The press night audience enjoyed this new version of Beowulf, a pantomime last done by the Charles Court Opera Company in 2012 at the Rosemary Branch theatre. That was an evening marked by the splendid surreal moment when John Savournin, the show’s begetter, who was playing the Dame, threw a custard pie in the face of his publicist, Kevin Wilson.It has gone down in the annals of those who are fans of the Company’s pantos as a moment to treasure. This far more lavish and rewritten version once again directed by Savournin, although he is not playing the Dame being otherwise engaged, has no custard pies and no kitchen scene, which is a pity. The cast is also mostly new although led by Matthew Kellet, an old favourite from previous pantos in the title role of the reluctant hero who does not want to have to kill Grendel,the monster threatening the kingdom, played here as in 2012 by Philip Lee.
Everyone sings well as one would expect, there is a dragon to materialise at the climax, and Jennie Jacob’s makes a brave stab at the Dame role of Grendel’s Mum. Beowulf has no wish to kill anybody and spends most of his time dodging the approaches of his best mate Wigladd, played by Emily Cairns, who fancies him no end. This leads to one of the best of several terrible puns – when they are forced to spend the wintry night in a cheaply bought tent Beowulf informs the world – “Now is the winter of our discount tent.” There are more where that came from.
There is also audience participation, rather fine costumes, a terrific sea monster Beowulf has to dive down to the deeps of the ocean to meet in order to rescue the sword which the heroine, Princes Hrothmund, Julia Marika Smith striding around in thigh slapping gear, needs kill the various monsters.The sea monster,also played by Philip Lee, is a chatty soul first seen glowing luminously in the dark, a terrific creation by designer Stewart J Charlesworth, but an effect spoiled by a mistaken decision to turn up the lights to reveal it is just a collection of old hula hoops and some bits of card. It all ends happily once we discover what Grendel’s Mum was to the dragon and Beowulf and Wiglaff disover their trie selves with the five strong cast, who have been charging all over the place like mad the entire evening, singing a song called All The Colours of the Rainbow.
As a jolly Christmas show it passes muster and, it being the season of good will, gets four stars although to be honest I did not enjoy it all that much. At times it is just too clever by half.
Beowulf: Matthew Kellett.
Wiglaff: Emily Cairns.
Princess Hrothmund: Julia Marika Smith.
Grendel: Philip Lee.
Grendel;s Mother: Jennie Jacobs.
Swing: Kirsty Mclean.
Director: John Savournin.
Musical Director: David Eaton.
Choreographer: David Hulston.
Set % Costume Designer: Stewart J Charlesworth.
Lighting Designer: Jo Palmer.
Production photographs: Nick Palmer.