Dick Whittington and His Cat

Written & Directed by Susie McKenna
Hackney Empire
(2007)

Hannah-Jane Fox and Kat

"I think of myself as Naomi Campbell with water retention" says Sarah the Cook. It's Clive Rowe, back at Hackney this Christmas as Dick Whittington's mum, wearing a series of voluminous frocks and some snazzy hats. I particularly liked one sporting a lighthouse and two gulls with waves from brim to brim and another made up of Carmen Miranda fruit that was matched with a scallop-shell bosomed dress. I wish the same care had been lavished on some of the blurry scene painting which let down Lotte Collett's sets. One other carp (that you've heard from me before): with sound control out front can't they hear they've got the balance wrong ? Or is it some of the singers who need more power and articulation? That said, this is an enjoyable romp, especially if you like your pantos to be as much about the audience as what's on stage, though having all the leading characters asking for an audience shout whenever they enter slows the action down, though I suppose it does keep the audience on the boil.

Rowe's dominating Dame is challenged for audience appeal this year by Mike Denman's pirouetting Puss and by Kat (not another feline but the charismatic actor/dancer who plays Idle Jack), all bendy limbs and wheeled feet as well as a dab hand at handling the audience. There is an underwater sequence with fishes finning their way around with the help of ballet dancers and a real live mermaid; it starts like poor man's Lion King but then begins to work. Add a quite stunning King Kong figure and there is plenty to keep an audience happy.

David Ashley is a very tall King Rat, confronted by Tameka Empson's diminutive Fairy Bowbells, who is still learning to cast spells. Hannah-Jane Fox presents a thigh slapping Dick matched with the charming Alice of Sophia Ragavelas, most effective in romantic duet, and Tony Whittle plays Alice's dad, crushed against Sarah's bosom. Dance school performers, including a bevy of truly tiny tots, and the Empire's own trainees make up most of the ensemble in traditional panto fashion but led by experienced performers with great vitality.

This is not a show for the faint-hearted. There is a terrible slap-stick routine that had me groaning when it started but built to win me over. There are jokes about a tune-playing fish skeleton being a tuna fish and Greenpeace trying to help beached cook Sarah back into the sea. If, like the audience I joined, you like clapping along to every tune, plenty of opportunities to shout back at the performers and every excuse to wiggle your bum - you'll probably love it.

Until 12th January 2008

Reviewer: Howard Loxton