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Sleeping Beauty, Hackney Empire, review: 'Sparkling, joyful, high energy'

PUBLISHED: 17:00 15 December 2016

Darren Hart, Tony Whittle and Gavin Spokes in Hackney Empire's Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Bob Workman

Darren Hart, Tony Whittle and Gavin Spokes in Hackney Empire's Sleeping Beauty. Picture: Bob Workman

Archant

With so many great voices in the cast, the songs come thick and fast and panto tropes are swiftly ticked off

The recipe for a successful panto is as hard to get to grips with as one of Dame Nanny Nora’s custard pies.

But if some prefer an extra pinch of this or fewer grammes of that, you can’t deny that Susie McKenna annually cooks up exactly what her audience wants.

Her sparkling, joyful high energy productions are peppered with local and political gags, lavish sets and costumes and top quality performers. And they always make for a fun night out that urges audiences to dance in the aisles.

Writer/director McKenna here reworks the hackneyed (sorry) fairytale to feature a kickasss Princess Thalia (Alexia Khadime). Watched over by a trio of flying fairies, she has a belter of a voice and armours up to help her prince fight the dragon.

In an overlong first half her backstory is rapped Hamilton-style - perhaps too much of a musical theatre in-joke since it hasn’t yet landed here.

Gavin Spokes is more of a DMs and deep voice kinda dame, and if he’s not the largest life that Hackney’s ever seen, he’s an amiable host who pairs well with Tony Whittle’s king, especially in a Brexit/Trump influenced lament about not letting the people have their democratic say.

Panto’s always on the side of the underdog, whether that’s Kat B’s wingless, flameless dragon Denzil, or the people of Hackneytopia banned from straying into upper crust Westminsteria because of their pesky magic.

Our favourite was Darren Hart’s hapless Ikoboo a wolf secretly in love with Sharon D Clarke’s brilliantly sneering baddie Carabosse, the wicked witch at the naming ceremony who jealously throws a curse at the baby princess.

Panto tropes are swiftly ticked off; pie throwing, a giant UV forest hacked back by Prince Gabriel, an angry troll and a fiery eyed dragon that must be slayed.

With so many great voices in the cast, the songs come thick and fast, too fast for my liking, when it’s at the expense of the derring do, and gags.

But as I said it’s a matter of taste and McKenna spectacularly has her cake and eats it.

Rating 4/5 stars

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