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Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Ovid’s Metamorphoses

Pants on Fire

Genre: Adaptation, Multimedia, Physical Theatre, Puppetry

Venue: Plesance Dome


Low Down

For fans of imaginative multi-media theatre, this is the show to see.


The title gives no hints of the delights to be found within Ovid’s Metamorphoses as conceived by director Peter Bramley, founder and Artistic Director of Pants on Fire. This is no dutiful trudge through Greek myths, but a fast-paced series of ever-changing vignettes, bringing ancient weird tales to life with music, movement, imaginative stagecraft, and wit. Supposedly set during World War II, perhaps so the Chorus could be an Andrews Sisters style trio, the piece has less to say about that particular moment in history, than it has to say about the universal themes of life as a series of dizzying transformations. Most of the transformations revolve around love, with an ingenious puppet Cupid and many short tales of love that are really not tales of true love, but of lust! Lusty gods and goddesses roam the stage, messing about with the fates of men and women. Lots of familiar characters here receiving surprising and delightful twists; Io turned into a soulful cow wearing a gas mask, or a character breaking into a tap dance when the audience least expects it!

The ensemble cast is uniformly good, a young company reviving an award-winning work. Some of the singing, especially the close harmonies of the three young women as Chorus, is really lovely. Surprises abound even in the way the music is presented. Blink and you’ll miss it, but even the pianist keeps changing! Just when you think the music is sliding into the predictable, out pops an upright bass played expertly, or a polished drum solo. An unseen hand appears to play the cymbal, like Thing in The Adams Family.

It’s a lot to ask of a cast, that they be able to play guitar, saxophone, piano, drums, or bass, as well as sing, dance, act, and continuously remain in motion moving panels of set around in complex patterns. But this company handled it all!

Film is incorporated so smoothly it’s hard to imagine the piece without it. Too often multi-media looks as if it has just been thrown in as an afterthought. But this production uses it sparingly, and with great effect, even mimicking the genre of the films of the 1940’s. This was best used when presenting the story of Narcissus as if he were a 1940’s film star, falling in love with his own image onscreen; itself a striking image.

There are times when the piece seems to be about love, but then moments when it seems to be about war, and still other times it seems to be about looming environmental disaster as man and nature clash. My only quibble would be that there doesn’t seem to be a main point to it all; but then I decided that perhaps the point was change itself.

Be prepared; there appears to be no plot that hangs the whole thing together, and there is very little spoken word. There is music, but it’s not a traditional musical, in that characters don’t burst into song to express emotion. But within the genre of multi-media theatre, using film and dance and music and puppets and all that, this show stands out as a most entertaining example, and will reward the audience with laughter and moments of real depth.