Cinderella at Hackney Empire

Reviewed by Simone Green
Running until 31st December

After seeing Running Wild towards the beginning of the year, I was thrilled to be back at Hackney Empire at the end of it. The incredibly beautiful, traditional theatre was built in 1901 and has played host to many greats including Charlie Chaplin, WC Fields, Stan Laurel and Marie Lloyd, and now, in 2017, Cinderella herself, in the festive season’s must-see offering. In this all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza of a pantomime, she was no put-upon girl downstairs; this leading lady was fierce and tenacious in a way I haven’t seen her depicted before. Even during the first act when Cinders is down on her luck (I’m assuming I don’t have to worry about plot-spoilers here!), there’s an inner strength, an empowering duty to follow her truth and fight for justice, which never falters and is bloody fantastic! This Cinderella wants to change the world. I have to confess, at one point I cried. I cried at a panto because it was just so uplifting and heart-warming. If you need a bit of that right now, this show has it in bucket loads.

Photo: Tristram Kenton

I wasn’t the only one impressed by the Empire’s fantastic production: the whole audience were enraptured. The hugely talented writer and director Susie McKenna (who also wonderfully plays the venomous Countess Anastia) brought “a little 1930’s Harlem meets 21st Century Hackney vibe” with a bold and forward thinking, slick and funny script. There are plenty of local references and some laugh out loud one liners, especially from Kat B and Tony Whittle as the vile Victiqua and Queeniqua. It’s only as classy as you’d want a panto to be and the cast are extremely talented: Aisha Jawando, in the lead role, has a gorgeous voice and brings such a new and modern strength to the character. The soundtrack is wonderful too. Chris Jenkins as Prince Charming and Stephane Anelli as Dandini amaze in a ‘Somebody To Love’ duet, and the cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘As’ was a huge hit. Although the attitude of the piece is successfully modernized, the usual traditions we all love are still present, including an abundance of genuinely funny gags and innuendo which I don’t think is quite going over my 8 year olds head as much as it used to! It was a joyous, awe-inspiring and unadulterated festive feast for the eyes, ears and heart! Pantos can be full of endless clichés and I’m sure this review has a fair few of it’s own, but when the show is this good and has this much heart, this Cinderella deserves to go to the ball!

Simone is a trained actress and has worked in the theatre and television. She has also run drama workshops for children. She now teaches in a primary school in East London and regularly enjoys trips to the theatre with her six year old daughter.

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