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Jack and the Beanstalk at Hackney Empire | Review

Clive Rowe and Tony Whittle have appeared on and off in Hackney Empire’s glorious pantomimes for the last 25 years. This year, for the first time, they’ve worked together both off stage and on, co-directing Will Brenton’s take on Jack and the Beanstalk, whilst performing respectively as Dame Trot and Councillor Higginbottom. And boy oh boy, is this year’s offering an absolute delight!

Rochelle Sherona and Clive Rowe (c) Manuel Harlan.
Rochelle Sherona and Clive Rowe (c) Manuel Harlan.

Cleo Pettitt’s marvellous set quickly welcomes us to ‘Hackney on the Verge’, a poverty-stricken town, with increasing rents from the monstrous Giant Blunderbore who lives up in Cloudland. Food is in short supply and, to make matters worse, Dame Trott’s beloved cow Daisy has gone dry. It’s up to best friends Jack, Jill and Simple Simon – with a little help from Fairy Fuchsia – to save the day and defeat the evil Giant’s henchperson Funella Fleshcreep.

I had the pleasure of first seeing Clive Rowe’s pantomime Dame in Hackney Empire’s 2009 Aladdin, and it’s safe to say that Rowe is still one of the best – if not the Best – Dame in the business. He works an audience like no one else, and his wardrobe changes – designed by Pettitt on her first Hackney Panto – are never short of fabulous. He starts off wearing an iconic bag-for-life dress, covered from head to knee in Highstreet shop puns… Dreggs vegan sausage roll anyone? Whittle’s Higginbottom thank goodness stays well away from another Boris Johnson parody and instead takes on the guise of a slightly past-his-prime Freddie Mercury tribute, which never fails to make the audience laugh.

Kat B – another Hackney pantomime favourite – is just totally lovable as the somewhat dense Simple Simon, in his bright yellow shoes and patchwork dungarees. He quickly establishes an adoring rapport with the audience of 1000+, and clearly feels right at home in pantoland. Julie Jupp exudes a magical warmth as Fairy Fuchsia, and shows off some particularly impressive vocals in a number towards the close of Act One. Zoe Curlett earns her eager boos with her villainous performance as the Giant’s Henchman. Finally, Rochelle Sherona and Ellie Ruiz Rodriguez do a stellar job as Jack and Jill, especially during their excellent duet in the first half. The leads are joined by a superb ensemble of triple-threat performers, whose tap-dancing-cockroaches sequence is a real highlight.

Rowe and Whittle have stuck pretty firmly to the traditional pantomime format, which really plays in their favour. Its slickness and quality, mixed in with Ruthie Stephens’ fabulous choreography, brings it up to par with a big-budget Broadway extravaganza, with a mix of original music by Steven Edis, and some lesser-known but still recognisable tunes. The standout scene perhaps is the pantomime classic 12 Days of Christmas sketch, which is splendidly messy and chaotic, just as it should be. There’s a couple of jokes which don’t quite land, and I think I would have personally preferred a few more familiar song covers, but all in all, this is panto done by the book, and it makes for a wonderfully entertaining evening as such. It’s also a particular delight to see Pettitt’s sparkling costumes and sets make their way to Hackney. She’s perhaps the best of the best when it comes to panto design, and she’s really done a superb job bringing Hackney on the Verge to life; her sets are excellently lit by Nick Richings.

Hackney have shown once again that they really do mean business when it comes to putting on a pantomime, so you’re in for an absolute treat if you make it along to this gorgeous theatre over the festive season to join in the fun.

5 Star Rating

Review by Joseph Winer

When happy-go-lucky Jack is tempted into selling his family’s beloved cow for a bag full of magic beans, he finds himself tangled in an adventure of GIANT proportions. Join Jack on his journey up an enchanted beanstalk as he tries to outwit a rampaging giant, all with the help of his larger-than-life mum Dame Trot.

Cast & Creative Team
Clive Rowe – Dame Trot
Rochelle Sherona – Jack Trot
Kat B – Simple Simon
Zoe Curlett – Funella Fleshcreep
Julie Jupp – Fairy Fuchsia
Ellie Ruiz Rodriguez – Jill Higginbottom
Tony Whittle – Councillor Higginbottom
Victoria Anderson – Ensemble
Harry Robinson – Ensemble
Christina Shand – Ensemble
Beth Sindy – Ensemble
Jacob Thomas – Ensemble
Cameron Webb – Ensemble
Paddy Joe Martin – Ensemble Cover

Written by Will Brenton
With additional material by Clive Rowe & Tony Whittle
Co-directed by Clive Rowe & Tony Whittle
Original Music by Steven Edis
Design by Cleo Pettitt
Musical Director Mark Dickman
Choreographer Ruthie Stephans
Lighting Designer Nick Richings
Sound Designer Daniel Higgott
Production photos By Manuel Harlan

Until 2 Jan 2022


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