Mother Goose Cracks One Out

Jon Bradfield & Martin Hooper with songs by Jon Bradfield
Above the Stag Theatre
Above the Stag Theatre (Main House)
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This is Bradfield and Hooper’s tenth panto for Above the Stag and their first for the new theatre and as usual they have taken a familiar story and done something different with it.

It is a panto, so of course there is a Good Fairy (this one’s a feller called Dandelion) and a Wicked Witch (Mephista) and Dame Goose gets a Goose named Priscilla that lays golden eggs. The plot (coincidentally the same as that of all the musicals being performed next door in the studio) involves a landlord demanding overdue rent. There is a song sheet and plenty of chances to boo or shout back at the actors but this most certainly isn’t a show for the kiddiewinks' seasonal outing (no that’s not a pun, though it is a LBGT show), it is far too crudely explicit.

Being frequently filthy and totally tasteless is fine if you find that funny, though at times it takes its crudity too far without being witty. It perhaps isn’t trying to be shocking to be funny, rather that we are all part of the gang and can talk about anything, but it’s too juvenile, like saying “knickers” at playgroup. There is already such rapport with the audience here that you don’t need that.

This Mother Goose, effervescent Matthew Baldwin, runs a hairdressing salon / beauty parlour. She’s just back from a course on waxing and was so busy thinking about giving astrologer Russell Grant in the front row a Brazilian that she nearly cut a very funny haircutting sequence. (Did Russell know this was coming?) Fortunately, her handsome son Tommy (Liam Woodlands-Mooney) remembered. Tommy’s gay but his boyfriend Chester (Christian Andrews) hasn’t yet come out to his father, Goose’s landlord and owner of t’mill, who is blind to the fact that his ultra-camp son is a poofter. Not so his mother Dora, the Mayor (Ellen Butler). She has recently come out as a lesbian and is now planning Rugburn’s first Gay Pride.

Scott Dale’s cheery Welsh Dandelion in layered chiffon tutu gets the show going until Briony Rawle’s Mephista appears, wagering that she can corrupt oh-so-good Mother Goose. You can’t help feeling she is only pretending to be bad but the arrival of gold egg-layer Priscilla (a sparkling performance from Laura Blair) sees newly rich Mother Goose changing. She is no longer the kind soul who did haircuts for free for those without money.

Dandelion gets a place in the Goose household in an effort to sort things. Will he be successful? Does it help that he has fallen for Tommy? It is panto so you can guess the outcome. Not everyone has the ending they long for but the audience have a rollicking good time.

Designer David Shields provides another of his colourful settings making good use of the new stage’s depth with a revolve and edging the action back into fairy-tale by turning Rugburn’s northern mill into a windmill. There are colourful costumes by Robert Draper and Sandy Lloyd with Dandelion in a sparkling glass gilet and a glitter-full finale and not nearly enough of Carole Todd’s choreography.

Director Andrew Beckett has made this energetic company of old hands and newcomers into an ensemble that could have been working together for ages they are so well integrated, with Matthew Baldwin’s confident, easy-going Dame at their centre. You feel any one of them could handle the input from the audience that is part of the fun at this friendliest of theatres.

If this sounds like your thing, book rapidly: lots of performances are already sold out; if disappointed, you could book early for next year when the panto will be Pinocchio!

Howard Loxton