Review: Dick Whittington and His Cat, Hackney Empire
PUBLISHED: 11:50 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 11:50 09 December 2019
© Robert Workman
Familar tale of a boy hoping to make his fortune in London is given a resonant old school makeover in Windrush era postwar London - with lashings of fun
'London is the place for me,' sings Tarinn Callender's bright-eyed Dick as he arrives from Jamaica on the Empire Windrush.
Hackney's usually street-smart Panto dials back the rap and Rihanna to go back to 1948 and a post-war Britain needing help to rebuild.
The result is a pleasingly old-school Panto that marries quality popular entertainment with a salutary and resonant lesson about immigrant stories and London history. A Windrush veteran did indeed become the Mayor of Southwark.
Just as you start to think that Dick's dream of 'The Impossible Dream' is coming true too cosily, his blossoming love affair with Alderman Fitzwarren's feisty Irish daughter Alice (Christina Tedders) starts attracting disdainful looks.
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Cue a heartfelt rendition of The Greatest Showman's stirring interracial love song Rewrite The Stars. When he's fitted up for a theft, he sets sail with Kat B's narcoleptic talking moggy Uncle Vincent to make his fortune.
But before that there's a stirring tapdance routine to Everybody Wants to Be A Cat. Naturally everyone ends up underwater with a singing mermaid and a totemic seashell that teaches the world not to dump plastic - oh and they are shipwrecked on a Hawaiian island with a serious King Kong problem.
It's all done with the lightest of touches and lashings of fun from Empire regulars Clive Rowe as Dick's ma Sarah The Cook and Tony Whittle as the bewigged Alderman.
In her 21 years creating pantos for Frank Matcham's peerless Victorian playhouse, Susie McKenna has marshalled the panto tropes into slick upbeat shows.
There's the 'behind you' shout outs, a verse-speaking flying fairy, custard pies in faces, an audience singalong, and political digs, here a slimy Boris the rat and Uncle Vincent's advice for Dick to get two sets of arrival papers in case the authorities lose one.
Instead of celebs she casts proper triple threat performers and here Tedders and Callender make a fine-voiced charming, love pairing - not to mention Rowe's stellar vocals. It's hard to manufacture fun, and the Empire crowd didn't need urging to get on their feet for the final wedding walkdown.