You’ve read the poem, now see the musical. Eric Idle’s 1996 novel, on which Dougal Irvine’s stage adaptation is based, takes Edward Lear’s famous nonsense poem and fleshes it out, adding layers of plot and Python-esque absurdist whimsy to fill out a full two hours.
In a neat prologue, a band of players introduce the poem, arguing over its logic – why are the Owl and the Pussycat travelling to the land where the bong tree grows? The answer (of course) is to stop an incoming comet from causing mass extinction.
The theme of environmental catastrophe is unexpected but lightly deployed, and the nonsensical characters and plot belie real contemporary relevance – it’s nothing if not ambitious. As news of the comet reaches the people of Earth and instigates a mass shopping spree, it wouldn’t be totally unreasonable to call the show a parable for late-capitalism. It was also pleasing to see a play which engages with environmental issues lit, by Mike Robertson, predominantly with energy-saving LEDs.
Despite an obviously skilled cast and a visually rich production – there’s copious smoke, animated projections and even pyrotechnics – a few details get missed under Hamish Glen’s direction, with a complex participatory number and some exposition and humour failing to land with the children in the audience. Nevertheless, it’s a fun musical, with some catchy numbers and engaging, energetic performances, especially from Danny Lane as a sheepish Owl who belts his little avian heart out.