Today's trip to see the panto at the Hackney Empire was very much a last hurrah – mine before properly buckling back down to work after the New Year and the theatre's before it closes for much of 2010. Generally agreed to be London's best panto, Aladdin (which closes tomorrow) really is joyous. The cast genuinely seem to really be enjoying themselves and I can't remember when I last saw such an appreciative audience at a theatre. For less than £10, you can enjoy a live performance that lasts nearly three hours – making it more reasonable than most cinema showings. The punters at the performance I went to were pretty good value too – from the bolshy woman who insisted on eating her chicken and chips, proclaiming: 'Dont you know who I am?' to the six year old who asked for fizzy wine in the interval. When widow Twanky pushed for a bigger 'aaah' at the news that her husband had died, an elderly man with his carer retorted instead with 'big f***ing' deal'. But by the end even he was laughing at local jokes about the magic carpet being clamped in Stratford and singing along with the tap-dancing pandas.
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trace the shifting guises of the Hackney Empire - from music hall to bingo hall, from television studio to wrestling venue, where the likes of Charlie Chaplin and George Fornby have performed.