Posts Tagged ‘Derek Elroy’

Review – Robin Hood – Theater Royal Stratford East

December 20, 2015

With its racially mixed, working class vibe, Theater Royal Stratford is ideally placed to hit the same sweet spot at the Hackney Empire panto. Their audience is reflected in their jokes, their casting, their music and their plotlines, with the villains frequently figures who have caused trouble locally  (properly developers, for example). It’s all done on a shoestring, with simple costumes and no celebrity casting – in the goal, I believe, of keeping it locally affordable. So Wimbledon and Richmond get Pamela Anderson and Priscilla Presley (or their ilk) and deluxed sequinned glamour; it’s reflected in the sky high ticket prices.  I want wit and enthusiasm, anyway, and smaller pantos, with their emphasis on creating a good show, seem to deliver more of what I want.

That said: what happened with this year’s Stratford Panto? There was, as near as I can tell, no current political jokes; the songs, while all original, were actually not as good as if they’d been clever rehacks of popular hits; and the only jokes that seemed aimed at the adults in the crowd were a few tacky jokes about body parts. What we did get were fart jokes, sword play, and a comical bit with a squasher. It was a kids’ show top to bottom and I felt a bit trapped in it: the huge highlights were King Richard (Ashley Campbell)’s tap dancing number and the dame, “Nursey” (Derek Elroy)’s fantastic turn hassling a random audience member to help out with a gag (and also steal him away from his wife). This improv scene was giggle-tastic and to me seemed a sign of what might have happened more often if the cast had been a bit more playful. But instead … well, it was dry where it should have been gushy, and perhaps a bit too concerned with getting its politics correct instead of going for a satisfying evening. I mean, it’s fine that Marion (Nadia Albina) can out-shoot Robin Hood (Oliver Wellington) but no big, pretty wedding scene at the end? It was disappointing. I still hope it does alright for the theater but it was the first time I’d ever been to a panto and really, really felt like I was just at a kids’ show.

(This review is for the opening night performance, which took place on Wednesday, December 16th, 2015. It continues through January 23rd.)

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Mini-review – Red Riding Hood – Theatre Royal Stratford East

December 18, 2010

I loves the panto. To me it makes Christmas feel like Christmas … in England. So when my friend Exedore said “Hey! We must go to Stratford and see the black Red Riding Hood!” I was all up for it, especially since I’d never been to Stratford and thought it would be a cool opportunity to check out a theater I hadn’t seen before. I am also frustrated by how London’s theater is very non-representative of its ethnically diverse population; the few shows I’ve seen that really made an effort either through choice of show (August Wilson) or casting to oomph it up to make me think that there’s a talent base here that isn’t really getting a chance to shine.

It turns out, though, that this is (appropriately enough) a mixed-color cast, not all black, but with the perfectly cast Chloe Allen as “Red,” I was not particularly bothered about the overall breakdown of the performers, but utterly charmed with an actress with style, presence, and a creamy singing voice. Adult actors aren’t always so good as 8 or 12 year olds but as the “I really want to do good, but I keep messing up” little girl, Allen was utterly convincing and a treat to watch.

Less successful, I’m afraid, was Derek Elroy as Granny. Now, I loved the idea of a Jamaican granny off in the woods waiting for someone to bring her a little broth to eat (and pretending to be sick because she doesn’t feel like cooking), but I expect my panto dames to have a huge presence, and Elroy just wasn’t there. He’s got a fine singing voice, but the “I own the stage” attitude was not out in full force. I blame a bit the costumes, which I think needed to be cranked up by a factor of 11, but there’s also a bit of blame to be passed to the script, which I thought was rather weak.

The writing did have some highlights, particularly in making the Big Bad Wolf (Michael Bertenshaw) as a property developer. Given the shenanigans going on in this part of town, this put a light political sheen over the whole evening I found most appropriate. And the ongoing jokes about the Woodcutter (Marcus Ellard)’s “big axe” (and how it wasn’t the size that counted, and the way he held it during the scene when it was biggest) cracked me up. I’m pretty sure it mostly coasted over the kids’ heads but I really enjoyed having a titter of my own.

However, I was bored by the whole “three pigs” subplot, and I found the musical numbers and dancing just not nearly up to the quality of the Hackney panto. Still, it was yet another sold out show, the kids screamed throughout, and the whole audience waved their glowsticks in unison for the big number that took place in the belly of the wolf, so clearly the target audience was eating it up. My opinion will have little impact: Theatre Royal Stratford East already has a hit on their hands.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, December 10th, 2010. It continues through January 22nd, 2011. Don’t worry if the show is sold out online; many tickets don’t appear on their map – in my browser at least – so you’re best off just calling the box office directly.)