With Sir Ian McKellen in town to lead a lively cast in pantomime favourite, Mother Goose, James Davies reflects on whether a March pantomime with a contemporary twist can really hit the spot.
Opening night in a new venue is always a stressful performance, even more so when a lead role is (understandably) unable to perform. The press performance of Mother Goose at the Wales Millennium Centre saw Gabriel Fleary step into the role of Vic Goose with incredible passion and drive. It has been some twenty years since I last went to a pantomime and the performance sadly did not encourage me to return. It’s reasonable to expect a little political satire and risqué humour, perhaps even with the occasional bit of smut thrown in for good measure, but jokes about characters recently coming off ‘a register’, as well as references to ‘two consecutive failed Tory governments’ and the cost of living crisis, feel a little uncomfortable in what is intended to be a family pantomime.
Mother Goose starts in an abandoned Debenhams store where we find the Goose Family living with their adopted menagerie of misfit characters ranging from a Scottish monkey (who later divulges about her mother being used for makeup testing in a factory!) to a socially awkward bat. Enter Jack Goose (Oscar Conlan-Morrey) who was able to capture perfectly that charming combination of naivety and stupidity needed by the comic lead. Morrey prepares the audience and give a climactic welcome to the star Sir Ian McKellen bedecked with Edna Sharples curlers and Maggie Thatcher handbag. It is at this point we are introduced to the saviour of the Goose Family, Cilla Quack (Anna-Jane Cassey) who proceeds to lay her golden eggs and frees them all from the tyranny of the ‘Energy Company’ who are holding the family to ransom over unpaid energy bills. During the family’s rise from rags to riches nothing was, unfortunately, left to the audiences imagination as the first half concludes with the sight of Mother Goose stripping to the waist to bathe in the magical pool in the woods.
But the highlight of Mother Goose was the amazing rendition of ‘Dont rain on my parade’ by Cilla Quack. It exuded passion and energy and demonstrated an amazing vocal virtuosity hitherto unheard in this production. The second half attained further heights as the audience were treated to McKellen’s rendition of the ‘Quality of Mercy’ dialogue (Merchant of Venice) delivered still in his northern Mother Goose persona. The flexibility and skill he demonstrated going from slapstick pantomime acting to Shakespeare was second to none, or so it seemed, until Fleary further treated the audience to a heartfelt rendition of ‘Sonnet 18’ (Shall I compare thee to a summers day?).
Anyone who came for the sole purpose of watching Sir Ian McKellen, won’t have been disappointed. His command of the stage was obvious from the moment he walked out. McKellen’s timing with his co-stars, but in particular Fleary and Conlan-Morrey, really did leave the audience in hysterics, in particular during a mildly amusing baking scene. Sadly, even the brightness of McKellen’s star did seem rather jaded by the end, hardly surprising as most 83 year olds would likely have retired to their beds by that point in the evening.
It is such a shame that the performance as a whole culminated in what felt like a mishmash of ill fitting songs and silly rhetoric, which didn’t permit the cast’s very fine performers to show off to their full potential. Will I be hurrying back to see another another pantomime? Oh no I wont!
Mother Goose runs at the Wales Millennium Centre until April 1st, ticket information is available here.