Five Feet in Front (The Ballad of Little Johnnie Wylo)

theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 12 Aug 2015

Praying for rain won't be a familiar feeling for most Fringe-goers. But playwright Chloe Daykin has taken the relentless drought of the Deep South dust bowl as her setting and uses it to stir up a storm of weird Western musical fun.

Little Johnny (Alex Tahnee) is a girl with a dead father, a mute mother and no water in her dried out Southern town. So she makes a deal with the wind (the appropriately named Maria Crocker) to change her fortunes. But the townsfolk get wind of her crafty pact, and she falls foul of big agribusiness and the sinister realtors that caused her Dad's downfall.

Daykin's muddled plot isn't the sturdiest beast of burden, but Newcastle company The Letter Room load it with teeming bags of tricks. Identically dressed Tahnee and Crocker's stomp-footed tap dance duet is brilliant fun. And the banjo-toting band that soundtrack the piece are real talents, with the twin energies of Alice Blundell and Michael Blair narrating the story, singing, and switching between piano and violin as well as bluegrass strings.

But their efforts are slightly hampered by a cumbersome staging that posts them on either side of a big white tent, its walls used for shadow play and mysterious apparitions. Dramatic moments are swaddled in fabric until it feels less like a spontaneous hoe down and more like watching a band of slack-jawed yokels fight their way out of a dusty wedding marquee.

The plot may be tangled, but this tight-knit ensemble more than deliver on atmosphere and enough pure fun to blow the tumbleweeds away.