Tag Archives: Hackney Empire

Opera Review: Anna Bolena

13 Mar

Plot: At the heart of Anna Bolena (Julie Unwin) is the cruelty of the Tudor King Henry VIII (Ricardo Simonetti) – having divorced his Catholic wife Catharine of Aragon, and set on the throne his great love Anne Boleyn, he is disappointed; now he desires her lady in waiting, Jane Seymour (Julia Riley). As her thousand days as queen draw to a close, Anne is still fighting – until she meets again the man she loved before Henry.

The revival of this Donizetti masterpiece comes at the same time as the film adaptation of The Other Boleyn Girl which received mixed reviews, or if you had the chance to see it, the much more interesting The Tudors produced by the BBC last year. But this is the English Touring Opera who also brought us Donizetti’s Mary Queen of Scots in 2005. My first opera experience was also at the Hackney Empire so I had quite a deja vu feeling this evening, and unlike the first time I went to see Tosca, I brought a friend with me this time.

The tragedy of Anne Boleyn is perfect for the opera, so I expected really powerful crescendoes and wonderful, soaring singing. Riccardo Simonetti’s strong baritone really made me hate Henry VIII who was just as wicked and devious trying to find ways to get rid of Anna, whilst tenor Luciano Botelho’s Percy who played Anna’s old flame was dramatic and soul lilting. Act One had great ensemble singing from the main characters but let’s leave the rivalry between Anna and Jane for last as theirs lies the heart and soul of this tragic opera.

Anna was played by Julie Unwin and is the ETO’s main star and in this performance, she sings magnificently as I remembered her in Tosca. Her Anna is hopeful and defiant, and her moment of brief madness was heartrending. But Julia Riley nearly gave her a run for her money as she gave an equally powerful, intelligent and poignant performance of Jane. Their duet in Act Two is one of the shows highlights, and I just had goosebumps remembering it now. The minimalist and adaptable set worked well with the beautiful period costumes, the music was soothing with Michael Lloyd conducting.

Anna Bolena: 4/5

Anna Bolena will be performed in repertoire with Susannah and Don Giovanni as the ETO tours around the UK. For the ETO’s tour diary, please visit the ETO website here:


Theatre Review: Dick Whittington & His Cat

11 Jan

Plot: Dick Whittington & His Cat is a tale of a poor boy from Gloucester who goes to London, with his cat, to seek his fortune as he believes the streets are paved with gold. He is not initially successful but in time becomes the Lord Mayor of London and marries his master’s daughter.

I have never seen a pantomime ever. For the unenlightened, just what is a pantomime? From about.com: Pantomimes are fun, family theater with stories loosely based on children’s fairy tales. Pantos are suitable for adults too as there is always plenty of slapstick comedy. Expect plenty of audience participation by calling out, “It’s behind you!” and “Oh, no it isn’t” and “Oh, yes it is” as well as plenty more phrases for each character. Enter into the spirit of things and you’ll have a great time.

Since I am trying to see a lot more theatre performances, I was advised to at least catch one panto, revel in the fun that it offers and that should do it. So this week, bored to wits waiting for the weekend, I was deciding whether to catch the Old Vic’s Cinderella written by Stephen Fry or perhaps just go local at the Hackney Empire where their playing a successful run of Susie McKenna’s Dick Whittington & His Cat. I obviously went for the latter, and boy, did I have a fabulous time!

First off, Dick Whittington & His Cat is a HOOT of a show! If all pantos were even half as fun as this -apparently the Empire has been dishing out great pantos each year, I’ve just been completely ignorant of it- then boy oh boy, I’ll be there for Mother Goose come December 08!

Now where do I start? The cast is absolutely brilliant, from the moment you see Fairy Bowbells (Tameka Empson) flying onstage with her umbrella I knew I would have a fun evening ahead. And the athletic but sexy Puss (Mike Denman) is purringly charming. Dick Whittington was played by Hannah Jane-Fox fresh from her West End stint of We Will Rock You had such great stamina and a powerful voice. King Rat was wickedly portrayed by David Ashley, and Idle Jack (Kat) was such a good comic relief. Oh, and The Cool Cat Chat in the end was a blast!

The star of the show though is definitely Clive Rowe who played Sarah the Cook and hailed as London’s premiere dame, her musical exploits included a parody of Barbra Streisand’s Don’t Rain on My Parade and Jennifer Hudson’s And I Am Telling You. There were potshots about Primark, M&S, the coming 2012 Olympics, and Simon Cowell. I’ve never had so much fun in the theatre before, will definitely come back next year.

If the likes of Sir Ian McKellen, Sylvester McCoy and Barbara Windsor were at the Hackney Empire stalls jiggying it and doing The Cool Cat Chat, so where were you?

Dick Whittington & His Cat: 5/5

Theater Review: The Unexpected Guest

29 Oct

Plot: Lost in the fog on a lonely road, a stranger seeks refuge in a nearby house, only to find himself stumbling on to the scene of a murder. When the dead man’s wife confesses to the murder of her despised husband, the stranger agrees to provide her with an alibi. But who is he really protecting? And in a house full of suspects, whose are the unidentified fingerprints found at the scene?

I have a confession to make. I have never read an Agatha Christie novel. Ever. Well, it’s not really the same as not having read any Shakespeare. (Oy, did I just make another confession?) Back to Christie, if it’s worth anything, I’ve always wanted to read her work, I nearly bought a set of all her books in a second hand bookshop when I was in Broadstairs two years ago. I have seen a few episodes of the adventures of both Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple on telly but that was about it really.

Credited as one of Agatha Christie’s most mischievous and chilling whodunnits, The Unexpected Guest is filled with all the suspense, intrigue and surprise twists that make Christie one of the world’s best loved authors and the undisputed first lady of crime. The all-star cast is led by Emmerdale’s Susan Penhaligon and is joined by Ben Nealon (Soldier Soldier), EastEnders favourite Dean Gaffney, Derren Nesbitt (Where Eagles Dare), BBC and MTV star Richard Blackwood and two of the company’s most talented and versatile performers, Mark Wynter and Virginia Strid.

The Agatha Christie Theater Company is doing their second UK tour, this time with The Unexpected Guest playing at the Hackney Empire and I got quite an unexpected surprise (pun intended). Without wanting to give the plot away, I have always had a theory that in most mystery books or films, the tendency is to bet on the one that you least expect and you’re right on the money, and I was. Having treated for the first time to a full on Christie play, all the actors gave a commendable performance but I wasn’t quite keen about the stifled laughter elicited via Blackwood (Angel) and Gaffney’s (Jan) performances. Nevertheless, it had been quite an entertaining evening and it looks like I might just go and see The Mousetrap at the West End one of these days.

Playing at the Hackney Empire until 03 November.

The Unexpected Guest: 3/5