Review – “Mother Goose” – Hackney Empire

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It was three years ago that I went to my first Panto – the Old Vic’s Aladdin with Sir Ian as Widow Twanky. It was great fun and a real change from any theater I’d seen before – rather like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, with more audience participation than I would have guessed possible. After I moved here, I made going to Panto one of my new traditions (along with fireworks on Bonfire Night) – it’s something I really enjoy! And for the last two Christmas seasons, the Hackney Empire has put on the best Panto in London, so this third round I went in with my hopes high.

One of the neat things about going to the Hackney is that I’ve become familiar with the cast and the style of the productions. This year once again featured Clive Rowe as its dame, rather appropriately the big star as “Mother Goose,” giving him the maximum opportunity to show off his pipes and the many fantastic costumes Lotte Collett cooked up. (He seemed to have not nearly enough stage time as Ma Whittington last year and I was glad to see him in nearly every scene this time.) We were mostly saved the trauma of the ever so dull “lead boy,” and instead had Abigail Rosser as “Princess Jill” and Kat B as Mother Goose’s postboy son. Both of them were fine, but as usual it’s the baddies that are fun to watch. This year we had Tony Whittle as “Baron Bonkers,” the henchman of Mother Goose’s arch enemy, Vanity (a sort of evil fairy), and Tameka Empson as Frightening Freda. I’m pretty sure I saw Tameka as Cinderella’s evil mother two years ago – her height and distinctive voice rang a bell – but one way or another she was just great to watch in this show. Her character, dressed in gold lame and with a million cell phones dangling from her belt like severed heads on Kali, was sassy and sharp and allowed Tameka to display her great comic timing.

Whittle had a hard time holding up against her, but he showed his brilliance this year (as last – I am thinking he was Dick Whittington’s employer?) in some top-notch improv, both times when Mother Goose made a mistake – first when a gag with some plates fell flat (as it were – they refused to break), the second time when they were doing a sort of love scene and they both were fighting so furiously to keep from laughing they were having a hard time getting their lines out. Frankly, Whittle would make it worth coming back to see the show a second time just to see what kind of goofy quips he came up with.

The show overall was full of fun, with lots of unnecessary singing (I just couldn’t get enough of Charity, the good fairy, played by Sharon Clarke, and apparently neither could the woman sitting next to me, who sang along with her rather a lot), cheesy rhymes, and a hysterical bit of tap dancing from the tiny tykes they have performing in the background (several times as sheep, which was also cracking me up). The show really went OTT during the “hell” scene, when Mother Goose goes into the bad part of the forest to try to get an elixir for eternal youth (or something of that sort). The black light scene, which included popping and locking skeletons, was far cooler than I had any right to expect; and the creepy trees were straight out of MGM’s Wizard of Oz. There was a moral lesson at the end (maybe two or three), and of course a singalong, which was as horribly unpoetic as anything you could hope to be forced to participate in whilst flapping your arms like a goose. In short, the Hackney has once more produced what I’m sure will be a grand success – and at the best price of any of the big house pantos I’ve seen, showing their real commitment to making family friendly entertainment. Me, I’m already looking forward to next year’s show!

(This show is for a performance seen on Friday, December 5, 2008. Mother Goose continues through January 10th.)

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2 Responses to “Review – “Mother Goose” – Hackney Empire”

  1. feignedmischief Says:

    Oh webcowgirl, I live in Hackney, we should have booked a ticket forMother Goose together and then we would have met! Maybe next panto, but hopefully I’ll see you before.

    I havent booked my ticket for this one yet because I was planning to bring my young friend who is preparing for her GCSEs at the same time, so thanks for the positive review!

  2. Review - “It’s Behind You” - Union Theatre, Southwark « Webcowgirl’s Theatre Reviews Says:

    […] I am a big panto fan, no doubt about it. I spend the year looking forward to my next trip to the Hackey Empire and the most fun I’ll have in a theater all year long. I’m also a big fan of the Union […]

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