There are times when a production takes you completely by surprise. I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting with a show billed as ‘Desperate Housewives meets Jerry Springer’ but what I ended up seeing was raucously funny, well performed, and a riotous show that had an enthusiastic audience a-hollerin’ and a-whoopin’ on a chilly winter’s night.
What impressed me most is that beneath the raunchy and crass exterior that poked fun at the ‘white trailer park trash’ stereotype there was an underlying sweetness and genuine affection for these characters. These people may be flawed and make bad decisions but ultimately they are more than just stereotypes as they deal with the circumstances they find themselves in. Sure, there’s plenty of craziness along the way, narrated in hilarious fashion by the trio of Betty (Cicely Binford), Linoleum (Cassie Skinner) and Pickles (Therese Cruise) but it’s the central relationship between Jeannie (Joanna Tyler) and Norbert (Mitch Lawrence) that is the heartbeat of the show. They live in Armadillo Acres, a trailer park in Florida. The metaphor of the entrenched mobile home is an apt one – they could move on if only they chose to but habit more than anything keeps them locked in place.
Their marriage, already strained due to a past tragedy that leaves an agoraphobic Jeannie confined to their trailer, is tested further with the arrival of a stripper on the run, Pippi (Caroline Perks). Norbert, frustrated by Jeannie’s inability to step outside her self-imposed comfort zone, finds his own comfort in the arms of Pippi causing havoc in the close-knit community. To complicate matters further, Pippi’s crazed, texter sniffing boyfriend, Duke (Tom Hutton) is on his way from Oklahoma City looking for her. The second act gets a little messy as the plot machinations play out but I was well and truly on board after a stellar first act.
There was a pre-show warm up – audience participation was encouraged – and I must say we were in fine voice. As were the performers – the singing was of a high quality throughout with Cicely Binford, Joanna Tyler and Therese Cruise particularly impressive. Binford, Skinner and Cruise are a riot as the trailer park denizens who set the scene and comment on events with more costume changes than a Cher concert. The cast also sport a spectacular collection of wigs which is a sight to behold especially during the Finale. Norbert, who ostensibly is a schmuck for cheating on his wife, is played with such earnest, aw shucks charm (“ham sammidges!”) by Mitch Lawrence it’s hard not to identify with his dilemma and human frailty.
Joanna Tyler gives the key performance though as she grounds the whole thing playing a woman crippled by fear and doubt who is stuck in one place like the trailer she lives in. Crucially though she wants to be better which makes Norbert’s betrayal all the more devastating… yet is also a catalyst for her eventual ‘mobility’. Caroline Perks is a striking presence as Pippi, playing the stripper as both confident of who and what she is but also resigned to her fate as a storm of judgement besets the character. Then there’s Tom Hutton who threatens to steal the show as the unhinged boyfriend, all redneck machismo and stupidity.
The songs are terrific with clever lyrics that are pointed and funny. The band was a little muted playing behind the middle trailer of the set which is unfortunate as they appeared in rocking good form.
Highlights included a spot on roasting of the Jerry Springer style show in The Great American TV Show with cat fights and all; a beautiful rendition of Owner of My Heart, a sweet number between Lawrence, Perks and Tyler that betrays the affection beneath the boisterous mockery; the closing number of the first act, Storm’s A-Brewin’ with Binford nearly bringing the house down; the deliciously black Road Kill as Duke speeds towards the trailer park taking out everything in his wake; and I was quite taken by Tyler’s Panic as a song that reinforces her character’s predicament. The show ended to well earned, thunderous applause and I thoroughly enjoyed this rollickingly entertaining production.
Directed by Lorna Mackie, Musical Direction by Krispin Maesalu, with Music and Lyrics by David Nehls and a Book by Betsy Kelso, The Great American Trailer Park Musical, starring Cicely Binford, Cassie Skinner, Therese Cruise, Joanna Tyler, Mitch Lawrence, Tom Hutton and Caroline Perks has only two more shows, on 8pm, 8th and 9th August at the Roleystone Theatre. Plan a rendezvous ("that's French for..." you know what, I'll let you discover the answer to that...) out at Roleystone – it’s more than worth it. Just watch out for any bunny rabbits on the way!