Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire

“He said, I’ve bought you a selfie stick. I said, do I have to do everything myself?”

I haven’t booked much Christmas-themed theatre this year in an attempt to try and reclaim a bit of a social life but also because I do find it quite hard to write reviews about pantomimes. By and large I’ve been quite lucky in the few I’ve been to in recent years, sticking to the venues who know what they’re doing (Hackney Empire, Lyric Hammersmith, New Wimbledon) but even with this logic, my fingers were burnt a little with this year’s first festive foray.

Marking Susie McKenna’s 17th panto for the Hackney Empire, Jack and the Beanstalk is a raucous, rambling affair indeed, but one blessed with the return of Clive Rowe as the Dame, the actor famed at the only one to win an Olivier for panto. And I have to say that the audience around us were largely loving the whole thing which is kind of the whole point, even if you’re bribing the kids with handfuls of free sweets (it’s only like giving critics drinks vouchers for the interval ;-)) Continue reading “Review: Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire”

Review: Puss in Boots, Hackney Empire

“Do you want to join the pussycat chorus”

Though its position at other times of the year may seem a little precarious, Susie McKenna has built up the Hackney Empire into one of the must-see venues for pantomime in London, drawing in families from far and wide to their revitalised yet still classic take on all the old favourites. This year is the turn of Puss in Boots to get the E8 treatment but as Kat B takes to the stage drawling through a heavy Jamaican accent and exhorting us to call out ‘Puss in Boots dem’, it is soon clear that this lesser known panto has had a little tinkering.

So whilst we do have a young miller’s son Thomas, who is cheated out of his inheritance and left with just his faithful feline who finds his way into a magic shoeshop, there’s also the various members of the royal household of the kingdom of Hackneyonia to get to know, as an evil queen has taken advantage of a missing prince. Along with a good fairy and an evil witch both trying to get their way. Plus a surprisingly effective ogre. So it can be a little perplexing to work out exactly what is going on, especially when there’s two separate villains to boo and for a title character, Puss doesn’t actually have a huge amount to do. Continue reading “Review: Puss in Boots, Hackney Empire”

Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre

Continuing from Part I, Henry IV Part II lends itself to a lighter interpretation due to the even higher comic content in its examination of the quirks of the human being, in particular of the Englishman. With one insurrection quashed by Hal’s victory over Hotspur, another mounts up to threaten England and in quashing it, Henry IV hastens his own death. The young Prince Hal now has to step up even further to the mark as his heir, all the while resisting the ever-present grasping hands of Falstaff who wants to milk his relationship to the future King for all it is worth.

I’m not sure what it was about this show that made me like it so much more than Part I, but I felt that the whole ensemble was pulling together much stronger: Susan Brown as Mistress Quickly and Eve Myles as Doll Tearsheet,the two women hankering after Falstaff were both good, Jeffery Kisoon as a fading Lord Percy roused great emotion for his fallen son and Gambon continues his excellent comic work. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part II, National Theatre”

Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre

Forming a six hour epic, Nicholas Hytner’s productions of Henry IV Part I and Part II take up residence in the Olivier auditorium at the National Theatre. You can see them on the same day if you so desire (and your bum can take it) but we went on different days as a small thing called work got in the way!

The plays deal with the troubled reign of King Henry IV as he deals with rebellion and civil war, while his son and heir, Prince Hal, prefers to hang around East London with small-time criminals led by the aged, corpulent alcoholic Falstaff. They cover the whole breadth of English society at the time they were written, from aristocratic infighting right the way down to sleazy prostitution. Continue reading “Review: Henry IV Part I, National Theatre”

Review: His Dark Materials Part II, National Theatre

Most of what I wanted to say about His Dark Materials have been made in the earlier review of Part I, but I wanted to separate the reviews out as they are treated as separate plays although I can’t imagine anyone would just see Part I, especially with its cliff-hanger ending, and I know I couldn’t have waited any longer than the couple of hours that we did to see Part II on the same day.

This part is where some of the more obvious changes to the original books are more evident. Much of the third book has been excised, the character of Mary Malone not used here and the amber spyglass becomes less important as a result. But the story still works nonetheless, and the trip to the Land of the Dead has to rank as one of the most beautifully realised pieces of theatre I’ve ever seen, haunting and incredibly moving. Likewise, the ending to the whole story was devastatingly done, leaving me crying for a good 10 minutes after we had left the theatre even though I knew what was coming. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part II, National Theatre”

Review: His Dark Materials Part I, National Theatre

The National Theatre revived their adaption of His Dark Materials for a second run in answer to my prayers, or so I like to believe, in order to let me see it. The novels by Phillip Pullman are among my all-time favourites and though the idea of translating them to the stage caused me a little trepidation, I was immensely glad of the opportunity of the chance to see the shows.

Adapted with love and precision by Nicholas Wright who has been daring enough to make the judicious cuts necessary to create a workable piece of theatre out of the at-times-sprawling works of literature that form Pullman’s trilogy, the story that is told here is strong and cohesive and told with a sensitive clarity (although I can’t be sure how clear it actually is to anyone who hasn’t read the novels, truth be told). We follow the coming-of-age of two children, Lyra Belacqua and Will Parry and their adventure across a set of parallel universes as they search for answers to huge questions they both have, a journey that causes them to cross paths with polar bears, angels, witches, Texan explorers and in one of the most contentious of the strands of Pullman’s work, the organised might of the Church. Continue reading “Review: His Dark Materials Part I, National Theatre”