Mother Goose - Duke of York's Theatre

Cal McCrystal’s Mother Goose is a self-described silly, fun show with an underlying commentary of failed economic policies that live up to that promise. The cast are clearly having the time of their lives onstage, but there is an inherent clumsiness to the plot that often extends to the jokes themselves – making it difficult to fully become lost and enjoy the story. Mother Goose is a fine show, but apart from the casting choices, there isn't anything particularly special about it.

There is a joy that radiates from McKellen’s every expression, movement and word

Facing eviction by the energy company from the Debenhams-turned-animal-shelter where they live, Mother Goose (Ian McKellen), Vic Goose (John Bishop) and Jack (Oscar Conlon-Morrey) are gifted Cilla (Anna-Jane Casey), a goose that lays golden eggs. As the Goose family’s riches increase, Mother Goose is forced to choose between her loved ones and fame. Containing every pantomime trope from ‘it’s behind you’, booing the villain, euphemisms and jokes about current events and stereotypes, this show is a high-energy producer of joy in spite of the way the plot falls apart in Act 2 and the mishandling of sensitive topics in its humour.

It's a typical pantomime. The costumes and sets are quaint and cartoonish, the songs are a mixture of musical and pop music and the jokes are taken from events that happened over the past year. But that's the issue; Mother Goose doesn't set itself apart from just about any other pantomime that was running last December, apart from its casting choice. And although there is a kind of schadenfreude laughing at a pig puppet of Boris Johnson looking for a party, all of it is just shoe-horned in with little sensitivity, particularly in the decision to make jokes about gender identity (equating it to a lama wanting to be a donkey) and sexual assault. And it's not just political correctness, dark humour that tiptoes the line between offensive and funny can make for some of the best comedy. Book of Mormon is an example of this tightrope walk. In this particular instance, the jokes in question fell right out of funny and straight into insensitive.

It is a good sign that even after all of this time, the cast break character to laugh at each other’s antics, a frequent occurrence that is indicative of the silly fun that Bishop promises us at the start. There is a joy that radiates from McKellen’s every expression, movement and word. It’s this joy, cheekiness and ability to laugh at himself that makes McKellen's performance in Mother Goose surpass the traditional role of the pantomime dame; whether it’s with a cheeky euphemism, a reference to his previous work from Lord of the Rings, or a performance of Portia’s ‘the quality of mercy’ monologue from The Merchant of Venice. This is my absolute favourite part of Mother Goose, as McKellen weighs each word carefully, lacing it with such emotion and gravitas that it creates a hush in the auditorium that nobody would dare make a sound in case it would break the enchantment that McKellen’s casts over us in that moment. Bishop and McKellen are like two peas in a pod; they possess an ability to play off of each other that appears second nature. Bishop's jokes at the start of the pantomime and his subsequent fourth wall breaks, as the show progresses, play to the audience well in that they are clever and memorable, to the point where I am still turning them over in my mind and laughing to myself.

Like a lot of pantomimes, Mother Goose is a patchwork quilt of jokes that end up becoming repetitive and problematic, not only because of the subject itself but on occasion the delivery as well. That being said, there are incredibly memorable moments that I can hardly believe without pinching myself that I had the opportunity and luck to see live.

Reviews by Katerina Partolina Schwartz

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The Blurb

The West End is flocking to see Ian McKellen, John Bishop as they join forces to bring you a hilarious family-friendly panto. MOTHER GOOSE is the ultimate theatrical feast - full of fun, farce and surprises that will make you honk out loud. Meet Mother Goose (McKellen) and her husband Vic (Bishop). They live a wholesome life, but when a magical goose (Giedroyc) comes a-knocking, will fame & fortune get the better of them?! Get ready for fairies with hefty vocal chords, puppets with tap dance qualifications and impeckably constructed mayhem that will quack up the whole family. From the imaginations of Jonathan Harvey (Coronation Street, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme) and Cal McCrystal (‘Britain’s funniest director’ Guardian) comes the MOTHER of all pantos – so don’t be a goose. Book your tickets today and get ready for take-off!  

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