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  • Writer's picturePaul Gainey

Mother Goose, Bristol Hippodrome

It’s not often that a panto bags a true A-lister, but this joyous production of Mother Goose at the Bristol Hippodrome has nailed it with none other than Sir Ian McKellen starring as its Dame.

Add impressive production creds in the form of Coronation Street and Gimme, Gimme, Gimme writer Johnathan Harvey and director Cal McCrystal (The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Wonka, Paddington and Paddington 2), and comedy chops from comedian John Bishop and it’s a winning formula.

So much so that it’s transcended the festive season.

Caroline (McKellen) and her husband Vic (Bishop) live a poor but happy life caring for ‘waifs and strays’ in the abandoned Debenhams on Oxford Street, threatened with eviction from the looming Energy Company.

Their fortunes change when Cilla Quack, a menopausal goose sporting orange crocs (played by musical theatre stalwart Anna Jane-Casey), lays golden eggs, but it’s not enough for Caroline who wants nothing more than to be famous.

It’s your classic morality tale that fame and fortune can’t buy happiness – although, that being said, it can buy a very impressive wardrobe.

The costumes are fantastic, especially in the transformation routine at the start of Act II which sees Caroline go through several outfit changes to attend the Wold Cup, Oscars and London Fashion Week (look out for the Lady Gaga Met Gala-esque number, it’s a real showstopper).

The script has been written for McKellen, riddled with references to his life and on-stage/screen history (‘Orcs. ORCS!’ he cried to the upper circle at several points), and the show’s worth watching purely for his two minute Merchant of Venice monologue that would hush the most animated of audiences. A masterclass in acting.

As you’d expect, filth and innuendo are also in overdrive – ‘I’m fond of a cockatoo’ and a wink from McKellen caused absolute uproar – and at points cut it a little fine for a family show. Pop culture and political references were also nailed in the first half – the Energy Company antagonist, a snip at Liz Truss, a hilarious Boris Johnson pig puppet – but seemed a little forgotten as the plot turned more fantastical in the second half.

John Bishop was also decent in the role of Vic, and instead of trying to reel out an Oscar-winning performance, was aware of his supporting role to McKellen acting, well, as John Bishop – a charming, northern funnyman – even coming on at the start as ‘himself’ to preface the show. It was just what the role called for.

Special mention must also be given to Oscar Conlon-Morrey who stars as Jack, Caroline and Vic’s dimwitted but endearing son who’s physical comedy in the cake scene (above) was one of the funniest moments in the show, resulting in him rubbing grease onto McKellen’s padded bum.

Conlon-Morrey and McKellen had great chemistry on stage and you could tell that the younger actor was still awestruck by the 83 year old’s vitality and skill even after several weeks performing together.

The song and dance performances are strong, especially the powerhouse voices of fairies, Encanta (Sharon Ballard) and Malignia (Karen Mavundukure). But the songs themselves are random 1980s and 90s pop hits that do not always chime with the story and have a dated club anthem sound, from Boom Shack-A-Lak to Right Said Fred.

Karen Mavundukure’s characterisation of the evil fairy Malignia was brilliant – it was a shame she only starred in one of the musical numbers as her vocals were goosebump inducing.

I enjoyed the show – whilst the narrative became a little random in the second half, the presence of McKellen made the whole farce seem more elevated, plus the costume, set design and physical comedy were definitely a cut above and carefully thought through.

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