Theatre review: Mother Goose at the Hackney Empire

Mother Goose - Hackney Empire - 22 November 2014
Writer/Director: Susie McKenna
Music: Steven Edis

Mother Goose - Hackney Empire - 22 November 2014 Writer/Director: Susie McKenna Music: Steven Edis Design: Lotte Collett Lighting: David W Kidd Mother Goose: Clive Rowe Charity: Sharon D Clarke Billy Goose: Kat B Prince Jack: Matt Dempsey Princess Jill: Abigail Rosser Baron Barmy: Tony Timberlake Frightening Freddie: Darren Hart Priscilla, the Golden Goose: Alix Ross - Credit: Robert Workman Photographer

It’s a tad indulgent, but Hackney Empire’s panto is still the best in town, says Bridget Galton

The Empire’s annual panto is justly famed as the best in town, with top performers, lavish sets and costumes.

Its winning collision of traditional tropes with contemporary multicultural London is firmly in the anarchic spirit of the medium. This year Clive Rowe’s rumble-voiced, corpsing dame returns in a dream team vocal pairing with ex-killer queen Sharon D Clarke as good witch Charity – and therein lies a problem.

While their undeniably belting renditions of jazz, soul and disco classics delighted the adults, it wasn’t until act II covers of Happy and Let it Go that the kids could join the fun.

The musical theatre love-in teetered into indulgence, arresting the fast-paced plotting and squeezing out the gags and slapstick - leaving my bottom-shuffling six-year-old vainly hoping for more of the magic sword or criminally underused giant vulture puppet.

Once again artistic director Susie McKenna – who also plays cackling evil witch Vanity - has penned an original script that sees poverty-stricken Mother Goose threatened with eviction then, lotto-like, become vulgarly rich thanks to the goose’s golden eggs.

Vanity lures her to a magic pool with the promise of beauty – the jeopardy and narrative hinging on a tussle for Mother Goose’s soul that isn’t easily grasped by kids. And the ‘will they? won’t they?’ love story between Billy and Priscilla is too easily resolved.

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Still, the sets are smashing, the cast of dancing nursery rhyme characters who inhabit Hackneytopia a visual treat, Empire regular Kat B as Billy is a gifted physical comic who sends up contemporary yoof-patois to a Tee, and panto staples – sweet-throwing, plate smashing, UV dancing skeletons and the inevitable all-together-now song are brilliantly done.

Rowe’s turn as an oversized Dora the Explorer complete with garrulous backpack won’t be quickly forgotton.

Not a vintage year but probably still the best in town.