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Sunday, 4 December 2022

REVIEW: Mother Goose at the Hackney Empire

The wonderful Hackney Empire has just finished celebrating its 120th year (though it has existed as a TV studio and Bingo hall for some of that time) with Mother Goose, a title first staged at Theatre Royal Drury Lane by the great Dame Dan Leno in May 1902. It stars and is directed by the irreprehensible Clive Rowe returning to the venue for his fifteenth pantomime of the last 23 years of Hackney pantomimes. It’s a magical venue with its impressive gold and red airy auditorium and uninterrupted views of the stage (thanks to Matcham’s cantilevered balconies) and a perfect setting for introducing young local audiences to the joy of live theatre.

As well as free tickets for Housing Association communities, refugees and young carers, the venue has an impressive track record with its Creative Futures programme which celebrates its 20th year of encouraging and developing young people and providing a safe space to explore new opportunities with a reported 20,000 young lives affected over that time. What better way to tempt new young talent to explore live theatre than a traditional Christmas Pantomime.

Sunday, 26 December 2021

Pocket Picks: Our top Pantomimes of 2021!

Pantomime is one of the greatest British festive traditions, bringing so many people to theatres; some for the first time and some as a yearly tradition. We look back at some of the pantomimes we've reviewed here at Pocket so far this year and pick out some of the highlights! But even though we're choosing our favourites, we must send our admiration to all those involved in theatre across the UK, whether in a panto or anything else. With closures happening all over due to the pandemic yet again, it has reminded us how privileged we are to get to experience the joy that is live theatre. So keep supporting your local venues, and go see a panto!

"...this year we’ve got a couple of proper names in the always good value, Bonnie Langford and Lee Mead. Along with Myra Dubois as the wicked fairy, Lloyd Hollett as Muddles, the Court Jester, Claudillea Holloway as the princess and Joelle Moses as the Queen, this combination proves to be the best overall cast I can recall." 


Saturday, 11 December 2021

REVIEW: Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hackney Empire

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas which means it’s panto season once more…oh yes it is! After a year where most pantomimes were cancelled or had an unexpected, limited run it feels extra special for the magic of this beloved festive tradition to return. This Festive season The Hackney Empire, famed for their pantomimes over the years, brings the classic fairytale of “Jack and the Beanstalk” to life. 

I felt a warm welcome to my first experience of this iconic venue from arrival, especially warm as the interior was trimmed with wreaths and beautiful trees. The Panto programme is full of colourful pictures, games and puzzles for children (and most likely the adults too) to enjoy playing along with. I attended a 1.30 matinee which meant that the majority of the audience was very excited school children. The anticipation for the show was heightened with cast members dressed as newspaper sellers appearing on different levels of the theatre followed by a much-enjoyed countdown! 

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.

Monday, 26 November 2018

INTERVIEW: Gemma Sutton, soon to star in the title role in Aladdin at the Hackney Empire

Gemma Sutton is one of the most talked about West End leading ladies of the moment, having starred in numerous musicals over the years. She is now taking on the title role in the Hackney Empires 20th Anniversary Pantomime, Aladdin before heading off to the National Theatre to play Young Sally in Folles. Just some of her credits include Charity in Sweet Charity (Watermill Theatre), Angel in The Rink (Southwark Playhouse), Fran in Strictly Ballroom (West Yorkshire Playhouse, Princess of Wales Theatre), The Go-Between (Apollo Theatre), Louise & June in Gypsy (Savoy Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre),   Julie Jordan in Carousel (Arcola Theatre), Roxie in Chicago (Leicester Curve), Amber in Hairspray (UK Tour), Sally in Me and My Girl (Kilworth House), Enid & Understudy Elle Woods in Legally Blonde (Savoy Theatre) and  Laurey in Oklahoma! (UK Tour).

You have had such a varied career, performing not only all over the country but around the world too. What’s been your favourite place you’ve visited with work?

I enjoyed my 10 weeks in Toronto, Canada in 2017 with Strictly Ballroom as it’s a very friendly place and because we were there for a while we really got to know the city. I also had a very interesting three weeks in Cairo, Egypt doing the first western musical ever seen there - The Sound of Music. It was in a tent in the desert and they dug an orchestra pit out of the sand, so it was a memorable experience to say the least. 

You started your career understudying in shows before really making your name as a true West End leading lady. What have you learnt from starting out that way that you’re proud of? 

I learned a great deal from understudying as it really allows you to observe from the sidelines, watching amazing leading performers work both on stage and in the rehearsal room and also how to lead a company well. I think it’s really important that there is a nice atmosphere in the company, particularly for long runs, and you have a responsibly as a leading performer to help that along. Everyone has a different start in the industry depending on circumstance but working your way up does give you a grounding to know that longevity requires patience and graft.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Clive Rowe to star in Hackney Empire 2014 pantomime Mother Goose

Celebrated grande dame of pantomime Clive Rowe will make his much-anticipated return to Hackney Empire this Christmas in Mother Goose. Rowe will star in the title role, for which he received an Olivier Award-nomination in 2008.  
Olivier Award-winning actress Sharon D Clarke will play the good enchantress Charity opposite Rowe in this glittering celebration of inner beauty.  

Both Rowe and Clarke return to Hackney Empire after starring in the critically acclaimed Blues In the Night here earlier this year. They will appear in London’s number one pantomime following previous starring roles; Rowe was last seen in a  Hackney Pantomime as Dame Daisy in Jack and the Beanstalk in 2010 and Clarke returns after 2013’s Puss in BootsMother Goose will again be directed by the theatre’s Artistic Director Susie McKenna with music by Steven Edis. The production will run at Hackney Empire from 22 November 2014 to 4 January 2015.
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