Based on a Romanian folk tale, Jonathan Dove and Alasdair Middleton’s The Enchanted Pig takes the audience on a rollicking adventure through time and space with some surprising and delightful staging along the way. In both sound and its re-working of fairy tales, the show veers perilously close to Sondheim pastiche at times with a dash of Benjamin Britten thrown in – but it’s fair to say that, by the end, it finds its own voice.
Having missed this show during its run at the Young Vic over Christmas, I was pleased to catch up with it near the end of its tour in Richmond.
The Enchanted Pig is an eclectic mix of styles. Just as operatic voices and those from musical theatre don’t always sit easily alongside each other, so some may find the collision of genres here a little confusing. There are rapid switches between a high opera style and out-and-out musical comedy, sometimes with opera and musical singers duetting.
Similarly, it’s difficult at times to know who this show is aimed at. It starts off clearly playing to a young audience but goes off in other directions that could easily lose younger children. It’s unusual to have a family show through-sung and at times the narrative isn’t as clear as it could be, down I think to the writing rather than the production.
The story is simple – three princesses defy their father’s command to stay away from the room at the end of the hall. Entering while he’s away, they discover the Book of Fate, which foretells that the two older sisters will marry kings while the youngest, Flora, is destined to marry a pig. Having found out that her swinish husband is under a spell, and to her surprise and pleasure reverts to a man at night, she promptly loses him and has to go off in search of him, taking in the sun, moon and winds on her travels. I’ll leave you to guess the ending.
The cast of eight energetically hurls itself from character to character through the two hours of the show. Highlights are a highly operatic sequence with Flora (Caryl Hughes) and the Pig (Rodney Clarke) on their wedding bed and a delightfully funny scene with the Northwinds (veterans John Rawnsley and Nuala Willis) extolling the dubious delights of marital longevity .
John Fulljames‘ direction is fast and inventive with, if anything, a superfluity of ideas. There are enough references to poo, wee, bogies and farts to keep most children squealing happily.
There’s a great six-piece band piano, harp, percussion, trombone, cello and double bass and the welcome inclusion of an accordion ( more opera orchestras should have them).
Dick Bird‘s excellent designs create some great stage pictures. I wondered if perhaps the transfer from the Young Vic to a proscenium theatre hadn’t been entirely successful. The original production had flying which doesn’t happen here and there could be a slight loss of immediacy.
Nevertheless, for a very different theatrical experience that works on a number of levels, this is a show to be recommended.