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The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid
by Lee Blessing   directed by Nick Warburton

The Playroom, Cambridge,  January 2015

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Reviews of The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid

The Authentic Life of Billy The Kid
Samantha Benson was pretty impressed by this Corpus Playroom production

As both my first theatre review and my first time at the Corpus Playroom, I cannot say I was disappointed. Directing Cambridge-based company. Bawds, in their production of The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid, Nick Warbuton's work was gripping and emotional, with the perfect amount of humour.

The stage is beautifully set and audience members commented at the realism of the design and the painting of the backdrop. Technical aspects, such as the red light used for the fire onstage, were simple yet effective. The entire cast deserve credit. Colin Lawrence gave a beautiful portrayal of Pat Garrett, with just the right amount of sadness and anger to the character, Barry Brown (Ash Upson) not only made us laugh, but displayed an energy and presence which reminded me of Christopher Lloyd in the Back to the Future trilogy. David Foyle's drunken Billy was believable throughout, and the entrance of Julian Cooper as Jim Miller added humour, sincerity and mystery to the play.

As the play started, I was anxious. I had never taken an interest in Westerns or Western legend, but the characters and the story soon grew on me. Lawrence's emotional journey was gripping to say the least and the relationship between him and Brown did not feel forced, but easy like that of lifelong friends. Warburton's direction is excellent; nothing is ever too angry, too sincere or too funny. A four-man, one room drama could easily be slow, and the start of the play dragged a little. Thankfully, this did resolve, and the tension between Lawrence and Foyle increasingly kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

Despite a rather niche subject matter, the show was executed beautifully and with great talent.
I would urge anyone with an interest in Western Legends to see it, not to mention anyone searching for a gripping, moving, and slightly comical drama. I look forward to the Bawds' next production.


(The following review is reproduced from the online magazine LOCAL SECRETS)

The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid - Man and mythology behind the 'shoot him up'
 Review by Dee Dee Doke


Larger-than-life characters, and even more sizeable mythologies surrounding their exploits, dominated the lore of the American Wild West. Of those characters, none has seemed as equally repellent and appealing as Billy the Kid, the young outlaw-come-folk hero who claimed to have killed 21 men, but may have killed just eight. Billy's life ended at the hands of Sheriff Pat Garrett on July 14, 1881, with Garrett shooting him under circumstances that remain unclear today. The next year, Garrett and journalist Ash Upson wrote 'The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid', which purported to tell all about the young outlaw's life and death.  But did Garrett actually kill the Kid - or was it a case of mistaken identity? Cambridge theatre group Bawds explores the 'what if' scenario in its rich staging of Lee Blessing's play 'The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid' through Saturday (17 Jan) at the ADC Theatre's Corpus Playroom.

Set in Garrett's shabby New Mexico ranch house, the story finds Garrett (Colin Lawrence) living alone, poor and on the brink of selling his ranch to a visiting Texan 27 years after the former lawman apparently shot and killed Billy the Kid. On a cold February evening, Garrett's former ghost writer, the flamboyant Ash Upson (Barry Brown) shows up at the ranch after years of no contact. He is invasively curious about Garrett's financial situation. Upson has brought a man with him whom he identifies as his driver, and because the night is so cold, Garrett allows the burly 'driver' to join himself and Upson inside for a drink by the fire. Upson can't leave alone the topic of Billy the Kid, and before long, the so-called 'driver' is revealed to be Billy the Kid (David Foyle), long believed dead. It wasn't Billy the Kid who died from Garrett's bullets, this incarnation of the outlaw tells Garrett, it was an acquaintance named Billy Barlow whom Garrett mistook for the Kid in the darkened room where the shooting took place.

The enterprising Upson announces that he wants to help all three men revive their fortunes by
taking Garrett and Billy the Kid on tour across the US and around the world to re-enact the legendary killing. Yet another complication to what started out to be a quiet night for Garrett is added when his prospective ranch buyer,Texan Jim Miller (Julian Cooper) turns up to get acquainted with Garrett before their scheduled business meeting the next day, and to warn him that men in the nearby town want to kill Garrett. All of this and more take place within 85 minutes, with no interval. It is an extremely talky play that would benefit dramatically from an edit of 15 to 20 minutes of Blessing's often meandering dialogue. However, three more skilful,
deft and beautifully shaded performances in the key roles of Garrett, Upson and Billy would be hard, if not impossible to find. In his brief turn as the Texan whose own motives for visiting Garrett may be suspect, Cooper also delivers a well-tuned characterisation. A special hurrah for the ranch house set designed by Brown which triumphed over the Playroom's intimate
and limited playing area.

Lit in colour reminiscent of rusty water, the rustic, authentic look of plastered mud-and-log walls and the timeworn set pieces created an environment that while sheltering its players from the outside, seemed vaguely threatening and devoid of human light.
 
Appropriate costuming and an attention to detail in the hairdressing also contributed
greatly to the richness of this production, with Billy's foully matted, probably smelly hair and Upson's lush long locks requiring particular mention! Director Nick Warburton has assembled a superb cast and technical crewto bring this rough and ready winter's tale to life in dramatically elegant style.


Bawds - The Authentic Life of Billy the Kid
 Reviewed by Julie Petrucci

Decades after Billy the Kid's death in 1881, books, movies, essays and now Lee Blessing's play about this western outlaw are, judging from the Corpus Playroom full house, still popular. All go back to one source: The Authentic Life of Billy, the Kid, published in 1882 by the man who killed Billy, Sheriff Pat Garrett. Garrett's book, ghostwritten and apparently greatly embellished by his friend and drinking partner Ash Upson is the subject of this play which was skilfully directed by Nick Warburton.

Having squandered his chances of fame and glory Pat Garrett is almost destitute and about to sell his ranch to Jim Miller. Enter Ash Upson with a scheme to get Pat back on his feet; a tour with the real Billy the Kid. Upson tries to convince Garrett that the Kid is alive and that he killed a look-a-like. The plan to get Garrett back on his feet is for him and the Kid to tour a show re-enacting the fatal shooting. Are we expected to believe the Kid is actually alive? Has the drunken alcoholic Kid been primed by Upson with enough facts to convince Garrett and will it matter anyway as,  according to Miller, he has overheard in town Garrett is to be ambushed and killed the next morning? More questions than answers maybe?

What ensued was eighty minutes of impressive theatre. At times funny and at times chilling, this play was ideally suited to the Corpus Playroom. With an imposing set, designed by Barry Brown, one did feel as if one was sitting in Garrett's ranch house cabin, kitted out with an amazing array of authentic looking furniture and props. This authenticity was carried through the hair and make-up, wardrobe and weaponry department, all enhanced by some atmospheric lighting. Setting the fire in the angle of the auditorium was inspirational as the danger with the L shape acting space is that often actors are not sure where to direct the acting. No problem with that in this case.

We were treated to a quartet of excellent acting. A first-rate portrayal of the broken-down
alcoholic has-been Sheriff Pat Garrett by Colin Lawrence showed us the many sides of the man, creating a sad and sorry character. Barry Brown as Upson, the character who drives
the plot, looking as if he had just broken through the celluloid of an old Western, treated us
to a performance which was a deft mix of desperation, humour and cunning. Looking incredibly unwashed David Foyle created a character devoid of charm and charisma as the alcoholic and newly resurrected Billy. He handled his drunkenness well without going over the top. Stellar work too from Julian Cooper as Jim Miller as he managed to appear deferential towards the great Western heroes and yet vaguely sinister.
 
Personally I felt the play was rather wordy and a tad too long but everything was handled with great expertise by the cast who brought out what humour there was to lighten the anger and emotion. Nick Warburton, his supremely talented actors and the entire technical team should be congratulated on what was achieved with this high standard quality production.