He’s behind you! A round up of Christmas entertainment

Darren Hart as Buttons in Cinderella. Picture: Robert Workman

Darren Hart as Buttons in Cinderella. Picture: Robert Workman - Credit: Robert Workman Photographer

The best family entertainment across north and east London this Christmas

John Savournin as King Tut

John Savournin as King Tut - Credit: Archant

It’s that time of year when traditional pantos bulldoze the fourth wall and unleash the over-excited child in all of us.

Girls dress up as boys, men as dames, custard pies fly and “shout outs” ring through the stalls.

In recent years the Hackney Empire has cornered the market in extravagant shows, written by artistic director Susie McKenna who also regularly appears - this year in Cinderella as the wicked step-mother.

Musical theatre star Aisha Jawando takes the title role in her first panto. And while she’s more used to appearing in Beautiful or Motown the musical, she initially found the performance style a challenge.

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“I found it quite hard at first, it’s a totally different way of acting that seemed over the top, but I’m very comfortable with it now,” she says.

Empire pantos don’t tend to feature soppy heroines and this year is no exception.

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“Cinderella is a fun girl who also has strong morals. She speaks her mind and stands up for justice - like a superhero but a princess.”

McKenna also enusures the diverse cast reflects Hackney’s local community, and sprinkles in topical gags - like poor Italian Dandini being given his deportation papers.

“It’s great that kids can be not only entertained but can see themselves and the people in their lives reflected on stage,” agrees Jawando.

“It’s nice to have my afro out and be in my natural state of being a black woman while playing Cinderella. It makes little black girls think ‘that could be me, I have just as much right to be a princess as anyone.’”

Having once gone to a fancy dress party as Cinderella, she’s loves the fab frocks: “When I had my first fitting I had to hold back tears. Wardrobe had done such a beautiful job.”

Asked why Pantomime has endured as a Christmas treat she adds: “It’s pure imagination. There’s a part of every adult that is childlike. Panto allows grown ups to regain that sense of wonder and magic. You can laugh and use your imagination at any age.”

Up the road at the King’s Head, those uninitiated in Charles Court Opera’s legendary ‘boutique’ pantomimes can expect “a little bit of classical music arranged for voices, a jolly singalong and the potential for a custard pie,” according to John Savournin.

Something of a legend himself, the actor/director/writer is the driving force behind these wacky, tongue in cheek outings. This year, a cast of five accompanied by a keyboardist and drummer perform Egyptian extravaganza King Tut.

“The pantos have a strong following,” says Savournin. “Each year people bring a few friends then next year they come back with more who want a sound alternative to the usual fairy stories.”

He describes a boutique panto as “a panto with a big heart in a very small space.”

The vibe is “a little art house, more sophisticated than your average panto” and because Charles Court is actually an opera company, their Christmas offering inevitably showcases the performers’ singing talent.

“It’s a musical show with really stunning arrangements of songs that puts the vocal talents of the cast at the forefront of everything,” says Savournin. “That’s what gives extra bite to the usual slapstick and tomfoolery.”

Co-written with musical director David Eaton, the storylines are original with lashings of irony and “a dry sense of humour sneaking around”.

He adds: “This one is based on discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun but we usually twist the story. There are lots of visual treats and a good line in audience participation. It’s a real ensemble effort.”

At the King’s Head Upper Street until January 6.

Cinderella runs until December 31 hackneyempire.co.uk

Also showing is Puss in Boots at Hoxton Hall featuring a children’s chorus from the local community it follows hapless Colin, left to face an uncertain future on Hoxton’s streets who inherits his father’s old tabby cat. Thanks to donations one Magical Christmas Performance is laid on for families who couldn’t otherwise afford tickets and a present drive will collect donations for Starlight Children’s ward at Homerton Hospital.

Wednesday 13 – Thursday 28 December hoxtonhall.co.uk

At the Shaw Theatre in Euston, Jack and the Beanstalk runs from December 9 – 30 and stars Dani Harmer from CBBC’s Tracy Beaker as Jill in a world of fairytales featuring great songs, dance routines and a great time for all the family.


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