$GFrom the two drag queens in the foyer to the extravaganza on the stage, it

was pantomime all the way at Ken Russell's production of Princess Ida

for English National Opera.

Once again on stage the royal family are held to ridicule, with

Richard Van Allan giving a brilliant impersonation of Prince Charles in

the part of King Hildebrand, with the lovelorn Hilarion and his

companions tricked out as comic polo players -- until they too assumed

female guise for the infiltration of Castle Adamant -- and a few

skateboards disguised not very effectively as corgi dogs.

There are cruelly outsized ears everywhere in Act One, even on James

Merifield's ingenious design for ''Buck 'n' Yen'' palace, and the

libretto has updated to take jokey account of such current topics as

U-turns and Maastricht. But too often the words are drowned by excessive

prancing and pounding on the stage, and it is not until later scenes

that Jane Glover's astute reading of the score comes into its own.

Some of Sullivan's most attractive music went into Princess Ida, and

in the present version, based on the autograph score at the Bodleian,

receives rewarding treatment from most of the Coliseum cast. Rosemary

Joshua looks as pretty as she sounds in the part of the man-hating

Princess of the title, and there is fine singing from Mark Curtis, John

Graham-Hall, and Geoffrey Dolton, as the three young men determined to

breach feminine defences.

Anne Collins and Anne-Marie Owens provide blatantly butch caricatures

of Lady Blanche and Lady Psyche, Nerys Jones gives a sharply observed

and very funny performance as Melissa, but sadly Nickolas Grace has not

sufficient vocal weight for the part of Gama.