I think we’ve seen this production team before. Oh yes we have. They came to the Playhouse last year at pantomime time, director Joyce Branagh, together with writer Andrew Pollard and Keiran Buckeridge, who not only wrote the music for this year’s show but plays the part of Mother Goose as well.
Last December it was Dick Whittington who had a hard time of it while he fought his way to success and riches. This year it’s Billy Goose (Robert Rees), who has to overcome poverty and rejection as well as the intransigence and stupidity of his vain, arrogant and egocentric mother, these, of course, being required characteristics for all pantomime dames.
Last year at one point she wore a cathedral. This year the local references are rather more subtle. When the sun rises on the village of Codswallop there’s—can it be? yes it is—a distant spire, of course. The government’s proposed Stonehenge tunnel gets a mention, too, as does the recent resurfacing of Fisherton Street, while Fairy Flutter (Johanne Murdock) does her good fairy stuff, bless her, in a totally convincing Wiltshire accent.
The action begins outside the Gooses’ modest but picturesque cottage where Mother G is four months behind with the rent, due, it would seem, to her habit of spending every spare penny on bird food for her feathered friends. Eviction is imminent.
Her son Billy has other problems as well. He’s in love of course. Oh yes he is. With lovely Milly (Lucy Faint) daughter of Squire Dillydally (Howard Coggins) who doesn’t take too kindly to his only child hitching herself up to a—on the face of it—feckless and impoverished family such as that of Mrs G. Will they get together at last? It seems unlikely at the moment, almost as unlikely as Mrs G finding love with the squire. But then this is pantomime, so we shall see.
I can understand why we should have a scene at Stonehenge. Not quite so sure why they all needed to be transported to the Antarctic. But who’s worrying if it gives us that lovely colony of dancing penguins?
Pantomimes should always have children, shouldn’t they? Even if they also have to appear as little handmaidens to Fairy Flutter’s opposite number, the wonderfully sinister Demonica Badegg, played with much ominous cackling and waving of dark scarves by Ella Vale and being greeted by loud booing from the younger members of the audience (and quite a lot of the older ones).
Ah yes, the interaction with the audience. They’re not missing a trick, are they? The ‘Oh no he didn’t’s, the birthdays, the competitive singing from the drop-down sheet, the sharing of thoughts and opinions with the audience, it’s all there. And we love it.
But for real, unashamed stirring of the emotions, we have Priscilla (Lacy Jordinson), the Goose herself, the undoubted star of the show. And it’s not only those unlikely, dainty little entrechats performed from below a vast white downy body that make us love you. Just one questioning glance or one flick of a wing feather and we’re yours for ever.
(I just hope, if you’re planning to visit the Playhouse before Christmas, you’ve ordered turkey this year and not goose. OK. Don’t say I haven’t warned you. Oh yes I have!)
Reviewer: Anne Hill