29/8/10, Pleasance Dome (Edinburgh Fringe)
A real cracker by a company that calls itself Pants on Fire, a staging of Ovid's tales of transformations and (mostly) frustrated love, thwarted, unrequited or otherwise problematical. Endlessly inventive, witty, touching, superbly-drilled, it scarcely flagged.
Directed by Peter Bramley, who is head of movement at Rose Bruford College and was among the last batch of students to train with Jacques Lecoq before his death. He clearly knows all there is to know about movement, mime and physical theatre. The cast are all recent Rose Bruford graduates, who act, sing, play instruments (trombone, piano, flute, drum, accordion) and in one case operate puppets.
The conceit had the stories updated to World War Two, a sort of homage to Powell and Pressburger, and one scene (Theseus in the labyrinth) was a pretty straight lift from A Matter of Life and Death with the addition of a routine involving nurses and an inert patient who needs to be given a bed bath and a change which (judging by a video on the company's website) is something of a Pants on Fire signature.
Daedalus and Icarus were in fighter pilots' flying jakets; at one point three girls in 40s evening dress crooned into a microphone (Did I mention the music? Original songs in the style of the 1940s by Lucy Egger); Narcissus was dressed in a fetching fedora and great coat (in a video projection); Tiresias was in evening dress like a 1930s Berlin cabaret turn; the nymph Salmacis wore a blue swimsuit; Echo was a talkative cockney char in Rosie the Riveter-style scarf; etc etc etc.
There were remarkably quick changes, using moveable screens (upright and horizontal), appropriately for a series of stories about shape-shifting. Cupid was a surly little boy puppet with the (female) puppeteer providing his face and voice.
One might quibble that the Narcissus projection was a bit samey, that the actors struggled with the cut-glass 1940s accents sometimes, that it flagged a bit two-thirds of the way through and that the Semele episode looked distinctly under-developed after repeated recent exposure to Handel's version. But these are quibbles. I spent most of the time with a stupid grin on my face.
Unquestionably a company (and a director) to watch.