Sunday, 22 January 2023

REVIEW: Mother Goose at the Duke of York's Theatre

This was my twenty-second pantomime of the 2022/23 season and you hope through the marathon set of visits to save the best to last. After six Jack and the Beanstalks, six Cinderellas, three Aladdins, two Goldilocks and three bears, a beauty and the beast, a sleeping beauty, and a Snow White, the second Mother Goose proved to be just that. What’s more, there are still ten venues to catch it again at until 16th April – so book now to see a real treat. 

Jonathan Harvey’s brilliant script does everything you want for a Pantomime, it makes sense of the Mother Goose Story, builds cleverly on the talents of the cast, and integrates the traditional Panto business into the tale so it makes a coherent whole. John Bishop tells the audience in his ten-minute warm-up before the curtain rises to forget what it's like outside and immerse themselves in the Panto experience and the whole cast works wonderfully together to make sure that happens.

Sir Ian McKellen is of course magnificent milking the Dame’s role with all his theatrical skill and experience, timing the physical and comedy business beautifully and never missing a chance for a well-judged grimace, or pause for a laugh. It is a master class in Pantomime Dame but always Ian Mckellen in drag. What’s more the script makes sense of the transformation from a caring foster mother figure to a menagerie of orphaned animals (all beautifully characterised and costumed) to a fame-seeking global star monster (with some witty pictures to open Act 2) and sends up McKellen wonderfully as in his trance like gaze at the Orcs. 

John Bishop as Vic, her husband, never veers from his Liverpudlian comic roots that we know and love especially when offered elocution lessons to improve himself. He builds an easy rapport with the audience (based on his years of stand-up experience) that keeps us smiling and laughing throughout His final leading of the songsheet “Sweet Caroline” is a joyous celebration of the shared experience. 

The adult innuendo and double entendres are delivered with a charm and wit that means everybody can enjoy them, not spoken with a withering disdain which reduces it to smuttiness. The political jokes are well judged and not overdone but a natural reflection on 2022 and generate plenty of roars of approval. 

Oscar Conlon-Morrey is a joy too. Using his musical theatre experience and comical personality wonderfully as Jack and breathing freshness and spontaneity into the traditional Panto baking business with Sir Ian and John and then the Ghost bench scene with Jill (Simbi Akande) and Ted (Gabriel Fleary). Cilla Quack (Anna-Jane Casey) also utilises her musical theatre experience well culminating in a wonderful show-stopping version of “Don’t rain on my parade”. The villainous Maligna (Karen Mavundukure) and enchanting Encanta (Sharon Ballard) perfectly embody the evil and good of Panto as well as delivering a number of excellent musical items including “River Deep, Mountain High” and “Love is not enough” with powerful voices.

The Ensemble is wonderful with Genevieve Nicole as Puss in Boots and Camilla, the Queen Consort, having great fun with both characters and Adam Brown impressing as Goat and the King of Gooseland and showing his understanding of how to play an audience, as he correctly points out “you would not get that from Julian Clary” (at the Palladium). The ensemble are enhanced throughout with a collection of beautifully made puppets including a dog, a parrot, a snail, a hedgehog, and a pig called Boris. They work together, taking it in turn centre stage and with some slick choreography from Lizzie Gee. Any one of them could play a principal in another pantomime next season. 

The Production brings a freshness to the genre, reinventing it for today but staying true to the traditions, it is laugh-out-loud funny, delivered with buckets full of energy (even from the 83-year-old Sir Ian) and a joyous celebration of the genre. While other shows trot out the same material, shoehorn in tired routines and ignore storylines to pander to the stars, this production shows them how to do Pantomime properly and if more followed suit paying attention to the script, integrating the business into it, and using the whole cast as an Ensemble then the regional audience would enjoy an ever-better Panto season in 2023/24.

In the meantime, don’t miss the chance to see this fabulous show as it tours the UK until 16th April when ticket prices will be so much more affordable than the inflated West End and making it a very good value evenings entertainment and confirming as it used to be that Pantomime (like those orphaned dogs) is not just for Christmas. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Stalls, Row F | Price of Ticket: £125
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