Posts Tagged ‘Hackney Empire’

Review – Mother Goose – Hackney Empire

December 23, 2014

After eleven months of heavy duty theater watching, I approached the Christmas season somewhat fearfully. I had agreed to review five shows in two weeks; on top of the shows I said I’d see with friends, I was looking at 14 shows in 12 days: six of them pantos. But you know what? It was like TWO WEEKS OF CHOCOLATE after a year of eating health food. December has been MY CHRISTMAS TREAT TO ME. Sure, no normal person would want to see three pantos a week (or more) for the entire month of December, but I LOVED IT!

And what panto did I want to see at the end of the second week? Hackney Empire! Because the whole point of the Christmas season panto-ganza is that I HEART PANTO and I wanted to see the BEST PANTO IN LONDON and after seeing five other pantos I was warmed up to it! I had had five appetizers and I was was ready for the main course (and had paid appropriately and invited friends)! And I was even more ready for it because Clive Rowe had been taking a star turn at the National last year and even though Suzie McKenna’s writing is good, having a dame like Clive really changes the dynamic of a panto. So Friday night and bring on Mother Goose!

Storywise, this Mother Goose is about the dangers of greed. At the beginning, Mother Goose is in danger of losing her house because she can’t pay the rent; but when she gets a goose that lays golden eggs (a goose that apparently has no idea what her new owner had been doing with her previous geese), her sudden wealth makes her avaricious. Of course, who doesn’t want to her Clive singing “Goldfinger” and walking around in glamorous gold ball gowns, but Ms Goose wants to be young and beautiful as well and is seduced by the evil fairy into taking a bath in a supposed “fountain of youth” … all in a plot to steal the goose.

Plot, however, is not the reason I go to panto. I go because I love to laugh. And with a master performer like Clive Rowe, this is pretty much guaranteed. He teases the audience mercilessly, ad lib on stage until the other performers forget their lines, and manages to make a hat constructed of goose eggs seem like a perfectly normal thing to wear. Of course, what we also get are scripted jokes (bad puns for the kids, innuendo and politics for the adults), fun dance numbers (Hackney always seems to slip in some tap dancing and I, for one, wholly approve) and the truly fantastic voices of all of the members of the cast. Good witch Sharon D Clarke could be doing concerts and instead we get the pleasure of listening to her serenade us while wearing wings. The whole things comes together so perfectly that, once again, I had tears rolling down my face because I was having such a good time. What ever have we done to deserve a panto as good as Hackney puts on every year? I think I’m just going to have to leaves some extra cookies out for Santa on Christmas eve, because he gave me everything I could have asked for with this one.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Friday, December 12, 2014. It continues through January 4th.)

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Theatre going in London during the 2012 Olympic Games – a personal view

July 16, 2012

A year ago, if you’d asked me what I thought the effect of the Olympics on my theater going habit was going to be, I’d have said, “Well, nothing, other than the fact that I’m planning on getting out of town for the entire two weeks!” But as we’re getting closer to the date (and, as it’s turned out, I’ve not had enough spare holiday to escape for the whole time), I’d had to realize that there has been a London effect on theater going during the Olympics, including during an extended pre-games build-up period. So I’m going to talk about that, and, LOCOG, if you think I’m going to change the title of my post because I’m not an official Olympics sponsor, you can just fuck right off.

Initially, there was some pre-games hysteria in the form of a rumor that many West end shows would go dark during the entire two week period (now only true for Sweeney Todd). This made sense to me: most theater-going in London is done by locals, and most of us were likely to try to escape town, stay home, or generally reduce our travel as much as possible during this period. (God knows TFL has been encouraging us to stay at home.) But I haven’t seen any announcements of theaters acting like it’s The Blitz anywhere, so this seems to not have come true.

A surprising side effect has been a plethora of new art in the build-up period, with the Globe-to-Globe “37 plays in 37 languages” Shakespearean event at the (shock!) Globe, a Pina Bausch celebration (she’s a choreographer for you guys who only do theater), and the “Greenwich and Docklands International Festival” (which carefully said nothing about the Games in order to keep themselves all clean with LOCOG). There was even an original staging of the movie Chariots of Fire (which felt too much to me like a calculated money grab to be very exciting) at the Hampstead Theater (which announced a transfer to the West End before it opened) and, for those of you who like film, a big project by the BFI to restore Hitchcock’s silent movies and pay for original scores to go with. Now, you can be a big Olympics hater (like me), but if you love the arts it’s hard not to get excited about these projects. In my mind it’s all part of the Jubilee and general celebration of cool stuff in England, and I’m okay with that. I mean, Hitchcock! Shakespeare! That whole music on a boat on the river thing! What’s not to love?

Well, I’ll tell you what’s not to love: the specter of total transport shutdown during the Olympics for anyone who’s trying to do anything like going about their normal routine – you know, work, home, maybe a show on the way back. But on Friday I realized the Hackney Empire – where I was planning to go see the Chinese opera The Monkey King on Sunday August 12th – is on the Overground route to Stratford, which means that getting there would be a complete nightmare. That poster of the horse on the escalator? Yeah, it would be like that, only with carriage after carriage full of people who don’t know how to ride public transportation blocking me out. I imagine the horse crapping on each step of the stair as it walks up it.

And, really, this is the fear I have for anything I can’t actually walk to from work. I’m looking at my calendar for the Olympics period and thinking: am I going to be able to get to any of it? Day one, it’s the Landor Theater for Kander & Ebb’s Curtains: since it’s on the Northern Line and south of the city, it looks safe (and frankly if I can’t there I won’t be able to get home either so I really hope this isn’t a problem). Long Day’s Journey into Night is walkable, but my friend who works in Canary Wharf may be shafted (especially given the 7 PM start time). The New Diorama Theater (with “The Rover“) is another walkable job, but can I get home from Euston? King’s Cross is supposed to be a no-man’s land. AAARGH.

As a consequence of all of this uncertainty, I’ve pretty much booked nothing for the entire period other than a five day trip to Greece. I don’t know if the theaters of London have noticed this yet or not but we’re talking probably 8-10 shows less than I would have got tickets for under normal circumstances. Rumor has it there are some good Olympic time theater deals bubbling up – ATG just put out a Best of British promotion and more may be coming soon – but I haven’t seen a flood of them yet. Keep an eye on

Review – La Boheme – Isango Ensemble at the Hackney Empire

May 22, 2012

One of the things that makes dramatic art great is that it transcends a time and place and a culture and holds its meaning when reimagined as part of a completely different world from that of the author. For example, Shakespeare holds both as a straight Kabuki show and as modern ballet. South Africa’s Isango Ensemble has done a great job of taking Western stories and reflecting them through a mirror of the township experience, showing the relevance of Scrooge to modern capitalism and making a Magic Flute more enchanting thanks to a marimba orchestra (and the powerful portrayal of the Queen of the Night).

I had no problems, therefore, in anticipating a successful adaptation of La Boheme when it was announced as one of the three shows the Isango Ensemble was bringing to the Hackney Empire. Normally I would avoid 19th century opera, but I thought with a fresh look (and a mountain of marimbas) I might find the joy I’d missed when I saw it long ago at the Seattle Opera.

And, to a great extent, this was true. Performed mostly in English and reduced to a two hour running time, this was a Boheme that was packed full of energy and rather short on wallowing in misery. I enjoyed seeing Rodolfo and Mimi meet in a shanty where the occupants struggle to keep warm and to keep illuminated; her search for a candle and his desire to have someone keeping the chill away make their love affair seem to aim for survival as much as affection. Having Rodolfo’s space be a one story, one room building with four people living in it seemed as appropriate a version of poverty as a top floor garret; and heating poverty is something that has in no ways gone away in the modern world.

The next scene, in a “shebeen” full of rowdy carousers celebrating a local holiday, is lively and fun. Corrupt government ministers running around with inappropriate girlfriends is just as timely now as when it was written, and Musetta’s mocking of her “poodle” Alcindoro was funny. This was my favorite part of the show – while it was not centered on the main pair of lovers, the life it showed was exciting and the group scenes energetic.

With all of the dancing and singing in this show, I think the Isango Ensemble blew a normal “Boheme” out of the water. I don’t normally like 19th century opera, but – helped by the good singing of the cast – I found myself bubbling along with this one. My suspicion is that people who were familiar with the show would enjoy it even more than I did, as the adaptations of the original music were probably pretty faithful (as they were for Magic Flute). Here’s hoping they come back and roast another old chestnut until it’s nice and tasty.

(This review is for a performance that took place on Thursday, May 17th, 2012. It continues through June 1st.)

December theater mini-reviews – Donmar “Richard II” and Hackney Empire “Cinderella”

December 24, 2011

Santa is leaving nothing for me in my stocking because I’ve been neglecting my theater blog. There’s been so much to see, and I’ve traveled so much (with indulgent trips to Birmingham for “The Nutcracker” and Leeds for “Beauty and the Beast”) that actually getting words on paper (or whatever I’m doing right now) has not been happening. So there’s probably 8 shows I’ve seen this much that I’ve neglected to write up. However, I’m going to try to get reviews up for a few of them that are still open: just be advised I’m doing this in an airport with limited internet access and no programs to reference for actors’ names.

First, the Hackney Empire’s “Cinderella.” Hackney has been the gold standard for pantos for me: aimed at the kids, affordable for families, with an excellent atmosphere that helps me be a kid, too. But they’ve shot over the top with the incredible skills of their dame, Clive Rowe, and the clever songwriting skills and script (full of political jokes and local references) that have made every dusty old fairytale fresh and fun.

I had my worries about “Cinderella” as Clive was taking the year off. What would we do without his wisecracks, amazing improv talents, and fabulous voice? According to a friend, Cinderella doesn’t actually need a dame as the mom is played by a woman, while it’s the stepsisters who do the drag duties. I’m pleased to say that the voices were on and the stepmom was a delicious villain, but a lot of the snap had gone. The improv (from the sisters) was soft (they apologized for going off script, whereas I thought they should have revelled in it!), the references to Hackney were few, and the only real political jokes I heard were references to phone hacking and the difficulty of getting Olympics tickets. Sure, it was good, but I just couldn’t get my enthusiasm up to the wild levels of the past even with front row tickets. Apparently “Aladdin” at the Lyric Hammersmith is the one to beat, but I won’t get to see it. That said, this is still a good show and lacking in the nauseating commerciality I’d seen at some more upscale venues, so I can recomend it as a family afternoon or evening out … and they do need our support. *sigh* PLEASE CAN WE HAVE CLIVE BACK NEXT YEAR? (This show was seen on Wednesday, December 15th, 2011.)

Next up is Richard II at the Donmar Warehouse. Wonderfully, this was a show I didn’t know at all, so I had NO idea how it was going to end: history plays, to what extent are they comedies and to what extent tragedies? It was a typical Donmar set (dark floor, balcony above) but with bonus incense filling the room and a lovely churchy-gold-wood thing going on that helped illustrate Richard’s point about the divinity of kinghood. I thought this was a good insight into the medieval soul as well as some of the core issues that have continued to dog English politics – the peasants will love you as long as you kiss their ass and don’t take too much from their purses. That said, Richard II himself was a queer bird and seemed just bizarrely affected in a way that was possibly meant to indicate impending madness but that came off as “I’ve just come out of acting school and this is the “method” I’ve chosen for this role, you will of course go with it.” I found it off-putting, but with a strong cast, and, hey, Shakespeare, plus ten quid tickets, it was certainly worth my time. Not worth standing the whole evening, mind you, but a great way to knock out a history. Someday perhaps Propeller will do it and then I’ll see what they can really achieve with this script. (This show was seen on Wednesday, December 12th, 2011).

Both of these shows are certainly worth a gander though neither blew my socks off – I’ve really only been reviewing shows I have a lot to say about. Anyway, call ’em serviceable. (Richard II continues at the Donmar through February 4th, 2012; Cinderella through January 8th, 2012.)

Review – Jack and the Beanstalk – Hackney Empire 2010 panto

November 29, 2010

Early this fall my friend Exedore (that’s his twitter handle, anyway) gave me a heart attack when he told me, in short, Christmas had been cancelled this year. That’s right, Clive Rowe was NOT gonig to be in the Hackney Empire panto – instead, he was going to be in The Three Musketeers. Massive OH NOES! My one major holiday tradition (since I moved to England) dashed! I felt like I should go, just to show my support of the struggling Hackney, but Clive is my Dream Dame … in my eyes, There Is Nothing Like a Clive; in his absence, so much panto is just hackneyed. But three weeks ago I got the good news: Clive was in, and Christmas was on! I signed up quickly for opening night tickets and eagerly awaited the show.

The story of Jack and the Beanstalk is … well, kind of different from the one I remember. As in many pantos, this one has a much bigger role for Jack’s mother, and (unsurprisingly) rather a long turn on stage for the cow. In addition, we get Jack’s best friends, Molly and Billy; two evil henchmen (the Beans, who fart and eat boogers and are generally revolting even without their green spotlight); and the most mysterious Mr. Snowmaaaaan, who appeared to be a Jamaican guy in a white afro wig and an equally terrifying fake fur coat. I was, again, pretty amazed at the complete lack of congruency with my expectations of the story, which was more about magic beans and giant’s gold and not a lot about fairies or who was in love with Jack.

Still, part of the fun for me is settling down into the familiar ride, with Susie McKenna tossing in topical jokes (the “demolition” government), reworkings of extremely familiar songs (“Easy Money” and even a song from Royal Wedding), and some fun dance numbers (I was shocked to see Mrs. Bean setting the floor on fire). Jack was a real star, both a talented dancer and a fine singer, though I was surpised somewhat that it was actually a guy in the role – still, I in no way felt short changed. The Billy/Molly bit was all rather long, though, and I found myself hoping that in later editions, Billy’s solo song might get cut – the loser male anti-hero in so many pantos (a la Buttons) isn’t my favorite element, and while he and Molly were big hams, they just didn’t enthuse me.

Clive, of course, was fantastic. His voice was as rich as ever, and his skill at ad-libbing got good use when Mr. Bean’s wig came off with his hat during the (inevitable) cream pie scene. Unfortunately, his Dame costumes weren’t as brilliant as in years past, even though they changed with every scene – there was just a certain simplicity and lack of whimsical detail that spoke of, I’m pretty sure, budget cuts. Still, the golden egg laying bird was better outfitted than anyone I saw at Wimbledon last year, and how often do you get to see a chicken tap dance?

Overall the second act, with its big musical numbers, was much more energetic than the first, but I enjoyed the entire evening. This wasn’t the best show I’ve seen them do, but I feel confident that with its street smarts, top-notch performers and well-written songs, once more Hackney will be the panto for the others to beat.

(This review is for the 7 PM performance on Saturday, Novemer 27th, 2010. The show continues through January 9th, 2011. Running time is approximately 2 1/2 hours based on my experience.)

Review – Aladdin – Hackney Empire (2009)

December 23, 2009

Panto panto panto! When Christmas rolls around, it’s my chance to experience the wonder of this traditional English fare, which turns me from a bitter theater grinch into a giggling six-year-old clutching a twinkling fairy wand in one hand and a fistful of sweets in the other. Okay, maybe I was actually clutching a G&T and the sweets were safely in my bag, but still, last night’s trip to the Hackney Empire made magic happen, just like it has every year I’ve made the trek to this most eastern of theatrical haunts.

My perspective was screwed on just a little more tightly by having gone to an Aladdin barely more than a week before, which led to the shocking discovery that, in spite of nearly every panto I’ve attended feeling like its script was found on the back of a box of cereal, in fact, many of the elements appear to be quite codified. I mean, really, who would ever think of Aladdin having a brother who was named Wishy Washy? I’ve read the fairy tale many times, and I’m positive there was no “Wishy Washy” in the Arabian Nights. I also don’t remember any scene in the Widow Twankey’s laundromat, in which a human being gets thrown into a washer/dryer and “shrinks” then gets run through a wringer and comes out as a paper doll, and yet both pantos had exactly these same elements. I suppose if I’d been going since I was six I’d know that there was always a Wishy Washy, a Twankey, silly policemen, and a very odd laundromat, but it almost seemed like an incredible coincidence given my lack of better cultural context.

So! New Wimbledon Theater and Hackney Empire Aladdin showdown! Brian Blessed and Pamela Anderson versus That Black Dame That’s In Every Hackney Panto and Some Random Woman As Aladdin! And the winner is …

OH MY GOD HACKNEY EMPIRE ROCKED THE HOUSE!

There are just SO many ways the Hackney Aladdin was SO good that it’s almost unfair to compare it to the Wimbledon show, like comparing mom’s home-made chocolate chip cookies to some stale biscuits from Asda. Rather than saying “this was better, that was better,” I will just talk about every little bit of magic that made Hackney’s Aladdin a night of theatrical magic for me, starting from the moment we entered Old Peking’s Ha-Ka-Nay with a lion dancer making its way through the crowd and stage hands waving butterfly and dragon kites around the edges of the balconies. The kids were screaming and laughing and the 70 year old man next to me was already smiling, and I was right there saying “LOOK BEHIND YOU!” at every opportunity, trying to learn the greeting for Wishy Washy (“Wishy Washy You’re So Chung”), and wondering how Twankey’s costumes would hold out.

But wait! Our Aladdin appeared, and it was none other than Anna-Jane Casey from the Menier’s Forbidden Broadway! We had a proper principal boy, in a skirt and with great legs and a fantastic singing voice! WOW! Suddenly her duets with the Chinese Princess became songs that were not just funny and clever but pleasant to listen to, and she got some good dancing in, too!

Of course, what I was waiting for was the fabulous dame Clive Rowe to take the stage as Widow Twankey, and as usual he was a ball of hysteria, not just tottering out in a different, comically camp costume every scene (bonus points for the willow pattern teapot!), but hamming it up so heavily – and, I suspecting, engaging in more than just a little ad-libbing – that at least two of his fellow actors lost it while they were doing a scene. A particularly memorable moment was when he was trading insults with the Empress of China (“You bottle of pepto-bismol!” “You chocolate orange!”) that at some point appeared to degenerate into actual, extremely funny, name calling. And then there was the moment he rolled off the couch where he’d been flirting with the ever so sexy Evil Magician Abenazzer (I don’t know his name but GOD he’s good looking), lost his wig, then (after some frantic moments) reappeared on the couch with his wig on backwards. I can’t say he carried on without losing a beat but the whole thing just added to the general high spirits. I can’t tell you what a treasure Rowe is: I will spend the rest of my life wanting to see dames of this quality in panto and I suspect in this day in age I will rarely see one of his quality again.Hackney Empire "Aladdin:" Off to Arabia - with the genie and ... on Twitpic

Well! I could go on and on about what a damned good evening this was, but I would just be rambling. Susie McKenna is a genius and there’s something wonderful about coming back to see so many of the same talented people coming back to this space to put on a show that somehow, even this far into the run and as the second show of that evening, was fresh and lively and delightful. As they say, if you’re only going to see one panto this Christmas … make sure you go to Hackney, because that’s where all of the magic is hiding again, the magic that turns me, Grouchy Theater McScrooge, into a giggling lump with tears running down her cheeks. Really, don’t miss it.

PS: There are tap dancing pandas. Need I say more?

(This review is for the 7 PM performance that took place on Tuesday, December 22nd, 2-009. The final performance is January 9th, 2010. See the Hackney Empire‘s website for more details, and please consider making a donation to help them stay open as after this year’s panto they will be dark for rather a while.)

Review – “Mother Goose” – Hackney Empire

December 11, 2008

It was three years ago that I went to my first Panto – the Old Vic’s Aladdin with Sir Ian as Widow Twanky. It was great fun and a real change from any theater I’d seen before – rather like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with more audience participation than I would have guessed possible. After I moved here, I made going to Panto one of my new traditions (along with fireworks on Bonfire Night) – it’s something I really enjoy! And for the last two Christmas seasons, the Hackney Empire has put on the best Panto in London, so this third round I went in with my hopes high.

One of the neat things about going to the Hackney is that I’ve become familiar with the cast and the style of the productions. This year once again featured Clive Rowe as its dame, rather appropriately the big star as “Mother Goose,” giving him the maximum opportunity to show off his pipes and the many fantastic costumes Lotte Collett cooked up. (He seemed to have not nearly enough stage time as Ma Whittington last year and I was glad to see him in nearly every scene this time.) We were mostly saved the trauma of the ever so dull “lead boy,” and instead had Abigail Rosser as “Princess Jill” and Kat B as Mother Goose’s postboy son. Both of them were fine, but as usual it’s the baddies that are fun to watch. This year we had Tony Whittle as “Baron Bonkers,” the henchman of Mother Goose’s arch enemy, Vanity (a sort of evil fairy), and Tameka Empson as Frightening Freda. I’m pretty sure I saw Tameka as Cinderella’s evil mother two years ago – her height and distinctive voice rang a bell – but one way or another she was just great to watch in this show. Her character, dressed in gold lame and with a million cell phones dangling from her belt like severed heads on Kali, was sassy and sharp and allowed Tameka to display her great comic timing.

Whittle had a hard time holding up against her, but he showed his brilliance this year (as last – I am thinking he was Dick Whittington’s employer?) in some top-notch improv, both times when Mother Goose made a mistake – first when a gag with some plates fell flat (as it were – they refused to break), the second time when they were doing a sort of love scene and they both were fighting so furiously to keep from laughing they were having a hard time getting their lines out. Frankly, Whittle would make it worth coming back to see the show a second time just to see what kind of goofy quips he came up with.

The show overall was full of fun, with lots of unnecessary singing (I just couldn’t get enough of Charity, the good fairy, played by Sharon Clarke, and apparently neither could the woman sitting next to me, who sang along with her rather a lot), cheesy rhymes, and a hysterical bit of tap dancing from the tiny tykes they have performing in the background (several times as sheep, which was also cracking me up). The show really went OTT during the “hell” scene, when Mother Goose goes into the bad part of the forest to try to get an elixir for eternal youth (or something of that sort). The black light scene, which included popping and locking skeletons, was far cooler than I had any right to expect; and the creepy trees were straight out of MGM’s Wizard of Oz. There was a moral lesson at the end (maybe two or three), and of course a singalong, which was as horribly unpoetic as anything you could hope to be forced to participate in whilst flapping your arms like a goose. In short, the Hackney has once more produced what I’m sure will be a grand success – and at the best price of any of the big house pantos I’ve seen, showing their real commitment to making family friendly entertainment. Me, I’m already looking forward to next year’s show!

(This show is for a performance seen on Friday, December 5, 2008. Mother Goose continues through January 10th.)

Two for one deals on Christmas shows (mostly pantos) courtesy of the Evening Standard

December 5, 2008

Well! Today’s Eros cardholders email included a list of great two for one deals on various holiday shows. I noticed the Hackney Empire’s “Mother Goose” isn’t on the list, but given that seats are already quite affordable, who cares? On the other hand, the New Wimbledon Theater’s Cinderella is runing £30 a seat – outrageous! Anyway, here are a list of the deals, with details – the original page is here.

Aladdin, The Rosemary Branch, N1 ,Offer valid 17-22, 27-31 December and 2-4, 6-11 January 7.00pm. Tickets: £15 (£12 concessions). Matinees 20, 21, 27, 28 December, 3, 10 January 2.30pm. Tickets £12 (£8 under 16). Offer is valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December – Sunday 11 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 7704 6665 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Amazonia, at the Young Vic, SE1 (I’m going to see this one!): Offer valid on shows from Wednesday 3 December- Saturday 24 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 7922 2922 and quote Evening Standard Offer. (Looks like normal prices are £10 to £22.50, so a good deal!)

Cinderella at The Churchill Theatre Bromley Offer valid for the following shows: 10 Dec 7.30pm, 13 Dec 7.30pm, 15 Dec 7.30pm, 19 Dec 7.30pm, 20 Dec 10.30am, Tickets £18-£25. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 0870 060 6620 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Cinderella at the New Wimbledon Theatre, SW19. Mon 15 – Sat 20 Dec – all 2pm and 7pm performances. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 0870 060 6646 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Dick Whittington at the Queens Theatre Hornchurch, RM11. Offer valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December – Saturday 10 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 01708 443333 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Hansel & Gretel, Theatre Royal Stratford East, E15 Offer valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December- Saturday 17 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8534 0310 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Mirror Magic Market Tales, The Riverside Studios, W6. Offer valid on shows from Wednesday 3 December- Sunday 4 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8237 1111 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Pinocchio, at The Polka Theatre, SW19. Offer available for the following shows: 6 Dec 5.30pm, 30 Dec 11am, 31 Dec 11am, 2 Jan 11am, 3 Jan 5.30pm, 17 Jan 5.30pm. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8543 4888 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

The Nightingale Mystery at The Rosemary Branch, N1 Offer valid on shows from Wednesday 3 December- Wednesday 10 December. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office 020 7704 6665 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Tombstone Tales & Boothill Ballads at Arcola Theatre, E8 (I want to see this one too, but I don’t know when I can possibly fit it in!) Offer is valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December – Saturday 20 December 2008. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 7503 1646 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Twelve Days of Christmas at the Chickenshed Theatre, N14. Offer is valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December- Saturday 17 January. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8292 9222 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Young Dick Barton, The Warehouse Theatre, Croydon. Offer valid for shows from Wednesday 3 December – Sunday 22 February. To book 2 tickets for the price of 1 call the Box Office on 020 8680 4060 and quote Evening Standard Offer.

Dick Whittington and His Cat – Hackney Empire

December 7, 2007

I decided to attack my sour mood today with a strong dose of Panto. So off to the Hackney Empire I went – rushing a bit (albeit unnecessarily) to make a 7 PM start time.

The theater was sadly only half full (especially when you consider the rave writeup it got in the Metro this morning), and we were berated a bit for not cheering loudly enough (“You paid your money, you’ll might as well try to enjoy yourself, it’ll get you out of here sooner”) and laughing at the appropriate moments (I’m sorry, a pun on “Black Pearl”/Blackpool Tower is a bit lost on me). But the singing was very much on key, if too much toward the moderne style that I dislike so much (I don’t know, does it really keep the kiddies coming?), there was a fair bit of fun dancing (I have to say the extremely skinny four year old was cracking me up), as well as garish costumes, sexual innuendo, and actors cracking each other up.

There was an undersea dance number featuring a clownfish sculpture that was so heart felt I felt it should be called “Finding Emo.” I really don’t know how spending time in Neptune’s Kingdom fit into the legend of Dick Whittington, but then, since I’m American, it might just be one of those rather obvious things I hadn’t noticed (like the fact it’s the Tower Bridge that’s the coolest looking Olde Fashioned bridge in London, not the London Bridge).

And there were MONKEYS. A whole scene, I tell you, on “Monkey Island,” with a giant, King-Kong style puppet. And there was a ship that floated across the stage, split, and sunk; and a transmorgrifying fairy that turned from a smallish human into a tiny doll that was pulled up from the stage into the balcony on a string. It all basically made no sense at all (this cannot be considered a spoiler) and I had tears trickling out the corners of my eyes during the very first scene. W and I had a great time and I consider the evening a grand success.

(Oh, and I should mention, both the Cat (fabulous dancing; spoke only in “meows”) and King Rat (in leather trouser and knee-high boots) were VERY sexy – three times as much as short-skirted Principal Boy Dick, who sang fine and had a great and chipper attitude but was sadly not allowed the benefit of a leather costume.