Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Derek Elroy’

Whilst commercial panto’s continue their decline with stale, recycled work (performed by recycled soap and reality TV stars), the subsidised sector continues to produce freshly minted pantos annually for and in their communities, and the East End has always been at the forefront. When I lived three miles away, Stratford East was my regular panto haunt. When I moved South West I dabbled a bit with the inferior fare in Richmond and Wimbledon, before I was lured to the big lights and big heart of Hackney Empire which I’ve made my panto home for the last six years. This year I got greedy and took in both Hackney and Stratford. 

Stratford’s offering is Robin Hood, something different. We saw the first preview, so we had to forgive a few teething problems, but their fresh take on an old tale was a treat. A cast of twelve and a three-piece band created enough raucous fun to have us participating in no time. Derek Elroy’s nurse was a damely treat and Michael Bertenshaw’s King John a great baddie. Oliver Wellington was a charming young Robin. Harriet Barsby and Jenny Tiramani conjured up forests, castles and prisons in bright primary colours. 

The difference in theatre size didn’t dawn on me until I got to Hackney Empire eight days later. It’s so much bigger and needs a panto on a much bigger scale – which it certainly gets in Susie McKenna’s glorious production of Jack in the Beanstalk, with sensational sets and costumes again by Lotte Collett. Both the production values and the performers will match or probably better any theatre in the land, and there’s a real sense of community on stage and in the audience. They’re back, and we’re back. Regular Dame Clive Rowe with a wardrobe to die for that this year included hats with cows, watering cans and a replica of the theatre itself. Kat B in his 11th year, this time as a Jamaican snowman! Tony Timberlake back to be booed again as Nasty Bug and Darren Hart charming once more as Clumsy Colin. The big bonus this year was the wonderful Debbie Kurup as a terrific thigh-slapping Jack. 

We had video contributions from Jon Snow and Robert Peston, the voices of Matthew Kelly as the giant and Sharon D Clarke as a singing gold harp, Buttercup the cow (obviously), and a brilliant giant. Jack climbed the beanstalk through space surrounded by silver dancing stars. There were dancing bugs and dancing penguins, kids from the local community, Goldiniah the chicken and a delightful Mother Nature from veteran Julia Sutton, which enabled some serious stuff about climate change to be woven in seamlessly (and very timely, the day after the Paris accord).

Two very contrasting pantos, but both huge fun, and both anchored in their community, refreshingly free of tacky commercialism and way better value. Deciding where to go next year is the easiest decision I’ll make all year.

Read Full Post »

I’m not sure I’ve ever been so out-of-synch with an audience. This drama is set in Jamaica amongst violent gangs and corrupt coppers. The dialogue is local patois with surtitles on two TV screens in the boxes (which were necessary and helpful but still so fast you didn’t catch everything). There were a lot of laughs, but to me nowhere near as many as much of the largely Afro-Caribbean audience found. When it was tragic, sad, cruel, moving, poignant……they laughed. Surreal.

Roy Williams play centres on gang leader Joker, arrested for a murder being investigated by a British policeman of Jamaican origin sent out to help. The local police operates very differently to what he’s used to ‘at home’ with more overt corruption. Joker gets his men to abduct two policemen to trade for his release. The British cop is amazed and horrified when it is clear the local police plan to co-operate to free their men. Further revelations reveal everyone from the most junior officer to the Superintendent is in some way corrupt.

Williams plays have breadth and depth, so in addition to a gripping thriller, we get a cop with a gay son, a culture clash between the Jamaicans and the Brit of Jamaican origin and reflections on colonialism and events post-independence. If you can penetrate the dense patois (and it’s often a real struggle) it’s rich in narrative and characterisation. There’s a lot more going on here than most plays and it’s hard to take it all in.

Ultz has designed an authentic police station with Joker present in his second-tier cell throughout proceedings in the station itself. Clint Dyer’s staging is fast-paced and very physical with a real sense of danger in the air. The performances are uniformly excellent. For a singer, Goldie makes a great actor. Charles Venn and Ashley Chin are terrific as the younger cops obsessed with the movies and on the make. Trevor Laird (who also doubles up as a petty criminal) and Brian Bovell are excellent as the older, wiser policemen. Against all of this, Derek Elroy has to play fish-out-of-water James and he does so very well.

It took a while for me to get into this, and I felt like a bit of a fish out of water myself, like my namesake character James, but it drew me in and provided gripping drama, something original and something you’d probably only ever see at TRSE. Gone now, but certainly not forgotten.

Read Full Post »