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Posts Tagged ‘Annette McLaughlin’

I’m told this will be Susie McKenna’s last year at the helm of the Hackney panto. I hope there’s someone waiting in the wings, as my theatrical year would not be complete without it. Perhaps that’s why I booked for the first weekend of the New Year, subconsciously banking 2020 already.

This year’s offering is Dick Whittington, who arrives on the Windrush with his cat, to be reunited with his mother, Sarah the Cook. Queen Rat’s mischief of rats includes a straw haired one called Boris, and there’s a very athletic gorilla, and a shipwreck, which provides the opportunity for an underwater scene. Dick, of course, gets to be Mayor, and to marry Alderman Fitzwarren’s daughter Alice. Queen Rat is kept in check by our good fairy Blowbells, and the cat is played by Kat B! Lotte Collette’s design is as captivating as ever, in particular her costumes for Sarah the Cook. The musical standards under Mark Dickman are sky high, with singing way better than just about any other panto.

Clive Rowe’s on great form as Sarah, petrifying every man of a certain age in the front stalls, but this year avoiding humiliating them onstage. Tarinn Callender has bucketloads of charm as Dick, with Hackney regulars Kat B brilliant as Uncle Vincent the Cat and Tony Whittle’s Alderman Fitzwarren playfully ad-libbing with Rowe. Christina Tedders seems to be a new face as Alice, as does Annette McLaughlin as Queen Rat, both excellent, and it’s great to see veteran Sue Kelvin as Fairy Blowbells, looking like she’s having the time of her life flying across the Hackney stage.

It’s impossible not to feel the warmth at Hackney Empire, and I so love being part of it. May it last at least as long as I do.

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If Walt Disney hadn’t adapted this late nineteenth century Italian novel by Carlo Collodi for his second full-length animated film just before the Second World War, it would probably never have become the iconic tale it has, told around the world in many forms and languages. Here we are almost eighty years later seeing a stage adaptation at the National Theatre, and what a treat it proves to be.

The tale struck me as darker (the hand of playwright Dennis Kelly?) and more moralistic than I remembered, with a strong emphasis on the importance of values and truth. In learning these en route from being a puppet to being a boy, Pinocchio encounters a trio of baddies – a sly trickster Fox, puppet-master Stromboli and fairground-master The Coachman. These are juxtaposed with his loving dad, puppet-maker Geppetto, and the Blue Fairy, who adds that touch of magic.

John Tiffany’s staging doesn’t rely on technology, as much modern theatre does, but it is utterly charming and completely magical. Bob Crowley provides a simple, appropriately wooden design of benches, trees and ladders until we move to the puppet theatre’s proscenium and the fairground’s lights. The underwater scene is an understated marvel. Puppets are used for some of the main characters (except the puppet Pinocchio himself!) with Geppetto, Stromboli and the Coachman twice life size, with three handlers as well as the actor in identical dress; this gives the production a somewhat surreal quality and a period feel.

Tiffany’s regular movement collaborator Steven Hoggett creates an athletic child-like world. and the illusions by Jamie Harrison (whose work so impressed me at the Harry Potter plays recently) are brilliant (though there was a minor nose malfunction on the night I went!). Martin Lowe provides a wonderful score to supplement the film’s original five songs and inspired by its incidental music and Italian and Alpine folk music, including the recurrent standard When You Wish Upon a Star, which sounds suitably lush with a 15-piece orchestra under Tom Brady in the pit.

Mark Hadfield’s Geppetto is very moving (was that a real tear I saw at the end?) and Joe Idris-Roberts is an absolute delight as a very malleable Pinocchio. All three baddies deliver the required badness – David Langham’s Fox, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Stromboli and David Kirkbride as The Coachman. Audrey Brisson makes Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket a lovely companion and Annette McLaughlin is every bit the fairy of your imagination.

Younger kids might be a bit scared, but older ones will love it’s darkness and adults it’s timeless charm and glorious theatricality. One of the best Christmas shows at the National, adding to its impressive seasonal track record.

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