Lights, camera, fur balls… we went to do our first panto review for Babes about Town — Puss in Boots at Hackney Empire — and I really wasn’t sure what to expect.
Well, I knew there’d be lots of audience interaction and sight gags, but would I find it funny or painfully cheesy? And what would my four-year-old think of the show?
I’m happy to report that Puss in Boots was fantastic and had me cackling like a naughty schoolgirl all the way through.
From the minute Kat B as Puss (‘in boots dem’) sauntered onto the stage – all whiskers and swagger – I was seduced by his wicked charm and Yardie meets James Brown attitude.
He took us back to his ‘yoot’, when his master Tom’s brother banished them from their family mill and they went off to seek their fortunes. The good fairy casts her spell turning crawling kitty into sword-wielding Puss and they return to the kingdom of Hackneyonia where chaos abounds.
Apparently the new King Conkers the Bonkers (Tony Timberlake) and Queen Talullah (amazing vocalist Sharon D Clarke) and their hilariously bratty daughter Petunia (Amy Lennox) are preparing for a celebration… but there’s an ogre looming. It turns out the ogre is none other than the King’s nephew and rightful ruler of Hackneyonia, transformed by an evil pact between Queen Talullah and the super-wicked witch Evilena.
It wouldn’t be a panto without a Dame in the form of brilliantly camp Stephen Matthews as Nettie Knowall and his dim-witted daughter, who get caught up in a plot to help Tom and Puss inadvertently save the day.
Are you following all this?
My four-year-old was quite lost with the story, but he didn’t seem to mind as he was goggle-eyed throughout, waving his cat mask and clapping along to the roof-raising numbers.
Jed did admit to me at bedtime that he was disappointed because he was expecting the Puss in Boots from Shrek.
Note to your kids: this is not that show (oh no it isn’t). Puss in Boots at Hackney Empire is way saucier and infinitely sillier and I thought it was sensational.
The costumes are flashy, the set bursts with colour and the ogre would have made Peter Jackson proud. The music adapts everything from Adele to the Beatles and the singing was as good as anything in the West End.
And while much of the humour sailed right over Jed’s head, he giggled a lot and I had some genuine ‘hold-my-belly’ moments. At the end, the guy sitting in front of us turned around grinning. ‘I’ve been coming here for seven years,’ he said. ‘Best panto in London.’
Take the family and dress up if you fancy it. Hackney’s Puss in Boots is hot to trot!
Puss in Boots is at Hackney Empire, 291 Mare St, E8 (Hackney Central overground). Shows at 1pm, 1.30pm, 2.30pm, 5.30pm & 7pm (times and dates vary, confirm via the website); £10-£32 (until Jan 5)