Ovid receives an anachronistic fan letter from Pants on Fire’s Metamorphoses, a recent hit at the Edinburgh Fringe now playing at the Flea. In this lively, if at times overzealous, adaptation of Metamorphoses, director Peter Bramley has relocated the tales to London during the Blitz. In an unpersuasive director’s note, he argues that both Ovid’s era and the ’40s “were times when the concept of a ‘Hero’ and a ‘Monster’ were very real things.”
While this never properly justifies the temporal mash-up, it does provide an excuse to set the myths amid some playful songs and gorgeous costumes. Hence Jove appears in a smoking jacket and Juno in a sharp cocktail dress; Ariadne wears a fetching hat as she sings “Am I Blue.” While comparing Theseus to a soldier with brain injury or Tiresias to a cabaret singer doesn’t really stick, Narcissus is credible as a matinee idol, and it’s nicely chilling when Io, transformed into a cow, dons a bovine gas mask.
Even the less successful efforts speak to Bramley’s sparkling imagination, but at times he seems not to trust the text or his actors at all, so eager is he to subject it to his own cleverness. Each episode occurs very quickly, and even in the midst of them Bramley supplies ample distractions. Rather than merely reciting their lines, Io tap dances, Salmacis pirouettes, Echo does the washing up, all while actors drag scenery around and incidental music plays. Ovid’s subject is the world in constant flux, but even he must have allowed for the occasional pause.