King Tut: A Pyramid Panto – King’s Head Theatre, London

Writer and Director: James Savournin

Lyrics and Arrangements: David Eaton

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

In the well-trodden panto furrow, genuine innovation is pretty rare, so Charles Court Opera’s latest “Boutique Pantomime” at the King’s Head Theatre is something a bit special. While the political jokes are updated every year and the gender-swapped casting may be de rigueur, the essential elements of panto are as traditional as mince pies, and King Tut: A Pyramid Panto manages to combine a standard format with an entirely new story.

While searching for the tomb of Tutankhamen, hapless Howard Carter and his evil patron Lord Conniving are pulled back in time to the court of young King Tut. Desperate to steal Tut’s jewels, Conniving disguises himself as a courtier to trick the young King into handing over his treasures. To find their way home to 1922, Carter must join forces with Evelyn, disguised as archaeologist Brian, and Tut’s best friend the camel to find the mysterious Eye of Horus.

This charming production of King Tut is extremely well conceived by creator and director James Savournin who strikes just the right balance between fantastical storytelling and tongue-in-cheek humour. The show’s “adults only” evening performances are considerably filthier than the family-friendly matinees, but the deliberately shonky production values and over-the-top performances will equally delight young children and merry Londoners after a few mulled wines.

Savournin seamlessly incorporates a range of pop and high culture influences including music adapted from well-known songs by Michael Jackson and Sandy Shaw, while Walk Like an Egyptian is an inevitable reference. Highlights include a glorious solo of I Want to Know What Love Is as Matt R. J. Ward’s Carter realises his love for Brian, and a savage fight between Tut and his camel friend to the Spice Girls’ Who Do You Think You Are? And Savournin still manages to pack in musical excerpts from Beethoven, Eastenders, Friends and The Crystal Maze.

The jokes too, range from the utterly silly to the surprisingly sophisticated, eliciting laughs and groans in equal measure. But, in the adult version, it is the crude humour that makes the most impact, with an early wordplay joke about a KFC bargain bucket that is both clever and jaw-droppingly dirty, rolling around the happily shocked audience for some time.

The cast of King Tut seem to be enjoying every second of their performances, and while this is a solid ensemble piece, there is excellent work from Ward as a daffy Howard Carter and Francesa Fenech as determined love-interest Evelyn. But Matthew Kellett steals the show as Lord Conniving, a character the audience will love-to-hate, playing his dastardliness with relish, while Phillip Lee is a hoot as the pantomime camel with a northern accent.

Sean Turner’s set is a charmingly nostalgic proscenium arch that includes several cartoony painted backdrops, and glittery curtains that, along with Mia Wallden’s costumes, are purposefully shabby, but still manage to be entirely transporting. The gameshow section involves some Catchphrase meets Play Your Cards Right meets The Price is Right audience participation, utilising precisely the same technique as James Graham’s latest play Quiz, which may be a coincidence or a deliberate nod.

While occasionally the lyrics are lost beneath the music so the non-microphoned voices can’t quite compete, and the final audience singalong should probably come before the plot is resolved, this show has all the right elements – an evil villain, a magical setting in a far-away land, women dressed as men (although no dames), a heart-warming love story and plenty of glitter – but wrapped in a brand new story, cunningly designed to include as many fun references as possible. Utterly bonkers and full of joy, King Tut: A Pyramid Panto is a real Christmas cracker.

Runs until 6 January 2018 | Image: Contributed

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