Charles Court Opera have been doing ‘boutique pantomimes’ for a while now, and this year, as the title indicates, they have taken the story of The Odyssey (loosely), rearranged it a bit, and turned it into a pantomime. The cast of five (Amy J Payne, Emily Cairns, Meriel Cunningham, Rosie Strobel and Tamoy Phipps) play multiple roles, ably assisted by percussionist Dave Jennings. This time Penelope (Cairns) is the protagonist, going on a quest with a group of mates to rescue husband Odysseus (Strobel).
All the usual panto elements are present and there is good audience interaction from each of the performers. The five women are obviously very talented and work well together. Strobel successfully takes on the role of MC in various guises, Scylla being my favourite. Phipps, as the rather gormless Hermes, manages to coerce the audience into remembering and shouting a rather complicated call and response, whilst baddie Circe (Strobel) presents ample opportunities for boos and hisses, and two hapless ‘volunteers’ are called upon to perform a quest.
The jokes come thick and fast, starting with the costumes: Hermes dressed in peaked cap, shorts and padded gilet, Dionysus (Cunningham) with a drinking helmet and straw. There is a constant deluge of puns; Greek puns, other cheesy puns, dad jokes – each one eliciting groans, giggles or downright belly laughs. You have to concentrate to keep up.
There is a bit of an assumption that audience members will know the Greek myths. Anyone who has not studied Classics, or perhaps studied them decades ago (and sorry, watching Disney cartoons does not count), may not catch all the references. There are other contemporary jokes to enjoy though, including David Eaton’s song choices.
With the word ‘Opera’ in the title of the company you would rightly expect some pretty good singing, and the cast do not disappoint. They each have strong, distinctive voices which shine in the group numbers. Playing multiple roles, they also manage to change both singing and speaking voices to suit different characters.
Cosy Jermyn Street Theatre is the perfect setting for the small cast and small budget, giving it a ‘local’ feel even though people may have travelled miles. Sound and lighting are always effective here, and this was no exception, from the generic Greek ‘lift music’ background to Jennings’ perfectly timed rim shots.
This is an enjoyable panto, well-performed and a refreshing change from the usual stories, though still retaining the traditional components. So, entering into the spirit, I won’t lyre to you, all Rhodes may not lead to Jermyn Street, but it’s worth taking a Minotaur two for a detour to see this fun production which Ouzo’s with charm.
Sorry – couldn’t resist.
Written and directed by: John Savournin
Musical Direction by: David Eaton
Set and Costume Design by: Stewart J. Charlesworth
Lighting Design by: Ben Pickersgill
Produced by: Gabriel Uboldi
Odyssey – A Heroic Pantomime plays at Jermyn Street Theatre until 31 December. Further information and bookings can be found here.