In truth, Hackney Empire’s Jack and the Beanstalk is a perfectly serviceable panto-by-numbers. It’s got goodies and baddies, singing and dancing, gags and of course ‘it’s behind you’, all of which are done with full throttle campery, singery and dancery with a fantastic cast and sprightly ensemble.
For the night, we are in Hackney-on-the-Verge; where a giant in Cloudland has stolen the town’s magic harp, their main source of income. Threatened with the cancelling of Christmas if the town can’t turn its luck around, cutesy couple Jack (Rochelle Sherona) and Jill (Ellie Ruiz Roderiguez) set off to recapture the harp and restore the town to glory.
This is a cast with lungs; Sherona, for one, as well as stamina. She hits all the right notes and in a particularly impressive scene, manages to run, jump and leap up the beanstalk without even a wavering quaver, accompanied with fizzy delight from the pit.
Resident dame extraordinaire and co-director Clive Rowe is a marvellous presence. He has the wit, energy and quick thinking for some excellent back and forth with our put-upon dads in the front row. He is the reliable draw for every returning patron for sure.
Shackling these performances is a bit of a dud script. Julie Jupp and Zoe Curlett as goodies and baddies perform together with excellent panto yin and yang but their characters exist only to drag us along through some uncomfortable exposition which, paradoxically, wouldn’t quite be required if they hadn’t been shoehorned in. Expect a bumpy road on this quite simple tale in the form of an unnecessarily magic ring and the threat of stopping Christmas. For a panto that makes much of its keeping to tradition, why complicate a classic?
The traditional parts of panto are there but don’t build into much at all. There are a few ‘it’s behind you’s to tick that box and a ‘keep it simple Simon’ call and response that begs to lead to a payoff that never comes. Parents need not worry about unsuitable innuendo as there is a distinct lack of anything for the adults at all.
Something sits funny with the costuming in the show. In this downtrodden Hackney the ensemble are impeccably dressed in glossy satins. Unfortunately for panto fans, our dame’s outfits don’t quite hit the mark. A threadbare looking bag of bags (Marks and Dentures, Hugo Dross and Souperdry) and a rather lacklustre milkmaid (inferior to, for example, the outfit in the poster image) doesn’t quite cut mustard.
In the year that Ru Paul’s Drag Race UK queens walked the runway in showstopper panto dame outfits, we should expect Hackney Empire to up their game and show us how it’s done. Yes, our dame is supposed to look poor, but in the end she just looks cheap. Clive Rowe, your panto dame is the best in the game: Shante you stay. Hackney Empire, your pantos are much admired, but you left lots to be desired: sashay away.
Written by: Will Brenton (with additional material from Clive Rowe and Tony Whittle)
Original Music by Steven Edis
Conducted by: Mark Dickman
Directed by: Clive Rowe and Tony Whittle
Produced by: Hackney Empire
Hackney Empire’s Jack and the Beanstalk plays until 2 January. Further information and booking via the below link.