goose cast

John Bishop as Vic, Anna-Jane Casey as Cilla the goose and Ian McKellen as Mother Goose with he cast outside blast from the past Debenhams

Mother Goose

Wolverhampton Grand


What’s this? Panto in Wolverhampton at the end of February? Oh yes it is! In 1971, Ian McKellen delivered an acclaimed performance as Hamlet at the Grand. It is said that he vowed to return, and 52 years later he realised that dream tonight, the first of the run.

Having stormed the normal panto season first in Brighton, then the Duke of York’s Theatre in London, the audience response was too positive for it to wither with the Christmas decorations, thus it has continued on a short victory parade around the country taking in Wolverhampton this week with further dates thereafter.

Mother Goose is a Christmas stalwart as a story and is often performed. What sets this production apart is the cast, specifically Sir Ian McKellen of Lord of the Rings fame, as Mother Goose.  

The all-important script is by Scouse novelist, playwright and satirist Jonathan Harvey who just happens to have fellow Liverpudlian John Bishop as his comic hitman on stage and wrote for McKellen when he was in Coronation Street.

The recent political farce in government is a gift for satire, and Harvey does not miss a trick in singling out the obvious targets, Boris Johnson, Suella Braverman, Camilla Parker Bowles and the energy companies amongst them. He has been a regular on the Coronation Street scriptwriting team since 2004, his populist credentials and touch are a given.

This is a traditional show, affectionately delivered by director Cal McCrystal, narrative driven with no over reliance on special effects, still music hall rather than 3D cinema. However, that does not preclude copious Tolkien references and a rather wonderful foray into a Shakespeare soliloquy by Sir Ian as he borrows Portia’s speech in The Merchant of Venice interceding on behalf of Cilla Quack. “You don’t get that from Christopher Biggins.”

There is plenty of razzle and dazzle courtesy of Lizzi Gee’s lively choreography, Prema Mehta’s colourful pink and green lighting , and Ben Harrison’s sound with Lady Gaga’s  Born this way ubiquitous, closely followed in impact by Anna-Jane Casey’s rendition as Cilla Quack of Funny Girl powerhouse: Don’t Rain on My Parade. Local girl Simbi Akande sashays and shimmies in vertiginous stiletto heels as the Energy Company rep, Pilot and Jack’s love interest.

Although inevitably McKellen and Bishop rightly dominate proceedings, the supporting company is strong and effective. Son Jack (Oscar Conlon- Morrey) is exhaustingly frenetic, villainess Malignia gloriously enjoyed by Karen Mavundukure, is suitably malign at every opportunity thankfully thwarted at every turn by good witch  soprano Encanta (Sharon Ballard). Anna Jane Casey is Cilla Quack the menopausal goose that lays the golden egg, all of whom sing remarkably well.

The denouement is suitably romantic including the traditional wedding walk down, Bishop is very funny, Mckellan shows out in his dame dresses and delivers his apercus with consummate style.

The ensemble menagerie of all-singing, all-dancing puppeteer animals are terrific, initially shivering in a closed Debenhams store , Liz Ashcroft’s street set is stunning. The animals are very much part of the fun. A donkey that self identifies as a llama, Richard Leeming flickers wonderfully as a bat, Genevieve Nicole as Puss wonders if she is in the right panto, other animals are available!

This joyful comic production drew a deserved, resounding extended standing ovation, runs at Wolverhampton until 25th February, then continues on nationwide tour at Liverpool, Oxford, Leicester, Cardiff, Dublin, Salford and Bristol. 

Gary Longden


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