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Hackney Empire Dick Whittington & His Cat Pantomime 2012

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Hackney Empire Dick Whittington Pantomime Review 2012
Stephen Emery as Cat and Joanna Riding as Dick Whittington

Stephen Emery as Cat and Joanna Riding as Dick Whittington

Photo Credit: Robert Workman
Hackney Empire's annual Christmas pantomime is in my Top 10 Things to at Christmas in London as it's great musical theater for all the family.

Cast and Creatives
Susie McKenna as the writer and Director has remained the same but other members of the regular Hackney Empire annual pantomime team have moved on. Sadly, everyone's favorite, Clive Rowe, has not returned and the pantomime dame this year is Steve Elias as Sarah the Cook.

The Lead boy is always played by a woman (these are the rules of pantomime) and Dick is played by Joanna Riding who was the Wicked Stepmother in last year's Cinderella. Alexia Khadime is Alice and is going to be in Book of Mormon in the West End next. Darren Hart is Idle Jack, Rina Fatania is Fairy Bowbells and Stephen Emery is an acrobatic Puss.

A couple of the old cast are back with Tony Whittle as Fitzwarren and Kat B as King Rat in his first role as the panto baddie.

The Show
The show starts with an Indian flying fairy, an acrobatic cat and a schizophrenic baddie who chats to himself and imitates a brilliant 'Darth Vader' voice.

Sarah the Cook is Dick's Welsh mum and the pantomime dame. Her arrival was similar to the Queen's at the Olympic Opening Ceremony and there were other James Bond references such as when Sarah the Cook sang Skyfall and Diamonds Are Forever. I spotted further influence of the Olympics Opening Ceremony as the shipmates used buckets as drums.

There were lots of original songs plus the pop song of the moment they chose to include was Take That's Rule The World and, of course, there was some Gangnam Style dancing. They got us up dancing Bollywood style and singing a song with actions and as this is in multi-cultural Hackney, they always manage to find a way to include the Maytal's Monkey Man.

This year's pantomime is a big improvement on recent years when the cast seemed to have really missed Clive Rowe. As they now seem to have accepted he is not coming back there was less relying on him alone for the laughs. Dick's vocabulary was slightly cringeworthy at times: "Hey guys!" "Cool!" "Awesome!" And Idle Jack's jokes fell flat but there were a lot of pantomime classics such as thigh slapping and shouting "It's behind you!" regularly to mask the downsides.

Throwing cream pies is back as is throwing sweets to the audience. The audience roared with laughter when there was a discussion about cheap clothes and Sarah the Cook said, "Ever heard of Primark?" before the whole cast sang, "Hallelujah!"

Once they got into their swing, the laughs came thick and fast: "I lost my wife. What a card game that was." "I've still got it. I don't know where I've put it but I've still got it."

The show is great value for money as it lasts around 3 hours with one interval. This is much better than the often homogenized nasal singing in so many West End musicals. There's real talent on show here and it's a great family theater trip. Recommended.

Dates: 1 December 2012 to 6 January 2013
Official website: www.hackneyempire.co.uk

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