Ovid's Metamorphoses

archive review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 17 August 2010

Pants on Fire set their spirited actor-musician adaptation of Ovid’s narrative poem The Metamorphoses in wartime Britain, transposing the gods and mortals of these ancient stories into fighter pilots, evacuated children and cheery cockney washerwomen.

In less capable hands, this type of wholesale re-imagining could feel contrived, but there is no danger of that here. Peter Bramley’s adaptation seamlessly blends elements of the original text with new writing so the production feels faithful to Ovid without being limited by it.

The gifted company skip confidently from one myth to the next, using the domestic dramas of Juno and Jupiter as a droll framing narrative. The linking between individual episodes feels, for the most part, like a natural progression and there are several scenes in which two stories are skillfully combined, as when Juno takes away Echo’s voice as a punishment for gossiping about Arachne.

Composer Lucy Egger’s tender 1940s-style songs and assured underscoring bring a richness that is perfectly complemented by the cast’s precocious clowning. The show’s mild tendency towards superficial silliness is effectively counteracted by several moments of real poignancy made possible by its wartime context.

Puppetry, live music, projection and dance are all used to great comic and narrative effect, and the company’s inventive approach to these devices is refreshing to watch. With each shifting of the flats that make up the simple set comes something new and unexpected; the show as whole is a series of delicious surprises.