If it falls just short of being magical, The Enchanted Pig, playing in the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio throughout the Christmas period, is great entertainment for all ages and an ideal introduction to theatre for younger audiences.
The show started life in 2006 at the Young Vic, as a collaboration with the enterprising The Opera Group. The sell-out run was followed by a UK tour, and now turns up as the ROH2 Christmas family extravaganza.
The story, based on a Roumanian folk-tale, is simple - three princesses defy their father's command to stay away from the room at the end of the hall. Entering while he's away, they discover the Book of Fate, which foretells that the two older sisters will marry kings while the youngest, Flora, is destined to marry a pig. Having found out that her swinish husband is under a spell, and to her surprise and pleasure reverts to a man at night, she promptly loses him and has to go off in search of him, taking in the sun, moon and winds on her travels.
Theatregoers will probably see the show as opera, while regular operagoers might feel inclined to label it musical theatre. Certainly it veers between the two, from a fast and funny opening that recalls Sondheim in sound and substance to a more operatic second section, in which romance blossoms between beauty and the beast.
In the second half it becomes more overtly MT, with a boisterous dance sequence between The Sun and Day and a show-stealing duet between Mr and Mrs Northwind which extols the joys of marital longevity. Composer Jonathan Dove steers a clever course between genres, serving Alasdair Middleton’s zappy and witty lyrics and staying the right side of accessible while widening the audience’s musical possibilities.
John Fulljames’ production bulges with ideas and he rises brilliantly to the challenges of the folksy story (what a shame that his Opera North staging of Janacek’s similarly picaresque Broucek won’t be making it to London). Dick Bird’s burnished-silver set sits comfortably on the Linbury’s open stage, spilling into the auditorium, with planets and stars hovering enticingly overhead.
The cast of eight are an energetic and cheerful bunch, most required to switch roles with lightning speed, which they do with total ease and commitment. Simon Wilding (a recent victim in real life of, you’ve guessed it, swine flu) is a splendid pig, while his earnest princess (Susan Boyd or Karina Lucas on the press night?) joins him in carrying the operatic weight of the piece.
There are enough references to poo, wee, bogies and farts to keep most children squealing happily, which in turn adds delight for the older audience members. The six-piece band – harp, percussion, trombone, cello, double bass and the very welcome inclusion of an accordion – joyfully spins out Dove’s inventive lines under Tim Murray’s baton.
Running until 2 January, The Enchanted Pig is a splendid addition to the Royal Opera House’s current season of Christmas crowd-pleasers.