Sleeping Beauty review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘explicitly political’
As the mutant, rampaging nightmare that is 2016 lumbers into the high-tension wires of another year, leave it to Hackney’s panto to raise the standard for decency, anarchy and joy.
Long-feted as London’s finest pantomime, Hackney Empire’s extravaganza has always been quietly political and unquestionably heart-felt, but this year writer/director/panto-goddess Susie McKenna has nailed her heart up high, in a show that’s sumptuous in its traditions and thrilling in its modernity.
Abundance reigns as we’re treated to both a Bake-Off themed slop-scene and a vine-clad UV sequence, a mini-revolve and even a crowd-pleasing riff on Hamilton to kick the evening off. Alexia Khadime gets to tear up the Perrault songbook as anti-damsel Princess Tahlia, Gavin Spokes is an NHS-championing dame who gives the missing Clive Rowe a run for his money, and Sharon D Clarke tears down the whole house as the evil fairy with a voice that could level a borough.
Hackney stalwart Kat B gets a bit of a rough ride as the less than essential Denzil the Dragon, his dancing skills curtailed by a lumbering costume, but what he lacks in dynamism, Darren Hart makes up for in his turn as pining wolf-man Ikoboo.
Almost every element of Sleeping Beauty is realised to panto perfection, but it’s the fearless and warmly-framed political bent that shines through. From the cheeky anti-Brexit number You Can’t Ask the People What They Think to a central message that’s all about breaking down barriers rather than building walls, Hackney panto isn’t about to take a bad year lying down.
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