Who: Written by Will Brenton; directed by Clive Rowe. Costumes by Cleo Pettitt, choreography by André Fabien Francis.
Where and when: Hackney Empire, until 31 Dec. Runs 150 minutes. Purchase tickets here.
Cast: Clive Rowe, Gemma Wardle, Rebecca Parker, Tony Marshall, Holly Mallett, Ope Sowande, Kat B, Ruth Lynch plus talented ensemble Elliott Lee, Imogen Opie, Marina Tavolieri, Adam Tench, and Dawn Williams and a revolving cast of child performers.
Basic plot: Here, the only MGM is ‘Mother Goose’s Makeovers’ where the most generous dame in town offers beauty treatments on the house. When good and bad collide, a wager is made that if Mother Goose can be corrupted, the whole of Hackneywood will join the dark side.
Characters and performances: In his 15th Hackney Empire pantomime, and the first as sole director, Clive Rowe proves a powerhouse in the title role both visually and vocally.
Kat B shines as Billy Goose, Lynch makes her Priscilla the Goose convincing in her debut, and Marshall is good as the Squire who collects debts and lacks a heart.
Wardle and Parker’s competing spirits are good at sparring, with Sowande’s Jack and friend Mallett’s Jill offer friendship and decency.
Audience interaction: Rowe and Kat B are especially good when it comes to connecting with the audience, who enthusiastically sing, call out, boo, and do what’s expected of them.
Atmosphere: Very strong chemistry between cast and audience. On press night there were few children but enthusiastic supporters were in evidence and generally fun was had.
Music: With many recognisable songs – plus a few originals by Steven Edis – there is much to enjoy for musical theatre fans. Musical director Renell Shaw led the band and provided note perfect o.rchestrations
Technical:The sets and set-changes are generally excellent, the lighting (David W Kidd) atmospheric, and the sound (Yvonne Gilbert) sharp and clear.
Cuteness factor: Priscilla the goose is a smashing character with her honks and tail wiggles. A star has twerked!
Regional/contemporary relevance: Set in East London’s finest theatrical jewel, Mother Goose plants us in the borough of Hackneywood, where everyone wants to be a starlet or an influencer, catching perfectly the narcissism and vanity of many who seek wealth and fame.
Final verdict: **** Moving along at a cracking pace – even with a short salute to the 120 years of the Hackney(wood) Empire – Mother Goose is one of the best options available this year, with fabulous costumes, a sparkling script with room for a bit of improv, and some amusing bits of slapstick.
Image credit: Manuel Harlan