If you have a ticket to Pants On Fire’s Ovid’s Metamorphoses, you have in your possession a way of securing the ferryman’s passage to one of the most mischievous and charming adaptations of an ancient work at Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
Pants On Fire’s Metamorphoses is a collision between classical myth and a cocktail party.
Although the imagery of myth is inherently theatrical, tested and refined by only a few thousand years of fireside gatherings and civilisation–building, Pants On Fire do not rely on easy tropes and cultural memory to carry their own performance. Ovid’s mythos is told with a kind of tender detail that shows a love to the source material which is affectionate and persuasive. Peter Bramley adapted and directed this delightful piece of theatre, which is interspersed by a medley of original songs by Lucy Egger, which are robust and sometimes touching.
Ovid’s Metamorphoses is not a complex show with regards to narrative or character; it is not cerebral, nor is it particularly emotive – although, like the myths of the Ancient world, it is seductively dark. Metamorphoses is just supreme fun. The value of fun should not be underestimated, and Pants On Fire have polished their own brand of fun to a rigorous and applaudable degree. Bramley’s staging and blocking of the performance is palpably mischievous, with celestial characters revealed from behind mobile screens with the bombastic tempo of cannon fire. Behind the scenes, the ensemble cast must have been diving around each other to prepare for the next Ovidian narrative, yet to the audience, they appear cool, calm, composed - and ever so stylish.
A large part of Pants On Fire’s offering is its aesthetic. The trappings of a parlour room place us squarely between the First World War and the Second; later myths take place within Blitz London. Again, a love of the source material shines through as myths are told in a linear fashion, beginning with earlier myths like the rebellion of Prometheus, and moving on to later myths such as the birth of Bacchus. Gods are jealous, promiscuous, and impeccably well dressed in ballgowns and double-breasted boating jackets.
The show could be considered a series of classically–informed sketches, were it not for the aesthetic through-line which binds the entire collective together. Like Ovid’s gods, the ensemble never loses mastery of the space they inhabit, and they exude a confident class which allows the them breathing space to transform the stage as they need to in-between acts. Transitions are relatively seamless, and where a prop is left slightly out of reach or a projector needs to be rotated, plenty of dab hands are ready to spring into action to keep the ball rolling.
Pants On Fire’s Metamorphoses is a collision between classical myths and a cocktail party. It adapts Ovid’s cautionary tales of natural order and paradigm shifts without being afraid to apply modern statement pieces. A thoroughly enjoyable performance, which is built on rigour and a love of craft that is endearing and, occasionally, Promethean.