Hackney Empire’s resident panto is back after a short hiatus thanks to the pandemic and it felt like welcoming back an old friend with the promise of laughter and the odd bit of mayhem, but ultimately a fun night out.
Originally scheduled for 2020, JACK AND THE BEANSTALK opened in spectacular style with town criers dotted around the audience shouting all about it with the Hackney Gazette in tow before the ensemble cast burst into rousing song on stage.
Like the popular storybook, it tells the story of country boy Jack who trades in his family cow, Daisy, for a handful of magic beans. Scattered under the moonlight, the beans grow into a beanstalk leading to a giant’s castle. In true panto style, gender swaps are abound as Jack is played by angelic voiced Christina Shand whose love story with Jill (Ellie Ruiz Rodriguez) is a cute running theme throughout. Jack’s brother Simple Simon (Cameron Webb) is the third wheel of the gang, who actively engages with the kids in the audience, begging them to cry out “keep it simple, Simon” on his cue. And naturally, they’re only too happy to oblige.
With tickets from just £10, Hackney panto should be applauded for making the festive treat accessible to everyone and a gesture every theatre should adopt during the season of goodwill.
However, the real star of the show is undoubtedly Clive Rowe starring as larger-than-life Dame Trot. Olivier Award-winner Rowe is excellent as Jack’s mum – the outlandish costumes, makeup and slapstick humour – lighting up the stage at every turn. Joined by fellow panto veteran Tony Whittle as Councillor Higginbottom, they make a brilliant double act and also co-direct the spectacle, which comes to life in the beautifully designed sets.
There’s the odd bit of smut (mainly from Rowe’s Dame Trott), but with very little adult humour, or even pandemic nods, it falls short on entertaining the adults as fantastically as it does the younger members of the audience. Although Whittle’s Freddie Mercury tribute act gags is a crowd-pleaser.
With tickets from just £10, Hackney panto should be applauded for making the festive treat accessible to everyone and a gesture every theatre should adopt during the season of goodwill. It’s a real community game-changer which is why residents and those from further afield continue to support it annually, especially given the wonderful history of the theatre.
It’s full of fun, silly jokes and the obligatory panto dame – albeit with an incredible set of pipes – so while the adults may need an extra glass of mulled wine, the kids will adore the magic of Hackney Panto!