Sir Ian McKellen has done it all, from Shakespeare to superhero blockbuster to even Coronation Street; he’s even done pantomime before, but not like this. McKellen’s Mother Goose has been in so much demand that it’s been on tour well past the usual panto season, all the way into April.
The story is your usual panto fairytale, told through the prism of writer Jonathan Harvey: creator of late-90s sitcom Gimme Gimme Gimme and longstanding Coronation Street writer. In Harvey’s version the Goose’s animal sanctuary, housed in a disused Debenhams store, is facing the cost of living crisis; a pair of fairies make a bet whether wealth, in the form of the golden egg-laying goose, will change them.
I never really liked pantos, even at panto-liking age, so 10 minutes in – when audience members were implored to shout “hi Jack!” whenever a character said “hi gang!” – I wondered what I was doing there, in March. The obvious reason is the presence of a knight of the theatrical realm: Hamlet, not to mention Gandalf and Magneto, himself.
It’s certainly McKellen’s show (Mother Goose’s other star name, John Bishop, having pulled out of the tour after the death of his mother last week): the 83-year-old is onstage for most of it, his panto dame firmly in the Les Dawson school of drag, all northern humour and double entendres. Many of the best laughs come from the knowing nods to Gandalf and a reference to Sir Derek Jacobi – and yet, in this very silly show, when McKellen breaks into a Shakespeare speech while resembling 70s Labour MP Barbara Castle, he commands a silent and transfixed theatre.
He’s surrounded by a fine cast, too: some with gorgeous voices, not least Anna-Jane Casey as Cilla Quack the goose. Last seen in Cabaret in the West End, Casey has golden vocal strings to match her eggs: her Don’t Rain On My Parade is a highlight. Oscar Conlon-Morrey, playing Cilla’s son Jack, also has a beautiful singing voice; his duet with McKellen, doing his best Ethel Merman on the Irving Berlin song You’re Just In Love, is rather sweet.
Mother Goose is more trad a panto than I for one expected. Some jokes are filthy, some will make you groan, some are political (Camilla Parker Bowles and a pig puppet portraying Boris Johnson sing Abba’s Money, Money, Money). The humour is predominantly the old-school British type, and where it is more contemporary in feel it lacks bite. If you’re going to see a panto, you’ll be satisfied, and if you want to witness Gandalf in an orange gown, pretending to be at Fashion Week singing Right Said Fred’s I’m Too Sexy, you’ll be more than satisfied.
Mother Goose, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Tue 28 Mar
On until Sat 1 Apr. Tickets: £18-£86. Info: here
words CHRIS WILLIAMS
Want more stage?
The latest reviews, interviews, previews and features, from Wales and beyond.