Expectations are always high when it comes to Hackney Empire’s Christmas panto, and the crowds of children and parents (not to mention unaccompanied adults) who flock to the show this year will not be disappointed.
Stephen Emery (Puss) and Joanna Riding (Dick Whittington) in Dick Whittington and His Cat at Hackney Empire, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
Dick himself is the only dud. Played by Olivier Award-winner Joanna Riding, his unending amazement and lap-slapping become tiresome immediately. But the rest of the cast is fantastic.
Irresistible performances from Kat B as King Rat and Steve Elias as Dick’s mother, Sarah, dominate the production. As he and his gang try to undermine Dick’s plans to become Mayor of London, King Rat flicks back his long dreadlocks and cloak disdainfully, snarls at the audience and drinks in their disapproval.
Sarah, on the other hand, just wants to be loved and sets about wooing the audience with her impressive voice, mischievous asides and wardrobe of ever-more outlandish outfits - including a chef’s outfit made in PVC and Victorian swimming trunks with portholes forming a bikini top.
Excellent songs, choreography and audience participation throughout mean there is no let-up in the production.
Hackney Empire’s financial difficulties in recent years have been well documented and the script includes frequent prompts to donate to the theatre. The show itself is certainly an excellent showcase of what the theatre has to offer. May there be many more in the years to come.