Mother Goose

Written and directed by Ray Spencer

Customs House, South Shields

(2002)

Review by Peter Lathan

There's only one way to judge the success of a pantomime, and that's by the reaction of the audience. No other considerations apply. It is the rapport which the cast establishes with the audience which is what makes or breaks a panto: anything else - star names, lavish set and costumes, special effects - are extras, which can, on occasion, actually get in the way of that essential relationship.

On this basis, Mother Goose is a great success. The first night audience loved it, from little kids to grannies (and even the occasional old hack!). There were the inevitable first-night mistakes, and it says a lot for the rapport which the "stars", Ray Spencer as Tommy and Bob Stott as Dame Dotty, have established over the years with South Shields audiences that they can draw attention to the mistakes (not that there were any which could be described as being major) and draw the audience in to a conspiracy of giggles over them. One feels, in fact, that, later in the run (58 more to go), they're going to have to invent some mistakes just to recreate that pleasure for the audience!

Spencer and Stott are true local stars: they have been playing comic and dame together for 25 years and the audience knows and loves them - their mannerisms, their relationship and (dare I say it without Ray Spencer banning me from the theatre?) even the jokes. There is a really relaxed family amosphere in the theatre for the Customs House panto - it is truly a community event in the proper sense of the phrase.

This year they have found a perfect evil foil in Dale Meeks, who plays the villainous Mephisto, and a real rarity, a good fairy (in this case, the Queen of Gooseland) who neither simpers nor patronises, in Cumbrian actress Jackie Fielding, who is positively the most hard-edged good fairy I have ever seen - and all the better for it.

There is really strong support from regulars Donald McBride (the RSC wouldn't recognise him in this guise - he is hilarious!) as Mayor Mare and Neil Armstrong as Vomit. Newcomers to the theatre's panto Victoria Hawkins (from NE kids' soap Byker Grove) and Graeme Kinniburgh complete a strong cast.

But what remains long after the curtain has come down is that feeling of being a part of the show, not just a member of an audience, and that sense the audience has that this is their panto.