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Mother Goose review – goofy Ian McKellen rules a fluffy affair | panto season

IIf you’re just coming for Ian McKellen, you won’t be disappointed. He embodies the indomitable Caroline Goose with fiery aplomb. A vision in a frou-frou nightie, Beefeater dress and Maggie Thatcher handbag, he sings, dances, throws eggs at the audience and drops smiling double-means. He’s occasionally brought in to play Gandalf and briefly bursts into ‘mercy quality’ talk, which leaves us wishing for more.

Ian McKellen… leaves us wishing for more.
Ian McKellen… leaves us wishing for more. Photography: Manuel Harlan

But even with McKellen’s luminosity on stage, this pantomime feels ill-crafted and strained in its humor. John Bishop, playing Vic Goose opposite McKellen, tells us that he will grapple with the politics of the state of the nation. At first, it seems to do just that. The Gooses and their animal sanctuary are facing hardship amid a cost of living crisis, with energy bills they can’t afford to pay until a rescued goose starts laying eggs golden eggs.

There are mentions of Cruella Braverman, a pig in a school tie called Boris, a llama who identifies himself as a donkey, and a character representing the “energy company”. But the satire of Jonathan Harvey’s screenplay is flabby, and the political references not only lack bite but seem forgotten halfway through.

The production’s plot feels thrown together, its writing rambling and its characters blandly generic. The double meanings are thick and fast but all too familiar and unsurprising, from the “big sticks of rock” to the pun on “cockatoo”. Under Cal McCrystal’s direction, there’s an indiscipline to the action that seems to stem from a lack of cohesion and polish, even within the tumultuous confines of panto form.

The singing and dancing performances are strong, however, especially the powerful voices of the fairies, Encanta (Sharon Ballard) and Malignia (Karen Mavundukure). But the songs themselves are random pop hits from the 1980s and 90s that don’t always fit the story and have a dated club anthem sound, from Boom Shack-A-Lak to Right Said Fred.

Mighty pixie dust… Sharon Ballard and Karen Mavundukure.
Mighty pixie dust… Sharon Ballard and Karen Mavundukure. Photography: Manuel Harlan

Bishop and McKellen’s association also seems random. They’re both great performers, but there’s no natural chemistry between them and after a while the jokes about Bishop’s lack of acting training start to ring true.

The show ultimately relies too heavily on McKellen’s stage presence without working hard enough for his part to do justice to his wacky turn.

At Duke of York, London, December 15-January 29; then on tour in the UK and Ireland until April 1st.


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