‘Tis the season to go in search of festive filth, and where better to find it than at the UK’s only full-time professional LGBT theatre? Above the Stag pantos are always highly anticipated and come with a high bar to reach each year. 2018 is the year of the bird, as we embark upon Jon Bradfield and Martin Hooper’s ‘Mother Goose Cracks One Out!’.
Mother Goose (Matthew Baldwin) is the loveliest lady in the land, always lending a kind hand to those in need and, as a result, living on the poverty line herself. One day, Dandelion the good fairy (Scott Dale) arranges for Priscilla the goose (Laura Blair) to bring good fortune to Mother Goose, and indeed she does, by laying a golden egg. Mother Goose suddenly has all the wealth she could need, but will she remain as generous and kind of heart, or will the witch Mephista (Briony Rawle) lure her onto a dark path? With a cast of other fabulous characters, this panto erupts with energy from the first scene.
The set itself is an artistic spectacle, made up of several movable 3D backdrops that are visually beautiful (well done to David Shields for this wonderfully escapist design). Despite it being very early in the run, the performance felt extremely well-rehearsed and practically seamless – there was a moment early on of forgetting lines, but I love it when this happens as a bit of professional improv is usually brilliantly funny. Panto is meant to be eccentric and larger-than-life, so you need to get the right personalities in your cast, and being able to think on your feet and laugh at yourself is paramount! The casting is perfection for this run of ‘Mother Goose’ – every single performer took to their character like a bread soldier to a dippy egg, and you can tell they have an excellent rapport off stage.
Matthew Baldwin is the only Mother Goose you could want: his ability to front a production is undeniable and he has a stage presence that elicits warmth and respect from an audience. Recent graduate Christian Andrews (playing Chester) makes his panto debut here and is most definitely a talent to watch. Laura Blair was particularly outstanding as our goose; she possesses an a compelling talent for comedy with impeccable timing – the scene where she cross-examines herself whilst on trial in Gooseland had the audience in stitches.
The thing I like most about this panto is the extremely clever script – none of the jokes fell flat (which can often happen in a panto), the timing was excellent and no scene felt unnecessary or dragged out. ‘Mother Goose’ isn’t as well-known as it used to be, so I’m glad to see it being revived with such vigour and professionalism with such a talented creative team and cast. I also love how much audience engagement was incorporated – there’s the usual “Oh no it’s not!” but also a variety of other amusing moments where the front and second lines are (lovingly) bullied.
Director Andrew Beckett has produced the Stag’s best panto to date – certainly the best adult panto I’ve seen. Grab your friends, order the Prosecco and get yourself down to the Stag this Christmas – a cracking time awaits you.
Reviewed by Laura Evans
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