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Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

The Empire strikes back! Hackney’s gorgeous Frank Matcham-designed theatre has been dark for most of the year, having struggled to fill a regional-sized venue which has neither the shoestring flexibility of the Fringe nor the quality and centrality of the West End. Plus, this year’s ‘Cinderella’ has lost its usual dame, Clive Rowe, to ‘The Ladykillers’.

But it has a killer lady instead: Joanna Riding’s sexy stepmother, who struts like Nancy Dell’Olio and grinds the proletariat under her heels like George Osborne in drag, is the spikiest star in a feel-good family show that sparkles with talent.

What is the secret of Hackney’s success? Well, panto did crowdsourcing and interactivity 200 years before they were a glint in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. And the live, talented, melting-pot community in E8 gives this Christmas cracker its bang.

The location boosts the feistiness-factor of Sophia Ragavelas’s sweet, slightly street Cinderella (someone give that girl a record contract, please). And Tony Whittle and Kat B make an extraordinary East End double act as Ugly Sisters Queenie and Vic: the first a pugnacious cockney comedian with thighs like travel pillows; the second a fabulous booty-shaking vision of rudeness.

But writer/director Susie McKenna is the Hackney Empire’s real fairy godmother (though Sophie Louise Dann fills that role with grace onstage). McKenna’s pantos are a brilliantly judged combination of top singing and dancing talent, adult innuendo, kiddie-pleasing soft friends, snappy local scripts and sheer spangled spectacle – which, this year, takes the form of a winged chariot to fly Cinders to her Charming hero.

‘Cinderella’ isn’t my favourite panto storyline, being a soft-focus romance that has fewer adventurous highs than ‘Aladdin’ or ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’ – and there are one or two too many ballads in the mix here. But the straight leads are so likeable and nicely lunged (Wayne Perry is a preppy Prince Charming but he’s dishy enough to get away with it even on Mare Street) that they keep the emotions running high on the few occasions that the action lags.

Once again, the Hackney panto is east London’s answer to the Notting Hill Carnival: a local knees-up that the whole city wants to come to.


£9.50-£27.50. Runs 2hrs 30mins
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