Hackney Empire: 'An intimate theatre with no West End snottiness'

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The last time I played at the Hackney Empire was about six years ago. I've done several one-off gigs there since the Eighties. It was a brilliant place and an absolutely beautiful venue.

It holds about 1,500 or so people but still manages to be fantastically intimate. I suppose that's what every theatre tries to do and what every performer wants.

Some venues are horrible soul-less barns, but the Hackney Empire is a really good venue. As a performer it never seemed grotty. But I was most struck by it as a fantastic venuewhen I went there as a punter, not a performer. I went to the opera for one of the few times in my life and saw Don Giovanni about eight years ago. It was fantastic. You could sit back, have a beer and enjoy it without any of the snottiness you get in the West End.

I think the main reason people don't go to the theatre or the opera is because they worry about feeling out of place. That doesn't apply there. It has a very relaxed atmosphere.

In some ways the opera was some of their best stuff. They also did black variety shows and things that no one else was doing.

I think people feel comfortable going there in a way that maybe they don't about the West End.

The downside was that in the Eighties it attracted the worst kind of lefty audience. It wasn't the majority but you would get 40 or 50 and they would complain that the act was offensive to someone or other.

I'm looking forward to going back. The conservative part of me always likes things left as they are but I know Roland and Claire [Muldoon - the artistic director and his wife] and I'm fairly certain they won't have done anything I don't like.

Mark Steel will perform in a benefit concert for Medical Aid for Palestinians at the Hackney Empire on 24 January