Odyssey: A Heroic Pantomime review – Jermyn Street Theatre, London

Meriel Cunningham as Trojan. Photo: Alex Brenner.

Co-written by Charles Court Opera’s artistic director and CEO John Savournin and its musical director David Eaton, Odyssey: A Heroic Pantomime provides an alternative Christmas Panto to the majority of offerings filling theatres around the country right now.

Directed by Savournin, the show retells not a fairytale but a tale from Greek mythology with Homer’s Odyssey providing the source material for the show. Odysseus has been taken captive by the witch Circe (Rosie Strobel) and his wife Penelope (Emily Cairns) is setting off to find him, accompanied by Odysseus’s Trojan horse (Meriel Cunningham) and the Gods’ messenger, Hermes (Tamoy Phipps) – and it’s a punny ride from start to finish and we’ll try not to spoil any of the Panto surprises that happen along the way.

Photo: Alex Brenner

While it might be offering something a little different to other pantos, Savournin and Eaton stick to the formula; so-bad-they’re-good puns, reworked versions of popular songs and audience participation all feature – some of it works better than the rest. The songs are hits including the Bee Gees and Britney Spears, and are well performed by the ensemble cast of five, and the pun-based jokes are more clever than your standard Panto fare, but the audience participation doesn’t quite land.

A phrase the audience is asked to shout out at certain moments is too long and complicated so that by the time it comes to shout it half the audience has forgotten it. And when sea monster Scylla gives us a surprise, surprise and a lorra, lorra laughs at the bottom of the ocean when she appears as a gameshow host (if you know what I mean), the television-style competition two members of the audience are pulled out to complete goes on a little too long without much humour or audience reaction. This might be partly due to the size of Jermyn Street Theatre which holds only a small number of people and thus a diminished chance of the cast having actual willing volunteers.

But the performances across the cast are good; Strobel is a joy as the cackling baddy Circes who speaks in a poetic metre and Cunningham channels Hugh Laurie’s George in Blackadder for a hilarious performance as Trojan, the horse – and provides us with truly operatic performances of the show’s pop tunes. The best gag of all is saved for non-cast members Eaton and percussionist Dave Jennings who make a brief but memorable appearance as the frogs of Aristophanes. Overall, it might not quite be as epic as Homer but it’s a fun trip nonetheless.

Odyssey: A Heroic Pantomime is at Jermyn Street Theatre, London until 31 December

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