Hannah Pierce, Eloise Secker and Mabel Jones in Pants On Fire's Metamorphoses. Photo by Tom Packer.
BOTTOM LINE: Metamorphoses is an updated adaptation of Ovid’s work by the same name performed with music and movement by a tight ensemble.
Pants on Fire’s new devised adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses was brought to The Flea from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe by the Carol Tambor Theatrical Foundation after its run there won both the praise of the local press and the Best Of Edinburgh Award. That’s a lot of prestige to live up to, and this production does it.
When audiences arrive at the theatre, the cast is already waiting in the lobby performing songs in their fanciful forties get ups. The WWII era clothing and hair is at once elegant and whimsical. It is also highly dramatic, automatically conjuring ideas of heroics, separated lovers, and good times at a canteen!
But the drama of the wardrobe is just a foil to the telling of Ovid’s stories. Using projected films, movement, puppetry and original and devised music, this ensemble jumps in and out of roles, leading the audience through tale after tale, each familiar but told in a new and theatrical way. Ovid’s myths are ones most audiences know, but Pants on Fire’s playful approach to telling them allows the audience to reacquaint and reexamine these stories and their themes.
For the entire 90 minutes, the diverse use of props, puppets, and the masterful staging keeps each new moment fresh and exciting. It’s invigoratingly inventive and inspiring to see the work unfold with new surprises. The work was conceived and adapted by Peter Bramley and then devised by Pants on Fire; these imaginations working together have produced dynamic theatre.
And of course the original songs by Lucy Egger make the most of the WWII theme, giving us the brightest and the bluest of that rich musical period, and putting it all to use.
The performances are superb. Particularly striking on the stage are Jo Dockery (and not just because of her fantastic feathered hat as Juno) and Eloise Secker, however the entire ensemble of seven are so intricately used and so equally talented that by the end you lose track of who is who in the best way possible. They become everyone — in the truest kind of ensemble success their identities actually blend on the stage.
This blending is also a commendation for Peter Bramley’s direction. What he accomplishes with seven actors and 4 flats is nothing short of brilliant. Metamorphoses leads the audience through comedy, tragedy, and fantasy without spectacle or waste. Every moment is efficiently choreographed and designed to maximize the effect of the moment.
There is a socially conscious message at the end, which is hoisted upon the audience, but it comes organically from the show and from everything that the audience has seen. I had an “aha!” moment when I realized the script had been leading to its meaning all along, so as far as having a litany forced upon me, at least in this case it was done well.
This production of Metamorphoses is likely the most dynamic and theatrical show playing in New York right now, and it reminds us how rich theatre can be when it is fed by so many elements.
(Metamorphoses plays at The Flea Theatre, 41 White Street at Broadway, through January 30, 2011. Performances are Tuesdays through Fridays at 7PM, Saturdays at 3PM and 7PM, and Sundays at 5PM. Tickets are $42.50 and can be purchased by calling OvationTix at 212.352.3101 or by visiting theflea.org.)