My love affair with panto has been rekindled. The prospect of going to yet another interminably long, hackneyed vehicle for fading soap stars filled me with dread, and was to be avoided other than for the contractual obligations of fatherhood. Charles Court Opera have changed my view with their latest production of Pinocchio at the King’s Head in Islington. Yes, we still get the awful puns, standard characters, and a plot that bears little examination, but this is a panto with real charm and humour.
The songs – adaptations of classics by Queen, Abba, Spice Girls. Ponter Sisters, Meatloaf, the Beatles and many others – are given great humour and topicality in rewritten versions by David Easton. The turning of Eleanor Rigby into Jiminy Cricket is a work of genius that delivers proper comic pathos. Using performers from an opera company also helps a great deal, partly because of the strength of the singing, but also because they really can act, and this gets them through any shortfalls in the dialogue, of which there are very few. Robin Bailey is an especially impressive louche and calculating fox, and Francesca Fenech delightful as the love interest snail, Michelle (a name which helps a rapid-fire stream of one liners).
A point should also be made regarding the strength of this company. On the evening I attended, the actor playing Pinocchio (Joshua da Costa) was unwell and struggled to sing, the depth of resources meant that, without an understudy, he had to perform, and not only did his acting carry his performance so that his necessary sotto voce did not matter, the rest of the cast and the musicians supported him admirably; with the former accompanying him more when needed, and the latter playing more quietly so he could be more easily heard. A true team effort. The usual panto moments of audience participation are hilarious (you may not want to sit in an aisle seat if you are shy) and work much better for this being billed an “adult” panto – although the company does a toned down version for children in matinees. The staging and props are basic, but the show is all the more endearing for this, and the dog-fish is made with a creative genius almost worthy of the team behind War Horse.
This show is on at the King’s Head until 7th January.
Is it time to revisit panto – oh yes it is!