Fee-fi-fo-fum, I smell the makings of some festive fun. Flamboyant dames, an abundance of innuendos and a generous sprinkling of magic have taken over theatres across the country, as we’re firmly catapulted into panto season. Hackney Empire’s offering this year is a rambunctious Jack and the Beanstalk, and it delivers everything you could hope for from a pantomime and a great deal more. It’s witty, fast-paced and brimming with plenty of charm – a high-octane banquet of fun for all the family.
We find ourselves in a frostbitten Hackneydale, where local residents have been forced to endure an eternal winter and live in fear of the evil reign of Giant Blunderbore. It’ll come as no surprise to learn the narrative thread that unfolds involves: the selling of a beloved family cow in exchange for some magic beansm, which then sprout overnight into an oversized beanstalk that Jack must climb to defeat the evil Giant Blunderbore. Like a comfy pair of slippers, the plot of Jack and the Beanstalk is reassuring and familiar; the other conventions you expect such as audience participation, slapstick and puns aplenty overflow from this exuberant production.
As well as ticking all of the traditional boxes, one of the reasons that Hackney Empire has such a loyal panto following is due to its flair for innovation. Director and writer Susie McKenna has her finger firmly on the contemporary pulse with bursts of every chart-topping song, from ‘Shake It Off’ to ‘Uptown Funk’ and even Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling’ making an appearance, alongside references to the Apple Watch and the 5p plastic bag tax. For me, the best deviation from the plot was the addition of Jack’s Jamaican sidekick Snowman who is the perfect medley of the Genie from Aladdin meets Olaf from Frozen, brought to life brilliantly by a zealous and instantly likable Kat B.
The jewel in Hackney Empire’s panto crown is Clive Rowe as Dame Daisy Trott, his veteran status and masterful aplomb lighting up the stage. For Rowe double-entendres roll off the tongue with ease, he delights in making reluctant audience members squirm and is a vocal powerhouse. Although there is a slightly grating sense of one-upmanship from some of the other members of the cast, nobody is going to steal Rowe’s limelight. His stellar costumes and gaudy headpieces quite literally are the cherry on the top of the sumptuous cake.
The chorus comprises dancers from Hackney Empire’s ADP Dancers and the Vestry School of Dance and Performing Arts; they are energetic and their enthusiasm is infectious. Without wanting to give anything away, I’ll also tease that the deception of the Giant and his entrance is one of the best I’ve seen.
You can’t help but smile and feel jovial watching this rendition of Jack and the Beanstalk. I got to boo and hiss to my heart’s content and was throughly entertained from start to finish. It’s a delightful Christmas treat complete with all of the trimmings.
Jack and the Beanstalk is playing at the Hackney Empire until 3 January 2016. For more information and tickets, see the Hackney Empire theatre.