Review: Mother Goose ★★★★★
This superior pantomime starring Ian McKellen as the titular Mother Goose is a golden egg of a seasonal treat!
Not quite a gaggle, but a brace of geese (or gooses?) have arrived in London this December. And whilst Hackney Empire’s Mother Goose, starring the ever-excellent Clive Rowe as the eponymous dame, is a decent theatre trip for all the family, it’s The Duke of York’s production which has really set the bar for five-star excellence this panto season.
Writer Jonathan Harvey and director Cal McCrystal have put together a truly standard-setting show which combines all the traditional pantomime essentials with some new twists, fresh ideas, cheeky comedy and a raucous, knockabout energy which never drops.
There’s no denying the star of the show: Ian McKellen is mesmerising whenever he is on stage, clearly enjoying every moment as Mother Goose (despite clearly dealing with a hefty cold at the start of the run). It’s almost impossible to take your eyes off him, parading a series of amazing outfits, and giving it all every ounce of energy he can muster. He gamely sends himself up – along with his fame as Middle Earth’s Gandalf – as well as needling his co-stars at every available opportunity. Alongside Sir Ian, John Bishop turns in a winning, man-of-the-people performance as Pa Goose’s long-suffering husband – and whilst he may not have the depth of acting talent to draw upon, he nevertheless makes the most of a script which hammers jokes home left, right and centre. Sadly, Mel Giedroyc had to withdraw from the production, and though her replacement Anna-Jane Casey is a supple, energetic Goose – and blessed with vocal ability which Giedroyc likely couldn’t have matched – the lack of a third headline star leaves this as, essentially, a McKellan and Bishop two-hander (albeit with excellent back-up from a top-notch supporting cast).
There’s everything you’d want from a Mother Goose show here: audience interaction, innuendo, song and dance numbers (with some suitably left-field covers), pratfalls, pies to the face, sweets for the audience, a mass singalong, and a wedding or three. And, of course, the laying of a few painful-looking jumbo eggs! But the real strength of this pantomime lies in its refusal to rely on cheap (or even expensive) novelty gimmicks: this is not a panto boasting a 3D ogre, or a drone display, or scratch and sniff programmes. There are no Love Island stars to be seen! Instead, this Mother Goose relies on great performances, lots of jokes, solid pacing and buckets of heart and soul. There’s a vaudeville feel to the whole thing, like a blast from the past, but without feeling hackneyed or clichéd.
After its West End run, Mother Goose tours – visiting Chichester, Sheffield, Wolverhampton, Liverpool, Oxford, Dublin and Cardiff – until 1 April 2023. More Info Here.
I am Joint Editor at To Do List. I like: nice pubs, film marathons, not doing real marathons, bad comedy, plays/musicals with shorter second halves, and the Oxford comma.