Hackney Empire, London – until 31 December 2022
Who: Written by Will Brenton, directed by Clive Rowe. Costumes by Cleo Pettitt, choreography by André Fabien Francis.
Cast: Clive Rowe, Gemma Wardle, Rebecca Parker, Tony Marshall, Holly Mallett, Ope Sowande, Kat B and 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, 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
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