Aladdin Pantomime at the Hackney Empire

This evening we wrapped up our Christmas festivities in London with another British tradition — the Aladdin Pantomime at the Hackney Empire. It was an interesting experience and best enjoyed with a pint of beer :-).

Pantomime (not mime) is a genre of musical-comedy performance that some describe as British national treasure. It doesn’t follow the the ‘real’ story line and is full of silly comedy. For those in North Carolina, it is somewhat like David Ira Wood’s A Christmas Carol, but to the extreme. Wikipedia describes Pantomime as having a number of conventions — including the following which held in this performance.

  • The leading male juvenile character is played by a young woman in tight-fitting male garments that make her female charms evident.
  • An older woman, often the hero’s mother, is played by a man in drag.
  • Risqué double entendre, often wringing innuendo out of perfectly innocent phrases. This is, in theory, over the heads of the (many) children in the audience.
  • Audience participation, including calls of “Look behind you!” The audience is always encouraged to boo the villain and “awwwww” the poor victims.
  • A song combining a well-known tune with re-written lyrics. The audience is encouraged to sing the song; often one half of the audience is challenged to sing ‘their’ chorus louder than the other half.
  • An animal, played by an actor in ‘animal skin’ or animal costume. It is often a pantomime horse or (or camel), played by two actors in a single costume, one as the head and front legs, the other as the body and back legs.
  • The members of the cast throw out sweets to the children in the audience.
  • Characters squirt members of the audience with water guns.
  • A slapstick comedy routine is be performed within the show.
  • The Chorus, who can be considered ‘Extras’ on-stage, who usually appear in all scenes and who perform a variety of songs and dances throughout the show. They are a very important role in Pantomimes.

The Hackney Empire is a beautiful old theatre — if in the middle of nowhere. It actually would have been a straight shot on the newly branded London Overground, but unfortunately it was closed for engineering works this weekend. The interior is beautifully decorated like many of the theatres in the West End. Interestingly, the bar is actually in the theatre — which was convenient at the interval for this performance :-). Sadly, the theatre is closing this month due to financial difficulties. Though there is a chance they will reopen.

So, while not the highlight of London’s theatreland, it was a great experience. And we can cross it off the list of 100 things to do before leaving London.

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