Jack and the Beanstalk, Hackney Empire
The Empire's tremendous three tiers of seating alongside the architectural mix of: Baroque, Nouveau, Rococo, and Islamic decorations, blend smoothly with the Empire's new adaptation of that timeless fairy tale classic, Jack and the Beanstalk, written and directed by the Empire's artistic director Susie McKenna.
As a child, my first visit to the theatre was indeed a pantomime, and I have revisited those vivid memories through the 'best of times and the worst of times.' So my advice to you all this festive season and beyond is to fix-up, wrap-up, and get down to the Hackney Empire and give your loved ones, four to 84 plus, memories that will remain with them always.
Jack and the Beanstalk is amongst the top five children's fairy tales adapted for pantomime.
McKenna uses traditional burlesque, slapstick, pantomime Dame Frolics, and song; music hall, calypso, soul, and contemporary rock and pop in her version of Jack's tale, to convey the usual festive confusion we all enjoy. As I laughed a great deal and clapped until the palms of my hands stung. I really must bring this festive extravaganza, mulled-wine-an-all, to your attention.
Essentially, this version of Jack and the Beanstalk draws on the themes of forgiveness and tolerance, brought about by the accidental slaying of Giant Blunderbore's wife at the beginning of the performance. Poor old Giant Blunderbore, all alone, he could seek retribution but along the way the action spirals at the hands of the classic pantomime villains Mr Runner Bean (Tony Whittle) and his wife Mrs Broad Bean (Jenny Dale) who continues to extort gold from the people of 'Hackneydale' - taunting the audience frequently with "we eat humans." Jack's cow Buttercup must be sold to make ends meet, alas poor Buttercup, unfortunate dear creature. I swear Buttercup will pull at your heartstrings; this was the case with the kids that night.
We begin this Christmas extravaganza in the rural, fairy tale, idyll of Hackneydale, contrasting in the second half of the show with Giant Blunderbore's castle in the sky. All action takes place in delightful little settings, cottage, forest, beanstalk to the sky, and with impressive costumes to match. Trimmed glitter, Cassocked hats through to dancing daisy girls in burlesque attire. Notwithstanding the patois-speaking West Indian snowman (Kat B) known to the audience as 'S-n-o-o-w'–'M-a-a-n', and the funky chicken, Goldiniah (Gemma Baird) who lays the golden eggs, and are amongst the many you will encounter this Christmas at the Hackney Empire; costume and sets, designed by Lotte Collett, working with the playfulness expected of a Christmas pantomime designer.
Like a walking cartoon before my very eyes, the puppet creatures, Giant Blunderbore, his wife and the pantomime cow Buttercup are awesome, designed by creatures designer Scott Brooker, also creator of the, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter commercial, cows. I grantee you will automatically fall in love with Buttercup. Giant Blunderbore, and his wife made me feel like a child all over again, such is Scott Brooker's command of his craft.
The musical quartet accompanied the opening of Jack and the Beanstalk, with a rendition, reminiscent of a jazz/ragtime piece. Moreover, from that point forwards the quartet worked hard to give Jack's tale the musical backdrop it deserved. Favourite of mine would be Jack's (Jaygann Ayeh) performance of Luther Vandross's Dance with My Father Again, boy! Did I well-up there! The musical standards continued to impress before and after Jack's solo number; Aretha Franklin, Bobby McFerrin, Sister Sledge, and other well-known rock and pop classics.
The question remains, can the Hackney Empire, be all things to all people? Answer. Oh-Yes-They-Can! Dame Daisy (Clive Rowe) swoops effortlessly between costume changes, jokes, and songs, thundering out one memorable number after another filling the auditorium with delight, which the audience reciprocated with applause. Jenny Dale (Broad Bean) and Tony Whittle (Runner Bean) present the audience with the most irreproachable music hall number, Marie Lloyd style; that one could every wish to hear.
All of the above stands testimony to the Hackney Empire's refusal to bow down before the unexceptional, unexciting, or indeed the often unremarkable in the world of arts and entertainment. Long live the Hackney Empire.
Jack and the Beanstalk is at the Hackney Empire until January 9th 2011