It had to be a trip to the panto this year so I looked at the reviews... The Thetare Royal Stratford was cheaper but all booked up so off we went to Hackney. From the start, the omens were good. I have honestly never been part of such a mixed audience in a theatre before; all ages, all nationalities, big family groups, solo flyers, the lot. The atmosphere was wonderful and there was a welcome lack of pompous 'been there, done that' types.
Our first character was a mildly annoying Hindu fairy who looked so fabulous that she was instantly forgiven; from then on we were introduced to the various characters: a proper thigh-slapping Dick, a tumbling cat, a totally camp and gigantic dame complete with regular outrageous costume change, Idle Jack who fell asleep and had to be woken up by a lot of yelling by the audience, a wise-cracking Alderman who specialised in sub-cracker-joke humour, a fiendish King Rat whom we booed loudly, and a beautiful leading lady who was a tomboy adventurer. The action didn't falter for a second; one minute you were groaning at a terrible joke and the next you were standing up singing a really corny song about paws and claws.
There were proper musicians in the orchestra pit, and touchingly the backstage crew were invited on to the stage at the end to be applauded along with the rest of them.
Completely cathartic! This panto could not have been better: the singing was faultless; people my age guffawed at some (ruder) parts, and the children in the audience gurgled with glee at other parts. The gorilla was scary enough to give the lot of us a fright when it turned up close to the end. We celebrated the birthdays of tinies and also a 73-year old grandmother.
For the first time in my life I felt like a Londoner, sitting in the middle of such diversity with my loved ones, watching an English institution that has managed to adapt itself so readily to cultural differences while still keeping a completely traditional atmosphere.
If you've never been to a pantomime before, this is the place to start. Forget about the glitzy star-vehicles. Choose Hackney or Stratford and you are guaranteed a jolly good night out!