Reviews

Beowulf: An Epic Panto at the King’s Head Theatre has just set the bar higher for the traditional pantomime ★★★★

Following the success of their critically-acclaimed production of ‘Snow White in the Seven Months of Lockdown’, which received an OnComm award from the Offies, Charles Court Opera are back with ‘Beowulf: An Epic Panto’. The legendary hero of the Geats is given a special panto makeover as the camp, socially-awkward hero that we actually need this Christmas. Much like the original epic poem which references Beowulf’s bloodline several times over the course of the text, Beowulf (Matthew Kellett) uses a second, comically sonourous voice, and an exaggerated inflation of his chest, to repeatedly declare that he is “Beowulf, son of Edgetheow!” 

The opening number begins with the lights down, and the cast dressed in long hooded cloaks; the story-telling element of this old legend truly comes to life with a side of panto drollness. This opening wouldn’t be out of place as a Scandinavian Eurovision entry. Lyrics like “A long time ago in Scandinavian land, when the snow was cold, and the castles were grand” set the scene and plummet us into a winterly world of fur pelts, mead and open fires. This production is certainly not short of catchy songs, such as “Sugar And Spice” and “My Name Is”, which are also accompanied by fun choreography executed with real gusto. 

Beowulf is joined by his best friend Wiglaff (Emily Cairns), who develops a romantic interest in Beowulf, further parodying the heteronormative traditions of the masculine hero who embarks on adventures to win the affections of the passive princess. Incidentally, Princess Hrothmund (Julia Mariko Smith) is no courtly princess in distress! If anything, she is a brave and valiant warrior who overshadows the heroic efforts of Bewolf. At one point, in a battle with the monster Grendel (Phillip Lee), she rips off his arm in pure rapture with a tinge of manic bloodlust. This scene itself is brilliant, with strobe lighting to capture the chaos of battle, and water that squirts from Grendel’s wound into the audience. There are also other fanatical creatures, including the infamous dragon.

Jennie Jacobs deserves a special mention with her brilliant performance as Gredel’s chain-smoking, hunchbacked, and tenacious Mother, who is announced each time she appears on stage with a rather guttural voice-recording announcing, “Grendel’s Mother!” With her exaggerated East-End accent and crooked fingers constantly around a lit cigarette, she comes across crude, and coarse, particularly in contrast with Beowulf or the princess. In keeping with the traditions of this production, the lines between good and evil are often blurred. Grendel’s Mother, is simply a mother. 

For a small production, there has been no holding back on the ingenuity around effects and visuals. Beowulf is commanded by the princess to retrieve her father’s sword from a monster that lives in the depths of the sea. The monster, a giant fish, is resourcefully crafted with giant glow sticks and is worn as a costume by Phillip Lee.

Charles Court Opera have not only managed to turn the legend of Beowulf on its head, but have parodied the dichotomy between hero and villain, and even the traditions of the pantomime itself! If you/re looking to see a pantomime that not only surpasses your expectation, but sets a higher bar, then this is not one to miss!