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Cinderella, Hackney Empire, review: ‘All the usual panto ingredients, but topical gags are flagging’

PUBLISHED: 15:20 29 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:20 29 November 2017

Darrent Hart and Aisha Jawando. Picture: Robert Workman

Darrent Hart and Aisha Jawando. Picture: Robert Workman

© Robert Workman

Over the years, the Empire has cooked up a winning formula for street-smart extravaganzas that blend the pop culture of modern London with centuries old panto traditions

After nearly two decades building a reputation for staging London’s best pantomime, it feels as though writer and director Susie McKenna and team are running dry of inspiration.

Over the years, the Empire has cooked up a winning formula for street-smart extravaganzas that blend the pop culture of modern London with centuries old panto traditions.

All the usual ingredients are here; a talented, culturally diverse cast, lavish production values, great costumes, fabulous singing, loud shout outs and a singalong with a pantomime cow.

But the topical gags are flagging and tongue in cheek raunchiness is lacking this year.

It doesn’t help that for a love story there’s little spark between Aisha Jawando’s independent, upbeat soul-voiced Cinders and Chris Jenkin’s drippy modern prince. Or little jeopardy from Kat B and Tony Whittle’s lovably dotty stepsisters, and McKenna’s not quite wicked enough stepmother Countess Anastasia.

That said the ditzy duo, who arrive by hot air balloon, really work the room in an overlong first half – hilariously dragging a hapless male victim on stage to Bonnie Tyler’s Holding Out For A Hero, or spending a night in a haunted room, they’re neither the jealous witches of fairytale nor the kind of Dame that usually drives a good panto but they are fine comic performers.

Darren Hart is an energetically bouncy Buttons, and Stephane Anelli turns out to be a twinkle-toed Italian Dandini, in continual fear of deportation post-Brexit.

A damp squib of a transformation scene is rescued by Cinderella’s spectacular exit in a levitating glittering coach. And while my six-year-old felt there was too little action and too much singing, to hear veteran musical theatre star Peter Straker as Baron Hardup nail the soulful Human felt like an early Christmas present.

There was a rousing cheer as a bewigged Donald Trump is denied access to the ball but this panto is pure escapism for our troubled times.

At 2 hours 45mins it was indulgently long, but a final full-cast song and dance number sent us skipping home along Mare Street.

Until December 31.

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