Review: Sleeping Beauty at Hackney Empire

Camp, colourful and hilarious... escape the drudgery of 2016 with this year's fantastic panto

AWAKE from your winter slumber and get down to Hackney Empire for a toe-tapping, belly laughing fabulous time… this year’s panto, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is an absolute Christmas cracker.

Turning the classic fairy tale on its head, creative directors Susie McKenna and Steven Edis have brought a much-needed sprinkling of magic – and escapism – to 2016.

Susie describes ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as ‘Game of Thrones meets Narnia meets panto’; set in the not-so-far-away land of Hackneytonia, the borders between two kingdoms are closed, stopping people's freedom of movement (familiar?).

Luckily, there is light at the end of the dark tunnel, with the hopeful marriage of Princess Tahlia (Alexia Khadime) and Prince Gabriel of Westminsteria (Wayne Perrey) set to put a stop to the unpopular border controls.

Unfortunately, as the well-known fable goes, Princess Tahlia pricks her finger on a spinning wheel – thanks to the cunningness of the evil Carabosse (Sharon D Clarke) – before her 18th birthday, which means she has to wait for her true love’s kiss to wake her up from her deep slumber…

But this being Hackney Empire’s panto, the sleeping heroine is less a helpless damsel-in-distress waiting for her knight in shining armour to come and rescue her, and more of a kick-a** Xena Warrior feminist.

A plot twist means Princess Tahlia ends up rescuing her very own Prince Charming, with a little help from her three magical fairy friends – Blisstip (Sharon Ballard), Shimmerpop (Georgia Oldman) and Willowsnap (Kiruna Stamell) – as well as Denzil the Dragon (Kat B) and Ikoboo (Darren Hart).

The cast (with special mention to Sharon and Alexia’s incredible rich voices) slickly romp through the songs, with stand-outs including ‘Never ask the people what they want’ and ‘Obama had class, Trump is an a**'.

And then, of course, there's the panto's great dame: newcomer Gavin Spokes, who steps into the (rather large) shoes of Clive Rowe as Dame Nanny Nora.

There’s a hilarious relationship, filled with disgraceful innuendos, between Nanny Nora and King Eric (Tony Whittle), and with more outfit changes than Kim Kardashian herself, the audience should brace themselves for the Dame’s final, fabulous costume.

With hundreds of fantastic jokes to keep the older, wearier and post-Brexit/Trump beaten audience members in stitches, there are still plenty of slapstick moments and classic panto clichés to delight the little ‘uns too.

So, if you’re reeling from what a shocking year this has been, my advice is this: head down to Hackney Empire for a strong dose of panto therapy and thank God 2016 is (nearly) behind us.

'Sleeping Beauty' runs at Hackney Empire until 8 January. Tickets start from £10.