Ovid’s Metamorphoses has long influenced art and literature with great popularity rather than any need for high erudition, Ovidian graffiti even appearing on walls in Pompeii. In this popular presentation of some of the Roman author’s tales, Pants on Fire, with their designer Samuel Wyer, have created a spectacular mythic feast using some simple ingredients: 1940s style music and costume and some door-like structures – movable tabs used brilliantly not only to change scenes, but also put to grand physical effect in relation to the actors during stories.
The cast of Ovid’s Metamorphoses have impressive instrumental, movement and vocal skills (Samantha Sutherland as Ariadne being in particularly fine singing voice) and these talents are fully utilised in tale after tale, with smooth transitions between stories, verbal and physical humour, and judicious use of props, puppetry and projection. Occasionally accents and some elements of pantomime humour are a little glaring, and sometimes acting veers into over-demonstration, but judgement on these aspects comes down to personal taste, and all is handled with indubitable confidence and panache.
Ovid’s tales of transformations where humans metamorphose into plants and animals and aspects of the earth itself are told via the desires and jealousies of the Roman Gods, in particular Jupiter’s pursuit of human women and the revenges taken upon these women and their children by his wife Juno (played with a beautiful distinguishing glide and great vocal technique by Jo Dockery). The changes themselves are performed with wit and ingenuity and the connection between human matter and the matter of the universe is made clear, the relationship of man and nature explored.
Humans and demi-gods whose stories appear include Tiresias, Hermaphroditus, Io, Arachne, Daphne, Icarus, Narcissus, Perseus and Theseus – people affected by lust, love and ambition; heroes and heroines whose reflection in wartime Britain works without seeming forced onto the audience’s consciousness and, for the most part, without being shoehorned into the tales. These connections include Theseus as a soldier battling in the labyrinth of his mind, Narcissus as a matinee idol and a chorus that accompany and narrate stories in the style of the Andrews Sisters. Not all tales are equally clearly introduced, but they flow well and some have truly moving moments within all the high comedy, such as Io transformed into a cow and Ariadne abandoned.
The energy and enthusiasm of the performers infect the audience and, as people filed out, there was much talk of how the set was arranged and used by the cast. Pants on Fire have produced an Ovid’s Metamorphoses that is extremely entertaining, with some thought to environmental issues and the way of death / transformation, performed by a highly musically and physically talented ensemble.
By Danielle Farrow
19 – 29 August, 12:15 (13:35) @ Pleasance Dome