The Metamorphoses – 250 stories collected in 15 books by the Roman writer Ovid – is a pinnacle piece of poetry that has influenced literature, theatre and art. Many art lovers have heard of the epic poem but haven’t had the chance to read it yet, however, after seeing Pants on Fire’s fantastic production there’s little reason to; most parts of the poem is covered in this colourfully diverse and charming production currently showing at The Pop-Up Palais in Earl Haig Hall. The London based theatre company first introduced its production of Ovid’s Metamorphoses at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2010 which then premiered in New York in 2011.
This explosive show brilliantly captures each individual transformation of human beings and deities through music, puppetry, song, film, historical war footage and theatre craftsmanship. This includes tales of Perseus, Medusa, Orpheus, Ariadne and IO, to name a few, yet it is set in the context of WWII Britain which gives it an edgy twist. Adapted by director Peter Bramley the stage explores the strength of humanity during a devastating period of human history to highlight the complexity of each metamorphosis.
The small stage of The Pop-Up Palais is maximised with moving doors to reveal characters, create new spaces and add to the quick scene changes. The delightful play presents one story to the next almost seamlessly without confusing itself with another in a timely pace, and the language isn’t limited to how it was written in A.D. 8 but mixed in with contemporary speech.
The 1940’s and 1950’s vintage costumes, provided by Vivien of Holloway, and absorbing music and lyrics written by Lucy Egger provide another level of entertainment which carefully tie into this neat production, keeping it fresh and relevant for audiences to follow. Songs also include ‘Am I Blue’ by Harry Akst and Grant Clarke and ‘You’ve changed’ by Bill Carey and Carl T. Fischer which is bound to be an earworm for some spectators.
There’s clever details on stage too from the London Underground to represent the underworld of Pluto, Io’s transformation into a cow as depicted by tin cans for hooves and a gas mask for her mouth, and Medusa’s snake-like hair is characterised by numerous hissing hands. Narcissus’ love story, to himself, is showcased in a hilarious film noir created by Jonathan Davenport and Samuel Wyre provides animated puppetry that add to the fairytale appeal to the creative production.
Up to thirty different deities, human beings and natural forces are summed up by superb acting, musical talent and singing by a seven-person cast including Adam Boakes, Liberty Coleman, Sindre Kayman, Chloe Levis, Beth Lockhart, Jack Quarton and Heather Winstanley. On top of the impressive stage direction and choreography there is fine instrument playing of the piano, guitar and trumpet from the cast as well. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is a bundle of joy to watch and an entertaining way to learn about one of the most significant texts of literature that even made a mark in several of Shakespeare plays. Catch it if you can.
Review by Mary Nguyen
Pants on Fire’s award-winning, sell-out actor-musician extravaganza presents ancient myths as you’ve never see them before! A swell party fusing magical stagecraft and breathtaking imagery which relocates Ovid’s epic tales of fantastical transformation to the dark and delicious times of WWII.
Cupid – an evacuee with a catapult, Narcissus – an iconic Hollywood heartthrob drooling over his own cinematic image and The Chorus- Andrews-like sisters finding close harmony amid cosmic chaos.
An exploration of man’s inextricable link with nature and the universe. At a time when the earth is beginning another metamorphosis and humankind finds itself on the brink of change, these prescient ancient myths strike a poignant chord.
8th – 30th October 2015
The Pop-Up Palais at Earl Haig Hall
London, N8 9TH