Hackney Empire to reopen with panto and new musical Vanara

Last Updated on 21 June 2021 by Showcall Editorial Team

Hackney Empire has announced its 2021 season including new musical Vanara, new comedy Crazy But True with Oliver Samuels, and pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk with Clive Rowe

Vanara Hackney Empire
Vanara and Jack and the Beanstalk

Hackney Empire in east London has revealed its opening season, from new musicals to the return of its legendary pantomime.

Highlights include the world premiere of new musical Vanara, new comedy Crazy But True starring Jamaican comedian Oliver Samuels and the 2021 BEAM Showcase of new musicals in development.

Tickets are already on sale for its panto, Jack and the Beanstalk, running from 20 November to 2 January, starring Hackney Empire’s acclaimed dame, Clive Rowe.

The east London theatre will also offer comedy, live podcasts, family entertainments and opera from English Touring Opera, with social distancing for audiences expected to be gone from September onwards.

Artistic director Yamin Choudury said: “The last 16 months have been some of the most challenging we have experienced in recent memory, and what has kept many of us going is the idea of what those first nights back are going to feel like for us all.

“Art and culture as a tool to entertain, inform, respond and share has never felt more vital, more urgent, and it is our responsibility to ensure that our communities are able to access excellent people and stories – however they are told.”

In August, Choudury will team up with The Pappy Show’s Kane Husbands to direct a new show created through its Artist Development Programme, currently dubbed ADP 2021: Romeo & Juliet (Title TBC).

This two-week summer programme will provide a company of 40 young artists aged 13 to 19 the opportunity to create an original piece of musical theatre, working with Sumah Ebelé, a 21-year-old emerging actor and writer from east London, and musical director Ty Lowe. The show will be performed on the main stage on 14 August, and auditions will be held on 26 and 27 June.

The 2021 BEAM Showcase will visit Hackney Empire in September, on dates to be confirmed, bringing together presentations of new musicals in development, masterclasses, networking opportunities and panel discussions.

New musical Vanara will run from 22 to 30 October 2021, featuring an original score by Gianluca Cucchiara, lyrics by Andrew James Whelan, and book by Michael Conley. It will be followed by a UK tour planned for 2022.

Vanara is set on another earth, in another time, where nature is revered and life is full of dangers. Two tribes are locked in an age-old battle: one has the secret of fire, the other wants it. One young woman must decide: protect the life she knows or burn it down.

Blending theatre, contemporary dance and technical innovation, Vanara is said to craft a new language for musical theatre. It has gained cult status among fans throughout its development process and offers a prevailing message of hope and call for unity, resonating with the chaos of today’s society and an earth ravaged by natural disasters.

Produced by Giovanna Romagnoli, Vanara brings together a team including director and choreographer Eleesha Drennan and director and dramaturg Adam Lenson.

On 16 October, the “Caribbean King of Comedy” Oliver Samuels launches his new comedy Crazy But True, which he has written with Dennis Titus and will direct himself. He will co-star with his classic partner Volier “Maffy” Johnson alongside Dennis Titus, Lakeisha Ellison and Malessa Vassell.

On 23 July, the theatre will release a film of performances of artists who have been finalists in Alter Ego, the talent showcase for young people from east and north London which has been going for 10 years.

The season also includes comedy such as Majah Hype, Sindhu Vee’s Alphabet and Chris Ramsey’s touring show as well as hit podcast The Socially Distant Sports Bar: Live! with Elis James, Mike Bubbins and Steff Garrero discussing sport in between other chat.

Hackney Empire has also announced that Leona Lewis has cemented her long-standing relationship with the venue by officially becoming a patron, supporting and mentoring young people involved in the Hackney Empire: Creative Futures programme.

It has also announced the first recipients of its new Creative and Project Development Bursary designed to support and enable sector-wide access points for un(der)represented artists, creatives, audiences and narratives. For 2021, the recipients are Daniel Ward, Debris Stevenson, Bradley Cumberbatch and Sophie Miller.


About Mark Ludmon 318 Articles
Mark Ludmon has been a journalist for over 20 years, specialising in theatre, hospitality and drinks after starting in regional daily newspapers. He has an MA in early modern literature and history, focusing on Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, and a theatre studies MA from Royal Central School of Speech & Drama. He is a former panellist for the Olivier Awards. He tweets at @MarkLudmon.