Co-founded by artistic director John Savournin, Charles Court Opera do operas in pubs, so a pantomime holds no fear for them. Their annual Christmas blowouts have long given up on classic panto plots: this year they’ve adapted the New Testament for ‘The Nativity Panto’.
Why do panto in a pub?
‘When the company first began we were always prepared for performing works, be it operas or musicals on a more intimate scale, and it was always on our minds to do a pantomime in the same vein. Before we knew it our particular brand of boutique pantomime was born.’
What’s the atmosphere like?
‘In such an intimate space the audience has an incredibly large role to play. The atmosphere can vary from being just plain lovely to being bawdy and raucous. I think it really does feel like you’ve gone to see a stand-up show when the comic is having a good one.’
You’re unique in not doing any of the traditional panto stories.
‘When we first began, we did. But then we found we were starting to want to make changes to those stories and then found ourselves exploring titles that seemed more unexpected – such as, er, “Beowulf”. There are lots that are in the bank for the future… We often laugh at the idea of “Great Expectations”, where a narrator simply reads the book from cover to cover without explanation and, three hours later, leaves the stage. Makes us laugh, anyway.’
What can you tell us about ‘The Nativity Panto’?
‘The interesting thing about the Nativity is that it has the right ingredients for a pantomime: the hero, the heroine, the magical figure and a strong villain in Herod. I wouldn’t like to give too much away, but the major thought was how to make a fun and tongue-in-cheek play while treating the fundamentals of the story with respect.’
Has anything ever gone horribly wrong?
‘One year, our villain went on to deliver a monologue about his triumphs thus far, but couldn’t remember a single word of it. After a pause, he panicked and shouted “JOHN! JOHN!”
I came on as the dame, asking “Who’s John?” I suggested he bow and leave the stage. He received a round of applause at least.’
‘The Nativity Panto’, King’s Head Theatre. Angel. Until Jan 11.