For the second show of our Sheffield weekend we made our annual pilgrimage to the Lyceum Theatre for the unmissable Lyceum panto. This year, Mother Goose; and – as every year for the last ten years – it starred Damian Williams. Mr Williams’ tenth anniversary as the city’s favourite dame did not go uncelebrated; and quite right too, as he has carved out for himself a dream of a niche position – he is Mr Panto.
Why would you want to see the same actor every year performing more or less the same role? It’s a fair question, but the answer’s simple; he’s the best in the business. His instant rapport with the audience is a true thing of beauty. You know he will spend the whole two and a half hours taking the mickey out of himself, and of us, and of his fellow cast members, and of the show itself, and of Rotherham, and of the band, and so on and so on. Going back to the Sheffield panto itself every year is like the most self-indulgent comfort eating. It’s returning to something that you love, that nourishes you, that makes you feel all warm and safe, and that never lets you down. You know it will begin with the boys and girls of the ensemble running into the auditorium singing Bring Me Sunshine. You know the wooden bench will come out to a great fanfare and that Mr Williams and others of the cast will sit on it and sing Always Look on the Bright Side of Life whilst ghoulies appear behind them, then we shout It’s Behind You? What is? A Ghost? Is there? Well! We’ll have to do it again then won’t we! as the ghosts pick off the cast members one by one till only Mr W is left which makes the ghosts run off in terror instead. If that didn’t happen, you’d be entitled to your money back. You know there’ll be a spurious patter sketch where they punfully mention the names of either perfumes or aftershave, board games, pop groups, local towns and villages, newspapers and magazines, or as it was this year, shop names. Every year the same. Every year a winner.
Mother Goose isn’t among the most popular of pantos and this is only the second time I’ve seen it – the first being back in 1980 with the late John Inman as the dame. There’s something much funnier and totally ridiculous about having the dame as a “fat bloke in a dress” (their words, not mine) rather than a slim, camp man who actually looks rather good in a dress; nothing against Mr Inman of course, who was a fine comedy actor. But Mr Williams delights in his grotesquerie and really doesn’t care quite how preposterous he looks. This was particularly appropriate for this panto, as Mother Goose (the character) has decided she’s fed up with being teased for her looks and wants to be thought of as beautiful. Fat chance, love. But as she tries to be more beautiful, her personality becomes more ugly. Eventually all her friends and family say she’s not the MG they used to know and love anymore. MG gives in, stops all the vanity lark, and everyone’s happy again. There’s a moral in there somewhere.
The story of Mother Goose is so slight you could tell it in less than a sentence, which enables the creative team in this show to go to town on the characterisations and the interplay between the characters and the audience. Who cares about the story, when you’ve got Mateo from Benidorm getting the hots for himself in a mirror, with Mr Williams as his mirror reflection puckering back at him. There’s always one killer comedy scene in the panto, and that was it for this year. Jake Canuso, as “Demon Vanity” (who?), is playing his first pantomime (I think) and was a terrific sport, with the script absolutely playing up to his foolish and vain TV Lothario persona; never missing an opportunity to pout provocatively at anything passing by or to languish lavishly at the foot of the stage, always demanding the attention of the laydeez (and doubtless some of the gentz too). Mr Canuso impressed with his early dance training and is suprisingly nimble on his toes.
Elsewhere, Mr Williams was merciless with Adam Price, who played the Squire; Mr Price was giving some extra characterisation to his role with a bit of vocal trickery, and Mr Williams was like a dog with a bone. Teasing him to the nth degree, he did not let go until his prey was fully vanquished. He joked with Andy Day about he looks like Fatima Whitbread, and OMG he does; he constantly referred to one of the male dancer/villagers as Barbara – although he really didn’t look like a Barbara to me. I don’t think any of the cast got through the show completely unscathed, but it was all totally hilarious. Mr Williams picked on the hapless man at the end of the front row for a bit of audience participation, including naming the Goose that Lays the Golden Eggs. The song that was introducing her firmly suggested the name Faith would be perfect to fit in with the lyrics. His choice? Wilbur. For a female goose. You couldn’t make it up.
This year’s two best lines: 1) when dressed as a mobile phone Mr Williams said he was going off for a rest as he’d downloaded an app (a nap, geddit?) and 2) when Mother Goose was told to lose weight, she thought the advice was “Don’t eat anything fatty” whereas in fact it was “Don’t eat anything, Fatty”. There was a 3D sequence in the second half, where we all had to don our special glasses. I always get muddled up trying to put them on over my own glasses, but fortunately Mrs Chrisparkle has had special training from Help The Aged to help me put them on. In the sequence, we accompanied MG flying through the air, and at once stage through a snow storm, during which, through some clever technology, rain came down upon as all and I got thoroughly soaked! Fortunately I have a terrific sense of humour.
My other favourite feature of the show was the regular appearances of Lisa Davina Philip as Fairy Goodfeather. I loved her characterisation as a truly well-urban street-Jamaican fairy. It was a brilliantly modern and inventive take on an old format and Ms Philip was side-splittingly hilarious all the way through. I’m sure her fairy dust would be littered with rice ‘n’ peas. Definitely the funniest fairy I’ve seen in many a year!
The kids we saw were the Red Team and they gave it everything – some really good dancers too! Cara Dudgeon and Dylan Craig were suitably cute together as Jill and Charlie Goose, and were pretty damn good at the singing and dancing too. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the dame. There’s nothing like a dame, and there’s no other dame like this one.
Booking has already started for Peter Pan next Christmas – Mr Williams’ eleventh season. Can’t wait!
Production photos by Robert Day