Jamie Tabberer

Stage review – Cinderella @ Hackney Empire

With added Stephanie Beacham

Forget the review; we've something far more important to spend the next five minutes writing about. At last night's panto at the Hackney Empire we found ourselves seated next to Stephanie Beacham – GT favourite and star of umpteen cult TV shows like Dynasty, Tenko and Bad Girls. Hilarious. Right up there with making a world famous designer stand for us so we could get to our seat at Priscilla (he was NOT happy) and not recognising Patrick Stewart at the press night for 2009's Annie Get Your Gun at the Young Vic and complaining to him about our bad backs (vaguely humiliating seeing as it was announced the next day he was to receive a knighthood. Nevertheless he was a perfect gentleman and listened to us bang on for about three hours).

Anyway, Beacham – well, she looked really nice, and she trusted us to turn her Blackberry off for her because she didn't know how (turns out we didn't either; it called in the middle of the show). Oh, and she did all the whole "Oh no she didn't!" and "He's behind you!" thing with such nonchalant glamour and ease that we, naturally, felt entirely rigid and self-conscious the entire time. That in addition to the zaniness of what we were greeted with on stage made for a very disorientating evening.

For Hackney Empire has pulled out the bag a suitably colourful and hysterical Christmas tour de force that leaves one breathless with its energy, speed, endless pop cultural references – and chronic loudness. Tony Whittle as one of the Ugly Sisters, for example, is almost unbearable to listen to at times with his deep, powerful speaking voice exaggerated for comedic effect and channeled through an epic sound system. Or perhaps we're just getting old.

He still garners the most laughs though, together with partner in crime Kat B, who's riotously street, pouty Ugly Sister ("And ting!") conjures longing for Tameka Empson (Eastenders' Kim Fox), a regular at Hackney Empire pantos but noticeably absent this year. Along with the confident Wicked Stepmother Joanna Riding, writer Susie McKenna bestows on the talented trio her silliest AND most adult-friendly material, not to mention most headache-inducing outfits. They lampoon the Olympics, slag off nearby Bethnal Green for no apparent reason; and what with the implication that the sisters have a penchant for crime that their mother encourages (they rob a hot air balloon at one point; suffice to say this story has little in common with the traditional story except the bare bone structure) it could almost BE an episode of Eastenders.

Sophia Ragavelas is an adequate Cinderella, and boasts far and away the best singing voice, but her interaction with the children in the audience is grating (when she screams "HI GUYS!" like a insane 90s children's TV presenter you'll feel your age, trust us). At least in comparison to Matt Dempsey who is endlessly adorable, and, erm, quite fanciable as Cinders' best mate Buttons. When he's one of the last of the cast to be paired off by the big finale we got a little excited at the prospect of him announcing a gay sway, but, alas, we're not there yet: rather, the Fairy Godmother decides to cast a spell to make him fall in love with HER instead. Cow.

Highlights include the very effective use of glow in the dark puppetry to show a pumpkin turning into a carriage etc., and some adorable tap dancing kids. And Stephanie Beacham humming along to Jessie J's Price Tag, but that was for one night only.


Until 8 Jan 2012

291 Mare St
E8 1EJ
020 8985 2424

Photo: Robert Workman

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