07 December 2017
King Tut: A Pyramid Panto by Charles Court Opera
The King’s Head Theatre, Islington
reviewed by Adam McCormack
Star rating: ****
There are two reasons (at least) why people have stopped going to panto. One is that we are an ageing population and, without a young person to take, there is little excuse to go. Another is that people got bored with over long, hackneyed productions, full of product placement (this being the only way to get funding) and fading soap stars. However, with their eleventh panto, Charles Court Opera manages to stylishly overcome all of these issues.
The generational problem is tackled with a production that works on different levels for all ages, with a toned down matinee performance for younger children. Writer, director and performer, John Savournin, has managed to identify a long overdue new theme for a panto, in adapting the story of the discovery of the tomb of King Tutankhamen. Introducing a fresh panto story gives a great opportunity for originality, without losing the elements that people love and expect. The plot allows an archetypal panto baddy, Lord Conniving (played with all the traditional malevolence by Savournin) as well as lovelorn heroes, Howard Carter (Matt Ward) and the object of his affections, Evelyn (Francesca Fenech), and a key comic character subject to the usual pratfalls (here a camel called Clive). Howard and Evelyn, disguised as Brian (ladies are not welcome), have been duped into helping to locate the riches of King Tut’s tomb by the evil Conniving, but before Conniving can abscond with the treasure the trio are whisked back to the time of the pharaohs.
Having a panto produced by an opera company also has the benefit of featuring singing quality way beyond the norm, and Savournin’s adaptations of popular songs across a huge time span to fit his narrative is both entertaining and intellectually impressive. Tunes as far ranging as Beethoven’s Fifth and the East Enders theme fit well with the adapted works of Petula Clark (Downtown hilariously becomes Downstairs, in reference to Carter’s vulnerability to flatulence in moments of romance), the Spice Girls, the Bangles and David Bowie, to name but a few. There are also some new tunes that do not suffer by comparison.
To have King Tut played as a young Welsh dude from “The Valleys” is inspired and the role is perfectly handled by soprano Alys Roberts. Philip Lee is a star comic turn as the camel and game show host for “Play Your Glyphs Right”. King Tut is reassuringly heavily laden with some awful puns, and is ripe with innuendo in true “Carry On” style. At times this is borderline bawdy, but it is hard to see anyone taking real offence. The audience is, as with all good pantos, encouraged to get involved, get on stage and sing-along. This is an evening full of laughs, but also a few tears – quite an achievement for the genre. If you have not been to a panto for a long time, go along to King Tut – you will not be disappointed.
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