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Jack and the Beanstalk review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘another triumph’

Clive Rowe, Debbie Kurup and Kat B in Jack and the Beanstalk at Hackney Empire. Photo: Robert Workman Clive Rowe, Debbie Kurup and Kat B in Jack and the Beanstalk at Hackney Empire. Photo: Robert Workman

Long the queen of the London Panto, Hackney Empire’s annual extravaganza has won its reputation with a feted combination of localism, savvy humour and a strong traditional bent. Though there’s plenty of tradition left in the cream-swilling slop scene, the constant audience call-backs and bawdy gags primed for the East London crowd, director and writer Susie McKenna has dragged Jack and the Beanstalk into some seriously batshit barmy territory, and her free-wheeling production is all the better for it.

We’re a good hour in before the first fragments of the classic story begin to take shape, instead whipping through a Narnia-esque story of a town caught in perpetual winter (bloody climate change), narrated by Mother Nature in the form of Julia Sutton’s fiery bag lady. Jack is a fishnet-clad but barely present hero, and the villains are a pair of literal super-bugs, farting and scoffing bogies as they do the giant’s bidding.

As the second act folds into a bizarre interstellar plot by a super-evil, star-crushing musical instrument, it could so easily fall to pieces, but an all-consuming performance from the spectacular Clive Rowe as Dame Daisy Trott keeps even the most elaborate plot twists sparkling along. This is panto with the stabilisers off: utterly mad, supremely confident and brilliantly executed.

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A seriously out-there script, supreme confidence and brilliant performances make for another triumphant Hackney panto