‘Tis the season to panto and the Hackney Empire joins the festive fray with Clive Rowe’s (director and panto dame extraordinaire) production of Mother Goose. This is classic panto: beat by beat, it obeys the century-old formula whilst inserting its own take – with a groovy full band in the pit and one splendid and surprising costume (designed by Cleo Pettitt) after another. For fans of the ultimate British cheesy yuletide tradition, Mother Goose does the business. For about £40 for the best seats, you get a landmark musical setting (currently celebrating its 120th anniversary) and some equally landmark musical shenanigans. Almost purist in its adherence to the formula, this outing is colourful, cheerful and goofy. Rowe’s Mother Goose is core, but not peak, panto.
Perhaps not as knowing or droll as other London panto offerings, this production plays it pretty straight and pretty classically. There is no need to explain the plot because all shows in this genre follow the established structure. There are two key factors that distinguish a serviceable panto from a great one: (1) quality and spontaneity of performance; (2) topical, witty relevance. Mother Goose is a damn fine straight panto with all the right ingredients but it is not transcendent theatre and as long as you are at peace with its potential, there’s a helluva a good time to be had. This show is far more than serviceable – thanks in part to the gorgeous voice of Clive Rowe belting out power ballads with as much gusto as his comic sidekick, Billy Goose (Kat B) doles out the gags. However, Will Brenton’s script doesn’t do much more than move us through the vaudeville formula. But, as classic, Christmas, easy-viewing and ultra-trad panto, moving through the vaudeville formula is somewhat the point. Brenton devises – with the improv aid, no doubt, of Kat B and Tony Marshall as Squire Purchase – a superlative front-of-the-curtain shtick involving confectionary brands and puns. The bit is top-notch giggle-fodder with tight pacing that is encouraging this early in the run.
No one expects a Christmas panto to conform to the strictures of dramatic economy – but even in the bonkers world of panto script logic, Brenton and Clive could have found a somewhat more coherent through-line. Nonetheless, Clive’s voice is so killer that the ticket price is justified by his costumes and singing alone.
Rebecca Parker as the Demon Queen brings the right sort of villainous archetype to this archetypal telling, but there were some sound design (possible glitches) that need working out as the run takes off. The choice of songs is both funny and apt – and the cast have the vocal chops to sell them, but – for some reason – pace and audibility were a tad off. I suspect, however, these are teething pains that will not be noticeable after a few more performances.
Ultimately, Mother Goose is fun and essential panto – at E8 prices. Its production values are high but not West End standard – but bear in mind the cost of a ticket is also a ways off the West End. This is quality, professional, classic panto that avoids too many in-jokes or biting contemporary satire. Perhaps life is hard enough, as 2022 ends and 2023 begins, that ridicule is off the menu and escapism is the special of the day. Regardless, Mother Goose delivers funky sounds; mad, whimsical costumes; some great performances; and purist panto devices. Simple pleasures in complex times may just call for a goose and a gag.
Review by Mary Beer
What would you do if you found a magical goose who lays golden eggs?! That’s exactly what’s in store for Mother Goose and she soon discovers that this priceless talent isn’t all it’s CRACKED up to be!
Packed full of all of your favourite pantomime ingredients, this reimagining of the classic rags-to-riches tale is the perfect festive treat. Expect larger than life characters, gloriously outrageous costumes, incredible live music, uncontrollable laughter and loads of audience participation… oh yes, there definitely is.
Cast & Creative Team
Clive Rowe – Mother Goose
Gemma Wardle – Fairy Fame
Rebecca Parker – Demon Queen
Tony Marshall – Squire Purchase
Holly Mallett – Jill Purchase
Ope Sowande – Jack Goose
Kat B – Billy Goose
Ruth Lynch – Priscilla the Goose
Hollie Dorman – Ensemble
Tom Kalek – Ensemble
Elliott Lee – Ensemble
Imogen Opie – Ensemble
Marina Tavolieri – Ensemble
Adam Tench – Ensemble
Dawn Williams – Ensemble
Writer – Will Brenton
Director – Clive Rowe
Original Songs by – Steven Edis
Costume Designer – Cleo Pettitt
Musical Director – Orchestration and Arrangements – Renell Shaw
Choreographer – André Fabien Francis
Lighting Designer – David W Kidd
Sound Designer – Yvonne Gilbert
19 NOV – 31 DEC 2022