Arts and Culture

Mother Goose review: An unlikely panto pairing

A thespian, a scouser, and Puss in Boots walk into the Lowry Theatre. It sounds like the start of a joke. Of course it is – it’s a pantomime tour of Mother Goose.

The story has a simple premise. Mother Goose runs a home for orphaned animals. Incredibly poor they’re about to lose everything, but a goose that lays golden eggs comes to their rescue.

Sir Ian McKellen takes star billing. After all the tour is an opportunity for the legendary thespian to tick off one more bucket list item. Delivering “The Quality of Mercy”, in drag, holding a Gucci handbag is of equal artistic significance as both Gandalf and Waiting for Godot. It would have once been unthinkable for an openly gay actor to perform such a role – and just one more performance to add to McKellen’s extensive credits.

In the true spirit of Pantomime, John Bishop embraces his weaknesses as an actor. The script makes frequent jabs about him not going to drama school, and his role in Doctor Who. Watching this you find a new-found respect for Bishop, he firmly embraces a form of comedy beyond being the professional Liverpudlian. Bishop plays up a stiff delivery while still being deeply involved in the traditions of pantomime.

McKellen and Bishop are the stars, but it is the supporting cast who steal the show. Be that Anna-Jane Casey as Goose. Or Genevieve Nicole’s lightly treasonous portrayal of Camilla, Queen Consort, in a raunchy rendition of Money, Money, Money.

However, the show is not without its faults. A few jokes fly quite close to the line of political correctness, but then that is in the nature of pantomime.

In general, the production quality of the pantomime is excellent. Group numbers are accomplished and to the standard of a West End musical. The set design is simple but clearly well thought out, and the costumes aid in the overall fantasy. However, a few stagehands made mad dashes across the stage and the appearance of golden eggs on occasion was less than seamless.

Due to the running length of the tour a few issues do arise. Pantomime at Easter somewhat breaks with tradition. As a result, the number, “All by my Elf”, flops. Likely it has been done since December 27th.

But that doesn’t mean the show hasn’t been updated since it first ran back in December last year. Beneath the double entendre, that I’m sure caused some interesting conversations on the way home for young families. There is a strong political undercurrent that played well with the Northern audience.

Alongside Karen Mavundukure as the evil fairy, Malignia and the great villain of ‘The Energy Company’m there are jabs at Partygate and Braverman. When you set your story in a former Debenhams store, there’s an instant left-wing appeal that surely flies better in the North than in Brighton and London where the tour began.

While I’ve never found Bishop particularly funny, he balances well with McKellen. Bishop makes an excellent comedic straight man, pun intended, for Mckellen to bounce his dame jokes and witticisms off of. Having come away from the show, I never knew that I’d need to see John Bishop hold Sir Ian McKellen’s plumply padded derriere, but there we go.

In general, the touring show of Mother Goose is a high-quality pantomime that hits the usual beats with bench gags and covers of well-known songs. But it’s also a testament to McKellen’s breadth of ability as an actor.

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