The Hackney Empire's annual panto blowout is still a festive treat
No panto featuring such Brobdingnagian volumes of glitter as Hackney Empire’s latest stab at ‘Cinderella’ could exactly be described as subdued.
But while the Hackney panto still rules the seasonal roost (oh yes it does), this doesn’t feel like a vintage year (oh no it doesn’t).
All the fundamentals are bang in place: knowing humour; fierce love for east London in all its multicultural glory; Lotte Colette’s beautiful painted sets; an absolute belter of a pantomime horse (named Clapton); and many fine and funny panto actors, foremost Kat Band Tony Whittle as the lairy Ugly Sisters and writer-director Susie McKenna as Cinderella’s villainous stepmother Countess Anastasia.
But it’s missing that usual sense that it’s more than ‘just’ a panto. There’s a lack of absolutely first rate talent, with recent star players Sharon D Clarke, Gavin Spokes and the great Clive Rowe all absent (Clarke does appear as a pre-recorded voice; heresy of heresies, Rowe has taken his formidable daming skills to the gaudy New Wimbledon panto this year). The spirited anti-Brexit humour that marked last year’s panto has simmered down to just a couple of mild jokes. And the script - by McKenna - feels a bit short on the expected flights of fancy. An enjoyably random scene set in the Ugly Sisters’ haunted bedroom aside, it’s a fairly orthodox run through one of the tamer panto plots (albeit with plenty of spirit: Aisha Jawando’s sparky Cinders is no put upon drip).
It is still infinitely warmer, funnier and wittier than the last ‘Cinderella’ I saw, done at the London Palladium on a roughly kerjillion times greater budget. But by its own lofty standards, this is an off year, albeit still a wonderfully barmy night out.