December Reviews: Theatre, Comedy & Pantomimes!

December Reviews: Theatre, Comedy & Pantomimes!

To Do List reviews only the very finest* experiences for our loyal readers – and we only share the good stuff!

Read on for our December reviews – we’ll be adding to the list as we notch up the gems!

*often this means weirdest!

★★★★★ Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) | Shoreditch Town Hall | 2-12 December 2015 | 7:30pm | £12 – £25

An inspired an incendiary take on John Gay’s Beggar’s Opera – a whirlwind of captivating storytelling, spellbinding music, and a finale which leaves your pulse and mind racing.

Kneehigh have another hit on their hands with Dead Dog in a Suitcase: written by Carl Grose with original score by Charles Hazelwood and directed by Kneehigh’s Joint Artistic Director and founder Mike Shepherd, and a radical re-working of John Gay’s 18th Century satire, The Beggar’s Opera.

In the wake of Mayor Goodman’s assassination by urban assassin Macheath (the roguishly charming Dominic Marsh), the new Mayor-elect and his wife (Martin Hyder and Rita Fatania, both enjoying every evil moment) plot their way to power, only to discover that Macheath, in their pay, has caught the eye of their daughter Polly (Angela Hardie). Meanwhile, Goodman’s widow (Lucy Rivers) is looking for justice – an objective not always entirely shared by local policeman Colin Lockit (Giles King).

The commitment of the cast – speaking every line not only as if for the first time, but as if the words have only just formed in their own minds – is matched by the audacity of the staging and the perfectly pitched music (performed live by the performers themselves).

Dead Dog in a Suitcase perfectly blends melodrama, music, satire, philosophical musings and gallows humour, all building towards a truly exhilarating climax. Unmissable. SW

the ballad of robin hood

★★★★ The Ballad Of Robin Hood | Southwark Playhouse | 26 November – 26 December | Times Vary | £20

The eponymous redistributor of wealth is the perfect subject for a more mature – but certainly not less enjoyable – alternative to the Christmas panto…  

Parents of kids who consider themselves above the silliness of pantomimes, take note. If your child is over 7 and ready for some more grown up theatre, The Ballad of Robin Hood could be the ideal Christmas entertainment.

This is an imaginative retelling of (some of) the Robin Hood myth. The staples are there: Little John (offstage), Will Scarlett & Maid Marrion are all present and correct, and Robin’s skills with a bow and arrow come in handy. The myth is channeled, however, through the medium of the ballad, and related by the clientele of the Tabard Inn – which just happens to be harboring a captured and injured Robin.

Robin has been arrested by the Sheriff of Rutland, who demands that someone fetches the army. The Inn’s customers, and landlady Rosie Bailey, must decide whose side they are on, and do so by relating tales they have heard of Robin’s (mis-)deeds.

Such a set-up allows for a more three-dimensional examination of Robin Hood than Disney or Kevin Costner managed, and allows each cast member to shine. The songs and staging are excellent: beautiful in a low-key, unshowy way, completely in keeping with the 14th Century setting.

Tacit Theatre provide a warm, engaging and entertaining festive show which eschews cheesiness in favour of good storytelling, an immersive atmosphere, and yet another twist on much loved tale.  SW

Hackney

★★★★ Jack and the Beanstalk | Hackney Empire | 31 November 2015 – 3 January 2016 | Times Vary | £10 – £34.50

Clive Rowe gets his Dame on yet again, as Hackney Empire gets festive with yet another distinctive, classy Pantomime.

Cutting edge it may not be, but who goes to see a panto expecting groundbreaking theatre? Instead, settle in for (an ever so slightly overlong) celebration of all things fun & festive. All the classic elements are present and correct: he’s behind you, cartoon villains, a few well-chosen recent chart hits skillfully repurposed, a gold-standard dame in the form of perennial panto hoofer Rowe, and a scene-stealing cow!

Hackney Empire has earned a well-deserved reputation for hosting one of the best panto’s in London, always finding the right mix of cheery festive fun without pandering to the lowest common denominator. There are jokes for everyone, but the temptation to aim half of the gags at the adults is avoided, so the kids are never left out for too long. Neither is the whole thing played so safe that the adults are dreaming of hitting the bar. This is a tricky balance, pulled off with some ease by writer and director Susie McKenna.

Rowe notwithstanding, Hackney never puts too much emphasis on securing ‘star’ names – so, head elsewhere if you’re looking for Chico, Gareth Gates, The Hoff (with The Krankies!), or The Chuckle Brothers. Instead, the emphasis is on getting everything right – this is proper panto, pulled off with confidence and glowing with warmth. SW


Reviews by Stuart Wilson.
Stuart Wilson

About 

I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like: nice pubs, film marathons, not doing real marathons, bad comedy, plays/musicals with shorter second halves, and the Oxford comma.