Tucked in the western corner of Tower Hamlets, Wilton’s is one of London’s few remaining music halls that were built during the mid-19th Century's boom and survived to decline until this day. The battered but nonetheless gorgeous decor suggests a rocky past, where Wilton’s served as a soup kitchen and as a rug storage, before being enlisted for demolition in the 1960s. Thankfully, it was saved by a public campaign and its doors finally reopened to the public in 1997.
Following last year’s glorious pantomime debut with Dick Whittington & His Cat, the producing venue proposes for 2016 an original version of the classic Mother Goose, written by comedy genius and President of the British Music Hall Society Roy Hudd. Also present on stage in the role of Mother Goose, Hudd delivers a charismatic performance, loaded with eggsilarating puns – allow me this – and references to politics and society. His vivid gaze and kindly touch are more credible as a maternal figure than vanity-driven hag but, under his effortless guidance, the show sails smoothly towards its happy ending.
Mother Goose is a generous elderly dame, whose home is always open to whoever is in need, despite a precarious financial condition. To praise her goodwill, Virtue (Julia Sutton) decides to gift her with a special goose, named Priscilla (Maria Askew), who has the wonderful power of laying golden eggs. Thanks to these eggs, Mother Goose can finally settle the rent with the greedy Squire Stingy (Ian Parkin) and organise a glamorous ball for the entire village. But Vanity (Gareth Davies) gets in the way and persuades the gullible woman to undertake a miraculous rejuvenating treatment, in exchange for the ownership of Priscilla. With the help of her son Willy (Ian Jones) and his girlfriend Jill (Amelia Rose Morgan), Mother Goose manages to retrieve the precious bird and learns that beauty is, first of all, an inner quality.
All cast members impeccably fit their characters, as confirmed by director Debbie Flitcroft’s confession that lots of effort has been put into the audition process. The result is a close-knit team, where there are plenty of opportunities for the individuals to highlight their skills – being these Gareth Davies’ and Amelia Rose Morgan’s stunning vocals or Ian Jones’ stand-up prowess. In a memorable two-hander, Roy Hudd and Ian Jones are stood face-to-face, looking at what appears to be a giant mirror, and replicate each other’s movements to perfection.
The ensemble reaches an impressive level of coordination in Steven Hardcastle’s elaborate choreography and every corner of the cosy set (designed by Mark Hinton) is in use. Kids and adults always seem to know their position exactly and from my seat I can see that they keep each other in mind at all times.
The most interesting surprise, however, comes at the end of the first act with the choice of costumes – courtesy of Paula Patterson and London Palladium’s resident Tony Priestley – which mutate within minutes from grand ball to burlesque and terminate in bondage. This is panto’s typical sexual innuendo translated into visuals and the public welcomes it warmly.
Wilton’s Music Hall’s Mother Goose provides a brilliant evening out and the level of engagement is high on both sides. With respect for the tradition, the fourth wall gets smashed from the very first scene, with the appearance on stage of the little Christmas Fairy (Mira Cigman Callor), who speaks directly to the public. The cleverly written jokes cater for a public of all ages and the bubbly cast replaces with a solid and multifaceted talent the presence of special effects. If that wasn’t enough, the finale where some kids from the public are invited to join Mother Goose on stage is heart-warming and the cutest conclusion for a festive treat.
Review by Marianna Meloni