Pantomime is a mad hodgepodge of an artform at the best of times – but if you’ve ever thought: ‘What panto lacks is a little light opera’, then ‘The Nativity Panto’ is for you. Then again, if you’re more into your divas than your dames, you quite possibly already know about The King’s Head’s associate company Charles Court Opera (CCO), who’ve been doing their ‘boutique’ panto in bijoux London theatre spaces for 13 years.
For those that are new to it, fear not – it’s all still very very festive and very very silly, with the requisite booing, singalongs, groan-worthy puns and innuendo, and audience participation. It’s just that the songs – mostly pop classic with wittily re-written lyrics – are sung with real clout.
CCO’s artistic director John Savournin has scripted a secular sort of take on the nativity play: Mary and Joe Christmas are a pair of toy-making elves, living in a permanently frozen land where the wicked Jack Frost steals everyone’s joy to keep things chilly. But a prophecy has said a little elf baby will save the day. Soon Mary is visited by a bush named the Holly Ghost, who persuades Mary she only needs just ‘a small prick’ to get preggers (a sniggering joke that is overextended with Gina G’s ‘Ooh Ah… Just a Little Bit’, re-written made to sound even more suggestive). After which point, Jack Frost is beginning to look a lot like Herod…
It’s all irreverent fun and the rhyming script is performed with absolutely wholehearted commitment by a multi-rolling, comedy-accent-adopting cast of five. Jennie Jacobs makes for a lithe, posh, and gleefully wicked Jack Frost, and the iciest heart would surely melt at Emily Cairn’s Rudy, a reindeer who’s too anxious to fly, mittened hands held in front of her like dejected little hoofs.
CCO’s panto clearly has a loyal, loving following (and judging by the superior quality and volume of the singalong, a few fellow opera singers were in the audience too), but their approach won’t be for everyone. With the vintage pop choices (see also A-Ha and the Spice Girls) and a couple of rapping moments, it did remind me a bit of teachers gamely doing an end-of-term show, or the Gilbert & Sullivan Society at university attempting to branch out on a Christmas fundraiser. Actually, given CCO’s speciality the rest of the year is intimate G&S productions, the show basically is a very high-end version of that.