Tag Archives: Hackney Empire



Hackney Empire

ALADDIN at the Hackney Empire


“Clive Rowe is truly the grand dame of panto dames”

Stuff Shakespeare, Pantomime is probably my favourite theatrical tradition. There are not many other settings where you can have babies, grandparents, and long-suffering assorted other relatives entertained for a couple of hours by good old British drag.

And Clive Rowe knows how to entertain. His stewardship at the Hackney Empire continues this year with another barnstorming performance as Mother Twanky in Aladdin. We are transported to the land of Hack-ne-lah, for a riot of fun, anti-consumerism and disco dancing. Trust me, it works!

Do I need to explain the plot? Probably not. The main additions to the traditional tale here are the sneering, evil billionaire Mildew Funk played in gloriously writhing camp fashion by George Heyworth (better known as Bourgeois in the celebrated cabaret duo Bourgeois and Maurice), who unfortunately also happens to be Jazz’s (Isabella Mason) father. He is determined to marry her off to a fellow rich man, when her heart has already been captured by the pure and kind Aladdin (Fred Double). The biggest baddie is Abby-na-zaaar! spelt properly with three ‘As’, one ‘R’, and an exclamation mark (Natasha Lewis). She is determined to become the most powerful wizard in the world, and also the best trombonist. I did not realise my panto needed brass on stage, but turns out it really does, especially accompanying a reworked Meghan Trainor song.

Aside from the magic lamp, there’s also a magic ring (the spirit of which is played by a charismatic and ditsy Ruth Lynch), who’s provenance got slightly lost in the exposition of the opening scenes, but nonetheless is charming.

“Cleo Pettitt on costumes ramps up the camp and comedy with each one: the sparkling dirty martini glass dress is the literal cherry on top”

Rounding out the cast is Rishi Manuel as Wishy, who does a great line in slapstick comedy, and pulls the audience through the obligatory participation songs. Kat B is the coolest genie I’ve ever seen, in a plunge neck disco outfit, and towering platforms.

Rowe also directs, and has assisted Will Brenton in writing the script. Once the heavy lifting of character introductions is out the way, Rowe warms the audience up with the help of a laundry list of gags – literally. Pun after pun after visual joke came tumbling out of Widow Twanky like the assorted items out of her brilliant bag lady dress, embossed with Groucci. The outfits get more and more extraordinary – Cleo Pettitt on costumes ramps up the camp and comedy with each one: the sparkling dirty martini glass dress is the literal cherry on top.

The big dance numbers also show off the talented ensemble and heighten the energy even more, grabbing the attention of even the chatty two year old sitting next to me. Myles Brown’s choreography, using professionals, (members of the Hackney Empire’s young Artist Development Programme, and the Vestry School of Dance and Performing Arts) is both polished, but also has an inclusive, community feel.

Though Widow Twanky might have moaned about the special effects budget, I was impressed by the sheer amount of pyrotechnics on show, and especially the magical carpet ride. Steve Edis’ original song here was also a welcome respite from memories of Peter Andre singing that version.

The short second act feels like it’s also had a gin at the interval, with the jokes getting more risqué, though firmly on the side of family friendly: the children around me were confused as to why I was laughing so hard at a gag about the Ultra Low Emissions Zone. I also think they might have been bypassed by the bisexual lighting and Aphrodite statue in a certain evil lair which foreshadowed a lovely romantic tryst and twist.

Hackney Empire once again presents yet another magnificent panto and Clive Rowe is truly the grand dame of panto dames. Long may his reign continue.

ALADDIN at the Hackney Empire

Reviewed on 30th November 2023

by Rosie Thomas

Photography by Steve Gregson



Other reviews by Rosie:

Manic Street Creature | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse Borough | October 2023
Dear England | ★★★★★ | Prince Edward Theatre | October 2023
The Flea | ★★★★ | The Yard Theatre | October 2023
The Least We Could Do | ★★★★★ | Hope Theatre | October 2023
Artefact | ★★★★ | Playground Theatre | September 2023
Something Unspoken | ★★★★ | Playground Theatre | September 2023
I Wish My Life Were Like A Musical | ★★★★★ | Wilton’s Music Hall | August 2023
The Wetsuitman | ★★★ | Arcola Theatre | August 2023
Spiral | ★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | August 2023
Bloody Elle | ★★★★★ | Soho Theatre | July 2023
Bones | ★★★★ | Park Theatre | July 2023



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Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety – 5 Stars


 Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety

Hackney Empire

Reviewed -20th October 2018


“this annual festival is a joyous celebration of the scene in all its camp, disruptive naughty glory”


This is the third year for Jonny Woo’s queer, sexy, ribald, irreverent take on this most British of formats, and it’s clear that this fabulous evening has now rightly taken its place in London’s alternative social calendar. London now leads the world in queer performance, and this annual festival is a joyous celebration of the scene in all its camp, disruptive naughty glory. Jonny is the perfect host – witty, warm and salacious in equal measure – and Julian Smith’s costumes are delicious throughout. It is a long evening, at four hours, but the acts come fast and furious and are well-balanced enough that time flies by. This reviewer has to confess to being utterly disabled by laughter on more than one occasion – a treat indeed.

The whole show is cheerfully sweary from beginning to end, but there is a clear tonal arc to proceedings, and the second half is significantly filthier than the first. If you blanch at nudity and overt drug references, this is really not the night for you! After an explosive opening number, which sets the scene for the gender play throughout, the show begins with supremely professional high-camp drag from Myra Dubois. She opens the floodgates for the surge of talent to follow, and it is worth remembering that the energetic silliness of acts such as Garry Starr (Damien Warren-Smith’s brilliant comedy alter-ego), as well as the anarchic scratch-punk world of Christeene and Lucy McCormick, demand a high degree of artistic skill. Similarly, for those who might dismiss Lip Sync, Rhys Hollis’ mind-blowing routine – a fierce, sexy mash-up of Nicky Minaj, Missy Elliott and more – was a lesson in performance precision.

And there are voices too. From Sooz Kempner’s belting rendition of the Chorus Line favourite The Music and the Mirror, to the magnificent surprise of comedienne Jayde Adams’ huge operatic soprano, unleashed after her whip-smart comedy set, to Carla Lippis’ in-your-face and dangerous ‘I’m a Liar’, the Hackney Empire resounded with song throughout the evening. Special mention must also go here to the wondrous Theresa May choir – in splendid voice as well as being eye-wateringly funny. Laughter is nigh on continuous for the duration of the show, and every audience member will come away with highlights. Bourgeois & Maurice’s outrageous and lyrically brilliant take on overpopulation – Babies – and Mawaan Rizwan’s unique blend of song, dance and stand-up were personal favourites.

It is to Woo’s credit that important issues affecting the LGBTQIA+ community were woven in to the show’s glittering fabric – the importance of pronouns, trans equality, femme visibility and female visibility were all part of the tapestry. Equally, the terrific sketch between Le Gateau Chocolat and Adrienne Truscott was an affectionate poke at well-intentioned woke behaviour. The facility for self-parody is the surest sign of confidence, which Jonny Woo and this exceptional line-up exude from their pores. All Hail Their Majesties. Long May They Reign.


Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Studio Prokopiou


 Jonny Woo’s Un-Royal Variety

Hackney Empire



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