Review: Mother Goose by Hackney Empire Theatre

I love panto. I know that may not be a culturally-correct view, but I stand by how I feel. Due, in part, to an appreciation of commedia dell’arte, from which it is descended, but also for a very happy decade as a DSM, where calling panto is the most fun, and frantic time of the year, despite having to do three shows on Boxing Day. So it was with great anticipation that I went to Hackney Empire to see their latest festive offering Mother Goose.

Mother Goose was the first panto I ever did … a tacky one-week-rehearsal, two-week-run affair at the Watersmeet Theatre in Rickmansworth back in 198*cough*, with Shane Richie (who was at the time a complete unknown) … and I’ve never done (or seen) it since. I had, however, listened to rehearsals in the room next door to our office, for four weeks, and brushed shoulders with the cast whenever I ventured into the kitchen, so I felt a small affinity with the production, although that didn’t colour my judgement. If anything I was predisposed to never want to hear some of those songs again. So this is not, in any way, a biased review.

It was great! I’ve called many pantos which are so peppered with turns or, even worse, ‘celebrities’ doing their acts that the story all but disappears, that a panto with no divas insisting on another five minutes of solo stage time, and a thumping good story, was wonderfully refreshing. Clive Rowe, who is something of a local celebrity as he plays Dame almost every year in Hackney, is perfect in his larger-than-life personality, fantastic singing voice and impeccable comic timing. Sharon D Clarke as the soul-singing good witch, Charity (in my day, she would have been a fairy) dispensed benevolence and ballads in equal measure, and Kat B as Billy Goose was charismatic and likeable. Tony Timberlake as Baron Barmy gave a standout performance as the villainous sidekick who also provides comic love interest for the Dame, and Matt Dempsey as the self-obsessed Prince Jack captured beautifully the upper-class character’s comic attempts to fit-in with the ‘peasants’.

It’s practically obligatory this year to include Pharrell Williams’ Happy and Disney’s Let It Go and there can’t be many pantos in which these songs don’t feature. I thought I would never want to hear them again after four weeks of rehearsals, but Happy was the clap-along showstopper, reprised for the finale, and I happily clapped along with the rest of the audience, and also enjoyed Susie McKenna’s delivery of Let It Go, as the bad witch, Vanity.

A few gripes, which I have to mention:
A panto isn’t magical without pyros, and there were sadly very few. In my day, the good fairy and baddy got a silver or green (depending on the character) pyro for every entrance and it just doesn’t work as well when they casually walk onstage.  But they did preserve the Stage Right / Stage Left tradition, as well as maintaining rhyming couplets throughout their dialogue, which was great!

There were also none of the classic routines, apart from a couple of watered-down attempts at the ghost gag by the Dame, once with Priscilla the magic goose, and once with an impressive towering evil vulture in the haunted forest. Both times they were somewhat perfunctory, only involving the Dame and a couple of “it’s behind you”s, and not the whole set-up and pay-off where two other characters are frightened offstage until, when it comes to the Dame’s turn, it’s the ghost (or equivalent) who runs off screaming. However, I forgave the lack of slosh scene, as there was a similar routine involving the smashing of many plates, which was just a slick and funny.

The other significant gap was the Dame’s quick changes and, while it’s not expected that every costume change will be unbelievably fast, the transformation scene’s wonder relies on this as Mother Goose magically changes in a split second from kindly-but-ugly old woman into beautiful-but-selfish girl. Instead, she disappeared offstage for all of five minutes, while the onstage characters filled-in the gap.

Not good enough!

My last gripe was that the panto was too long. At two hours forty minutes, the first half running an hour and a half, it’s too much for kids and could have been cut quite easily while still preserving the magic and the story. Although no one can complain it isn’t value-for-money.

But those gripes aside, it’s still a jolly good panto – slick performances, great costumes, lovely sets and frontcloths, unbelievably hardworking chorus and a really good band. I was also delighted to see the stage crew get a bow at the walkdown, which is something I have rarely encountered but I know from experience that they work harder than anyone else on this type of show and it was great to see that acknowledged. If you’re looking for a good panto this year, you could do a lot worse than Mother Goose at the Hackney Empire.

Social tagging: > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > > >

Comments are closed.