Saturday, 11 December 2021

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hackney Empire

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas which means it’s panto season once more…oh yes it is! After a year where most pantomimes were cancelled or had an unexpected, limited run it feels extra special for the magic of this beloved festive tradition to return. This Festive season The Hackney Empire, famed for their pantomimes over the years, brings the classic fairytale of “Jack and the Beanstalk” to life. 

I felt a warm welcome to my first experience of this iconic venue from arrival, especially warm as the interior was trimmed with wreaths and beautiful trees. The Panto programme is full of colourful pictures, games and puzzles for children (and most likely the adults too) to enjoy playing along with. I attended a 1.30 matinee which meant that the majority of the audience was very excited school children. The anticipation for the show was heightened with cast members dressed as newspaper sellers appearing on different levels of the theatre followed by a much-enjoyed countdown! 

As the tale begins, we’re introduced to The Trot Family who are at the centre of the story. Rochelle Sherona brings leading character presence as Jack, the title hero of the piece. Kat B is a crowd favourite with the children in the audience as the funny fool, Simple Simon. West End star Clive Rowe continues his Dame veteran status, this year playing the vivacious Dame Tilly Trott. From the moment she appears she has the audience laughing especially when she picks out a reluctant teacher in the stalls demanding that he proclaims his love for Dame Trott every time she appears on stage. A particularly amusing moment comes when Dame Tot inadvertently makes a milk bottle disappear (I’ll leave this to people’s imagination) As is tradition Dame Trott has a wonderful array of costumes including a dress made of “Bags for life” completed with a Gregg’s bag as a jaunty fascinator. The last member of the Trot family is Daisy the cow who steals the show from the moment she trots onto the stage. 

All is not well in Pantoland as an evil Giant threatens from up in the sky with the famous words, “Fe, Fie, Foe” being heard at various moments throughout. Zoe Curlett brings menace as the Giant’s aide, Funella Fleshcreep, the children lapped up being able to boo and hiss as she causes mayhem to the characters. In the second half meeting, The Giant is very impressive as a huge puppet comes bounding onto the stage both scaring and delighting the children all at once. 

All the other panto boxes are ticked too with Ellie Ruiz Rodriguez playing Jack’s love interest Jill Higginbottom and Julie Jupp playing an endearing Fairy Fuchsia. Throw in a cream pie scene, a “He’s behind you” moment and a wonderful beanstalk rising to the top of the stage and you have everything there. The classic “12 Days of Christmas” rewording to sing about unwanted Christmas gifts is always a crowd favourite from smelly socks to a bra that was made to hold three. 

As is traditional the panto had a nice mix of classic songs with some contemporary, this gives the show a current feel. The children in the crowd were particularly pleased to hear BTS’s “Butter”, the majority of the audience was singing along. My personal favourite moment was the whole cast singing a recent Eurovision favourite, “Think About Things” by Icelandic band Daoi Freyr including the songs dance moves made famous on Tik Tok. The character of Councillor Higginbottom, played by Tony Whittle is dressed throughout as Freddie Mercury and weaves Queen lyrics into various parts of the script. The joy of a Pantomime is exactly the escapism that audiences will long for after a news heavy 18 months. I would recommend heading to The Hackney Empire to smile along with two hours of fairytale fun, glitter, and magic. The show runs until the 2nd of January…oh yes it does!!!

Review by Myles Ryan 

Rating: ★★★★
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