Mom Goose

Duke of York’s, London

Usually it’s a sprinkle of magic or a swashbuckling struggle that saves the day in a Christmas pantomime. Not when Ian McKellen is on the helm. His pantomime dame wields the phrases of Shakespeare. Resplendent in a ridiculous fur hat, with a beatific smile on his face and a purse draped over his arm within the method of the late Queen, he launches into Portia’s gravely lovely “high quality of mercy” speech from The Service provider of Venice — and so vanquishes evil. The raucous pantomime viewers — which had been booing the baddie minutes earlier — bursts into delighted applause.

It’s a beautiful second — and typical, in a way, of McKellen. Cherished by many as an ideal Shakespearean actor, and by many extra as Gandalf, he’s at all times had a gentle spot for vaudeville. Throughout his Eightieth-birthday one-man present, he recalled standing within the wings of a range present as a younger boy, entranced by the way in which garishly painted performers reworked into magical creatures in entrance of the footlights. That he can quote a refined Shakespearean speech in favour of clemency amid the slapstick and silliness of a pantomime is testomony to his deep understanding of stay theatre.

And it’s one thing of that redoubtable music-hall spirit that he brings to the function of dame. His Mom Goose is a benign, unflappable northern matron with a twinkle in her eye — half Ena Sharples, half Victoria Wooden. He first toddles on in Cal McCrystal’s manufacturing together with his hair in rollers and the gait of a woman who’s not fairly sure that her girdle goes to remain the course — however the calls for of the plot may have quickly have him tap-dancing, slinking throughout the stage in (ultra-brief) pink baby-doll pyjamas, and bouncing round in a teeny-weeny miniskirt hurling footballs on the viewers.

A man dressed as a pantomime dame stands holding a brightly coloured handbag
McKellen has ‘the gait of a woman who’s not fairly sure that her girdle goes to remain the course’ © Manuel Harlan

In Jonathan Harvey’s telling of the story, Mom Goose runs an animal sanctuary alongside along with her long-suffering husband Vic (comic John Bishop, gleefully breaking the fourth wall at each alternative). Instances are exhausting — the most important boos of the night are reserved for “the vitality firm” — however Mom Goose received’t shut her doorways to any waif or stray and so, when a discombobulated goose (Cilla Quack) falls out of the sky, she takes her in. Cilla returns the favour by laying golden eggs. In most fairy tales, that flip of fortune could be the tip, however Mom Goose has a extra fascinating ethical message. Wealth and fame start to deprave Mom Goose and he or she has to study the exhausting method that movie star isn’t every part.

Harvey’s script is wreathed with the compulsory double-entendres and political jokes — references to partygate, Liz Truss’s shortlived premiership and Elon Musk — and has an underlying message about acceptance and inclusivity. Nevertheless it doesn’t do to dwell too lengthy on the logic of the plot in any panto: misrule is the order of the day. So it’s that we have now a ridiculous, messy cake-baking scene, a random ghost look and a singalong to soccer favorite “Candy Caroline”. Some scenes really feel a bit tepid (the cake-baking may very well be wilder; the jeopardy may very well be dialled up extra within the rescue), however there’s such an interesting, good-natured really feel to the present that it’s exhausting to thoughts.

There are profitable performances from Anna-Jane Casey because the golden-voiced Cilla (who proclaims her arrival by doing the splits), Genevieve Nicole as Camilla, Queen Consort, struggling to navigate doorways in an absurdly enormous hat, and Richard Leeming as a nerdy bat. On the centre of all of it is the infectious delight of McKellen, an 83-year-old knight of the realm, hurling sweets across the auditorium and beaming as if he have been nonetheless his eight-year-old self at his first pantomime. Irresistible.


In London to January 29, then touring,

A child excitedly holds up a golden star while two people look on smiling; in the background stands a mournful man in a nightgown
Dolly Parton’s musical relocates Dickens’s story to east Tennessee © Manuel Harlan

Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol

Queen elizabeth corridor, Southbank Centre, London

The London fog makes method for the Smoky Mountains in one in every of this season’s extra surprising festive reveals: Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol. Charles Dickens’s widespread novel is a December common on the UK stage, however this 12 months enthusiasm has snowballed — maybe there’s something about Dickens’s rage at social inequality and the plight of susceptible youngsters that strikes a chord proper now.

It’s significantly novel, nevertheless, to search out the outdated grump sulking and scrimping not in Victorian London however in Nineteen Thirties east Tennessee. But that’s the place he pops up in Dolly Parton’s musical, which spirits him right into a Melancholy-hit mining neighborhood the place Scrooge and his former accomplice, Jacob Marley, have purchased up and squeezed dry each establishment on the town. The point out of Christmas, we’re instructed, makes him “madder than a mule consuming bumblebees” — not a line that options within the unique, however we get the image.

This isn’t a model that may problem both Jack Thorne’s lovely adaptation on the Previous Vic or Simon Russell Beale’s touching efficiency on the Bridge Theatre for depth of psychological understanding. The storytelling appears reasonably tame and Robert Bathurst’s Scrooge feels a bit short-changed (not one thing his miserly early self would stand for). We must always certainly really feel the chilly hand of mortality on his coronary heart, however his spooky experiences don’t really feel chilling sufficient to warrant his smitten conscience and alter of coronary heart. In the meantime Alison Pollard’s manufacturing feels considerably cramped by the house.

However there are some sensible concepts on this adaptation (by David H Bell, Paul T Sofa and Curt Wollan). The shift of location brings a brand new slant to the story and there are references to pit accidents, teenage pregnancies, industrial unrest and the necessity for unionised labour. Younger Scrooge on this model will get his kind-hearted employer arrested for (unwittingly) promoting moonshine-laced syrup throughout prohibition and one touching music has the impoverished locals dreaming about what they may purchase from the Sears Roebuck catalogue. The Ghost of Christmas Future is performed, ingeniously, by Corey Wickens’s glorious violinist who communicates solely in music.

And it’s, unsurprisingly, the songs that drive the story, lots of that are attractive. Previous Marley rises from past the grave in a hell-raisin’ nation rock quantity; there’s a mild, richly harmonised ensemble quantity “Appalachian Snowfall”; a wistful duet between younger Scrooge and his loving sister, “Three Candles” (delicately sung by Sarah O’Connor and Danny Whitehead); there’s bluegrass, hoedown and a skiffle band. They elevate the rafters and carry the spirits. And, in the long run, there’s a heat and pleasure to the present that melts away many objections — in line with its story of a frozen coronary heart thawed.


To January 8,


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