Rich with the insight that children love sparkles and extravagant costuming as much as they need reassuring stories, the first ‘Drag Queen Story Hour’ premiered at the San Francisco Public Library about five years ago. It took off like wildfire and today the programme has more than 21 chapters in the US along with Sweden and Japan. A variation of the Drag Queen Story Hour format also successfully launched here in the UK about two years ago and is so beloved by youngsters that it will even be part of the Royal Opera House’s family workshop programme during London Pride.
But seeing as this is the land of Shakespeare (who is credited with coining the term ‘drag’ after all!) where knights of the realm are as revered for their Widows Twankey as much as for their Hamlets, surely the moment is ripe for taking a whole infinitely more spectacular, more fabulous, more performative approach to the now-established and beloved experience of sequined snuggly seated children’s book reading? Oh if only someone would bring the highest production values and proper triple-threat trouping to deliver an especially theatrical blend of fanciful magic, high camp and kind-hearted soul-affirming stories?
Well, the wait is over! Meet Mama G (short and funky for Mother Goose) and her one-woman, two-act, fully theatrical extravaganza. With residency in Kentish Town’s Lion & Unicorn Theatre and several other London engagements before touring various festivals around the country, a feast of hard-working show-biz glamour is here to enchant children and deliver grown-ups some much-needed reassurance and escapism for themselves.
Having attended much children’s theatre as well as ‘relaxed’ performances of other shows, Mama G’s Storytime Roadshow manages to top the charts as one of the better experiences of both. The message is clear: relax and love yourself, be proud of who you are and kind to others. But this is no lecture. Rather, it’s a glorious sort of incantation leaving both adults and children spellbound. My seven-year-old co-critics seemed to have embraced the permission to be themselves instantly as I found them adopting unorthodox seating positions and full engagement with audience participation – and that was just fine. I found myself on more than one occasion misty-eyed with just the sheer goodness of it all – nothing was cloying; it comes from an authentic place and I saw that connection in the eyes of the children.
Mama G describes herself as a ‘pantomime dame’ but the show isn’t a panto. There is far less double-entendre than you would have experienced in, for example, Julian Clary’s and Dawn French’s Snow White last Christmas at the Palladium. Mama G mercifully avoids some of the traditional ribald ‘working-on-two-level’ bon mots designed to please the adults; rather, she is ultra-inclusive and brings everyone into each moment (even if the odd reference might whizz past the kids). There are some silly throwback gags about 80s pop songs for the grown-ups, but it doesn’t matter. My children informed me they ‘understood everything’ (in a good way). It seems very much part of Mama G’s spirit that she wouldn’t want to divide anyone – because stories are for all of us.
All the songs are impressively sung live (not lip-synced) and the action moves from monologue to movement to anthem to puppets to stand-up to, yes, even a sort of family-friendly twerking moment. The effect is one of great visual variety and strong pacing with director Amée Smith’s contribution evident and pleasing.
When I asked my kids how they’d describe it, they said ‘amazing’. When I asked them how it made them feel, they said, ‘happy’. When I asked them who they thought might like it, they said: ‘everybody!’
So when I asked them how many stars I should give it, they said: ‘five!’ Who am I to argue? This show can be as ‘woke’ or as proud as you want it to be or not at all because it’s so much fun. Fundamentally, as the children and Mama G will teach us: kindness, acceptance (and, of course, unicorns who can fart glitter) are for everyone!
Review by Mary Beer
Mama G’s Story Time Roadshow combines pantomime, drag and the traditional art of storytelling and is a fabulous mix of stories, songs and audience participation.
All the stories told by Mama G are written by Robert Pearce and audiences will get to meet a whole host of fabulous characters: confused unicorns, feuding fairies, champion twerkers and of course… Oprah. There’ll be audience participation, puppets and even a twerking competition – so get practicing!
PERFORMED AND WRITTEN BY
Robert Pearce (The Glenn Miller Story with Tommy Steele, Honk! Rainbow Live!)
Amée Smith (Amused Moose Comedy, The Swell Mob)
Lion and Unicorn Theatre
May 21 st – 26 th 2019
42-44 Gaisford Street
London, NW5 2ED