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Mother Goose

Jonathan Harvey

Ambassador Theatre Group

Lyric Theatre, Lowry, Salford April 5-9, 2023; 2hr 25min

John Bishop (Vic), Anna-Jane Casey (Cilla), Ian McKellen (Mother Goose) and the company of Mother Goose. All pics: Manuel Harlan
John Bishop (Vic), Anna-Jane Casey (Cilla), Ian McKellen (Mother Goose) and the company of Mother Goose. All pics: Manuel Harlan

After four months on the road across the UK and Ireland, you might be forgiven for assuming a panto at Easter would be starting to feel tired and stale.

Not so Mother Goose - though this is no ordinary panto. This is a no-expense-spared joy of a show, put together by some of the best creatives around and with a cast led by a legendary actor who also happens to be a national treasure. On paper this should be brilliant. In reality it’s better.

Perhaps it is the novelty of pantomime in April, but it certainly helps that the Salford audience takes its seats anticipating something special and ready to have a wonderful time.

The show starts with a direct address from the stage by comic John Bishop. The speech, verging on stand-up routine, is designed to reassure those in the Lowry’s Lyric Theatre that Sir Ian McKellen is alive and to explain what to expect. Everyone instantly relaxes and the fun begins.

At Mother Goose’s Animal Sanctuary for Waifs and Strays, all is not well. The abandoned Debenhams store has been transformed into a zoo for orphaned critters. All life is here: from a Scottish Monkey (Mairi Barclay) to a Penguin nun (Becca Francis), plus a hilariously deadpan and ever-so-slightly horny Bat (Richard Leeming).

The animals might be happy, but the bills from the energy company (boo, hiss) are piling up. Mother Goose (Ian McKellen) also harbours dreams of fame and fortune.

Enter a menopausal goose with extraordinary pipes (Anna-Jane Casey) sent crashing to earth from Gooseland by two competing fairies. Will her golden eggs lay the groundwork for a happy ending, or cause a few cracks to emerge between Mother Goose and her adoring husband Vic (Bishop)?

Legendary stage and small screen writer Jonathan Harvey has packed Mother Goose full of glorious, groan worthy puns. He doesn’t stray from political and social commentary but in his trademark natural style, this never feels forced.

There are plenty of the requisite, silly set-pieces, of course. Under direction from physical theatre master Cal McCrystal, they feel extra special. The opening of Act Two, whisking us from the Oscars to the World Cup and London Fashion Week, is particularly special.

Liz Ascroft’s costumes are breathtaking, Lizzi Gee has choreographed some fabulous song and dance numbers and Christopher Barlow’s puppets add an extra dimension.

But perhaps unsurprisingly, it is the acting that really stands out. McKellen has the dame mannerisms down to a tee, but he also switches effortlessly to deeply moving pathos. There are moments for both fans of Lord of the Rings and The Merchant of Venice.

It isn’t just McKellen who channels the Bard though. Someone cast John Bishop in a Shakespeare play ASAP!

They are supported by a brilliantly-talented ensemble that can act, sing, dance, make you laugh and make you cry.

Special mention to Casey, who nearly steals the show with her Streisand moment, and Genevieve Nicole as a gin-swilling, ABBA-loving, castanet-playing Queen Consort Camilla.

Mother Goose has every element you want in a panto, but each and every part is elevated to another, more special, level.

An eggcellent treat – any time of the year.

Info and tickets here.



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