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Review: Aladdin at the Hackney Empire

PUBLISHED: 10:00 12 December 2009 | UPDATED: 15:22 05 October 2010

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What a bizarre institution pantomime is. Around this time every year, men don silly dresses, women become men, and audiences shriek with delight at lines they have heard a thousand times before. And this year s offering from the Hackney Empire, Aladdin, r

What a bizarre institution pantomime is. Around this time every year, men don silly dresses, women become men, and audiences shriek with delight at lines they have heard a thousand times before.

And this year's offering from the Hackney Empire, Aladdin, revels in it all marvellously.

Writer and director Susie McKenna's creation takes us on a spectacularly spangly journey through the deserts of Arabia and the mountains of China to the town of Ha-ka-ney (get it?) where young Aladdin's life is interrupted by the evil Abanazer looking for a lamp. Booo.

Clive Rowe, the only Olivier Award-nominated pantomime dame, makes a fabulous appearance as Aladdin's mother, Widow Twankey. He is hilarious in brilliantly stupid costumes and elicits explosions of laughter at the nod of his head or a flick of his hip.

He finds support in a bright and fiercely smiling cast, with notable performances from Tameka Empson as the pint-sized pit-bull Empress and a chorus of dancing pandas.

The absence of overly famous cameo appearances - in contrast to Pamela Anderson in New Wimbledon Theatre's version of the same show this year - makes the performance more credible, focusing on good old-fashioned entertainment rather than celebrity.

So prepare to get wet and pelted with sweets in this unashamedly traditional panto. Rowe seems mischievously delighted to break health and safety regulations by throwing goodies into the audience, shouting, "What are they going to do, shut us down in January?"

And the whole thing is so politically incorrect it is refreshing.

Composer Steven Edis's music is rousing and suitably ridiculous - with some brilliant takes on modern pop "classics" - and the set is gorgeous, especially the beautiful final scene, which glitters with festive frivolity.

Panto is old by nature and as expected, there are moments of confusion, groans of embarrassment and serious cringing.

But none of this stopped me grinning like a fool throughout.

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