Mother Goose

Written and directed by Kenneth Alan Taylor
Nottingham Playhouse
(2010)

If London is the perfect place to stage Dick Whittington, then Nottingham, with its historical goose fair, is the perfect place for Mother Goose. Kenneth Alan Taylor is back at the Playhouse for his 27th consecutive pantomime at the venue as he marks his 55th year in the business.

Poor Mother Goose will have to sell her beloved fairground if she can't raise the rent. Luckily for her, the Golden Fairy is on her side and when pet goose Priscilla starts to lay golden eggs galore, things seem to be on the up...

Although a title not produced that often, Mother Goose really is a tale for our time about the dangers of greed, vanity and selfishness. Alan Taylor's tale retains this moral well and teaches us all that beauty really is only skin-deep.

There is nothing like a Dame and John Elkington in the title role demonstrates that he is one of the best in the business, able to summon laughter with the raise of an eyebrow or a cheeky aside.

Mother Goose herself is often referred to as the Hamlet of Dame roles; she drives the narrative and is the principal character. A clear test of an actor's ability here is whether the audience see Mother Goose as a villain when she starts to reject her friends, having been affected by the golden eggs that she hoped would bring much happiness. Elkington pitches this perfectly and the audience boo as Mother Goose chillingly renounces her children and best friend Priscilla the Goose.

Priscilla, much like Daisy the Cow in Jack and the Beanstalk, is a pivotal character in Mother Goose and vital to the plot. It takes great skill to pull her off effectively and Nicole Webb does a sterling job, much helped by her beautiful costume.

Dispensing with the traditional cage style costume, this skin role leaves much skin uncovered -Webb's entire face in fact, which means that each and every one of Priscilla's expressions can be seen. Priscilla is just one of the many wonderful costumes created by Tim Meacock, who also designed the stunning set.

If glitter is in short supply this festive period, it is because Meacock has coated his set in the sparkly stuff. His delightful designs, full of bold colours, burst with energy as they emerge scene after scene. Extremely detailed and beautiful works of art in themselves, his fairground and witch's lair are perfect examples of what scenographic design should be, but my personal favourite has to be his charmingly spiffing Hotel de Posh.

Looking as if straight out of Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend, Mother Goose's holiday retreat, the Hotel de Posh, harks back to an era of flappers and tea on the veranda. However, afternoon tea is not such a good idea when Mother Goose is around. This Act Two opener provides the glorious setting for a rib-tickling tea-party, complete with scones and cream cakes, much helped by the wonderful Laurel and Hardyesque comedy duo of Anthony Hoggard and Jonathan Race as Squire Squelch and Evil Eric. Although how no-one gets scalded I'll never know.

Mother Goose is truly an ensemble piece with each and every performer a 'triple threat'. Miriam Elwell-Sutton makes an admirable thigh-slapping Principal Boy and Danielle Corlass as Rosemary knows how to make her Principal Girl sweet, but not sickly.

Adam Barlow as children's favourite Billy Goose bounds about the stage with bucket loads of energy and Rebecca Little and Alexandra James as the Golden Fairy and Wicked Witch Bane know how to summon boos and cheers without the need for any magic.

Musical director John Morton has chosen a wide range of numbers and his mash-ups go down a treat, complimented by some witty choreography courtesy of Adele Parry.

Interestingly, this pantomime is divided into three acts, and, although a blessing for those who long for an extra toilet break, two intervals do seem to stall the production somewhat. There is also a rather long frontcloth piece of comic business about the worth of a shilling, and a procession of fairytale characters, which, although Augustus Harris, a man known for his love of processions, would have approved of, appeared superfluous and an obvious filler for a not-so-quick costume change.

Alan Taylor has created yet another wonderful pantomime that will keep traditionalists happy and youngsters engaged from the infectious overture right up until the sumptuous finale, which shines in all its glory like the top of the Chrysler building.

Playing until 22nd January 2011.

Reviewer: Simon Sladen