Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview Theatre Interview

John Savournin: Mirror Mirror

By | Published on Wednesday 25 November 2015

John Savournin

This month Charles Court Opera brings the latest in a long line of ’boutique’ pantomimes – the ninth, in fact – to a new venue, Islington’s King’s Head Theatre, after eight years at The Rosemary Branch. This year’s show, ‘Mirror Mirror’ is based on Snow White.

To find out more about the show, the company, and the group’s panto tradition, I spoke to CCO’s founder and artistic director John Savournin.

CM: Tell us about Mirror Mirror – what happens? How close is it to the original Snow White story?
JS: Like many of our pantos, the story is a re-imagining of a tale in some ways, and completely original in others. We often subvert panto tradition – so the Dame isn’t who you’d expect, the Prince is the villain, or the Fairy Godmother is The Godfather in a tutu – and this year we’ve got some extra cheeky tricks up our sleeves, though we’d hate to spoil the surprises…

CM: The show is described as ’boutique panto’ – what would you say the characteristics of a boutique panto are?
JS: A big little show in a small space, that’s got everything you want from a panto, with a big dollop of sophistication. Because we are an opera company, the music, though actually rarely operatic, is sung with real skill, and is a big part of what makes the pantos special. We love letting our hair down, and singing jaw-dropping arrangements of songs from pop to Broadway, from soul to jazz.

CM: This is your ninth such panto, isn’t it? What made you choose this particular one this year?
JS: We often explore the traditional panto topics, and we’ve always been attracted to Snow White – a darker, Grimm brothers inspired story provides a lovely foil to last year’s hot, American panto-western.

CM: Tell us about Charles Court Opera – who is involved and what are your aims?
JS: I founded CCO in 2005 at Trinity College of Music, hence the name – Trinity is based in the King Charles Court at the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich. Hard to believe it’s been ten years – and we’ve come a long way since our first full length production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘The Mikado’ at The Rosemary Branch. We now seem to be one of the stalwart opera and music theatre companies in the off-west-end, and considered one of the leading exponents of Gilbert and Sullivan both in the UK and abroad.

I am the artistic director/resident stage director, and David Eaton is our resident musical director. Our aims are simple – to produce a variety of work from different genres – be it opera, pantomime, or musical theatre – and create good, entertaining work of a high standard – often small scale, sometimes not.

CM: How did the yearly panto tradition come about?
JS: I’ve always enjoyed performing in panto – I was a member of a local amateur society as a teenager that did (and still do) large scale pantos in Sheffield’s City Hall – and have a great fondness and sense of nostalgia for the genre. A couple of years after CCO began, we decided to stage one of our own and haven’t looked back. The pantos have become our most ambitious projects, which we have great affection for.

CM: What are your aims when you go about adapting a story for your format? How do you go about creating the shows?
JS: We spend many a month ironing out the plot and structure of the show, meeting with the designers etc, before we put pen to paper – this takes time and energy, but is vital. A lot comes from rehearsal too, and a big part is finding good musical numbers to showcase the performers. Sometimes we find musical numbers that we really want to do, and then work the story around them, sometimes we look for something that will suit the story we want to tell.

CM: You appear in the shows, don’t you? What roles do you take? What do you enjoy about performing in pantomimes?
JS: I have fallen into a cycle of playing the Dame, which I really enjoy. There’s something exciting about the direct connection to the audience – I’m fascinated by what makes an audience connect to the show, and working out how to recreate moments day in day out.

CM: What’s next for you, and the company?
JS: This year marks our first panto at the King’s Head, as we expand following eight wonderful years at the ‘Rosie’. We will be presenting some new G&S productions next year (watch this space) and we’re really look forward to our first production for the Iford Arts Festival in 2016, where we’ll present Mozart’s ‘The Magic Flute’.

‘Mirror Mirror’ is on at King’s Head Theatre from 3 Dec-9 Jan. See the venue website here for more info and to book tickets.

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Photo: Bill Knight