REVIEW: Dick Whittington and His Cat (Hackney Empire) ★★★★

Hackney Empire has long been famous for its pantomimes, combining British tradition with diversity. Dick Whittington and His Cat continues this custom, taking the traditional tale of Dick Whittington and updating and combining it with real events. It tells the story of a young immigrant aboard the Empire Windrush arriving in post-war London in 1948 who goes on to make his fortune and save London from a rat infestation.

The show begins with Dick, played by Tarinn Callender, singing The Impossible Dream and beaming with enthusiasm, which simultaneously strikes an optimistic and bitter sweet note, especially as we are now more aware of the problems faced by many of the Windrush generation (an issue which is not shied away from even if it is through tongue in cheek comments). We are then quickly introduced to the standard pantomime characters: the dame, the love interest, the sidekick, the fairy and the villain. Typical pantomime shenanigans ensue: cream pies go onto faces, sweets are thrown and audience participation is encouraged. Pop songs, show tunes and original songs are used to help move the plot along, all being used to showcase the talents of the cast.

Everyone on the stage seemed to relish their characters, encouraging boos, cheers and general merriment from the audience at every opportunity. Clive Rowe stole the show playing Sarah the Cook, making it clear that he knows how to play the pantomime dame and that the audience were in safe hands. Kat B was also a stand out performer in his role of Uncle Vincent the Cat, putting a unique twist onto a traditional character. Tony Whittle, who played Alderman Fitzwarren, delivered lots of one liners, providing the comedic elements you would expect from a traditional pantomime.

Packed full of jokes referring to current events, Dick Whittington and His Cat truly was a feel-good pantomime that had the audience laughing throughout. It promoted a message of love and tolerance, which felt particularly uplifting given how divided many people are currently feeling. Pantomime is not for everyone; if you don’t enjoy booing at a baddie or being encouraged to stand up and sing along to a cheesy song, then this might not be for you. But if you embrace this Christmas tradition, then it is definitely worth one to watch.

Reviewed by Stephanie Mansell
Photo: Robert Workman

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