Christmas is upon us! Well, late November is upon us, which in turn brings the annual resurrection of the great British pantomime. Charles Court Opera are bringing their eleventh “boutique pantomime” (whatever that means) to the King’s Head. With a cast of both Charles Court Opera regulars and newcomers, the company attempt to give us a fresh new pantomime, not a whiff of a fairy tale or folk story here. Directed by, written by, and starring the presumably very busy John Savournin, we’re promised a journey back in time to Ancient Egypt for toe-tapping tunes, truly abominable puns and general tomfoolery.
We begin in 1922, where Howard Carter (Matt R J Ward) is famously searching for King Tutankhamun’s tomb. In real life, Carter was financially backed by Lord Carnarvon, who due to the similarity of their names, I can only assume was inspiration for the philandering Lord Conniving (Savournin), the villain of the piece. Joined by Lady Evelyn (Francesca Fenech), who was Carnarvon’s real-life daughter, they scour the Valley of the Kings for the tomb. And that is about where the historical accuracy ends. In the Charles Court Opera version, Evelyn and Howard Carter are in love, they travel back in time with Lord Conniving to Ancient Egypt where camels can talk and regularly sing ‘My Humps’ by the Black-Eyed Peas, and King Tutankhamun is inexplicably a small, white Welsh boy wearing 2012 Kanye West shutter shades from the Valley… of the Kings. Get it?
‘Lighten up!’ I hear you say, ‘it’s Christmas!’ and I know pantomimes are supposed to be cheesy and packed with gag inducing, well – gags. It wouldn’t be a pantomime without these traditional tropes. But King Tut took the biscuit. It was overflowing with slightly outdated jokes, often borrowed from online memes and pop culture references, like Darude’s Sandstorm, twerking, and the regular use if text-talk like “OMFG”. Perhaps I’m a bit of a Grinch, or perhaps some of the jokes were lazy. Don’t get me wrong, some were genuinely funny and clever, but others? Not so much.
The cast are unwaveringly enthusiastic, which is impossible not to admire. Savournin is the star of the show, appearing in an array of fancy dress-esque costumes, bedazzled and draping, and his comedic presence is admirable. Fenech has a charming presence as Evelyn, and Alys Roberts’ soprano can be heard impressively cutting above the rest when the cast sing as an ensemble.
King Tut seems to want to cover all bases, to be both traditionally corny in the way that your classic panto is, alongside remaining modern and current. It crams millennial meme humour into the slapstick pantomime format and I just don’t think the combination fits well. However, the cast seem to enjoy it, and perhaps children, or maybe I after a few glasses of mulled wine, would be more inclined to sing-along to ‘Agadoo’ with revised lyrics centring on a camel and its humps.
King Tut is playing at the King’s Head Theatre until January 6 2018.
Photo: William Knight