Mother Goose

Jonathan Harvey
Ambassador Theatre Group Productions, Gavin Kalin Productions, Hunter Arnold and more.
Sheffield Lyceum

Oscar Conlon-Morrey and Ian McKellen in Mother Goose Credit: Manuel Harlan
Anna-Jane Casey and Company in Mother Goose Credit: Manuel Harlan
John Bishop in Mother Goose Credit: Manuel Harlan

In most pantomimes, the Good Fairy and the Villain battle for control over the fate of a main character. In Mother Goose, known as ‘the Hamlet of the Dames’, it is the Dame who is the central character who dominates the action and is rarely offstage.

This is a wonderful vehicle for Ian McKellen and the long touring production lasting into April will travel the country like a ‘benefit performance’ drawing in huge audiences of McKellen enthusiasts who have followed his career for decades.

McKellen brings a lifetime of experience to his performance, calling on expertise honed in major theatre companies, the West End, in cinema and TV. I have not sat in a theatre audience that was so completely responsive to every nuance of an actor’s performance and gained so much pleasure from it.

McKellen’s dame is a tough old bird with a deep masculine voice, elegant and controlled movement, an armoury of facial expressions and a remarkable ability to control the audience through eye contact and extended pauses full of innuendo. The least flick of an eyelid prompts a response.

McKellen is surrounded by an exceptional cast in support roles. John Bishop brings his experience as a stand-up comedian to the role of Vic, husband of the dame, and shows how effective he is in reaching out to an audience from the moment he comes on as a warm-up artist to the many occasions when his comic timing enhances a joke.

Oscar Conlon-Morrey gives a strong, convincing performance as the dame’s son Jack and, like many others in the cast, has a powerful singing voice, and makes an important contribution to ensemble items. Anna-Jane Casey is delightful as Cilla the Goose, engages the audience’s sympathy when she is rejected by the dame and is outstanding as actor, singer and dancer.

Among the talented performers who make up the dame’s animal family, Genevieve Nicole makes the most of the opportunity to represent Camilla, impending Queen Consort, in a satirical sequence outside the Tower of London.

An interesting feature of the production is that it doesn’t duck opportunities to make satirical comments about the current political scene. This is a pleasing reminder of the satirical programmes of yesteryear and much needed at present. A pig with floppy blonde hair keeps trying to get out of a cupboard.

Set and costumes (Liz Ascroft) are many and various. The dame is resplendent in a Yeoman of the Guard outfit and busy making lightning changes throughout. The ensemble members are kitted out in representational costumes as the animals in the dame’s extended family, so animal spotting is part of the fun. Amongst the many and frequent set changes, it is good to see the nose of an aircraft (or is it a seagull?) emerging from the wings. Singing and choreography are dynamic and impressive.

This is essentially an adult pantomime, but there are some familiar items for children like the traditional ‘ghost behind the bench’ scene, messy cake making in the kitchen and children invited on stage. Much of the innuendo and the jokes will pass children by, but there is plenty to entertain the grown-ups, which is not unusual in pantomime.

Reviewer: Velda Harris

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