Hackney’s annual Christmas pantomime is
now largely unchallenged as London’s most enjoyable, even more so this
year with no “posh panto” challenges from the Barbican or The Old Vic.
Writer/director Susie McKenna has some 15 years’ experience of
fashioning scripts (this year’s is a revival of her Christmas 2000
show) that combine traditional tales with topical and local gags, and
assembling casts that can blend their own sharpness with a proficiency
in the old-school panto styles.
In fact, these days, the cast more or less assembles itself. Clive Rowe
has missed only one Hackney panto in recent years (when, bizarrely, he
was playing a tumble drier in a musical at the National Theatre), and
is now one of the finest dames in the business, belting out the musical
numbers with a pair of lungs matched in capacity only by his sense of
fun. He even manages to finesse a ludicrous health and safety ruling
prohibiting the more recent panto tradition of throwing sweeties into
the audience from onstage; Rowe simply moves into the auditorium and
does it from there.
In the title role as the matron whose rashness endangers the safety of
her anserine charge, the goose princess Priscilla who lays golden eggs,
Rowe is joined by a squadron of other Hackney regulars. Soul diva
Sharon D. Clarke appears as the good fairy Charity, and McKenna enjoys
a spot of villainy herself as opposite number Vanity. As Rowe is to
dames, so Kat B has become to daft-best-mate roles (Buttons, Wishee
Washee and the like), and is here quite irrepressible as Mother Goose’s
son Silly Billy. And as comic henchperson Frightening Freda,
pocket-rocket actress and comedienne Tameka Empson is possibly the only
person who could get away with cackling wickedly, “Aha!, innit?”
The sets are a touch on the credit-crunched side this year, and I would
have preferred a more archetypal, custard-pie-type “slosh” scene to the
plate-smashing routine that McKenna includes. But panto isn’t a genre
to dissect; it’s about big, loud, silly fun. Kat B even had me
high-fiving the venerable colleague across the aisle from me.
Written for the Financial