Writer and Director: Paul Hendy
Reviewer: Dan English
There are very few things in the 21st century that can be classed as a modern staple of the festive season. Arguing over who gets the console controller first or debating which film to stream next could both fall into this category, but without a doubt, a tradition in the south-east is taking in the annually hilarious pantomime at the Marlowe Theatre, with this year’s offering being no exception.
Following last year’s triumphant production of Cinderella, Evolution Productions return to the Marlowe with Mother Goose, a pantomime not often performed, and it is a brave choice to lead with such an unusual plot. The story sees the eponymous character struggle with financial problems before a golden-egg laying goose Priscilla comes to her rescue. This is your typical pantomime plotline with a clear moral, intertwined with popular culture references, thrilling dance routines and powerfully performed musical items. There is even a stunning segment that needs to be seen to be believed from ‘Globe of Speed’ which leaves the auditorium gasping in awe.
Jenna Russell is the forever floating Fairy Goodfeather, with performance veteran Russell marking her pantomime debut. Russell brings class to her performance, and she makes performing such an integral role look easy. Russell has the unenviable task of warming the crowd up from the beginning, but her graceful characterisation welcomes the crowd into the piece.
Dr Ranj is Charlie Goose, and despite it being his first appearance in pantomime, he takes to the role, and its singing and dancing demands, with aplomb. This is a slick delivery but it’s obvious that Dr Ranj is having fun on stage, providing and enthusiastic and energetic performance.
Ben Roddy returns for his tenth pantomime at the Marlowe, once again donning the outrageous costumes of the equally as outrageous Dame, and it is fitting that the production pays due attention to Roddy’s exceptional achievement. Roddy as Mother Goose is a riot, and his decade at the Marlowe is even weaved into this show. A funny, jovial and heartfelt portrayal; this could well be Roddy’s best pantomime performance yet.
Lloyd Hollett also returns to the Marlowe for this year’s production, as Billy Goose, and, like Roddy, Hollett is quickly becoming a welcome part of the furniture, with Hollett’s swift and wicked wit making him a safe pair of hands in an often-unpredictable performance environment.
Marc Pickering is a treat as Demon Vanity, and his performance is so strong it threatens to steal the show. Pickering’s sinister yet flamboyant performance instantly creates a loathsome villain who wreaks havoc in this piece. Pickering is commanding in this role and his instant connection with the audience is particularly impressive.
Mother Goose is bolstered by a talented and diligent ensemble cast who master challenging choreography, quick costume changes and audience interaction with ease. The show’s promotion focuses entirely on its leads, but attention must also be paid to those in the background who enhance the charm brought to the audience by the leading roles.
There are also celebrations in this year’s production for Chris Wong, the pantomime’s Musical Director who himself is celebrating his 25th pantomime, and is warmly celebrated and even given lines for the very first time as the show moves towards its conclusion.
Evolution Productions outline in the program the 18-months it takes to prepare these pantomimes, and it’s obvious when watching Mother Goose that every detail has been considered. From beautiful set designs to exquisite costumes, one cannot feel anything but ready for the festive season as you watch this show. This is a beautifully crafted, wonderfully silly but also warm and affectionate in its delivery.
Every year audiences wonder how the Marlowe will top the festive frolics of the year before, and every year the theatre relentlessly delivers with another side-splitting production. Mother Goose is a clever, colourful and creative production that dazzles from the very start. A must-see this festive period, the Marlowe’s pantomime continues to be a captivating Canterbury Christmas tradition which will leave audiences giggling well into the New Year.
Runs until 12 January 2020 | Image: Pamela Raith