The Caroline Carter rodeo has rocked into Edinburgh bringing with it a delicious slice of Midwest glitz and glamour. Of course by Midwest I mean Birmingham, because whilst Carter sings songs of redemption in a true country-and-western style, the characters she’s singing about are distinctly British.
Carter is the the alter-ego of Flick Ferdinando and she brings a million dollar smile and a dollop of American romanticism to the most pedestrian of stories. Travelling around in a camper van, she claims to be touring the country picking up eccentrics and strays. A number dedicated to a heroic road sweeper from Hounslow is particularly funny; she has a magpie’s eye for a good anecdote, for finding stories ripe for setting to music.
With her dark brown curls and wicked grin, Carter is like a black swan version of Dolly Parton. A twinkle pervades every lyric and shimmy and she has a selection of fabulous outfits not to mention a wagon from which she plies her audience with alcohol. A glittery sheet sparkles in the background and her deadpan sidekick, Barney Strachan, sports a Stetson that would look ridiculous on a lesser man. He is quite brilliant as the silent foil to her brashness; his timing is impeccable, as is his musical prowess.
But for all her garishness, Carter is actually quite a subtle creation. Ferdinando has, amongst other things, directed outrageous shows such as Kim Nobel Must Die and this may disappoint some expecting more of the same, but instead it allows her genuine talent as a song writer to come through. She has an ear for a beautiful melody and her lyrics reveal a confidence in her own skills as a satirist, a surprising lightness of touch as she sends up both herself and the audience, but – crucially – never the people she sings about.
Since I saw the show I’ve heard talk of people who left convinced she was the genuine article, a real country singer, and I suspect some might wonder if Ferdinando pushes the conceit far enough for it to be truly interesting as theatre, for it to be more than just an extended sketch. But in my opinion it really doesn’t matter. How wonderful would it be if someone did confess all to Caroline Carter, only to come back the next day to find themselves written into the show?It seems not entirely impossible that this could happen – and if it did it would matter little whether we saw Carter or Ferdinando behind the guitar, the delight would be just the same.