(Yes, a review of Jonathan Sings Larson is coming soon, as is one of Show Business: The Road to Broadway on DVD. End of term work is making for a very busy Zentradi, and he's already behind another show review with two more in the next two days coming up - all family stuff for the Xmas season.)
Are you ready to do the Cool Cat Chat?
You’d better be - panto season is back with a vengeance, and Hackney Empire are leading things off with Dick Whittington and his Cat. A community affair, the show is packed with local references from council elections to a parking fine attached to the great horse.
There aren’t any washed up soap stars here, either: the multi-ethnic cast features West End talent Hannah Jane Fox (the original Scaramouche in We Will Rock You) as the feisty big-note-belting Principal Boy and Clive Rowe (recently The Drier/The Bus in Caroline or Change) as Sarah the Cook. Rowe’s dame is full of flair, but thankfully avoids the grotesque, sprinkling just enough nods to the adults to let the mind fill in the gaps while stealing the show with a knockout number “borrowed” from a certain Broadway show. David Ashley is a gnarly King Rat, bedecked in the show’s best costume, and the most surprising cast decision was caught by the RZ’s companion for the performance: Tameka Empson, who recently donned whiteface to play the Queen in Stratford East’s controversial production of The Blacks, took on the bumbling Good Fairy. One celeb has managed to sneak his way in: Radio personality Kat (how appropriate) lovingly tackles the comedian role as Idle Jack, a position that is anything but.
That said, panto is not made by actors alone, and and Susie McKenna’s script enthralled the school groups (the RZ and his companion were the only adults present on their own), and was packed as full as Sarah’s pasties with corny jokes and audience participation, but could have used a bit of tightening up in the second act. In addition to a set of panto standard costumes, Lotte Collett’s sets are vibrant and colourful, especially her multi-piece ship and during McKenna’s second act diversions under water and in the jungle (with a special surprise I won’t ruin here).
Lastly, praise is due to Steven Edis for providing and conducting a score with both original and pinched numbers full of energy and catchy tunes that pleased both young and older members of the audience.
Dick Whittington doesn’t break any boundaries for pantomime or offer a particularly new or challenging experience, but it does make good everything it promises: some frolicking fun for the family and a traditional panto experience.
Where: Hackney Empire
When: Times vary. Check the website.
How much: £9.50-£19.50
Concessions: Varies with original ticket price, can be booked via the website.
RZ Unofficial “Worth Paying”: £19.50. This is a solid production, and the RZ has spent this much money on far worse things in the West End. The Empire is a great venue that’s dedicated to the community, and discounts are offered left and right so it is actually an affordable way to take the family to a show.
RZ Other Notes: Sadly, the RZ did not get to have the full panto experience as the ice cream queue was too long to clear and they ran out of his favourite flavour anyways. He and his companion both loathe children, which made things interesting to say the least, but it wouldn't be panto without them. Given that these are the worst things the RZ has to complain about, the next one can't come soon enough.