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A CurtainUp London London Review
Jack and the Beanstalk

I need a new husband . . . You are just my type . . . breathing!
---- Dame Trot
Jack and the Beanstalk
Clive Rowe as Dame Trot
(Photo: Geraint Lewis)
In this most historic of old music hall theatres (1901) where Charlie Chaplin, WC Fields and Stan Laurel once trod the boards, comes Hackney Empire's pantomime, Jack and the Beanstalk. In the lead is the magnificent Clive Rowe in an unusual role for this big black classical actor with the wonderful singing voice. He plays Dame Trot, "Jack of cow for beans fame"'s mother. This is the British pantomime season and the show at the Hackney Empire is one of the very best! And you can count on Clive Rowe being in Hackney for Christmas.

Before you even get into the auditorium, the outside of the theatre has been decorated with an enormous pair of giant boots protruding from the façade of the theatre. Once inside you will be gobsmacked by the restored interiors which are worth a tour on their own. £15 million was spent restoring the building which had become a Bingo Hall and was saved from demolition to make way for a car park for the local Town Hall. It re-opened in 2004 after two years spent on restoration to this wonderful 1300 seat venue.

I don't remember ever seeing before the prequel to the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk about the loss of the Giant's wife and the reason it is forever winter in HackneyDale, cue snow scenes with skating. Jack and the Beanstalk pleases on many levels. The Giant, although enormous is not so scary as to terrify young children. The jokes are topical. I especially enjoyed the dig at the ageing thespian's panto as led by Sir Ian McKellan at the Old Vic, "Now is the winter of my incontinence". The music ranges from Clive belting out Aretha Franklin's "Respect" to his arrival at the top of the beanpole singing "Climb Every Mountain". There are more mentions of local supermarkets and product endorsements than a James Bond film. The cuddly animal interest is a (two man) cow with the enormous eye lashes, thankfully restored to Dame Trot after Jack's (Matt Dempsey) foray into the bean market.

Clive Rowe of course dominates in his curly blonde wig and amazing makeup and his witty, extreme costumes are simply fantastic. His outfit, the long black wig and white pvc full length coat for the Nigella Awesome scene in the kitchen is a triumph as are the flour throwing antics of Silly Billy (Terel Nugent) and Off Her Trolley Molly (Tameka Empson). I was blown away by the diminutive Tameka Empson's huge and vibrant comic talent. What is this girl on? She is amazing to watch as she works the crowd, her personality busting out of every inch of her tiny frame. The villainous Runner Bean (Michael Kirk) is made up all in green, more like a cartoon than you would think possible, and with a Dickensian green costume topped off with a crumpled top hat, he is a leering, hissable at, bogey obsessed rogue. His sidekicks are a cute children's chorus in green bean pod costumes to die for. I watched as the children in the audience in front of me became totally involved in the story, they sat on the edge of their seats and joined in the traditional cries of "It's Behind You". As an adult there was plenty vocally, visually and comically to please but for children Jack and the Beanstalk is the perfect pantomime.

Written and directed by Susie McKenna who also plays Broad Bean

Starring: Clive Rowe, Tameka Empson
With:Matt Dempsey, John Barr, Michael Kirk, Rachel Matthews, Terel Nugent, Cavin Cornwall, Natalie Wright, Emma Woods, Danielle Calvert, Rebecca Lee, Daniel Sharpe, Todd Talbot, Bright Sparks and the voice of Sharon D Clarke
Musical Director: Steven Edis
Costume Design: Lotte Collett
Additional Set Design: Fahmida Bakht
Sound: Paul Gavin
Lighting: Philip Gladwell
Choreography: Carl Parris
Running time: Two hours thirty minutes with an interval
Box Office: 020 8985 2424
Booking to 7th January 2006
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 7th December 2005 performance at the Hackney Empire, Mare Street, London E8 (Rail: Hackney Downs or buses from the Tube stations at Bethnal Green and Highbury and Islington)
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