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Review, & Juliet, Shaftsbury Theatre, by Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

Anyone is this World knows of the story of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare. A tragic love story of “two star crossed lovers” who marry against their enemy family’s wishes but unable to be together, die for true love.

Now… what if that hadn’t happened? What if Juliet got to live on? What would happen next?

& Juliet takes this concept, pumps it with musical numbers, upgrades the costumes and set to meet its traditional roots but tickle the modern fashions and includes some more up to date language, slang, which ol Shakey I’m sure would approve of.

I will start this critical approach out by fully admitting that Musicals are not in my top loves of Theatre. I enjoy, and have grown to love them but I wouldn’t say they are what first interests me and nor is it my own training or practice. However, I appreciate the love of these as well as the popularity of them and the talent it exudes.

Beginning with & Juliet, I really liked that how we got nearer the beginning of the show, characters began to pop out on stage, dance and interact with the audience. However, this is a little where my dislike started and made me wonder if I would really enjoy this musical. It felt a little like CBBC; jumping out, waving manically and screaming hello. I did begin to wonder where this would go.

As the production starts, it is strong. Not original songs by any means, this production wraps millennials and 90’s babies in a warm embrace as it brings back the 90’s/00’s boy and girl bands, Britney Spears, and some contemporary popular songs as well. They do a really good job of finding the appropriate songs and fitting them to match the scene. Sometimes, it just made you laugh at the choice and how it fit with the narrative.

Juliet continues her life, finding out that Romeo was a little of a lothario, travels to another city to party and live life, only to end up back in another engagement. But this whole journey and how it ends is all about empowering her as a woman, as an individual and it makes a great point for young females everywhere of breaking out of the patriarchy and being your own person. Points are also touched upon with a gender neutral character; of who they are, who they are becoming and their own love story in between this. It felt contemporary, right and well supported.

They cleverly mirror life with William and his wife, Anne Hathaway – little records exist but it is believed that their marriage was of convenience and so & Juliet aims to bring back some love between this unhappy married couple through the retelling of one of his most famous plays. Anne gets to have a hand, and they break the fourth wall, jumping in and out of scenes to help facilitate. They reconvene and discuss what happened and next steps and we realise that this is a tactic to save their marriage, like a baby or a puppy may be traditionally. Perhaps real life isn’t like Anne and William, or Romeo and Juliet in both the original, real life and this musical, but it makes us believe in love and we can’t help but feel happy leaving the theatre.

However, with the glitz and glamour, the era setting, the choice of pink aesthetic and glitter as well as the hammed up characters, at times, felt more Pantomime than Musical, and for a while it continued to not sit right with me.

Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE a Pantomime. But I came to see a Musical… After a while, this dissipates and you find yourself singing along, laughing at the crude jokes, feeling for the characters and just having a really good time. The campiness is arguably what a Musical is and maybe the choice of this is something other Musicals are lacking. I couldn’t help but whoop and cheer and appreciate the talent, the vocals, the set, the costume, the music and everything in between.

Overall, & Juliet is a less pressured, fun night out. The songs and well performed, there are jokes, dancing and a wholesome feel to what was once a tragic play. You come away dancing, singing and with a smile on your face.

Review, For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When The Hue Gets Too Heavy, Royal Court Theatre, New Diorama Theatre, Nouveau Riche, By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I heard on the Theatre grapevine about this show. Every word was good, if not amazing and therefore, I could not wait to see it.

Anyone who reads my reviews will know my love for the Royal Court and my opinion that they put on the most extraordinary of shows. They get better and better the more I go, but I really am not sure how they are going to top this one.

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy, is a brilliant production about being male and black with all its pros, cons, its comedy and utter tragedy. It highlights what you would not know if you were not part of that community and the unjust treatment given to general human beings. It looks at each character, their personal issues, past, present, future, the question of masculinity and masculinity as a black man and completely celebrates the community, through dance, music, literature, history.

Each performer is almost a principle character to highlight differences, similarities and to squash away stereotyping. We have the hard character who is angry at the world, the studious and book smart one, the shy one who has also struggled with whether they are black after being brought up in a white community, the queer man who still hides in the heterosexual shadows and so on. While quite simply laid out, when we get into their stories, we realise they have experienced things that we would never expect. Domestic violence, sexual abuse, physical abuse. This highlights how the characters are not just 1 dimensional. They have many layers.

The performers were amazing – with genuine chemistry, effortless performance and tongue and cheek fun, these men seemed genuine friends and as if we were watching in on a group of real people in ordinary life. Only when there are dance cut aways and theatrical elements, do we remember that this is a production.

The elements of dance and physical theatre was astounding. It felt just and as if it fit in, with everyone involved and doing it fluidly, precise and mesmerisingly. Not only did it add to this brilliant production but it heightened it as an astounding piece of theatre.

There is a wonderful balance between these hard hitting stories and absolute belly aching laughter. Some bypasses those not in the community, but the joy heard from others in the audience who it relates to laughing, calling out – there was a comradery and a community setting in just this audience alone. And there was something for everyone – something every person, race, class, age could relate to and therefore, no one felt like an outsider or alone.

For those not in the community, this is a huge learning experience. We get to know of things from the black community, both positive and negative, and some is extremely shocking and un-thought of. I felt more educated and more of an ally than ever before.

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy is equal parts hilarious, joyful, painful and hurtful – it is an education for those in the black community and for those not. It is such an important piece of theatre for every. single. person.

Review, Doctor Who: Time Fracture, Immersive | LDN, By Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

I’m going to start this by saying – this was a dream come true!

As a big fan of Doctor Who, when this came into my inbox, I screamed and jumped at the chance.

As most fans of something would be, I was dubious and a little concerned if I would like it. I invited my long DW friend along, who felt similar anticipation, mainly because unfortunately we have both lost favour of the recent series and were apprehensive on how they would play this out.

Gone are the times I remember where the Dragon Centre in Cardiff had the tiniest of exhibitions dedicated to the fandom, featuring a 10 minute walk through of things from the set. Gone are the days a long time after when the larger experience in Cardiff was prominent and I remember almost being in tears at how cool it was. This feels like a reincarnation. But one you are fully involved in.

The first thing to say, and we couldn’t stop saying it was the level of detail applied. I couldn’t to this day tell you the layout of this building, but everywhere you looked, there were tiny elements that if you blinked, you would miss them – a picture of a past companion, the general set and aesthetic, nods to past, present, future (little joke there for you), which found us constantly pointing out to one another and gasping with excitement. Perhaps lost on those who have come for just the experience, but certainly a brilliant addition for the die hard fans.

The narrative itself involved past characters, present characters, storylines we have already encountered, interweaved to create this exciting mission. There’s a fracture in time caused by a bomb in the 1940’s, but we need to help the Doctor to save the universe, making life changing decisions and sacrifices along the way (don’t worry – we all come out alive!)

We ourselves, seem to actually travel through time – we meet Davros, we meet Elizabeth I, Leonardo Da Vinci, the Gallifreyans, and all in different rooms and alcoves that are so exquisite in details. We are all engaged with; unfortunately (or fortunately!?) I seemed to have a face that said to interact with and so I may be biased, but it felt as if every person was engaged with. There were, like any immersive experiences, rooms we never saw. But you never felt as if you missed out and eventually the pieces of the puzzle easily fit together.

The performers stuck to their characters perfectly – improvisation techniques on point for any eventuality. A moment where the timeline of one performer didn’t match with the others in the narrative, she swiftly managed to pad the interaction out in character to fill that gap. Every performer was believable, whether in the spotlight or at the sides. True talented artists throughout.

And when the villains we all know get involved – it felt genuinely scary. Not many of the shows ever truly scared me, but confronted in person with the Weeping Angels, the Daleks, Cybermen… and many more – my god, it felt as if I was really running for my life.

For any Doctor Who fan, this is a must. For anyone who wants to have a genuinely exciting adventure and be surprised at (often literally) every turn, this is certainly for you. I felt transported and never wanted to leave.

Review, Kaash, Akram Khan Company, Southbank Centre, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

While the seats are still filling, and the last of the audience are rushing in for the no latecomers policy, suddenly someone is on stage. In the darkness, a faint red frame on the back wall, with his back to us.

It’s a wonder whether anyone has noticed him, with chatter still continuing, but the show has begun, and there is a eeriness about this foreboding body.

Akram Khan delivers some of the most interesting, dark and unusual dance productions. This is no different with Kaash. With elements of contemporary dance, influenced with religious, cultural and rhythmic dancing and gestures, the production delivers the deep, dark and at times frightening expressions of Hindu Gods, black holes, creation and destruction and much more.

The colours of the production are earthy and naturalistic – with browns, reds, black and whites highlighting the dancers and the stage itself. It is calming at times, making you feel grounded, and others frightening.

The sounds change from heavy drum beat, to fast paced speech in another language, to naturalistic sounds like wind. However, there is a sense of alienation theory when the sound is cranked up; it gets louder and more foreboding and sounds a little like when a killer is about to appear in a horror film. There is no sense of an end, half expecting something to make you jump but the crescendo is outlived and we are left in bewilderment.

The dancers, using leitmotif gestures that come back and forth throughout, are somehow gentle yet fierce with their movements. Effortlessly sliding around the stage, they make it look easy, but the beads of sweat show otherwise. There is a moment when we see one “breaking down”; physically it is as if she is a robot that is malfunctioning and the movements and way she contorts herself is equally natural and unnatural. It’s difficult to watch but you also cannot take your eyes away.

For a 55 minute piece, Kaash felt like an enternity of a devious world but equally making us want more. It is dark and scary but fascinating and awe inspiring.

Review Fiji, Conflicted Theatre Company/Clay Party Omnibus Theatre, by Tanica Psalmist

Written by Pedro Leandro, Eddie Loodmer-Elliott and Evan Lordan

Directed by Evan Lordan

Produced by Conflicted Theatre Company and Clay Party

Fiji plays at Omnibus Theatre until 25 March. 

Fiji is a black comedy framed as a living room, this play is full of laughs and quirky moments from the off. The concept of Fiji is Sam (Pedro Leandro) and Nick (Eddie Loodmer-Elliott) met online only a short while ago, during the weekend they finally meet in person where it all spirals out as fast as lightening.

Sam’s destroyed his devices & told everyone he’s bought a one-way ticket to Fiji but instead he’s with Nick. The two feel that they have a deeply special relationship and plan to spend the rest of their lives together. However, for Sam that life will be very brief, he has asked Nick to kill and eat him, with a strong belief that Nick ingesting Sam will be the ultimate exchange of love, making their bond inseparable. 

From mundanity of cheap Spanish wine, an enormous lemon & sarcasm – their humour contrasts like an avalanche with what they have planned ahead. As individuals their human vulnerability and tenderness grips the audiences attention whilst grasping onto the concept of cannibalism. Coming together for this horrific purpose, both intensely relate on how internet dating can be poisonous within the fanatical world of perverse relationships.

As the true reason for the weekend becomes clear, you can’t but help become transfixed on how this weekend will end. Their frequent questions & answers sparks conversation by a tense countdown, which we directly visit during the final moments of the abrupt murder. These questions offer deep & reflective considerations about what has led to this shocking decision: does it stem from maternal issues, as scientific research, what will Nick’s ‘experiment’ disclose? And all the while the two men reassure each other that they want this to happen, each for their own personal reasons. 

This play is based on a real life incident in Germany. It interrogates what the rules would be in a situation like this: who gets to decide how it plays out, and what responsibilities are involved, both between participants and in their wider social circle? The discussion is remarkably balanced, as the characters reconcile the issues within their own instances, arguing the case for personal choice, whilst acknowledging there is a world outside where these actions are known to be wrong.

This is a well articulated production offering romance and laughter alongside repulsive horror, there’s really deep, dark & deadly thinking in the midsts that invite you into the world of the unknown.  

WNO’s Jenůfa, a review by Eva Marloes

WNO Jenufa Eliska Weissova Kostelnicka Burjovka Elizabeth Llewellyn Jenufa photo credit Clive Barda
4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

The evening began with the orchestra conductor Tomáš Hanus wishing the performance be an island of humanity. Sorrowful and deeply humane, Leoš Janáček’s Jenůfa was the perfect opera to bring reflection upon the devastating Russian invasion of Ukraine.

The WNO’s Jenůfa touches the audience with the perfect balance of intensity and quiet sorrow. The interpretations of Elizabeth Llewellyn in the lead role and Eliška Weissová as Kostelnička stand out in this impressive production. The orchestra under the capable baton of Hanus conveys the complex beauty of Janáček’s music.

WNO Jenufa Elizabeth Llewellyn Jenufa photo credit Clive Barda 

The story of Jenůfa is decidedly unpalatable to contemporary sensibilities. She is disfigured out of jealousy by Laca, the man who claims to love her, and abandoned by Števa, the man she loves and whose child she bears. Her own stepmother Kostelnička kills her child for fear Laca would not marry Jenůfa. Yet Janáček’s music makes one overlook the misogyny of the story and brings out a deep sense of humanity.

Elizabeth Llewellyn gives an intense and nuanced performance. The tonality of her voice adds a deep and pure emotion. Eliška Weissová’s powerful voice and dramatic interpretation capture well the complexity of Kostelnička, whose strong personality is diminished and consumed by her crime and sin.

WNO Jenufa Eliska Weissova Kostelnicka Burjovka Peter Berger Laca photo credit Clive Barda

Janáček’s Jenůfa is no epic tragedy but a journey taking us to a place of pain and compassion. The WNO orchestra is impeccable in conveying the moments of tragedy, quiet sorrow, and intimate love. Peter Berger gives a solid performance as Laca revealing a compassionate note and Rhodri Prys Jones interprets Števa convincingly. Of note is also Aaron O’Hare in the role of Stárek.

The production is let down by an unimaginative setting that emphasises the ordinary neglecting the tragic and religious dimension of the opera where the infanticide is not only a crime, but a sin. Yet there are a couple of good tableux: one when Števa is at one end of the stage away from the rest of the village that underlines his culpability and one when Kostelnička confesses her crime in front of the jury of the crowd.

The performance was well received by an audience already moved by the current tragic events in Ukraine.

Review, The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, David Drake, New Wimbledon Theatre Studio by Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

In a little black box in Wimbledon, we encounter the coming of age LGBTQAI+ tale in 80’s America. Next door is a LGBTQAI+ club which I have been to before, and so having this show next door seems hugely apt and hopefully, educational to young people of the community who may walk past and be intrigued by the stand out poster.

The Night Larry Kramer Kissed me, written by David Drake, is a critically acclaimed off-broadway show. Based in 80’s America, we travel through one man’s self discovery in the gay community, awoken by Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, showing how Theatre can awaken someone’s passion but also make them question their very existence. John Bell’s (star of Outlander) character uncovers what many men of the LGBTQAI+ community discovered during that time – the impact of the AIDS/HIV pandemic and the fears, concerns, and lack of education around it during this time. It looks at his own discovery of the community and his sexuality, yet also on protesting, speaking out, love and loss.

Bell is in general just perfection. Each word, syllable and speech is perfect, diction and projection on point, and every part of the story he tells feels like it could be autobiographical. He addresses each of us in the room, not afraid to make eye contact, and with such a small theatre, this is important, making us feel included in his story; as if he is just recounting it for the first time with all its elements and emotions. Finding out that Bell is only 24 years old shocked me. I know him well from the show Outlander, where we practically see him grow up as it is, but the maturity and the earnest nature he brings to the character made him seem way beyond his years. While I was also not yet born during this time in history, Bell being much younger than me also shows how in depth he has clearly looked into the history and the impact it had on people of that time. He is genuinely heartbroken; genuinely enjoying life as he discovers who he is; and every aspect of him is fabulous and in keeping of the culture both of then and now. He also flips through ages – a time when he is just a little boy is mixed in with his first kiss as a teenager to finishing as a young-middle aged man. And each mark of his life is clear. A brilliant feat in itself for a performer.

The set was minimal but effective – big crossed metal pipes, stretching diagonally to the sides of the stage, later lit up, make us feel like we are in a city, with its harsh architecture. This is softened by many candles later, electronic, but effectively made to look as if they are really flicking. Subtly put in nooks and crannies are the historical coloured handkerchiefs, symbolising gay men’s position when it comes to interaction with each other, sex and love. A brilliant moment is when Bell is singing/rapping to a song as he discovers different men in a club, pulling out the handkerchief’s and describing each of them, climaxing to an outburst of fear at those who are HIV positive is poignant, fun and eventually heartbreaking. We hear much of the support given in the community and protest at the time, but little of how some turned their back at some point through fear and lack of education.

In a time where we are all fearful of a virus we at the start knew little about, there is some element of reflection on how the community must have felt at the time. However, an element of fun in put into this production, with scenes in clubs and gyms and meeting different people, lovers and how sometimes it culminated in the death of a person puts this on another level. To live life, only to die of it in the end.

Finally, a comment on the costuming – on point for the era, Bell evokes images of Freddie Mercury and the leather fashions of the community and of the 80’s. Eventually, with tee shirts of the AIDS/HIV support networks and protests at the end, this and the telling of this tale is a blast into the history of such a big part of this community and of history in general, something that even today still feels swept under the carpet.

The Night Larry Kramer Kissed me is such an important production to see, not only to learn a impactful part of history but also of a community that, in the 21st century is still facing hardships and censoring. Bell only makes this so much more poignant with his natural and excellent performance.

Review, Dirty Dancing, Dominion Theatre by Hannah Goslin

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

I once went to a shop, bought a watermelon, uttered the infamous line “I carried a watermelon” to receive from the cashier “…Isn’t that from a film?”.

We all know Dirty Dancing. A quintessential love story from the 80’s. Based in the 1960’s, this coming of age story sees teenagers growing up in this time, breaking out of the post war /post 1950’s prudeness and traditions and embracing life, sex, culture. They are becoming more aware of socio and political climates, and women are becoming more vocal and independent. This is when Baby, with her family, spends time at their holiday resort (think American Butlins) and when she leaves 3 weeks later, she has grown from daughter to woman, after meeting Johnny and together, facing a mountain of challenges and issues. Baby’s world is cut open and she soon grows up.

Firstly, I would say that calling this a musical is a little misidentified. Yes, there is music; yes, there is dancing; but very little in singing. Most of the music is pre-recorded. There is the occasional band playing, maybe 3-4 songs sung on stage but other than that, it’s very much like the film; lots of talk and lots of dance. Don’t get me wrong, the dancing is BRILLIANT. Carlie Milner (Penny) has the most envious of techniques, along with Michael O’Reilly (Johnny) who epitomises Patrick Swayze and his snake hips. Together, you can believe they are the envious duo that smashes into the campsite scene. Kira Malou (Baby) also does a great job at performing as if she cannot dance, to slowly building up to being worthy of Johnny’s partnership. But it did feel as if she wasn’t given much stage time to really showcase her skills, until the very end in the encore.

The music is typically 80’s – we know all the songs and sing along, and this does pick it up in enjoyment. There’s more comedy added than the film, and the performers do well to be hammed up enough to be these stereotyped characters supporting; it allows the depths of Johnny to be shown in more detail. The whole cast is so in sync that you wouldn’t quite believe that this was a press night – such perfection in movements, in synergy and in the graceful scene changes and line delivery.

The director for sure knows what they are doing; likely, a show catered for the Millennial and Baby Boomer female audiences, there’s absolutely no hesitation in ensuring that Johnny is swooned over. He is quiet, brooding and tormented, just as we expect from Swayze’s original character, and maybe more muscular. It isn’t until he strips off his top and an accidental bum flash and I think most of the audience had collapsed. As a hot blooded woman, yes it is enjoyable to see, but it also feels quite seedy and thrown in – and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for O’Reilly and the objectification.

What also did not sit right with me was the issue of race. Rightfully so, the cast is a mix of races, which is great to see when theatre and musical theatre especially can be so white, middle class and cis. However, to showcase Baby’s growing independence and outspokeness, the issue of race in America at the time, Martin Luther King, and even the word “Negro” are thrown in. It isn’t developed upon and unfortunately feels uncomfortable, badly placed as well as fueling white savior syndrome. With a number of persons of colour in the cast, I’m sure if this didn’t sit right then I’d hope they would speak up, but to an audience member, it only felt like it was there to show Baby breaking away from tradition and not making a important point about race and history. My memory of this in the film is hazy (and that in itself probably shows a further issue of the original film and their take on this) but even if it was featured in the same way, this is where we, as a reprise to stage, can change this and either fully and completely bring that story to light or not at all. Baby’s independence can be shown in other ways, other than her being the person to speak for a race that is not her own. I also felt it limits the casting process – can a person of colour therefore play the role of Baby or Johnny or any of the other characters? The whiteness of the characters isn’t a point of the narrative in the stage production, as it is in the film with the camp being of Jewish-American tradition, so why limit the casting!? Argument would say that as Baby is Jewish-American, she is part of a minority and can speak but as this isn’t eluded to or even distinguished, I do not feel that there is an argument there.

Dirty Dancing is not what I’d exactly call a musical, but it is good fun nonetheless. Fans of the movie and of 80’s music will be happy to attend for a light-hearted take on this well known tale, with a pink wine in hand and a dance at the end, along with times to swoon, the famous lift and “Nobody puts Baby in a corner”. However, there is a huge conflict of messages throughout and some uncomfortable areas that are never really realised and could probably have done without.

Review, Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks, Sarah Hanly, Royal Court Theatre by Hannah Goslin

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

Ireland is a place I feel a lot of pride, despite having no blood connection. It was thought we have Irish in my family and so, like anyone, I took that and ran with it whenever Ireland was brought up. Sadly, recent discoveries say otherwise. However, some of my best friends are Irish and since the day I met them, I’ve enjoyed learning about the culture, mannerisms, phrases and the socio and political state of Ireland through history.

It’s quite well known that there is a huge aspect on religion in Ireland. With this, as soon as Catholism is mentioned, you think “Oh here we go. Another Irish play talking about growing up Catholic”, by Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks is fresh, and new in its approach and is unlike any play, Irish or not, that I’ve ever seen.

Purple Snowflakes… is a one woman show about coming of age in relatively modern Dublin. It sees the character of Saoirse finding her way through life; her family, her sexuality, religious repression and eating disorders. She fights through life, retelling her story to her friend who is only a memory now. It picks on loss and love, and growth from child to fully fledged adult, and what is important throughout each stage.

Sounds a barrel of laughs right? Well.. actually it very much is. There’s an element of very unique comedy, relating mostly to the Irish culture. The Irish are some very clever and comedic people, using their repression and perhaps sheltered upbringings to be darkly funny. This is no exception for this story – it’s honestly hilarious but when you get too comfortable with this, you get a punch of the serious into your stomach. The highs are perfectly punctuated by the lows; this is what makes this play so brilliant.

It also educates – how would someone growing up, trying to discover who they are, really do this when there is little to no information, no openness and certainly no help with figuring out sexuality, gender or mental health. Perhaps this isn’t the same all over Dublin or Ireland, but certainly it feels like a tale often told and Hanly picks this apart – she encourages and supports feminist morals, of LGBTQIA+ ideals, of being who you are and unapologetic. She makes a statement; not only of the state of lack of education on these elements but also about sticking two fingers up to it and saying I am who I am.

Sarah Hanly, writer and performer, is excellent. She is energetic, bounding around the stage with a vigor we can only imagine having. You feel as if she is growing up on the stage in front of you, not just in her story. By using lights, a small amount of staging and props, the scene is changed quickly and effectively. A very small stage, it somehow expands and with the help of the narrative, you can easily imagine the different places that the character is existing in.

We feel like we are her friend – she speaks to her friend as if she is right in front of her, and we fill that void. She addresses us, often with “do you remember that?” and, while we clearly don’t, she convinces us that we do. And we are there, with her and no one else, not even the other audience members.

I loved every minute of Purple Snowflakes. Your emotions are constantly on edge and this makes it exciting, makes your heart break, makes your sides split, and you cannot tell what happens next. Purple Snowflakes needs to be your next show to watch.

Review, The Queen of Hearts, Greenwich Theatre, By Hannah Goslin

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

This isn’t my first Panto of the year, but I could happily see Panto after Panto all year long. And so my invite to The Queen of Hearts at Greenwich Theatre reverted me to my childhood of Panto tradition around Christmas.

We are all used to a Panto being based on some famous tale: Aladdin, Cinderella, Snow White e.t.c. so I was massively intrigued by a Panto with a title and potentially a premise that I didn’t know about. Of course all the same elements were there; the audience interaction, “HE’S BEHIND YOU!”, the call and response of the tragic yet loveable sidekick, the moment where audience birthday’s are called out and of course, the pantomime Dame and her ever more extreme costumes and lust for… well… men.

However, The Queen of Hearts is to some degree a new story. Following most of the basic pattern, we see a love story between a Prince and a Princess; Jack the side kicked is over looked; The Dame has been widowed and on the search for her next man, yet is the mother to all and finally, the bad guy is only out to destroy the kingdom and support his own cause. But it isn’t as straight forward, when the twists and turns that usually we would see coming as we know the initial story (think of Aladdin will at some point rub the lamp; Cinderella will run away from the ball). It is new. It is shiny. It is fun.

Not a lot of Pantos have live music either. Usually it’s a recording or if they are lucky to, they are in the orchestra pit. But, much thanks to the Theatre’s architecture, some to just sheer genius, the small band featured on stage and they were every bit part of the production. From the piano player breaking out of his pit to come and act, to the guitarist laughing at every joke, corpse moment and funny improv, them and along with the other performers who clearly loved every moment on stage and had liberty to change slightly and corpse, showing that they loved it as much as the audience.

My only grumble was the absence of two distinctive Panto parts – the throwing of sweets (ok, Covid!) and the song and dance when they are randomly in the woods and sing a song to keep the Ghosts away; slowly being picked off one by one. Sadly, I waited for this bit and it never came. I love the ridiculousness of it and how it never fits in with the story and it was just a shame that it wasn’t in this particular production.

The Queen of Hearts is a fresh and exciting take on the traditional Christmas staple. It keeps to all the things we expect but adds something new and refreshing to the age old tradition.