It’s very much the Clive Rowe show (his fifteenth Hackney Empire panto dame), and we love him for it: the stage lights up whenever Mother Goose (Rowe) comes back on, with a new outfit even more outrageous than the last. Boasting a showstopping tenor, Rowe’s Mother Goose is as silly and unfeminine as only a panto dame can be. The lifesize puppet of Priscilla the goose (Ruth Lynch) is also a comic marvel.
This is also a very traditional panto: the sets and costumes (Imagine Theatre; Cleo Pettitt) are straight out of the 1990s (or 1890s?), and so are the jokes, including a fast-paced patter number with the names of chocolate bars, and a laboured splat-your-face sequence. But this traditionalism is also the show’s strength: can anything outstrip the feral excitement of the panto dame walking into the audience to throw sweets?
But the script (Will Brenton) does update the classic fairytale of fame and fortune: here, the glamorous demon queen (Rebecca Parker) uses social media to enslave the unwitting townspeople of Hackneywood, with a zombifying portal that is, in fact, a giant iPhone. A lengthy awards show-style sequence celebrates the 120-year history of the Hackney Empire, and the famous people who have trodden the boards.
The action and dialogue are fast-paced and full of energy, but so much so that we can’t always hear the throwaway gags, or even hear the plot. Everything is loud enough, but the microphones and speakers do not seem set up for a show like this. With a runtime heading on for three hours, children and adults alike are getting restless long before the final curtain.
Playing at the historic Hackney Empire 19 November – 31 December 2022.