Bord Gáis Energy Theatre
Designer Liz Ashcroft offers a pop-up picture book set through which the fairy-tale familiars of this touring pantomime, Mother Goose, can step into life. The origins of the moral tale reach back as far Charles Perault’s 1695 literary collection, but writer Jonathan Harvey dispenses with traditional setting in favour of a modern flavoured story inspired by contemporary celebrity culture, British politics and the changing monarchy.
Much of the broader cultural commentary translates across the Irish Sea – after all, the distinctly British form of pantomime was adopted early by Irish theatres and continues today with its own local seasonings – but, despite some improvisations for a Dublin crowd, the more specific references don’t carry across as well.
Harvey also adds a rich vein of innuendo to the dialogue that runs throughout, and the constant stream of verbal entendres are matched with physical gestures that suggest the demographic pitch is the adult audience gathered for the show rather than a younger cohort. All the same, there is much to enjoy about Cal McCrystal’s quick moving production.
Gabriel Fleary (cheerfully standing in for John Bishop for the Dublin run) primes the audience for the first 10 minutes with a series of “parish notices” that both set the tone and establish the parameters for audience interaction for the two-hour show. A painted scrim lifts to reveal the opened shopfront of a bankrupt department store, where Mother Goose (Ian McKellen) lives with her husband Vic (Fleary), her literal fool of a son Jack (Oscar Conlon-Morrey) and a menagerie of animals (Ashcroft’s millinery is particularly impressive in bringing these characters to life). When a menopausal goose Cilla Quack (Anna-Jane Casey) arrives laying the last of her golden eggs, Mother Goose is offered the bargain of a lifetime: eternal fame in exchange for custody of her latest charge.
The best scenes are in the second half, when McKellen gets to strut his stuff at the Oscars, the World Cup final and London Fashion Week, courtesy of terrific digital scene switches and quick costume changes. McKellen also gets to flex his more serious thespian chops with a Shakespearean soliloquy, which the audience – much of whom have surely gathered to see Gandalf the Grey clutch a golden egg – acknowledge with rapturous applause. However, none of it is a match for Casey’s show-stealing solo as prisoner 24601, a fantastic rendition of Don’t Rain on My Parade from Funny Girl that marks the beginning of the show’s inevitably joyous happy end.
Runs at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre until Sunday, March 26th www.bordgaisenergytheatre.ie