Yesterday – having bought tickets on a relatively last-minute whim – my partner and I went to the Chichester Festival Theatre to see the 5.00pm performance of the touring pantomime Mother Goose, starring Sir Ian McKellen as Mother Goose and comedian John Bishop as his/her husband Vic Goose.
The first thing to report is that, in advance, we had been made aware that for undisclosed reasons John Bishop would not be appearing and that another member of the cast (Gabriel Fleary) would be stepping in as his replacement.
This was, of course, slightly disappointing but then again – in theatre, as in life – “stuff happens” … and, of course, The Show Must Go On.
Speaking personally, not being a frequent theatre-goer, I was pleased to have the opportunity to be back experiencing ‘live’ theatre entertainment for the first time in over a year.
The theatre was packed for this “fun for all the family” show, albeit that, looking around the auditorium as “curtain up” approached, to my eyes the preponderance of multi-generational families in the Chichester audience was lower – and that of the senior citizen brigade such as ourselves higher – that I might ordinarily have expected of a panto.
The show was well-mounted and lavish and, perhaps in keeping with panto theatre tradition, the main players played somewhat fast and loose with the script, sometimes weaving in and out of character in order to “play to the audience”.
There were knowing references – and what I assume were improvised asides – aimed at the relatively conservative and “posh” folk of Chichester and their foibles.
For example, in his solo “prologue” introduction to the action for the audience, having received a roar of mirth/approval as he cracked a sneering gag at some of the chaotic Tory Government happenings of the last six months, Mr Fleary laughingly reacted “… Well, I hadn’t expected that from a Chichester audience!” and later on, when some member of the cast made a comment about being gay and/or effeminate, someone added “As you can imagine, that one went down well when we played Brighton …”
And so the fun began.
The show was slick and the cast enthusiastic. It was the first occasion that I had ever seen Sir Ian McKellan on stage in the flesh – and will probably be the only one. I couldn’t state here that he was outstanding as Mother Goose – he fluffed his lines occasionally and generally mugged his way through the action, in which he was much involved, and once or twice reverted to his classic “actor” persona and baritone voice , as when – sitting alone front of stage – he recalled his youthful visits to the theatre – and often pantomimes – in his formative years.
Nevertheless, to be frank, taken as a whole, the show was disappointing.
It played out as if someone had strung together a number of “classic” panto scenes – e.g. making a collective cake together (this full of slapstick and characters taking instructions literally in facile style, as in one being told “Add flour” and adding the plant kind, not the cake ingredient) – without a great deal of creativity or inventiveness.
Some of the gags were very funny but others came and went without real effect.
There were two or three musical numbers – the classic Ike & Tina Turner River Deep, Mountain High, as sung by three female member of the cast, was well received – but none of them ranked as a “show stopper”.
Furthermore, there was one incongruous scene in which a female character (clearly intended to be a caricature of the Queen Consort Camilla) bowled on stage, brazenly expressed sexual interest in Vic Goose, supped gin and then in a musical finale to her cameo appearance, lay on her back, legs wide apart and waggling them about, displaying her knickers to the stalls – which my partner and I found wildly inappropriate.
The interval arrived after about 80 minutes. As the lights came up I nipped smartly along to the ice cream seller at the bottom of our aisle to “beat” the inevitable queue and bought a somewhat expensive pair of ice cream tubs before re-joining my other half in our seats.
A short discussion followed in which we compared views on what we had witnessed so far and agreed that it was all pretty average at best.
In then comparing our feelings at the prospect of either staying and “lasting the full course” or, alternatively, making an early exit to return home, without particular ceremony but with a clear conscience we opted for the latter, gathered our coats and made our way downstairs and out into the encircling darkness, yet not before I had stopped to buy a programme (£8 a pop) on the way.