Lo’, the season of the bizarre British classic, the Pantomime is upon us again. And, as every year, Hackney Empire steps up to the starting line with a Cinderella full of gusto, flair and fistfuls of glitter – along with slightly less traditional elements including a hot-air balloon, some American talking mice and a rather bizarre rendition of Chained to the Rhythm in the middle of the forest.
This marks Hackney Empire’s 20th pantomime under the helm of the remarkable Susie McKenna, who decides to tread the boards herself in this latest outing. Sadly, it is unclear whether this is a blessing or a curse – while McKenna makes a ferociously wonderful Countess Anastasia, all snarl and classless vamp, one cannot help but feel that her presence onstage somewhat diverted an overseeing eye over the whole proceedings. There are some wonderful moments – Stephane Anelli as an Italian Dandini, fretting about being deported, lightens the whole piece when onstage, and Aisha Jawando’s vibrant Cinderella provides a glorious respite from the usual limp pantomime heroines – but the first act especially needs a good trim, a firm shake and someone to blow the cobwebs off.
Tunes by Bonnie Tyler, Stevie Wonder and a particularly gorgeous rendition of Queen’s Somebody to Love by Chris Jenkins have a wonderfully vintage feel and slip in much more satisfyingly than slightly shoehorned versions of Katy Perry and Clean Bandit. The band is excellent and the voices similar, but the plot is confused by odd additions of the stopping of a hunt and a Strictly-esque dance competition that aren’t carried through well enough to merit their presence. Quirky, yes, glittering, yes, and with a dress and carriage routine that properly lights up the theatre, but otherwise the show stays firmly earthbound. A solid, traditional panto, but nothing to write home to the parents about.