A Heroic Pantomime

Reviewer's rating

Charles Court Opera, led by John Savournin, has been putting on Christmas shows for a number of years now – this year the show is produced in partnership with the Jermyn Street Theatre in central London. JST is a tiny space with a big track record and together the two teams have struck gold with this show. It is the funniest performance I have seen for many a month. As a reviewer I have to admit I lost my critic’s cool and found myself joining in with the silliness, helpless with laughter on three occasions. I would love to tell you the jokes that had me in stitches but I have promised “no spoilers” so I will have to avoid all but the barest bones of the plot – and of the way in which Savournin and Eaton have subverted the ancient story of Odysseus’ long journey home to Ithaca from Troy. I can say that it is better than The Iliad.

Penelope, Queen of Ithaca, has got fed up with waiting around for her dimwit husband to find his way home so she sets off with a constipated and very hard-working horse to rescue him. Along the way they encounter the lonely cyclops Polyfeefifofumnus, the witch Circe, who has a nasty habit of casting spells that result in her captives becoming pigs, and the doubly surprising monster Scylla. The gods – Hermes, Aphrodite and Poseidon – make regular appearances, not always helpful ones.

All this mayhem is conjured up by five brilliant performers, all playing more than one role. It is a wonderful team. Top billing must go to Rosie Strobel who plays the two chief villains, a straight-on wicked witch for Circe and a brilliant parody of a well-known TV star for Scylla – she is simply superb in both roles. Emily Cairns plays Penelope as an ersatz superwoman and Aphrodite as an sexy airhead out of ‘reality TV’.  Meriel Cunningham plays the horse as a home counties good-guy – but her tiny cameo as a drunken Dionysus muttering incomprehensible comments had me on the floor. Amy J Payne is an absurdly touching cyclops, however many eyes she has at any given moment. And Tamoy Phipps as an incompetent Hermes, who gets gradually downgraded from messenger to the gods to lesser jobs, handles the job of encouraging audience participation with pzazz – and yes, we were truly awful. David Eaton and Dave Jennings are the band – and a very good band too.

Though the absurdity of the plot is huge – and huge fun – there is some very slick choreography and – as one would expect from the Charles Court Opera – there is some fine singing on occasion worthy of the best girl groups you could mention. The text in general, and particularly the lyrics of the songs, are sparklingly witty – and sometimes they come so thick and fast its difficult to follow. It would repay a second visit and that’s what I am aiming for. Traditional pantomimes are not my thing but this bizarre amalgam of comedy, musical, epic and inter-species romcom is irresistible. Five shining stars!