Who Needs A Manger When A Neurotic Reindeer Will Do? The Nativity Panto At King's Head Theatre

The Nativity Panto, King's Head Theatre ★★★★☆

By Will Tizard Last edited 8 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

Who Needs A Manger When A Neurotic Reindeer Will Do? The Nativity Panto At King's Head Theatre The Nativity Panto, King's Head Theatre 4
Photo: Bill Knight

In a political season that challenges us to take pride in things British, there are few genuine coins of the realm more lustrous than an authentic holiday panto. Happily, the Charles Court Opera's The Nativity Panto triumphs over the hubris in wondrous old-school bawdiness, skipping over the innumerable traps that lay before a director who dares to take on this ancient tradition.

From the opening scene in which the doughty Christmas Carol (masterfully shape-shifting Jennie Jacobs) invites us to gather round for a storybook tale, flashing us a glimpse of raunchy novel instead, the solid comic timing of John Savournin's production is clear. Shortly thereafter, Joe and Mary (Matthew Kellett and Meriel Cunningham), the struggling northern couple at the centre of the story (he works tirelessly on a secret formula to make reindeer fly while his long-suffering wife dreams of having a baby) break into one of David Eaton's deftly ironic musical numbers.

The game notches up when Jacobs returns as the villainous Jack Frost, breaking into rap lyrics on the joys of evil alongside her factotum, Snowflake (Catrine Kirkman), tossing out the suggestion that the audience themselves are probably "Brexit-hating snowflakes," while urging her partner in crime to "stay frosty" as they hatch their plan to foil the coming immaculate conception. Obligatory audience howls are now assured.

Photo: Bill Knight

Mary, meanwhile, is visited in this holiday mash-up by a soothsaying holly bush (Kirkman), who advises her she will finally have her precious baby if she’ll just submit to a skin jab, assuring her that "just a little prick" is enough. (A more G-rated version of the show is also staged as a Family Matinee, along with an all ages version, but those willing to revel in the rude will want to book the 7pm shows.)

Speaking of which, one particular king of the three who soon appear, King Key (Kellett), sets the bar for lowly double-entendre, while his mates, King Size (Emily Cairns, who doubles as a deeply insecure Rudolph) and King Pin (Kirkman) keep the kettle roiling with feast binging and Russian gangster bits, respectively.

If it all sounds too much too contain in the confines of the King’s Head backroom stage, be assured that somehow Rachel Szmukler’s gingerbread house-like stage design makes the madness magically fit, even for the boundless energy of Damian Czarnecki's wild, woolly choreography with drummer Dave Jennings' kit helpfully stacked above the stage.

Savournin, who conceived the OTT story with Eaton, has a gift for smart, sassy send-ups, as audiences who’ve caught the CCO’s other musical comedy and operetta offerings can attest. As artistic director of the troupe, he's next prepping a production of HMS Pinafore and a new staging of Iolanthe for the King’s Head — both, based on the pandemonium seen at The Nativity Panto, will be tickets to scoop up.

The Nativity Panto, King’s Head Theatre, 115 Upper Street, The Angel, N1 1QN. Tickets £10-£30, until 11 January 2020.

Last Updated 19 December 2019