I think we can all agree that a dog is not just for Christmas; the second part of that saying could well be that a panto is not just for Christmas, but for the whole year round. And why wouldn’t you want the fun that this show offers for twelve months of the year?! I remember as a kid the London Palladium panto would have a run that started in December and went on till March; continuing that fine tradition, this production of Mother Goose started in Brighton in December and is touring until the middle of April. An Easter panto in Salford anyone?
One of the less performed pantomimes (I’ve only ever seen two other productions), Mother Goose is a funny old tale about Caroline and Vic Goose whose lives are turned around by the arrival of a young goose – Cilla – who lays golden eggs and consequently gets them out of their financial troubles. However, Caroline’s head is turned when the bad fairy Malignia tempts her with promises of fame and fortune in return for Cilla…. Well let’s just say she lives to regret her decision. Very moral tale, this one.
Just considering the bare bones of the story, it sounds a bit stiff and starchy. However, with writer Jonathan Harvey (a script stuffed with jokes) and director Cal McCrystal at the helm, this is anything but. And with a fantastic cast headed by Ian McKellen, John Bishop and Anna-Jane Casey, this is a laugh-a-second, musical extravaganza of a panto which delivers more pleasure per pound than is remotely decent.
Ian McKellen is no stranger to pantomime; we saw his Twankey at the Old Vic in 2006 (ooh Matron!) and I’ve often wished he’d turn his hand towards more comedic roles rather than all that Elizabethan drama nonsense (I jest, obvs). He revels in all the pantomime dame costumes and double entendres, as well as delighting in sending himself up with the inevitable Gandalf and Shakespeare references.
He’s matched by the inimitable John Bishop and they’re a perfect partnership. Between them they cover everything you could possibly want from a show; where Sir Ian can go all declamatory and tragic, Mr B delivers his killer lines with fabulous laconic Scouseness. Do you remember the London Olympics, and how we all loved the kind, good-humoured omnipresence of the Games Makers? Those happy people who helped us to enjoy every element of the Olympic experience? John Bishop is like the Games Maker of Pantomime – a constant, benign, warm presence, whom you would really miss if he wasn’t there. I think every panto needs a John Bishop.
The casting of Anna-Jane Casey as Cilla is a mark of genius – there’s nothing in the musical theatre genre she can’t do, and she steals the show in several scenes – including a fantastic and unexpected A Chorus Line tribute which had me aching with pleasure; I particularly loved the strong connection to the original Michael Bennett choreography! Oscar Conlon-Morrey is brilliant as Jack, with a great connection with the audience; his Jill is played by Simbi Akande who is also superb. And Sharon Ballard as Encanta and Karen Mavundukure as Malignia were a terrific pair of fairies – incredible voices, and with a great secret for the end of the show.
There’s also an amazing ensemble taking on the roles of the animals in the Goose Family’s Animal Sanctuary; I particularly loved Genevieve Nicole’s Perfect Panto Puss, and Adam Brown’s hilarious King of Gooseland, who reminded us strongly of Rob Madge (which is A Good Thing). We’re strongly contemplating going again later in the tour. Can’t recommend this fantastic show enough!
Production photos by Manuel Harlan