It’s become the unmissable tradition of the festive season, Hackney Empire’s spectacular annual pantomime this year whisks us to the magical town of Hack-ne-lah for a fun-filled Aladdin with all the panto trimmings we’ve come to expect from this seasoned team.
If there’s one thing you can rely on, it’s that Hackney Empire will put on a proper traditional pantomime, and one that’s genuinely suitable for the entire family. You can see from the audience just how beloved these productions are by the local community and beyond.
Written by Will Brenton, this Aladdin follows the traditional storyline, with a bit of a London twist. The thoroughly villainous Abby-na-zaaar! (a delightfully menacing Natasha Lewis) is after the magic lamp that’s hidden in the cave of wonders but needs someone pure of heart to get inside. So off she goes with the help of the Spirit of the Ring (Ruth Lynch) to find Aladdin who is the only eligible candidate for the role.
Struggling for cash along with his mother, Widow Twankey and brother Wishy, Aladdin is trying to woo Jazz, but her father, Mildew Funk (played with incredible physical comedy by George Heyworth) insists she marry a billionaire. Luckily, the lamp contains a Disco inspired Genie (Kat B) who can grant three wishes to whoever owns the magical object.
As always Clive Rowe, who also directs, is incredible as the Dame, getting the audience on side and giving some friendly ribbing to those seated closest to the stage. Rishi Manuel as Wishy has a fantastic chemistry with Rowe and the pair steal all of the scenes they appear in, Manuel also manages to capture the youngest audience members hearts with a sweet and loveable portrayal of the character.
The cast are accompanied the very talented Hackney Empire ADP dancers, alongside a young cast from the Vestry school of Dance & Performing Arts. Isabella Mason delivers solid vocals as Jazz and makes the best of a slightly underwritten role. The breakout star is undoubtedly Fred Double as Aladdin, a superb performance that demonstrates great acting, powerful vocals, and the ability to make Myles Brown’s complex choreography look easy.
The songs are well-known pop songs with some changes to the lyrics or tempo, they don’t all work in the context of the show, although there is a fun karaoke section led by Rishi Manuel’s Wishi, but the impressive flying carpet scene is somewhat let down by the choice of accompanying song.
Cleo Pettitt has again created a stage of wonders with fantastic sets and fabulous costumes, particularly those of Widow Twankey, and it’s a sign of just how much care and attention has gone into ensuring Aladdin and this year’s Hackney Empire production maintains its reputation as the must-see panto of the year.