Describing adulterous gods and vengeful goddesses, the romantic tragedies of Ovid’s ‘Metamorphoses’ are seamlessly transposed to the 1940s by theatre company Pants On Fire. A raucous mixture of live music, dance, puppetry, film and knockabout physical comedy, the show is garnering rave reviews. ThreeWeeks’ Katie Conaglen met with two of the company’s bright young stars, Mabel Jones and Hannah Pierce, to discuss the show.
War-torn Britain in the 40s may seem like an unlikely fit for Ovid’s stories, but Jones and Pierce are quick to point out parallels: “The 40s were a time of great heroism and strength”, Hannah notes, “men and women both at war and on screen were godlike, and the monsters in Ovid’s stories correlate well with the monsters of our plot. Also, the legendary stories from that 40s period now seem like fairy tales”.
This doesn’t mean that the show is lost on modern audiences. “The 1940s are fashionable now, and the show has an element of burlesque; it’s retro and it’s fun. Beyond that, the subject matter is relevant to now. With issues of climate change and deforestation, the message in Ovid’s work about respecting nature is still current; he was imploring people not to ignore an issue that we continue to gloss over today”.
If that makes the show sound at all preachy; it isn’t. “It’s at midday, so we were conscious of needing to allow the show to have a lightness, and to be fun – it’s also a nice opportunity to use Lecoq techniques on stage”, remarks Mabel, citing the legendary French actor instructor, at whose school Pants on Fire Artistic Director Peter Bramley trained. Lecoq’s approach to physical theatre informs the movement and action of the production.
The eclectic talents of the cast also shape the show: Mabel is co-artistic director of the Woodenfingers puppetry company, while Hannah is co-artistic director of the Made From Scratch theatre company. Most of the cast are recent graduates of the Rose Bruford College. “We designed the show during the weekends over the course of a year,” Mabel explains. Hannah continues, “it was massively collaborative. The scenes and stories were all devised by the group, everybody bringing individual ideas, then it was refined and refined”.
“We had to kill our babies”, Mabel adds, “so many ideas were thrown away, and the show went through so many different manifestations”. This process of constant streamlining and fine-tuning means, that at 75 minutes, the show is jam-packed with innovation and creativity. To the audience, the show seems to operate flawlessly – with dance, sleight-of-hand, a cavalcade of novel props and an ever moving stage combining to cultivate a sense of magic.
“I think audiences would be shocked if they saw the camera footage of what happens backstage”, Hannah admits, “it’s a backstage heavy show. It takes half an hour to set up each performance, to make sure everything is in the right place”. Mabel nods, “everything works so manically backstage – you have to be meticulous. If just one hat is in the wrong place it can throw everything else out”.
Thankfully, that hasn’t happened during their run at the Fringe, with the pair modestly admitting to the show having been a success thus far, and audiences greatly enjoying it. Pants on Fire has plans to tour the production, and then go on to develop a new show.
“We know each other so well now, we’re a family”, Hannah grins. Mabel concurs, “I think as a company we have an exciting, strong future”. Judging by their current, spell-binding production, there’s every reason to believe her.
Pants Of Fire’s show ‘Ovid’s Metamorphoses’ was performed at the Pleasance Dome during Fringe 2010. Pictured is Mabel and Hannah’s cast mate Joseph Mann in ‘Ovid’s Metamorphoses’.