Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
Once in a blue moon, Pantoland receives the rare chance to experience the tale of Mother Goose. This year, the planets align and the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury plays host to the Hamlet of the Dames with regular cross-dressed damsel in a dress Ben Roddy celebrating his Dame decade at the venue.
A tale of golden eggs, quests for beauty and learning to love each other for whom and what we are, Mother Goose is the only pantomime to place the Dame centre-stage. And what better way to mark Roddy’s indictment into the Hall of Dame than with this gift of a role?
Roddy is a superb Dame, putting clowning at the fore whilst embracing the importance of character. Whether ad-libbing with the audience, delivering comedy patter or entertaining through his excellent physicality, he has the audience in the palm of his hand.
Mother Goose is the most difficult of all Dame roles as it calls for a completely rounded character. Beloved at the start to hated when rich and arrogant, Roddy encapsulates this well, particularly pulling on the heartstrings when waving goodbye to Mother Goose’s beloved golden-egg-laying goose.
In the role of the Magical Goose, Kaylee Morley is an expert skin performer who demonstrates the importance of training and experience to evoke emotion for a character integral to the plot. Imprisoned inside an eight-foot costume, Morley effortlessly brings the goose to life, prompting heartfelt cries when Mother Goose signs a contract with Demon Vanity to trade her in return for beauty.
A pantomime with a strong moral requires strong polarisation of good versus evil as Fairy Goodfeather and Demon Vanity battle it out using Mother Goose as their pawn. In the role of Vanity, Marc Pickering proves himself one of Pantoland’s finest, blending Alan Carr with Alan Partridge to create a dastardly Demon who loves nothing more than his own reflection.
One of the show’s finest moments is when Vanity and Mother Goose come face to face in a classic Mirror Sequence, echoing each other’s movements with extra comedic value arising from Roddy cross-dressed as Mother Goose cross-dressed as Demon Vanity. This sublime absurdity is the stuff panto dreams are made on.
The annual Ghost Gag bench makes an appearance, as does the now legendary Cart of Puns joined by more recent catchphrase “It’s the Law” all contributing to Canterbury's pantomime tradition. This year’s show also enjoys a new slapstick scene as the Beautimatic 3000 complete with buffer-puffer and mover-shaker attempts to transform Mother Goose into a new woman without frizzing her hair.
But for all the show’s content, not forgetting the Globe of Death complete with three rip-roaring, revving motorbikes, there does appear to be something missing. Pantomimes thrive off the intersection of two key narrative lines: those of quest and romance. Whilst "All You Need Is Love" concludes the show, not an ounce of romance is afforded to the characters with Mother Goose’s three identical triplet children, along with Matt Devitt's Squire Squashem, all helping to save the day.
With such a strong brood, this leaves the roles of Comic, Principal Boy and Principal Girl somewhat diluted as if the dialogue could be split either way having been shared equally. Lloyd Hollett, Dr Ranj and Trina Hill are all excellent performers as Billy, Charlie and Jill Goose, but with very little differentiation between the three characters, it leaves one wondering whether less might be more.
Characterisation and narrative integrity are key to any pantomime and, whilst we might forgive Fairy Goodfeather's opening rhyming couplets and hip-flask-swigging closely echoing those of last year's Fairy Godmother, it is more difficult to accept that the Benevolent Agent would support Mother Goose’s decision to bathe in the Magic Pool, knowing that the outcome could lead to her downfall. Whilst this affords Jenna Russell the opportunity to display her excellent voice through a rousing transformation sequence, surely Vanity should be bathing in his glory thinking he’s won the bet?
As ever, the Marlowe Theatre’s band under the musical direction of Chris Wong ensures everyone is up on their feet by the show’s triumphant conclusion and after a quarter of a century at the helm and 13,500 renditions of "Ghostbusters", he is finally rewarded with his first speaking role.
A little scrambled in places, Mother Goose is a hentertaining evening full of eggs factor and yolks galore.
Reviewer: Simon Sladen