Thought you’d seen every possible iteration of pantomime that British theatre has to offer? Well, you were myth-taken. If that pun made you groan – with delight – then Charles Court Opera’s boutique panto take on Homer is the one for you this Christmas. Yes, there’s an unmistakable whiff of the classics students’ jolly end-of-term skit, with some highbrow Hellenic humour, but that’s firmly balanced with pop culture gags, fart jokes, smutty innuendo and heavenly singing.
The tone of John Savournin and David Eaton’s production is Asterix-meets-Monty Python, with added girl power. Instead of following Odysseus on his travels, we see his wife Penelope set out to rescue her husband from the clutches of the witch Circe and bring him home. She’s accompanied by Odysseus’s horse Trojan and the gods’ messenger Hermes.
No one will be left fretting “It’s all Greek to me”: the story is comprehensibly told, with brisk explainers for characters such as Medusa – “Scary snake lady”. The gods are brought down to earth, figuratively speaking, with Aphrodite becoming an Essex girl and Dionysus slurping from a novelty drinks helmet. The Power Rangers theme is repurposed as “Go go Mount Olympus”.
The so-bad-they’re-great puns (sardonically punctuated by percussionist Dave Jennings) just keep coming, like this exchange about an economically depressed Ithaca: “What’s a Grecian urn?” “A lot less than he did 10 years ago!” Police sirens sound while the gang is at sea (the Sirens, geddit?), and an entire game-show segment, one that actually generates a lorra lorra laughs, is built on the notion that Scylla is synonymous with Cilla.
Politics is kept to a minimum, although surely a topical zinger about the Elgin Marbles could be worked in. The only real misstep is asking the audience to shout out a phrase that’s too complicated for the purpose, although our muddling of it almost becomes a running gag.
There are no such fumbles from the heroic five-strong cast, who multi-role with aplomb. As you might expect, the singing is really superb, far superior to your average pantomime, even if it’s only being applied here to pop songs with reworked lyrics; less Puccini, more Britney, Bee Gees, and – aptly – Journey.
Meriel Cunningham is hysterical throughout as the loyal Trojan, and she brings a gorgeous tone to a homoerotic number about the horse’s love for Odysseus. Excellent too are Amy J Payne as the cyclops who falls for Trojan (yes, there’s a brush with bestiality), Emily Cairns as a spirited Penelope, Tamoy Phipps as a hapless Hermes, and, in particular, Rosie Strobel giving fabulous panto villain as the cackling Circe.
Stewart J Charlesworth’s set is cheerfully candy-coloured and ramshackle, adding to the lo-fi charm of the enterprise. This might be the smallest pantomime in town, but it provides epic fun.
Until Dec 31. Tickets: 020 7287 2875; jermynstreettheatre.co.uk