adapted by Peter Bramley conceived by Pants on Fire songs & lyrics by Lucy Egger.
Pants on Fire Tour to 4 June 2011.
Runs 1hr 30min No interval.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 23 April at the Tron Theatre Glasgow.
A blazing success.
British theatre these days is hardly short of keen young groups with expertise in physical theatre, imaginatively exploring ways to use actors, puppets and technology. Yet too often their theatrical invention some way outstrips their material; they have wonderful ways of saying not too much, and mostly what’s rather obvious.
Which makes Pants on Fire and this show exceptional. First, by going to Roman author Publius Ovidius Naso – a major source for Shakespeare and his time – Peter Bramley and his company have a fund of stories ranging from the familiar to the hardly-known, where shape-changing tales, generally caused by some god’s amorous affairs, with sometimes a jealous goddess’s angry response, carry insight into human ways.
But the piece’s ultimate strength is its relation of the Roman legends to a 1940s wartime setting. Practically, it makes for familiarity with characters, their social setting and with genre (black-and-white film). And the iconography of wartime objects, including gas-mask and gramophone, helps in telling the tales. Meanwhile the smooth sliding of screens to reveal a variety of characters in various guises uses stagecraft to reinforce the sharp-focused, ever-fluent storytelling.
But it’s towards the end the setting takes on a deeper significance, linking the theme of metamorphosis to hints dropped along the way about the conflict between human actions and – in place of God or gods – nature.
When Semele destroys herself through being tricked into demanding her lover Jupiter reveal himself out of disguise in divine shape, the god’s fatal form appears on screen as the mushroom-cloud of atomic explosion. Suddenly the period, and the scattered references to man changing nature, zoom into a new perspective. Natural disasters that might be from recent TV news coverage further seal the bond between ancient and modern angsts.
It is (except perhaps for the most percipient) a shock a visceral as The Sixth Sense’s ultimate revelation provided, backed-up by the logic of events seen in a new light. But it wouldn’t work without the excellent performances, precision and inventive logic that’s gone before. With fine close-harmony singing thrown in, this is outstanding theatre that packs a dramatic punch.
Jupiter/Daedalus/Perseus: Jonathan Davenport.
Juno/Salmacis/Nurse: Jo Dockery.
Cupid/Io/Nurse/Semele: Mabel Jones.
Apollo/Narcissus/Icarus: Tom McCall.
Tiresias/Hermaphroditus/Atlas/Theseus: Alex Packer.
Echo/Tiresias/Andromeda/Nurse: Hannah Pierce.
Daphne/Mercury/Medusa/Ariadne: Eloise Secker.
Director: Peter Bramley.
Designer/Puppets: Samuel Wyer.
Lighting: Ralph Stokeld.