Charles Court Opera have gained quite the reputation for their boutique pantomimes which have been running at The King’s Head Theatre since 2014, even managing to stage an online interactive adventure during last year’s lockdown. They return this year to in-person performances, much to the delight of everyone, with Beowulf: An Epic Panto, a medieval romp with more than a few surprises up its sleeve.
Written and directed by John Savournin, Beowulf never dares to take itself too seriously, exactly as pantomime should be. This is high camp frivolity, some terrible jokes, and a villain that we all love to hate. The audience get to enjoy the fun of calling out all the usual pantomime phrases, while booing and cheering in equal measure.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this isn’t a professional production, the ‘Epic’ in the title takes on extra significance when you see Stewart J Charlesworth’s costumes and Jo Palmer’s lighting, both of which bring a touch of the West End to this beloved fringe venue.
Charles Court Opera first staged Beowulf a decade ago, and this updated and reworked version feels entirely appropriate for the world we’re currently living in. While Beowulf tries to be the hero, it is in fact Princess Hrothmund (Julia Mariko Smith) who demonstrates real bravery. Wiglaff harbours a secret crush on Beowulf, who hasn’t quite accepted his own feelings yet, and the monster Grendel (Philip Lee) just wants to make some new friends.
Matthew Kellett, plays Beowulf with aplomb, injecting the right amount of comedy and pathos to the role, switching accents to highlight the reality versus the perceived notion of masculinity. Jennie Jacobs revels in the villainous role of Grendel’s Mother, utilising a physicality that is inherently funny.
David Eaton’s songs are by far the highlight of the night, every one of which are brilliantly written, well thought through, and most importantly, eminently catchy. By the final number you could feel the audience itching to get up and dance along, and perhaps in a larger venue they would have done so.
Each one of the cast sound fantastic when performing a solo, Emily Cairns as Wiglaff in particular, but some of the duets or group numbers do sound a bit ropey. However, somehow even that adds to the charm of the production and doesn’t distract from the overall fun night being had by all.
The team have clearly made a conscious effort to make each scene new and refreshing, from the high energy of ‘Party Like It’s 600 AD’ to the comical video game pastiche of ‘Let This Be Our Final Battle’, Beowulf feels like a sprawling adventure, even if it is on a small stage.
With plenty of innuendo, Beowulf: An Epic Panto is the kind of pantomime that’s more suited to an adult audience without being a full-on ‘adult panto’, it’s difficult not to enjoy the various elements of it and ultimately it delivers what everyone wants (and currently needs) from a pantomime – a couple of hours to forget the outside world and just laugh.
Beowulf: An Epic Panto is at The King’s Head Theatre until January 8th 2022