I really look forward to the annual pantomime at Hackney Empire as it’s always bright, funny and highly entertaining. (Here’s last year’s review of Sleeping Beauty.)
This year the show is Cinderella with a ‘Harlem meets Hackney’ take on the classic rags to riches tale. (Hackney Empire last did a production of Cinderella in 2011.) As ever, you can expect glittering sets, big song and dance numbers, slapstick comedy plus a flying horse, all played out in the beautiful Victorian Theatre.
Marking their 19th pantomime for Hackney Empire, Cinderella is written and directed by Susie McKenna with original music by Steven Edis.
After reading the press release I was wondering how the show would work without the classic inclusion of a pantomime dame but the ugly sisters manage to perform this role well with wild costumes and slapstick humour. The innuendos weren’t as frequent as a dame might have offered but we got there in the end. And there was excellent use of an audience member near the start who got mentioned many more times as the show progressed, much to the delight of the rest of us.
The cast member who stood out the most throughout was Susie McKenna as Countess Anastia the wicked stepmother (see full cast info below). “You only boo because I’m bootiful” was how she kept the audience interaction going as the panto baddie.
Act I ended with a magnificent flying horse and carriage, then Act II treated us to a fantastic tap dance routine by Stephane Anelli as Dandini, Prince Charming’s valet.
Darren Hart’s confidence in the role of Buttons was good to see, and Krysten Cummings used her amazing voice well as the rhyming fairy godmother.
There are political references, as always, and nods to the local area – the story is set in Hackney-on-the-Leigh. A Trump character tries to enter the ball and gets one of the loudest boos but the biggest laughs were for the ugly sisters.
Cinderella at Hackney Empire is a really good value night out and great for all ages. It’s on until 31 December 2017.
Established West End performer Aisha Jawando is in the title role. She was most recently seen as Martha Reeves in the original London cast of Motown the Musical. Other stage credits include Disney’s The Lion King (West End) and Beautiful (West End).
She is joined by Hackney Empire pantomime legends Tony Whittle and Kat B as the Ugly Sisters.
Tony Whittle returns to Hackney Empire following his role as King Eric of the Undecided in last year’s production of Sleeping Beauty. Tony has starred in many previous pantomimes at Hackney Empire including Dick Whittington, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin and Mother Goose.
Kat B is a regular on the Hackney Empire stage, with previous appearances including Jack and the Beanstalk, Mother Goose, Puss in Boots, Dick Whittington, Cinderella, The Wiz, A Christmas Carol, Aladdin and last year’s pantomime Sleeping Beauty. Kat is best known for his antics on MTV Base where he has presented numerous shows around the world. His film and television credits include Waterland and Street Wise (BBC) and the Richard Blackwood Show (Channel 4).
Peter Straker reprises the role of Baron Hardup, having last played the role in 2011. He first shot to fame in 1968 when he starred as Hud in the original London production of Hair. Since then Peter has starred in countless West End productions including The Rocky Horror Show, The Rat Pack and most recently Tommy. Peter is also known for his work with Freddie Mercury, including on the tracks Barcelona and The Great Pretender.
Darren Hart (Buttons) makes his return to Hackney Empire after starring in last year’s pantomime Sleeping Beauty. His other theatre credits include Mother Goose and Jack and the Beanstalk (Hackney Empire), and television credits include regular appearances in Justin’s House and Gigglebiz (both BBC).
Meet The Cast
Susie McKenna (Wicked Stepmother / Director / Writer) has written and directed critically acclaimed pantomimes since 1998, since first starting as a principal boy in Nottingham Playhouse pantomimes. Her most recent directing credits include The Silver Sword, a musical adaptation of Ian Serraillier’s novel, written by Susie and Steve Edis. Other credits include Blues in the Night, A Midsummer Night’s Madness (Hackney Empire, New York and Edinburgh Festival) and Once on this Island (Hackney Empire, Birmingham Rep, Nottingham Playhouse).
She has also worked as an actor for over 30 years and credits include Chicago, Cats, Ragtime and The Witches of Eastwick in the West End, TV shows such as Mr Bean and Casualty and films such as Cats, Jack and Sarah and Muppets Most Wanted.
Making their Hackney Empire pantomime debuts are West End performers Stephane Anelli as Dandini and Chris Jenkins as Prince Charming.
Stephane Anelli (Dandini) is an established stage performer with credits including Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever (UK Tour and West End), Sinatra (London Palladium), Legally Blonde (Savoy Theatre), Ragtime and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (both Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre) and Singin’ in the Rain (Palace Theatre and UK Tour).
Chris Jenkins (Prince Charming) marks his Hackney Empire pantomime debut this year, having starred in Milton Keynes’ pantomime Dick Whittington in 2016. West End theatre credits include War of the Worlds (Dominion), Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace) and Spamalot (Playhouse Theatre).
The cast also includes Chloe Ames, Thomas Audibert, Andrew Carthy, Raffaella Covino, Sinead Long and Dale White.
The production also features Sharon D Clarke and Clarke Peters as the voices of Duchess and Duke Mouse.
Address: Hackney Empire, 291 Mare Street, E8 1EJ
Dates: 18 November 2017 to 31 December 2017
Official Website: www.hackneyempire.co.uk