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Live / stage review

"Pantomimes shouldn’t just be reserved for Christmas": Mother Goose

Sir Ian McKellen excels (and has a thoroughly good time) as Mother Goose, but what did reviewer Paul Szabo make of the Crucible panto? 

Ian McKellen wearing a yellow robe under a blue circle of light

Ian McKellen in Mother Goose

Manuel Harlan

Just when you thought that panto season was over, oh no it’s not, with the arrival of Mother Goose at the Sheffield Lyceum this week.

Broke and penniless, Mother Goose runs her animal sanctuary in an old, abandoned Debenhams store, but thanks to a bet between two fairies to see whether the Goose Family would be corrupted by money, she takes in a goose that lays golden eggs.

With their financial troubles seemingly over and having moved into a swanky new residence, Mother Goose dreams of stardom, fame and fortune… but what of the people she has left behind? And will she choose wealth over family in this traditional family pantomime?

The titular Mother Goose is played wonderfully by stage legend, Sir Ian McKellen, who appears throughout to be having just as much fun as the audience. Never afraid of sending himself up, whether he is quoting Shakespeare, referencing his role as Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings Trilogy or breaking the fourth wall to comment to the audience about his fellow thespians, his stage presence is simply magnetic as he delivers the perfect panto dame.

Anna Jane Casey plays the goose that lays the golden eggs and continues to cement her reputation as the consummate triple threat with her superb vocals, dance steps and performance.

Rounding off the main cast is comedian John Bishop, who brings a dose of warm Scouse humour to the show, bonds easily with the audience from the start, and has enough wit about him to stray far enough from the script when called for.

Overall, the remaining cast held their own against the heavyweights, with a professional and competent set of performances, especially Richard Leeming as a scene-stealing melancholy, if rather fruity, fruit bat.

A cast of actors on a stage

John Bishop, Anna Jane Casey, Ian McKellen and Company in Mother Goose

Manuel Harlan

Award winning writer, Jonathan Harvey (Gimme, Gimme, Gimme; Beautiful Thing), stamps his influence all over the proceedings, with a heavy LGBTQ+ slant to the script, an abundance of innuendo and a slew of musical numbers that each fell into one of two categories - the camp disco classic or the classic showtune.

Songs and references to Les Miserables, A Chorus Line, Annie and Funny Girl mingled with Lady Gaga, Donna Summer and Harold Melvyn to provide an instantly recognisable collection of songs and some thoroughly enjoyable dance routines.

The writing was sharp, incredibly funny and very topical, with plenty of rapid fire gags that kept the audience in stitches; and whilst there is usually a handful of jokes that go over the heads of the children in the audience, the script placed a lot of emphasis (and at times an over reliance) on slightly more adult orientated innuendo, perhaps reflective of the older audience that this production (and its cast) seemed to draw.

That said, there was certainly enough for kids of all ages to find hilarious, and large sections of the show were aimed squarely at a younger audience.

Bringing with it all the traditional panto elements you would expect, this production felt very much like the pantomimes I went to see at The Crucible as a youngster. Custard pies, water pistols, sweets thrown into the audience, cheering, booing and shouting “behind you” were all there.

At the start of the show, John Bishop came onto the stage and invited the audience to just throw themselves into it, and the audience certainly did.

Finishing off with a good old fashioned sing-a-long, it was a night at the theatre that proved that pantomimes shouldn’t just be reserved for Christmas.

Learn more

Mother Goose ran at the Sheffield Lyceum Theatre until 18 February, and Beauty and the Beast, their traditional Christmas panto, runs from 8 December 2023.

Sheffield Theatre’s accessibility policy can be found here.

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