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Posts Tagged ‘Steven Edis’

This is the Hackney Empire team’s 20th panto, and my 10th (and second Aladdin). Five of the six leads clock up forty between them, led by Kat B with 15. Designer Lotte Collett clocks up 15 too, and MD Mark Dickman’s on his 9th. The loyalty of the creative team, the performers and the audience speaks volumes. Christmas would not be Christmas without a visit to Hackney. This year it’s a pleasure to have Clive Rowe and Tameka Empson back, as well as the wonderful Gemma Sutton make her debut.

If you were contemplating going ‘up west’ for ‘Disney’s Aladdin’, think again. There’s way more fun in the East End for a lot less money, and now I’ve seen both, I speak from experience. The seats might be plusher, but you won’t be with your panto family like you are in Hackney, and there’s absolutely no chance of Clive Rowe’s Widow Twanky flirting with you at the Prince Edward Theatre.

Given the far east setting, we’re actually in Ha-Ka-Ney with the Empress looking for a wealthy suitor for her daughter Princess Ling Mai, who falls in love with Aladdin, one of laundress Widow Twanky’s two sons, who is poor not wealthy. We’ve got both a genie of the lamp and genie of the ring and of course baddie Abanazar who whisks us all away to colder climes.

Amongst this years treats we have dancing pandas, Gaia the goddess of light, with a blue monkey face (voiced by the sensational Sharon D Clarke no less) and a dragon that will take your breath away. Both genie of the lamp and Aladdin fly. Designer Lotte Collett’s imagination has run riot, particularly with the dame’s costumes and headwear that features everything from washing baskets lines & machines to pagodas.

This year I was particularly impressed by the make-up, especially Kat B’s genie, and above all the musical standards, with fantastic vocals all round. Susie McKenna & Steven Edis’ 20th is vintage Hackney panto, a joy and an unmissable treat.

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To be honest, I’m not that fond of this show, but I’m very fond of GSMD’s end-of-year musicals, which combine West End production values with terrific young talent and the biggest and best orchestra you’ll ever hear playing for a musical, and this year is no exception.

By 1964, Rogers & Hammerstein had made it OK to write musicals on serious subjects and Jerry Bock, Sheldon Harnick & Joseph Stein chose the early 20th Century Russian pogroms for theirs. They’d done five shows before this, but this was their big hit, running on Broadway for almost ten years, in the West End for almost five, made into a successful film in 1971, with countless revivals since, including three in the West End. Though the political background is dark, the story of dairyman Tevye, his wife and five daughters in the village of Anatevka is light, and the contrast doesn’t work for me, with the latter smothering the former. Though there are four numbers in the show which have become standards, I find the score a bit too twee.

Whatever you think of the show, though, Martin Connor’s production is superb, with an excellent design by Adam Wiltshire, great choreography by Joanna Goodwin and a luxurious 28-piece orchestra which sounds glorious under MD Steven Edis. Another outstanding cast is led by Alex James-Cox as Tevye, a hugely impressive performance. I was looking at the news of last year’s graduates in the programme to find they’ve since been at Shakespeare’s Globe, the Old and Young Vic’s, Almeida, Bridge and Chichester theatres, two in the Harry Potter plays plus Game of Thrones and the BBC’s A Very English Scandal. That tells you something about the talent that awaits you at a GSMD show.

Can’t wait to see this lot in my future theatre-going.

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We normally go to the Hackney Empire panto nearer to, or between, Christmas and New Year, but Christmas has come early and here we were in November.

There’s not a lot you can do to a story as iconic as this one, and they haven’t. There are, of course, local references and some current political snipes; Brexit and Trump, obviously. We also get a mini Strictly. Other than that, it’s a ‘vanilla’ Cinderella in the Hackney way, which means excellent production values, including Lotte Colette’s brash and colourful designs, returning regulars, both on stage and in the audience, and a largely new book and new score by Steven Edis (though with more known songs than usual, too many for me).

Writer & director Susie McKenna takes the baddie role as Countess Anastasia, Cinderella’s step-mother. Hackney regulars Kat B and Tony Whittle make a terrific pair of Ugly Sisters. Another regular, Darren Hart, charms the pants off us as Buttons. Stephane Anelli is a welcome newcomer as a very Italian Dandini (cue Brexit jokes) with great dancing, and hot on the heels (literally) of his Acid Queen at nearby Stratford East’s Tommy, it’s great to see Peter Straker’s returning to the Hackney panto as Baron Hardup.

Amongst this years highlights, we have pantomime horse Clapton, a pair of mice, another of those lovely luminous scenes and a flying horse pulling the carriage! One of the best lines came from the audience, whose participation was as enthusiastic as ever. MD Mark Dickman leads a fine quintet in the pit.

It’s not vintage Hackney, more to do with the choice of show I suspect, but any Hackney is a seasonal treat and the standards remain high and the spirits even higher. My posse were positive and we’re already looking forward to 2018.

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What’s left to be said about the Hackney Empire panto? A freshly minted script and score every year by Susie McKenna and Steve Edis respectively. Production values at least as good as a West End show, and better than many, with brilliantly colourful sets and costumes by Lotte Collett. Sky high musical standards that better any other panto, anywhere (and boy, can the class of 2016 sing!). Not a talentless ‘celebrity’ in sight. A warm community feel that makes you feel at home even if you’re from south of the river like me, or 100 miles further north like my guests. The only Christmas tradition I like and will never lose.

This year we have the tale of the Princess of Hackneytonia, daughter of King Eric the Undecided, promised to the neighbouring Prince of Westminsteria when she reaches 18, under the spell of the dark fairy Carabosse. We have not one, but three good fairies, and a delightful dragon called Denzil. Our Dame is the princess’ Nanny Nora. All the usual ingredients are there, including some slapstick and a sing-along. There’s a particularly good scene in a forest with luminous insects, a lovely Ogre and the arrival of a spectacular giant dragon. Susie McKenna’s scrip has just the right amount of political bite, with excellent well deserved swipes at two of the year’s real life baddies, Boris and Trump. Steven Edis has written some fine new songs and Mark Dickman’s band do them full justice.

The force of nature that is Sharon D Clarke is the dark fairy, who fortunately turns good as I couldn’t hate her for much longer, with great presence and powerful vocals. Alexia Khadime is charming as the Princess, also with great vocal prowess. Regular dame Clive Rowe has handed his pinnie to Gavin Spokes who, after a tentative start, won us over. Regulars Kat B has bags of charm as Denzil the dragon and once he too turns good, so does Darren Hart as Carabosse’s sidekick. Other regular Tony Whittle is a delightful bumbling King in keeping with his Undecided moniker.

Raving about this institution may seem a bit boring, but I can’t lie and the real thing is far from boring. Off you go……..

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I now declare the festive season over and the New Year happily begun. As has become traditional in recent years, attending the last performance of the Hackney Empire panto marks these in as joyful a way as you could wish for.

What’s left to say about this annual affair? Well, the quality never wanes. The theatre is forever welcoming. The audience engagement is second to none (coo-ee! you can do it Billy!). The ad libs are delicious. Writer / director Susie McKenna also casts herself this year as Vanity the bad witch, Sharon D Clarke gets a full role as Charity the good witch, and Clive Rowe is back with yet another wardrobe of colourful outrageousness from Lotte Collett, who I would hire as my personal stylist if I had the nerve. Almost every other member of this superb cast are regulars and the familiarity makes you feel like you’ve come home, if only for a few hours.

Mother Goose is today a less regularly performed panto, but Hackney did it last six years ago, the year before I first attended and became addicted. At the annual Hackneytopia Goose Fair, Mother Goose gets Priscilla the goose, and a lifetime supply of golden eggs, until her own vanity means she comes under the spell of bad witch Vanity and all is lost – well, until good witch (and Vanity’s sister) Charity, Mother Goose’s son Billy, Prince Jack and Princess Jill save the day. Even Vanity’s evil sidekicks Baron Barmy and Frightening Freddie turn against her. Much of the excellent music is specially written by Steven Edis and the vocals are superb – Sharon D Clarke and Clive Rowe singing together is a force of nature in itself.

It’s a riot of colour and there are opportunities for a whole load of animal characters and, given it originates in Charles Perrault’s 300 year old The Tales of Mother Goose, it also contains characters from that book’s other tales including Puss in Boots, Goldilocks, Red Riding Hood, Bo Peep and Old King Cole. From a flock of geese flying over the auditorium onwards, the effects continue to make you smile to the very end.

The chances of me not being there next year are zero. Bliss.

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Walking into the GSMD’s Silk Street Theatre you could be walking into any West End or Broadway theatre. Morgan Large’s two-story hotel foyer, complete with grand staircase, revolving door and chandelier, is something you don’t expect to see in a drama school production. That’s often the case at GSMD shows, though – productions any West End producer would be proud of at a fraction of the ticket price. I actually enjoyed this more than either the Dominion 1992 or Donmar 2004 productions!

Based on the 1929 Austrian novel & play rather than the 1932 film (with Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford & John Barrymore) the musical first appeared in 1958 but had a troubled life and it wasn’t until the equally troubled 1989 Broadway production, which transferred to the Dominion, that it truly arrived. Set in 1928 in Berlin, the coolest city of the time (Brecht & Weill, Marlene Dietrich, Josephine Baker & Louis Armstrong, Kandinsky & the Bauhaus, Fritz Lang & Billy Wilder!), it weaves together the stories of a bankrupt baron thief, a fast fading Russian ballerina, a man whose business is about to go down the pan, a junkie doctor with a death wish, a dying book-keeper wanting to experience life before he goes and a stagestruck secretary intent on Hollywood. Add in their assistants, the hotel staff and some entertainers and all life is here.

The score is better than I remembered it and here it is played by a full 27-piece orchestra under Steven Edis and it sounds glorious. The choreographer is Bill Deamer no less and the quality of dancing is another of its high spots, including a pair of professional dancers a match for any Strictly professionals. Director Martin Connor succeeds in the difficult task of staging the overlapping stories played by 32 actors. The overlapping makes it very fast moving, but you’ve got to keep your wits about you as there’s a lot going on. It’s often dark, sometimes surprisingly, but always captivating. Forthcoming events in Berlin are hinted at, which makes the ending a bit chilling and in truth a bit sudden.

I’m a regular at GSMD and other drama schools and though the hit rate is high, it’s rare you see a revival this good. Combining a premiere league creative team with bags of fresh talent can give you something very special indeed, and just about the best theatrical value for money you’ll find anywhere!

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Presenting the London premiere of this show by Americans Ernest Kinoy, Lee Goldsmith & Roger Anderson may be considered a coup for the Guildhall School of Music & Drama. Thirty years ago, the Broadway production was cancelled just before the first rehearsal when financing fell through after another show about Chaplin was being prepared. Sadly, it proves a bit of a disappointment.

The show (somewhat pretentiously sub-titled A Memory as Entertainment) concentrates on Chaplin’s early life, up to his departure from Keystone films when he was just 26. It’s a fascinating life and reading Eliot Shrimpton’s excellent programme notes before the start heightens the anticipation.

The fatal flaw of the show proves to be the long first half (despite the fact it appears to have lost 15-20 mins in the last few days!) when a fascinating life is presented very slowly and made dull. The music, newly orchestrated by prolific MD Steven Edis, is unremarkable and the book rather clunky. It was all a bit Oliver! without any of the sparkle. Things improve in the second half, which starts on the ship to the US and zips through the five years that took Chaplin to stardom, but its a bit late.

Mark Bailey’s design is outstanding. There is a giant gold picture frame at the back, with projections onto its canvas, red velvet curtains descend for the music hall scenes and the costumes are excellent. The opening of Act II on a liner heading for NYC with the projection of the sea, a large smoking funnel and a pair of handrails looks brilliant. Bill Deamer, who has done such good work at the Open Air Theatre, choreographs well. In fact there’s nothing much wrong with Martin Connor’s staging other than its pacing.

The acting is better than the singing. Though the musical standards in the pit are good, the singing onstage is (unusually for GSMD) often ropey with far too many off-key moments. The most impressive performances come from Tim Bowie as elder brother Sydney (though he looks four years younger rather than four years older), Sion Alun Davies as Keystone films supremo Mack Sennett, Katherine Rose Morley as his Mabel and Rose Reynolds as the Lily Chaplin marries.

In the 20 or so years I’ve been going to the GSMD end-of-year musicals, I’m not sure I’ve ever left as disappointed as I did last night. Most of their previous shows have been revivals of tested material. This just shows that however good the talent, if the material isn’t good enough, you’re bound to end up with a dud.

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