Monday, 17 December 2018

REVIEW: Aladdin at the Hackney Empire


When a pantomime production team have been building their team, experience and ideas for twenty years it shows. Susie McKenna and Steve Eldis continue their tradition of providing a high quality shows fit for the large venue in East London with their version of Aladdin. It is a delightful combination of Victorian traditions, modern references, well known songs and original music that is bound to appeal to adults and children. 

The budgets may be tighter than their new rival as London's No 1 Pantomime across London at the Palladium but they use their cash wisely with a talented cast (though less well known) and some lovely magical effects. Best of all is Gaia, Goddess of light, a huge animated monkey voiced by the wonderful Sharon D Clarke who opens the show in magical style and adds a neat twist to the familiar tale of Aladdin. It is impressive and brilliantly executed character that interacts perfectly with the audience and cast. Equally effective is the sequence with Aladdin hovering over a beautiful dragon flying after the kidnapped Princess and the Palace which like Gaia was created by Jonathan Saville and Scott Brooker.

Of course a show needs a star and here there is no doubt that Clive Rowe's return to the Ha-Ka-Ney Empire for his 12thseason provides that. His larger than life stage presence, rich voice, and animated face makes an excellent Widow Twankey. He is at his best interacting with the audience in front of the stage, then dragging one man to assist in the Laundry scene and in the Fernando duet with Tony Timberlake as a very Victorian looking Abanazar . It is great to see a female Principal Boy, Gemma Sutton, who can hold a tune, dance a routine and look the part as a "gender fluid boy". The Empress (Gertie to her friends) played with a Jamaican accent by Tameka Empson brings plenty of energy and the movement of Tina Turner elevating the role from its usual walk on status. 

The weak part of the show is the comedy script, sadly living up to an early line to one character that they will never be funny and on this school's performance many of the jokes missed the mark (Eastern Union exit, Jacob Peas Bogg , Fake news and Michael Gove), all too political for the young audience. Whereas references to Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Love Island, Tinder, Snapchat, flossing, Paw Patrol and Bob Builder produced a response from the audience and the eight pandas and Elephant added to the charm. 

The original music does its job but it is the well known songs that work best as in the ABBA "Fernando" duet, "This is me" finale to Act 1, and the excellent "Don't stop me now" tap dancing opening to Act 2. 

The show underlying ethos is to “change the world and make it a fairer place " and while it may not achieve this on its own, for the multi ethnic local community , this show is a joy to watch and a perfect Christmas outing for young and old.

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★
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