Caro Meets Musicals & Opera Interview Theatre Interview

John Savournin: The Odyssey – A Heroic Pantomime

By | Published on Friday 17 November 2023

Yay, pantomime season is well and truly under way, so what better way to celebrate it than by talking to pantomime creators?

One of our favourite panto-producing companies is Charles Court Opera, and we’ve been tipping their boutique and unusual offerings for years. What we haven’t done for a while, though, is talk to them about it, and I very much felt it was time to correct that.

We last spoke to script writer and director John Savournin back in 2015 about that year’s staging of ‘Mirror Mirror’.

This time I spoke to him to find out more about this year’s show – based on ‘The Odyssey’ and staged at Jermyn Street Theatre – as well as what else we can expect from Charles Court Opera in the coming year.

CM: Can you start by telling readers what to expect from a Charles Court Opera boutique pantomime? How are they different from others?
JS: You can expect the unexpected. It’s bonkers, really. It’s full of left field humour, fantastic songs performed by a ridiculously talented cast with a mix of musical theatre and classical backgrounds.

It’s a pantomime, of course, with lots of elements you would expect, but it’s SO much more than that. Some describe our pantos as ‘alternative’ due to the fact that we take on unusual titles and subvert them in witty, creative ways – we’ve also tackled ‘Beowulf’, King Tut and the Nativity, to give you a flavour. 

CM: Indeed: this time you’re taking on ‘The Odyssey’, which is of course an unusual basis for a pantomime. What made you decide on this particular story for this year’s show?
JS: We’ve talked about it for a few years now, as it is packed with such fantastic characters going on an incredible, almost magical adventure – it’s rife for a panto treatment. And Stella, the Artistic Director of JST, was really taken by the suggestion, as a lover of Greek mythology, so here we are!

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the music? What style is it?
JS: The music is made up of songs you’ll know from across the decades and all kinds of genres, some very retro, some very recent, mixed in with original songs by our musical director David Eaton. The songs are a huge part of what makes these shows so special.

CM: Can you give us a bit of insight into how your pantos are put together? What’s the creative process? What happens between script writer and song creator?
JS: Perhaps unusually, we first put a cast together so we know what personalities and skills we have to work with. Then, David Eaton and I spend a number of months working on a storyboard together. 

It’s so helpful to be able to bounce ideas around. After that, we split our duties – he goes off to work on the music and I thrash out a script.

Of course, we’re always talking throughout that time, and throwing around ideas for songs, or changes to the plot etc. And this is before we’ve got in the rehearsal room with the cast, which is when the real magic happens.

CM: I know that you have performed in your pantomimes before, are you appearing in this one?
JS: I’m not appearing in this one – at least, not in person – you’ll hear me in one role!

CM: The last time we spoke to you, in 2015, you were on your ninth Charles Court Opera pantomime, and you’re still going. What keeps you interested in doing pantomimes?
JS: I think it’s the creativity that it allows. There are no limits to what we can do, and it’s such a good laugh. We are absolutely howling with laughter in the rehearsals.

CM: 2015 was your first time at the King’s Head, and now it’s your first time at Jermyn Street, I think? What prompted you to stage the show at the new venue?
JS: Jermyn Street Theatre reminds me so much of the Rosemary Branch Theatre, which is where we started. It’s charming, intimate and gorgeous.

CM: How have things been for Charles Court Opera in the last few years? Did COVID have a big impact?
JS: The pandemic was hard for the arts in general, of course, and we, like everyone else, had to pivot quickly.

We developed an online digital programme of events, including singing workshops, cooking and arts and crafts videos, and offered a ‘dial-a-song’ service, where we called people, as the request of a relative or friends, who were on their own.

We also managed an outdoor tour, and raised money to support our performers through what was a very difficult time for everyone.

CM: What plans and aims do you have for the future?
JS: Next up is ‘The Barber Of Seville’ at Wilton’s Music Hall. We’re giving it a wild west treatment – perfect for Wilton’s! – and can’t wait.

After that, well, I can’t say too much just yet, but we’ll be touring a new G&S production, working on an outreach project with the Royal Opera House, and then we’ll be at Opera Holland Park for our fourth co-production, this time presenting ‘The Yeomen Of The Guard’, one of my favourites.

CM: What’s coming up next for you after this?
JS: I have a fantastic opportunity to work on an opera in the Netherlands called ‘Powder Her Face’ by Thomas Ades. It’s quite a departure from the panto, to say the least!

‘Odyssey: A Heroic Pantomime’ is on at Jermyn Street Theatre from 23 Nov-31 Dec. For details and to book tickets head to the venue website here.

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