Steering firmly away from fairytales, Charles Court Opera's 2017 'boutique' pantomime heads to the heat and golden splendour of ancient Egypt with King Tut.
The pyramid panto – the company's eleventh in total and its third at the King's Head theatre – packs all the features of a traditional pantomime into this unusual
setting, along with a host of lively song-and-dance numbers, imaginatively choreographed by Tara Randell.
The company specialises in bringing great music to small spaces, and the quality of the arrangements is a testament to musical director and lyricist David Eaton. Director John Savournin's script takes Howard Carter's 1922 archaeological expedition back in time to meet the real King Tut, with Savournin himself a powerful presence as a splendidly scheming Lord Conniving, who plans to cart off a swag-bag of royal treasure to settle his own mounting debts. He's ably supported by Philip Lee who multi-tasks first as the Porter, and as Clive the Camel, whose eventual demise is accompanied by the inspired choice of David Bowie's haunting Space Oddity. Later he also does a great afterlife turn as a Bruce Forsyth-style Mummy, hosting Play Your Glyphs Right in an audience participation quiz.
Love interest and go-getting explorer Evelyn is played with sparkling good humour by Francesca Fenech, whose richly toned voice is a highlight of the production.
Soprano Alys Roberts is a bright, lively presence as Tut, the street-smart teenage King, and injects a healthy shot of energy into the show, particularly in the dance
sequences. Fresh-faced Matt RJ Ward is the awkward, lovelorn Carter, whose bowels let him down every time he's faced with the woman he loves.
The show is boosted by sun-drenched lighting design by Nicholas Holdridge, a splendidly glittering set from Sean Turner, and Mia Wallden's fabulous costumes
– with a special mention for the superb armchair that has a unique life of its own. With plenty of fart jokes and lots of familiar pop songs, this is a show that's
evidently aimed at young audiences as well as older ones who like their festive panto a bit fruitier.
However, there are times when it feels suspended between two worlds – not fully engaging for an adult-only audience, yet weighed down with lengthy plot explanations that might prove tricky for children to follow. Some of the singing is tentative, too, demonstrating that even for experienced singers, pop songs and power ballads aren't necessarily easy to deliver, or indeed to parody.
However there is a lot to enjoy, and the energy lifts particularly in the second half. It's a warm-hearted, boisterous production with plenty of sunny spells.
King Tut – A Pyramid Panto runs at the King's Head until 6 January.