Cinderella review at Hackney Empire, London – ‘a patchy production’

Kat B, Aisha Jawando and Tony Whittle in Cinderella at Hackney Empire, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Kat B, Aisha Jawando and Tony Whittle in Cinderella at Hackney Empire, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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The Hackney Empire pantomime has a proud history of innovation and diversity. It’s known for good all-round family entertainment and the challenge of creating a new production that meets these high standards every year is undoubtedly mammoth. While it contains some interesting twists and turns, this year’s Cinderella is as patchy as the heroine’s dress.

The updating of the setting to the 1950s brings a refreshing simplicity to the opening scene but the clean lines of the austerity-style costumes make from an odd juxtaposition with the familiar glitter encrusted backcloths and cartoonish scenery.

Author and director Susie McKenna understands that the most successful pantomimes fuse the old with the new. This is reflected in her book, which weaves in politics and pop culture in a way that proves consistently amusing . This is also reflected in the casting. Hackney newcomer Aisha Jawando is a spectacularly outspoken Cinderella while veteran performer Peter Straker, as Baron Hardup, gets to steal the second act with a soulful rendition of Human.

Hackney regulars Darren Hart, Kat B and Tony Whittle all prove solid comedians, as does McKenna herself, while Stephane Anelli provides some deft footwork as a refreshingly three-dimensional Dandini.

But McKenna’s book seems to make light of any real romance between Cinderella and Chris Jenkins’ Prince Charming. Perhaps as a result of this deficit, there is little chemistry between Jawando and Jenkins. Pantomimes may thrive on humour but if you skimp on the love story you can destroy the heart of the show.

There’s plenty of talent on stage here but the mash-up of design elements, the slimness of the love story and a distinctly uninspired transformation scene, make this a rather unremarkable affair.

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Cinderella runs at Hackney Empire, London, until December 31

This year’s Hackney panto contains occasional innovations but is not one of its strongest