Set in Hackneywood, a parody on Tinseltown, the storyline is a simple fable of love and humanity being worth more than fame and money, with an appropriately 21st century morality pitch that shows up the shallow selfie-seeking values of the mobile phone age. There’s goodies and baddies, slapstick, perfectly pitched comedy and a slickly choreographed company, all contributing to an evening of glorious entertainment.
Kat B (another Hackney regular) is great in the comedy role of Mother Goose’s son Billy, Tony Marshall is fun as a hapless landlord (the chocolate bar routine between those two is one of the night’s comic highlights), while Rebecca Parker as the Demon Queen is as evil a villain as you could hope to boo at.
In this special 120th year there’s also a fine tribute to the history of the Frank Matcham venue, with a 5-minute whirl in the second act that pays a nod to some of the greats who’ve graced that stage - from Marie Lloyd and Harry Houdini through to Morecambe and Wise and Louis Armstrong.
But the evening of course belongs to Rowe, whose years of panto experience allow him to direct the show brilliantly. His stand-up and put-down work is perfectly timed, a hallmark of his consummate professionalism. Rowe’s costumes are gorgeous (credit to Cleo Pettitt) and as for his voice, when Clive Rowe gets his chops around Ain’t No Stopping Us Now and later on, What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted, one is reminded quite what a star of musical theatre he is.
The sets by Imagine Theatre are colourful and lavish the five piece band under Renell Shaw are equally wonderful. Steeped in and proud of its local community, Hackney Empire’s family pantomime does not get better than this!
Runs until 31st December
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan