mon 20/05/2019

Aladdin, Hackney Empire review - Clive Rowe returns as the Dame | reviews, news & interviews

Aladdin, Hackney Empire review - Clive Rowe returns as the Dame

Aladdin, Hackney Empire review - Clive Rowe returns as the Dame

Susie McKenna creates fast-paced fun in a busy mix

Tameka Empson as the Empress and Clive Rowe as Widow TwankeyPhotographs by Robert Workman

Susie McKenna and Steven Edis have been creating pantos for Hackney Empire for 20 years, and over that time its seasonal offering has become the theatre's signature event. To add to the anniversary celebrations, Clive Rowe, who first donned false bosoms as the Dame in 1998, has, after a break, returned to play Widow Twankey in Aladdin, while Tameka Empson (from EastEnders) is also back, as the Empress of Ha-Ka-Ney. Happy times.

McKenna, who also directs, has taken a few liberties with the story (but as the programme notes point out, so too have many folklorists and storytellers down the years). Here Aladdin has to rescue his people from slavery as the rather weird-looking, monkey-headed goddess Gaia, Goddess of Light – voiced by Sharon D Clarke, another Hackney stalwart, busy elsewhere this year – sets up the tale.

Strangely enough, given that the rest of the show is resolutely up-to-date on sexual politics. The Empress is desperate to marry off her daughter Princess Ling-Mai to someone rich, as Hackney Island has stupidly voted to leave the Eastern Union, a move that has left the nation bankrupt. This being a Hackney Empire show, there is an evident political message throughout and this is just one of several clever Brexit references. The Windrush scandal is in there too, but rather less elegantly weaved into the narrative.

What follows is fast-paced fun, with lots of panto elements thrown into the busy mix, including good local jokes (particularly about the draconian local parking regulations), a friendly puppet dragon, a singalong, water guns, dancing pandas and not one but two genies (well played by Kat B and Natasha Lewis). All that and some Ariana Grande and flossing, too.

Tony Timberlake's baddie, Abanazar (aka Jacob Peas Bogg in a lovely visual gag) feels rather underpowered and Aladdin's brother Dishi (Alim Jayda) doesn't have a lot to do, but Gemma Sutton's Aladdin is played with thigh-slapping exuberance, and there's real chemistry between her and Julie Yammanee's spirited Princess  – “I don't need saving!” (both pictured above).

But Rowe and Empson are the stars of the show and they make a great pairing when on stage together, particularly in their Destiny Child's “Independent Women” duet. Edis's score is a continual delight (under the musical direction of Mark Dickman), and the scene where Rowe channels Cher's performance in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again in his rendition of “Fernando” is a showstopper.

  • Aladdin is at the Hackney Empire, London E8 until 6 January 2019
There is an evident political message throughout, including several clever Brexit references

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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