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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Bertenshaw’

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.

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This isn’t a particularly good Shakespeare play. It was his last, may have been written with John Fletcher and it’s really just a slice of history with some pageantry and a prophetic / sycophantic ending. It’s rarely performed and the Globe is a great place to see it.

The play covers the period from the last years of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon through to the birth of Elizabeth I soon after his next marriage to Anne Boleyn. No executions (you have to go to the National for those) but you do get a coronation and a christening! You also get a historically accurate game of real tennis (squash), the demise of a corrupt and manipulative cardinal (you don’t get that in 2010!) and a rather drawn out death scene during which one is sorely tempted to shout ‘get on with it’. Apart from the royals themselves, there are other’s we know from our history – Cardinal Wolseley, Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer. It ends by telling you how good the newly christened Elizabeth is going be as queen – from the point in history when the play ends, it’s prophetic but from the point when it was written (she had already reigned) sycophantic.

Mark Rosenblatt’s production is very good, bringing out the best of the play. It plays the humour and pagentry well and there are terrific costumes (acres of silk, satin and taffeta and lots of ermine!) by designer Angela Davies, great music (Nigel Hess) and some fine performances. Henry is presented as a bit of a good guy (for a man whose main claim to fame is despatching wives in significant numbers) and Dominic Rowan plays him well, far from the fat king stereotype. Kate Duchene plays Katherine as a histrionic Spaniard complete with accented English. Miranda Raison (the lovely Jo from Spooks, almost unrecognisable as a long-haired brunette) is a very good Anne, though occasionally upstaged by Amanda Lawrence’s terrific lady-in-waiting (doubling up as an equally terrific fool). Ian McNeice is perfect as the baddie Wolsey. It  took a while to forget all of his turns as the Stratford East panto baddie before one could appreciate Michael Bertenshaw’s deliciously funny Lovell and Porter (and rather more serious Cardinal Campeius).

It might be a long way from being the best of Shakespeare, but it’s one of my most enjoyable visits to the Globe.

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