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Pantomime Review: Aladdin, Hackney Empire

PUBLISHED: 12:09 17 December 2018

Olivier Award-winner Clive Rowe appears as the Dame in Hackney Empire's Aladdin. Picture: Robert Workman.

Olivier Award-winner Clive Rowe appears as the Dame in Hackney Empire's Aladdin. Picture: Robert Workman.

© Robert Workman

A high energy return to form for Susie McKenna's legendary annual outing of gliz, hilarity and joy

Tameka Empson of EastEnders fame appears in her sixth panto at Hackney Empire. Picture: Robert Workman.Tameka Empson of EastEnders fame appears in her sixth panto at Hackney Empire. Picture: Robert Workman.

The weather outside was truly frightful at the opening night of the Hackney Empire’s 20th legendary pantomime.

This venerable show has a reputation for being the best in London - the one by which others are judged.

This could be something of a mixed blessing, raising the stakes of what is, and always should be, a local affair.

But happily this is the world of pantomime, where venerable reputations are treated with flippant disregard and traditions are only there to be mocked, upended, and mocked again.

The high-energy show flung us from the dismal sodden streets outside to colourful Ha-Ka-Ney, where the “gender-fluid” Aladdin (a sprightly Gemma Sutton) is pining after Princess Ling Mai (Julie Yammanee), probably because of Ling Mai’s fantastic belting voice. The people of Ha-Ka-Ney are celebrating its recent exit from the Eastern Union, which has shattered their economy, but also gifted them with an exuberant new ensemble number by Steven Edis.

Brexit references abound, delivered with heavy-handed glee throughout the show, which preaches firmly to its local Remainer choir. Other topical nods to Trump, the Windrush scandal and identity politics are delivered with a deft as well as a suitably daft touch.

The show has an abundance of brilliant performances from the likes of Tony Whittle as the hapless Sergeant Dumplin’, Kat B as the music-loving genie of the lamp, Tony Timberlake as the dastardly Abanazar and the showstoppingly talented dame, Clive Rowe.

One of the show’s highlights is a Beyoncé-splattered encounter between the dazzling dame and Tameka Empson’s hilarious Empress, who even manages to make putting her heels on gloriously entertaining.

Abanazar, aka Fernando, aka Jacob Peas Bogg, does his best to seize the lamp and triumph over Aladdin, but with the help of a goddess, a goofy flying dragon (the flying carpet got clamped) and a baffling array of dancing pandas, everything turns out well in the end.

This is panto as it should be – a night of sheer ridiculousness delivered with joyful sincerity and relished by all concerned.

4/5 stars

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