My latest trip to Perth Concert Hall was arranged with my four-year-old son in mind. At least, that’s my excuse for booking tickets for this year’s brand new production from Funbox – The Wild West Show. But, to be honest, I really wanted to check it out for myself. Funbox is a touring musical theatre group whose members are all alumni of the immensely popular The Singing Kettle. I was woefully unfamiliar with Funbox, and curiosity drove James and me to dust off our cowboy hats and saddle up for a high-spirited hoedown.
James is no stranger to Perth Concert Hall which, along with Perth Theatre, hosts an enticing range of children’s theatre, music and workshops. On this occasion, James bagged himself a booster seat from the front desk, which enabled him to sit comfortably throughout the show and raised him high enough to see all the action. The invitation to don fancy-dress for this performance had been taken very seriously by its youthful audience; children of all ages, bedecked in checked shirts, chaps and cowboy boots, surrounded us in the auditorium. As enormous coloured balloons bounced over our heads and ‘Cotton-Eyed Joe’ pounded out of the sound system, I did momentarily wonder what in the Wild Wild West we had signed up for.
With an “Are you ready?”, a “Yee ha” and a “Yippee ki yay”, the stars of Funbox galloped on stageWith an “Are you ready?”, a “Yee ha” and a “Yippee ki yay”, the stars of Funbox galloped on stage. Gary is the ‘Music Man’, a respected player and composer with a long history in Scottish traditional music. Kevin writes, sings, and performs with exuberance and energy, and is also responsible for most of the afternoon’s groan-inducing jokes. Anya is an accomplished singer and performer, and capably kept the show’s good-natured tumult on just the right side of pandemonium.
As the Rawhide opening theme got us rollin’, rollin’, rollin’ along, with Gary on the accordion and the others demonstrating the actions to accompany the song, I was distracted by flailing limbs on my right hand side. It was James, who had started swinging an imaginary lasso and giving free rein to his horse. I was pleased to see that my child was happily absorbed.
The songs kept a-coming, complemented by Gary switching effortlessly between keyboards and a purple trombone. I have Funbox to thank for James learning how to say “camphorated oil” – not the most useful vocabulary in the world, but a key lyric in ‘John Brown’s Baby’. I particularly liked a song about using your indoor voice, versus your outdoor voice. This one prompted plenty of audience participation, and who can fault a bit of fun which incorporates a valuable learning point!
There was plenty of witty repartee among our three entertainers, and a few Perth references were thrown in and well received by the audience. Some of the funniest dialogue occurred when several children were invited to join in the shenanigans on stage. The kids enjoyed the spotlight and our trusty trio were forced off-script, with genuine laughs resulting from the interaction.
The set design incorporated a livery stable, saloon (milk bar), and bank. There was also the funbox itself, a large windowed box which functions as a narrative device, helping the story move along. Behind its windows are props and new characters in the form of puppet “funster friends”. As the funbox was ceremoniously unlocked, I realised the extent of the group’s loyal following as everyone around us broke into a well-practised chant. Not their first time at a Funbox show! The performers move the dynamic set components around themselves, singing and chatting all the while, and make what is probably a very tricky production appear seamless.
The Wild West Show proved to be a lively mix of frontier fun and cowboy antics. The humour was undoubtedly tailored for small children – there was a trump joke (of the breaking wind variety, rather than a political statement), not to mention an actual banana skin – but the adults were chuckling too. At one point, we were induced to try a spot of yodeling, and later I found myself watching a wacky wedding unite a very cute frog and mouse, with a dancing bumblebee in attendance. I also particularly enjoyed watching James trying to do an impression of a cactus – his contortions suggested that it’s more difficult than you might think!
Our ebullient escapades ended with Gary, Kevin and Anya in among the audience. James and his wee pal Cooper sprang out of their seats and began dancing in the aisle – I’m not sure they were supposed to, but no one was putting a dampener on things.
Look out for more Funbox, who will be coming back to Perth this Christmas for their Christmas in Toy Town Special!
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