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Puss in Boots review at Hackney Empire London

The Hackney Empire and Susie McKenna celebrate 15 years of festive gold together during which time the writer/director has helped build this previously condemned music hall into a panto powerhouse.

Eschewing star turns off the telly, McKenna has revived the traditional pantomime with witty scripts taking pride in the locality, alongside her longtime collaborator, musical director Steven Edis, who has added the kick to this seasonal bowl of punch.

This time, however, the punch lacks a little fizz and that gold looks a little worn to provide a knowing extra laugh to Dame Nettie’s joke: “We’re very green at the Empire – we like to recycle the old gags.”

Compared with previous years there seems to be a missing ingredient – Magic? A cracking script? Christmas cheer? Anarchy? – for it to really catch fire and transport us, while Clive Rowe’s wonderful rapport with the audience is missed since the legendary dame exited stage left.

Part of the problem might be that Hackney has set the bar so high as ‘London’s No 1 Pantomime’ that we do feel the difference, because this is still entertaining fare performed by a typically exuberant ensemble.

Choosing one of the less popular pantos, McKenna and co have stuck fairly closely to Charles Perrault’s original tale of an ordinary chap made good by an extraordinary cat, but have accessorised it with lots of Hackney references before icing with added quirk in a range of eccentric characters.

There’s Sharon D Clarke’s supersonic voiced, deliciously evil Queen Talulah, Stephen Matthews – in his Hackney dame debut – playing the old girl as a delightful upper class twit, and Kat B as one seriously laid back Jamaican cat via east London moggie in the title role.

But the star of the show for this reviewer was Amy Lennox as Princess Pertunia. Subverting Perrault’s idealised, upper-class women, Lennox’s version is the most spoilt and brattish of adolescents, a Made in Chelsea meets The Only Way is Essex worst of, with the best bulldog chewing a wasp expression of childish petulance and an ear-splitting habit of screaming orders at her birthday such as: “After all it’s all about me….DANCE!”

It’s still early days in the run so if the whole show could warm up to the level of Pertunia’s mega wattage indignation and Talulah’s bring-the-house-down vocal chords then Hackney could once again be vying for the number one position.

Production Information

Hackney Empire, London, November 23-January 5

Author/director
Susie McKenna
Producer
Hackney Empire
Cast includes
Amy Lennox, Sharon D Clarke, Kat B, Stephen Matthews, Josefina Gabrielle, Tony Timberlake, Matt Dempsey, Darren Hart, Allyson Ava Brown, Tom Andrew Hargreaves, Leon Sweeney, Nicola Martin, Victoria Anderson, Aiden Crawford, Ryan Reid, Rochelle Williams, Angelica Baker, Kiarese Boyce, Saskia Davis, Jasmyn Fisher-Ryner, Chiesa Miesonda, Zoe Sadler
Running time
2hrs, 40mins

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