Kat B returns to the Hackney Empire, playing Billy Goose, in the theatre’s famous annual pantomime, which this year is Mother Goose. Celebrating its 120th birthday, Hackney Empire brings back Mother Goose which was itself performed for the first time 120 years ago.
Kat trained at the Anna Scher Theatre School and the Empson School of Speech and Drama and is best known for his antics on MTV Base where he has presented numerous shows including a show about the Trinidad Carnival. Kat has appeared in the Hackney Empire panto on and off for over twenty years and he’s delighted to be back this year.
“It’s a relationship,” says Kat, “if you’re in a good relationship you like coming back, and I do love the building and everybody that’s in it. It’s a big family, and it starts from when we walk through the stage door. There’re so many extended family members from stage door, to ushers, to lighting, sound and costume. We just get on, and we can’t do the show without the staff here.”
Despite it being more than two decades ago, Kat still remembers his first Hackney Empire panto, “Susie McKenna saw me do the Wiz,” explains Kat, “I played Scarecrow and she called me up and said would you like to come and see me. I came with my two songs ready to audition, I was thinking Hackney Empire, you’ve dreamed about doing Hackney Empire. Susie kept asking me what I wanted to drink but I wanted to audition first, eventually she said ‘Darling I’ve seen you perform. I know what you can do. I just want to know would you like to do Panto here?’ And I said, ‘Yes’ and from there we’ve not looked back. We’ve had gin and tonics ever since and always laugh and smile.”
As we sit down to chat it’s the very first day of rehearsals, and Kat admits, “everyone’s running around frantically at the moment!”, it’s not easy doing panto says Kat, because the time scales are so tight, “it’s two weeks of utter fear, fear, fear,” laughs Kat, “and then we start getting the technical team to learn the show and open in the same week. So, in total it’s three weeks, but we only really have two weeks to get it polished, because we don’t get to run the show again until when the audience are there.”
With this year’s show, Kat says audiences can expect a modern story that everyone can identify with, “with Hackney Empire, we like to tell a story, but often, it’s the first-time people have ever been to a theatre, panto is an art form, it’s a craft, there’s only a few places in the whole of the world that can do pantomime well, and Hackney Empire is one of them.”
“We get people that come from all over the world year after year, and when you can see them come back on particular dates, you give them a little look and let them know you’ve recognised them. Sometimes they’ll wait for you at the stage door and you watch them grow from children into adults, and now they’ve got children of their own.”
Hackney Empire prides itself on being a truly family orientated panto, “It’s about including the audience and its family orientated as well. Of course, there’s jokes for the adults as well as the children without it having to be blue,” says Kat.
For the second year running, Hackney Empire’s panto is directed by Clive Rowe, who also stars as the Dame, and Kat is excited to be working with Clive again, “you’ve got the actor on stage as well as the director with you. So we get to play and try out lots of different things, it’s a lovely working relationship because we’ve done so many years together.”
Kat says he feels a little guilty for having so much fun in a job, “but at the same time, we have to keep the story true to what the story is, and not make it self-indulgent. It is a literally a game of tennis hitting that ball to each other and keeping the energy up, because you can’t ever let it go flat. You’ve always got to keep it fresh, keep it lively, and luckily Clive as the Dame just knocks it out the park every time.”
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience for some people to come to the Hackney Empire, because for me, theatre starts at panto and there’s no other better place to see it than Hackney Empire. So, call the box office and get Maz, our box office manager to book your tickets as soon as possible, we’ve got great box office staff, like everyone else in this incredible building, they work just as hard as those of us on stage.”
Mother Goose, starring Kat B, is at Hackney Empire 19th November to 31st December 2022.