Photo: Steve Gregson.
This competent show, bespoke for Hackney, ticks all the boxes for its local community. It takes us to a familiar place called Hack-ne-lah. And Clive Rowe has done so much panto in Hackney that he gets a welcoming round of applause he cycles on at his first entry preceded by his “cooeee” trademark.
The show is clean as a clothes peg. It’s billed as being true family entertainment and that’s what it delivers. There isn’t a remotely smutty line or a leer or a smirk and we’re even spared the otherwise ubiquitous, but very tedious, fart joke(s). Most of traditional elements are in but both slosh scene and ghost scenes are understated with a sense of something to be got through,
The orchestration is unusually generous. There’s a fine five-piece band, led by Alex Maynard, in the pit area which includes some saxophone work from Flick Isaac-Chiton. Winds are rare in a panto score and it adds some good depth to the overall sound.
Rowe, of course, is the star attraction, closely followed by the glittering, rubber-bodied Kat B, another Hackney regular, as the Genie of the Lamp. Rowe’s performance is admirably sharp especially when he’s ad-libbing. His comic timing is masterly, as is his knack for knowingly eyeing the audience. He isn’t much of a dancer, despite his neat feet, but he’s a strong singer – his high tenor, often soaring above the texture to pleasing dramatic effect.
Natasha Lewis does all the traditional cackling and mock-threatening as the dastardly Abby-na-zaaar! However, she is an accomplished trombonist and much more could have been made of this rather than constantly joking about it and then giving us just one spot in Act 2 where she plays. The show misses a trick by underusing Lewis’s talent.
Amongst the rest of the cast – all doing decent enough jobs – Ruth Lynch stands out as the Fairy of the Ring. She gives us a faintly soppy fairy with a confidence problem – but a real talent for singing and dancing. It’s a nicely nuanced performance.
This show – on press night at least – is a jolly party for the people of Hackney with lots of audience participation and dance-from-your-seat at the end. It succeeds well on its own terms.