The Enchanted Pig
Music by John Dove, words by Alasdair Middleton
Welsh singer/actress Caryl Hughes is amazing. She is a slim, petite brunette who has a pure soprano voice and real acting ability. That is as rare a combination as a man who spends his days as a pig wallowing in mud.
The Enchanted Pig is a tremendous mix of drama and comedy, opera and musical with something for everyone. The creative team have gone to tremendous trouble to come up with something really unusual and different and have succeeded to great effect.
The story has themes that draw on folk tales and other plays but the mix makes the show both unique and always intriguing.
We open with a King deserting his three daughters for a bit of war-mongering. He gives them a single instruction, don't enter a locked room. Within minutes, they are in and discover their fates from a human book.
The elder two will marry Kings but poor young Flora (Miss Hughes) is fated to wed a pig. On dad's triumphal return, two handsome, if none too bright royals roll up and take their prizes.
Then, much to the terror of audience members on whom he creeps up, massive baritone Rodney Clarke appears as a roaring, possessive pig.
To her credit, Flora accepts her husband and returns to his sty to begin a rather muddy married life. The following night, she gets the surprise of her life when her piggy partner is replaced by a rather dishy hunk of a man.
Following a few twists, she inadvertently allows him to escape into the clutches of an evil mother, Nuala Willis and her narcissistic daughter, Kate Chapman's Adelaide.
As they prepare for the wedding between Adelaide and Pig, our heroine initially takes advice from the North Wind (John Rawnsley) and the Moon (Joshua Dallas). Finally she meets the sun and his girl, Delroy Atkinson and the very funny Akiya Henry who present the kind of dance sensation that could easily dislocate a shoulder as well as a useful brooch.
This is a fairy tale so the happy ending need hardly be mentioned but still pleases at the end of a packed two and a quarter hours.
The story is one thing but the production qualities and sheer imagination take this show on to another level. The best analogy might be John Doyle's chamber version of Sweeney Todd, which transferred from The Watermill in Newbury to the West End and Broadway.
The Opera Group's director John Fulljames has great resources to call upon. John Dove's music provides a fascinating mix of opera and musical. Music is provided by an eccentric sextet including harp, cello, trombone and percussion, allowing great versatility. The band is energetic and heard at its best accompanying and colouring the life of Flora as she takes an Orphean journey to rescue her porcine husband.
Dick Bird's design features a lot of tarnished silver and eccentric costumes as well as some unforgettable props such a gigantic wedding cake, with the audience set out in a semi-circle but able to get involved as actors appear amongst them and in Caryl Hughes' case flying overhead too.
The final element is the text, apparently based on a Romanian fairy tale and with often witty lyrics penned by Alasdair Middleton.
The Enchanted Pig may not have too tempting a title but is a lovely fusion of diverse elements and highly recommended.
Running until 27th January
Reviewer: Philip Fisher