The Hackney Empire panto has become an annual Christmas treat. London’s top pantomime delivers a timeless mix of raucous jokes, snappy banter and razzle-dazzle routines. This year, Cinderella at Hackney Empire gives the rags to riches fairytale a 1930s Harlem-infused spin.
Creator and star Susie McKenna has a thing for strong heroines, usually pitted against dishy but slightly dizzy heroes. In her first ever panto role, Aisha Jawando dances from Motown the Musical into the dainty slippers of Cinderella. She’s the feisty daughter of Baron Hardup, who’s recently married the odious Countess Anastia (McKenna), part of a plan to save his ailing fortune.
Cinderella is soon forced to reckon not only with her nasty stepmother, but also her two ‘oogly AF’ twin stepsisters, Queeniqua (Tony Whittle) and Victiqua (Kat B). Even though her stepmama wants to chain her to the kitchen sink, Cinderella’s already caught the eye of Prince Charming (Chris Jenkins). And thanks to her Fairy Godmother (Krysten Cummings), Cinders shall go to the ball…
Cinderella doesn’t always hit the heights of previous Hackney Empire panto productions. The dialogue isn’t as sharp and the jokes don’t fly as fast. But we still chuckled until our cheeks hurt, especially at the double dame slapstick of Kat B and Tony Whittle as the Ugly Sisters.
Darren Hart got ’nuff belly laughs as Baron Hardup’s lovelorn butler, Buttons. I also enjoyed Stephane Annelli as Dandini, Prince Charming’s hyper Italian aide. And there are show-stopping turns from Peter Straker, giving off Cab Calloway-style cool, and Susie McKenna, camping it up. Shout out to house mice, Duke and Duchess, voiced by Clarke Peters and Sharon D Clarke.
The set design is seamless, and the transformation of mice and pumpkins into a flying horse-drawn carriage is truly a magical sight. There’s tap dancing and thigh-slapping and loads of crowd participation. And watching a stunning brown Cinderella wowing her Prince is the stuff of my childhood dreams.
Stepping into the night air afterwards, I felt as sparkly as one of Cinderella’s slippers. If you need a hit of seasonal spirit, the Hackney Empire panto is sure to have you jingling, baby.
Cinderella at Hackney Empire (Babes Review)
Jed, age 8
‘I think it was great. My favourite character was Buttons because he was really funny and when he came on to the stage he shouted ‘Are you there?’ and we shouted ‘Yeah!’ And the performers were really good at singing the songs. When Cinderella’s stepsisters played a prank on her and ripped her ticket to the ball up, it made me feel sorry for her because she was really excited and it’s hard to have bossy siblings. I liked Princess Starlord aka Cinderella’s costume (for the ball) because it was bright pink with diamonds. I would give it four and a half stars!’
Ezra, age 11
‘I thought it was a very good show and I laughed the whole way through. I especially liked the sisters, they were very funny and they kept on talking about this guy in the audience called Danny. I also liked Buttons. The show was very interactive. I liked the songs they used, like Man’s Not Hot, Poison and the song at the end for Clapton the horse (even though we had to sing it loads of times)! The Cinderella actor was really good at singing. Five stars!’
Cinderella is at Hackney Empire, 291 Mare St, E8 1EJ (Hackney Central overground). Shows at 2pm & 7.30pm; £10-£36.50, concs available (Nov 23-Dec 31)