|THE ENCHANTED PIG
|By Heather Neill
Safely back home in beautifully refurbished quarters after a two-year "walkabout", the Young Vic presents its much-anticipated Christmas show. Traditionally, this is the best in town, the most innovative, the wittiest - and the best value.
The Enchanted Pig has one thing in common with previous children's seasonal shows here: it is based on a folk tale, but it is quite different in that it is sung. A hybrid musical-cum-opera it respects its audience by not patronising them while at the same time providing energetic, funny, magical entertainment. Young Vic fans will not be disappointed.
The source is a Romanian folk tale, set to music by composer Jonathan Dove with a libretto by Alasdair Middleton designed to charm everyone aged seven to 97 with its combination of junior "rude" words, teen-speak and grown-up romance. Dove and director John Fulljames (of the Opera Group) collaborated on Tobias and the Angel, the community opera that triumphantly reopened the Young Vic in October. Their magic works again here.
Flora is the youngest daughter of a king. When he goes away to war her sisters persuade her to open the forbidden door to a room, which houses the Book of Fate; once read, its predictions must be fulfilled. The older sisters are happily matched with a pair of kings, but Flora must marry a pig. The pig (of course) is an enchanted prince who is partly freed by her compassion, but a wicked witch wants him for her own daughter and Flora has to undertake a cosmic journey and wear out three pairs of iron shoes to win him back.
The materialistic sisters (Akiya Henry and Kate Chapman), their self-satisfied beaus (Delroy Atkinson and Joshua Dallas) and the tantrum-prone witch's daughter (Chapman again) are great fun. But even better are the North Wind and his wife (played by John Rawnsley and Nuala Willis and based on the librettist's north-country parents) who bicker and insult each other while remaining utterly devoted. Flora is learning that love is not just about the first flush of romance.
There are spine-tingling moments too, both in Flora's flying over the audience in her quest and in the singing. What better way to encounter opera than the beautiful (but unslushy) love duet sung by diminutive mezzo-soprano Caryl Hughes as determined Flora and baritone Rodney Clarke, both a bulky boar and a strapping prince?
The cast consists of eight hard-working actor-singers, four from opera backgrounds, and four with musical theatre voices. Opera veterans Rawnsley and Willis play a number of roles with terrific gusto. The versatile musical theatre quartet all have excellent voices and a talent for well-timed humour. Henry and Atkinson are especially pleasing in a flirtatious knockabout routine as Sun and Day. And both musical styles are well served by a six-piece band housed discreetly beside the thrust stage.
If the premise that the action is topped and tailed by scientists exploring the nature of love isn't entirely clear, this scarcely matters. The story, energetically delivered all over Dick Bird's imposing, gently-reflecting set, makes the theme perfectly clear.
After its Young Vic run, the production travels to other UK venues for a month, so the magic can spread even further.