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A CurtainUp London Review
by Sebastian King
McKenna’s adaptation of the classic story follows the usual framework, but throws in a few extra surprises along the way: a pair of soulful romantic mice (brilliantly voiced by Clarke Peters and Sharon D. Clarke), a flying horse and a dramatic hot air balloon finale, to name but a few. As you would expect from any decent pantomime, it’s also jam-packed with slapstick, toilet humour, audience participation and a healthy dose of topical references including nods to the Olympics, phone hacking and The X Factor.
The play is set in the very familiar-looking (and sounding) Harknee-on-Lea, and is brimming with similar local references. Cinderella (Sophia Ragavelas) is a feisty Hackney girl with attitude. Her first exchange with Prince Charming (Wayne Perry) ends with her shouting “Get a life posh boy!” Ragavelas is an incredibly likeable leading lady, with bundles of energy, a great rapport with the audience, and a stunning voice. Her fun rendition of Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag" had the very young audience singing along instantly. She is ably supported by a "top banana" performance from the charismatic Matt Dempsey as Buttons, and Wayne Perry’s very charming Bollywood Prince.
As Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters Queeniqua and Victiqua, Tony Whittle and Kat B have a lot of fun, with some brilliant gags and suitably outrageous costumes. I particularly enjoyed the addition of a ‘haunted bedroom’ scene which saw the sisters contending with haunted candlesticks, Scream-esque ghosts and an inspired use of Michael Jackson’s "Thriller."
However, it is the music that sets this pantomime apart from the rest, with Steven Edis’s original songs sitting comfortably between original arrangements of recent contemporary hits. As the Fairy Godmother, Sophie-Louise Dann performs some stunning vocal acrobatics, and Peter Straker’s Baron Hardup may look like Huggy Bear from Starsky and Hutch but he sings like Beyonce. Looking more than a little like Kitty Brucknell from this year’s X Factor, Joanna Riding’s vampish Wicked Stepmother steals the show with a mash-up of Lady Gaga’s '‘Born This Way,'’ "Don’t Rain On My Parade" and Robbie Williams’s "Let Me Entertain You!"
Thanks to Lotte Collett’s designs, Cinderella looks just as good as it sounds, with brightly painted backdrops, classy and colourful costumes and a gorgeous glow-in-the-dark sequence, not to mention the Act 1 finale that sees Cinderella leaving for the ball in truly spectacular fashion.
If the audible excitement and enjoyment of the young audience at this performance is anything to go by, Hackney Empire has another Christmas hit on its hands – although it’s just as much fun for the slightly older theatregoers amongst us too!
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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