Clowning troupe are riding into town with a high-energy spaghetti Western
It's a show that has goodies, baddies, hats, holsters, pistols at dawn and gaffer-tape moustaches, all stitched up in song, dance and crazy clowning. Hmmn... that can mean only one thing – apart from trouble, of course. Yes, it's the return of that wild, high-energy Westcountry comedy gang Le Navet Bete with their super spoofed-up version of the spaghetti Western.
This time they come armed with the fruits of a nice little grant – £34,000 to be precise – from the Arts Council England which, among other things, has enabled them to expand on the scale, scope and professionalism of Once Upon A Time In A Western, which they debuted around this time last year with a residency at Exeter's Bike Shed Theatre.
The award-winning troupe – Al Dunn, Nick Bunt, Matt Freeman and Dan Bianchi – have toured festivals internationally with their outdoor productions. They are currently hard at work in Theatre Alibi's roomy rehearsal space in Exeter putting the finishing touches to the new production before it opens its UK tour at the city's Phoenix arts centre on Tuesday. It will be at the Barbican Theatre in Plymouth the following week, with later dates around north, east and south Devon, as well as Falmouth and Newquay.
"This is really a turning point for our indoor theatre work, and I think it has come at just the right point in our careers," explains Al, who met the others while studying on the Plymouth University theatre and performance course, when it was based at Rolle College in Exmouth. They have been working together since 2006.
"The support of Arts Council England means that in addition to us being able to invest in creating really high quality work, we'll also be able to tour it more extensively, reaching much wider audiences. And because we have upped the ante for every bit of the piece, we needed the space and time to get it right."
The show, delightful as it was in its infancy, now benefits from the professional direction skills of John Nicholson of acclaimed physical theatre company Peepolykus, creator of BBC Radio 4 comedy drama Marley Was Dead.
"John has been doing this kind of show for years and it's been great to have him involved," adds Al.
They have also harnessed the skills of set designers Prop Tarts, the expertise of Stage Electrics and the versatility of the eBay emporium for costumes and hardware.
"We got all sorts of stuff online – including hats and waistcoats and an antique tin bath," says Al.
So, the story goes a bit like this... a tumbleweed silently rolls across the dusty stage… the clink-clink-clink of spurs echoes throughout the theatre… the saloon door opens with a long, drawn-out creak… the piano player hits a bum note and comes to a stop… a short, dark stranger lifts the rim of his hat and shoots a steely stare out to the audience.
Welcome to Kidneystone where outlaw and all-round bad guy Loco Pedro (played by Al) is secretly in cahoots with the Mayor to rob the town's train of all its gold.
"It's the first time I've been the villain and it's great fun; I am the butt of many many jokes about me being short, and I am totally undermined," says Al.
As well as pyrotechnics, sugar glass bottles ripe for smashing and a gun that fires a real blank bullet (yes, duck!) there will be loads of audience participation and plenty of live music to keep the action romping along.
"We use an electric piano, but we'll put it inside an old stand-up piano so it looks authentic. We've got flutes and pipes, and I play three different stringed instruments," he adds.
Visit lenavetbete.com for details.