There are people who rave about the Hackney Empire pantos, and endless 'with the star of (fill in TV programme)' ones exist, but for the past few years my favourites have been the ones at the Greenwich Theatre, with the final performance of the run a particular highlight. (You've missed it, in other words.)
Written as ever by the regular dame, Andrew Pollard, the script is very much 'of Greenwich, for Greenwich' rather than an off-the peg one, and the theatre itself is just the right size. I've sat in the balcony at Hackney and you might as well be watching on TV – you're far away from the action and the cast ignore you. Not here. The combination is a real community event: users and staff of the area's toy libraries were out in force in the front rows.
Pollard is as delightful as ever (I particularly liked the opening Lady Gaga-inspired PVC costume) and this one featured another Greenwich panto regular, Paul Critoph, more usually in the 'Baron' or father role, as the other ugly sister. With – in this telling – the step-mother dead, it's just them being cruel to Ella (Hannah Wilding, cast both for her beauty and talented singing) while her father bemoans losing his Housing Benefit and Buttons is in unrequited love with her. Meanwhile, Greenwich Park sees Prince Charlemagne from Bohemia trying to match his with-it companion's urban cool. And failing. But swapping clothes allows him to actually talk to Ella, out collecting firewood. When his servant returns, she wanders off (giving away her firewood to someone in need – say, who was that hooded woman?) and so he needs a way to find her again. What about holding a ball, no servants allowed… ?
The best Cinderella I can remember was the part-improvised, part-staggeringly good puppetry one by Improbable at the Lyric Hammersmith a few years ago. This wasn't quite as good, but I cannot imagine there were many better pantos this year. The cast clearly had as much fun as the audience, both feeding off each other, making a real advert for the appeal of live theatre. Let's hope the younger members of the audience get the bug: they were certainly getting involved.