THEATRE REVIEW: Mother Goose starring Sir Ian McKellen & John Bishop

By Neil Durham


WHEN?: Sunday 18 December (matinee), runs to 29 January and then tours until 11 March 2023 RUNTIME: 140 minutes (including a 20-minute interval)

The best reason to see this energetic and fun pantomime is that its Oscar-nominated star Sir Ian McKellen is having a ball and it’s infectious.

  • Read on for reasons including how we’ve never been to a show where so much has been thrown from the stage into the audience

We’re here in row 6 alongside Richard E Grant in the front row because we saw McKellen in panto in drag as Widow Twankey in Aladdin from 2004 to 2006 at the Old Vic and the irrepressible sense of mischief he drew upon there is in full effect here.

Author Jonathan Harvey (MUSIK, Leicester Square Theatre) is having a lot of fun with a plot involving Mother Goose taking in strays at an animal sanctuary in London’s Oxford Street with McKellen at 1 point confirming: ‘I’ve always been partial to a cockatoo’.

This matinee starts at noon and when McKellen dries early on he sparks additional laughs with an impromptu: ‘It’s very early in the day for me.’

There are frequent references to The Lord Of The Rings and Shakespeare throughout the show, 2 things that McKellen (No Man’s Land, Wyndhams Theatre) is arguably best known for and he plays along gamely.

Indeed if you ever wanted to see him onstage dancing in a Union Jack dress inspired by the Spice Girl Geri Halliwell’s legendary BRITS appearance, then this is the show for you.

We find John Bishop’s affable everyman qualities as Goose’s husband Vic a little underwhelming and when he appeared on stage at the beginning of the show we feared it was to break bad news but he instead urged us all to be children to get the most out of the production, saying: ‘The only difference is that you’ll understand the knob gags’.

Anna-Jane Casey (Cabaret, Playhouse Theatre) stepped into the role of goose Cilla Quack at the last minute when Mel Giedroyc dropped out and she’s in fine singing voice here.

We also love her shout out in the programme to ‘the brilliance of Andrew Pollard in Red Riding Hood (Greenwich)’.

We’ve seen Oscar Conlon-Morrey in pantomime before (Cinderella, A Socially Distanced Ball, Turbine Theatre) as the Goose’s simple son Jack and he is always reliably hilarious. We also spot him struggling to stifle his own laughter at some of McKellen’s stagecrafted comedy.

These days the London Palladium pantomime – this year Jack And The Beanstalk – is the West End’s big Christmas spectacular and we were surprised to see Bishop compare this production’s slightly less lavish props with those across town where the venue holds 2,286 compared to the Duke Of York’s more modest 640.

We’re also delighted to learn from the show’s programme that this is the very theatre where McKellen made his West End debut in 1964.

Our favourite pantomime of the season continues to be Robin Hood at Greenwich Theatre but do catch this Mother Goose if you can if only for the fact that its 83-year-old star appears to be having the time of his life.

  • Main picture via Facebook courtesy ATG Tickets Picture Manuel Harlan. Runs at the Duke Of York’s Theatre in London 15 December through 29 January 2023 before a brief tour.
  • Have you seen an Ian McKellen pantomime before and what did you think of this 1?
  • Let us know what you thought in the comments below
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