Posts Tagged ‘Theatre Royal Stratford East’

Review – Beauty and the Beast – Theater Royal Stratford East

December 30, 2014

After a week with three fringe pantos, I finally headed out to a mainstream one – the Stratford panto. I was particularly enthused about it because it features Ralph Bogard, an actor I’d been following on Twitter since his star turn in the Leicester Square Theater Saucy Jack. (The year before a fellow Space Vixen had wound up in the Greenwich Panto as the heroine – proving, in my mind, what a great cast it was.)

But I was curious about what to expect. Panto is a constantly evolving art form, so while old favorites like Dick Whitttington and Aladdin are still getting plenty of stage time, theatres are also breaking in new stories – in this case, Beauty and the Beast. Per Andrew Pollard, author of the Greenwich pantos, this is in part due to the Disney effect, where fairytales they have made films of will suddenly have a new popularity with the panto-age viewing public. It was Disney’s movie that led to the first stagings of Snow White, after all, so it’s almost a tradition of its own. But even knowing you have a primed audience doesn’t tell you what you need to do to turn the source material into a show that works. Birmingham Royal Ballet nicely adapted it, but as a ballet, with the lush sets, drama and (of course) dance that a ballet audience would expect. But how to turn it into a panto? This is an interesting arena for creativity: if you read the story of Aladdin in The 1001 Nights, you may notice there is no Wishy Washy’s laundry, and similarly no Buttons in the original Cinderella. So Theater Royal Stratford East is taking on a show with only the barest whispers of tradition about it. It needs a beauty, a beast, a rose, and…. a candy factory? A dame? An evil witch? What about the selfish sisters? My panto expectations were unset, but I (and the rest of the audience) was ready to come along for the ride.

For this Beauty, the plot is as follows: Belle (Helen Aluko), her father (Minal Patel) and his sister (our dame, called, bizarrely, Giselle – Michael Bertenshaw) have washed up on the shores of Stratenford, Hingerland (get it?) without a penny to their names. They are forced to take jobs in a candy factory. Its owner, the scheming, selfish Mr Choakum (Ralph Bogard), decides that Belle is just the woman he needs to set himself up socially. This drama goes on for so long that it seems that there will never be any sort of fairy tale happening at all: there’s certainly no sign of any of the story’s original elements other than a marionette dumb show that seems completely unrooted (the cast never again appears in the guise of a family of puppeteers in any case).

Belle’s father goes to seek his lost boat and winds up in a magical palace where a rose appears along with a cast of strange creatures all under an enchantment, and we seem to finally be getting into our fairy tale. The rose is plucked, a beast appears (Vlach Ahston), the daughter offers herself in exchange for her father’s freedom, and the story is rolling. But it veers off again with a villain (required by panto tradition if not the source material): the witch who enchanted the beast (the rather glamorous Antonia Kemi Coker), who, with her daughter (Allyson Ava-Brown), wants to ensure the story has a bad ending. Are they successful? “Oh no they’re not!” is the only possible answer as panto rules are now in play; but the victory over materialism that is the triumph of the original story is transferred from the non-existent sisters to the post-transformation prince in a manner I found not satisfying.

In general, this evening has a bit of a budget feel to it. The costumes are quite simple – the dame only gets three – though with a touch of imagination (a Dia de los Muertos/Frida Kahlo look for the good guys, and a Princess Mononoke feel to the Beast). While the pop-up storybook look for the castle is charming and appropriate, it lacked a depth and attention to detail that might have made it truly enchanting. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Beauty and the Beast, which toured in London this year, was a visual feast, and more magic would have been nice for this production. The songs seemed perfunctory and lacking in emotion. And, overall, there were absolutely none of the political jokes which previous Stratford pantos have delivered so well. Did a memo go out warning that Art Council funding would be cut if any complaints were made? Panto is a wonderful way to poke fun at the powers that be, but the opportunity was entirely missed.

Fortunately, the cast was very enthusiastic and took genuine pleasure in delivering a positive experience. I was especially delighted with Mr Choakum, a sleazy amalgamation of Caractacus Potts and Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka, manically driven and not quite right in the head (villains are always so fun). Aluko had a lovely voice and the group of storybook characters working for the Beast – Peter Pan, Pinocchio, Piggy, and Baby Bear – added a lot of flavor to the proceedings. And who can argue with a panto driven by an urban beat? While this show needed more magic, Beauty and the Beast seems a good show to take the family and radiates a genuine London sensibility. However, the script itself seemed really unsettled and lacked the firm structure that underlies so much panto humor. I don’t think the candy factory and pasted in Auntie really make for a winning script for this fairy tale, but its twists at the end did add interest.

This review is for the opening night performance, which took place on December 10, 2014. It continues until January 17th, 2015.)

Tags – Beauty and the Beast, Theatre Royal Stratford East, Helen Aluko, Minal Patel, Michael Bertenshaw, Ralph Bogard, Vlach Ahston, Antonia Kemi Coker, Allyson Ava-Brown

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.)

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.