by Proteus' Artistic Director Mark Helyar which impressed all present, no matter what their age. This is a production which will be heartily enjoyed by people of any age, and deserves to be seen by a large audience.

JOANNE MACE

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Once upon a time in the West

Proteus Theatre Winter Tour: The Extraordinary Tale of Colonel Cody, at Bishop's Green Community Centre, 01 Sunday, December

Basingstoke-based Proteus Theatre Company should be applauded for taking live theatre to small rural village halls. I caught up with their tour of North Hampshire and West Berkshire at Bishop's Green Community Centre.

The packed hall consisted of mainly young children (the show is aimed at the seven-plus age range) eagerly awaiting the start of the extravaganza and they were not disappointed.

The play, written by local writer James Barry, with music by Mark Helyar, tells the incredible tale of Colonel Cody, the daredevil, cowboy and Wild West showman as he gains fame and fortune.

The set designed by Sam Pine has all the razzmatazz of a Cody show with large cowboy boots, flags, a huge Stetson which all adds to the fun.

Cody was a flamboyant character and Justin Webb captured this perfectly. He also has a beautiful baritone voice and powerful stage presence acting every bit of the showman.

There is plenty of audience participation as they help in lassoing a steer and assist in the branding and become Red Indians.

The company of four play a myriad of parts. Aidan O'Neill is a wonderful mimic and managed to give all his individual characters meaning from the young Cody, army officers, solicitors to reporters and Doc Carver all beautifully formed.

Andrea Sadler acts as a narrator separating the myth from the truth and is demure as Cody's wife. Heather Tracey plays Lela Cody's second 'wife' and her versatility in being such characters as a French aeroplane, one of Cody's sons and numerous other parts was impressive.

This was a very talented company who worked exceedingly well together.

Director Mark Helyar had created some inventive set pieces. The story of The Klondike Nugget was pure Melodrama from the silent movies and very funny.

After the interval Cody becomes obsessed with the exhilaration of flying first by inventing a kite that can carry a man and then an aircraft.

He tries to sell both ideas to the British military without success. The flying scene is theatrically very clever and extremely well done.

Perhaps the play is a little too long for the younger ones' attention span but that aside this is the perfect antidote to the traditional pantomime.

ROBIN STRAPP