Directed and Written by Gordon Barr
Musical Direction by Stephen Roberts
Dust off the tinsel, crack open the advocaat and expand those pipes – it’s Pantomime season. With a vast tradition within the community, The Byre Theatre may have changed a few hands, had a few facelifts and seen more people through its doors than Mother Goose’s boudoir, but its annual Christmas celebration is a highlight for the town, for Fife and Scotland. Writer & director Gordon Barr takes his pen to the world of fairy tales once anew to lift the spirits of those who could do with one thing: a bloomin’ marvellous time out.
She’s kind, big-hearted and a wee national treasure in her own right, Mother Goose has been looking after the kids, creatures and whatever’s of Phantasia for, well, more years than she would dare admit. With her bright and happy helpers, Peter Pan and Red Riding Hood, nothing could ruin this near-perfect life with her most naive child, Bruce the Goose. That is until a splinter of frost emerges from Mother Goose’s past. A speckle of snow, from a royal adversary, who excels in drawing out the worst in us.
As time goes on, a difficulty arises in pantomime. There are only so many jokes we can hear, and a limit to the cringes we can take. Barr’s script, rifles itself with these sorts of gags, but has one key strength; delivery. Borrowing from some of Disney’s newer franchises, particularly the Descendant’s line, Mother Goose packs itself with references from our cherished childhood stories and their Hollywood counterparts. A massive cast dominates the A B Paterson auditorium, in a set leaping right from the covers of a story-book, garishly bright, panto-perfect. It’s all just too wonderfully sweet to bear, especially for our antagonist – The Snow Queen, a cold-hearted witch, with a devious tool – an indistinguishable accent.
Soaking-up every boo, thriving on hisses, Stephen Arden is a natural-born baddie. Evidence of Arden’s choreography talent becomes clear during a roguish rendition of Chicago’s Cellblock Tango, with icy representations of Panto’s foulest foes arising once more to perform a standout number which forces us to root for the baddies. Then again, Arden makes a compelling case for evil to triumph, as one of the countries’ nastiest Panto villains. Ruthless and cruel, but with solid vocals, Arden isn’t just a foppish performer hamming his role, instead, The Snow Queen has stage presence, spitting out venom which only Mother Goose can match.
Any familiar with the Byre’s festive season will no doubt be a fan of Alan Steele, the resident panto dame. As Mother Goose, Steele channels a sense of community with choice words for the productions second half, elevating this panto into a touching rendition on self-worth and image. As sentimental as Steele’s interpretation of Barr’s script maybe, his firm footing in the art of performance is second to none. With full control of the crowd, reading where the inebriates are, where the kids causing a riot maybe, and certainly where to find the unsuspecting love interests, Steele’s Mother Goose is vivacious, bodacious and decked out in all the halls.
Stitching up these queens of the stage, Siobhan’s wardrobe supervision, with Carys Hobbs’ design, makes for seamless transitions, moving from the bedazzled gown to comforting apron and showstopping peacock flairs. Mother Goose has a festive feel running throughout, it’s a cosy atmosphere, larger than life performances and revoltingly bright, colourful and cheerful children.
It’s a family affair, with the occasional nod to the parents in the audience, but as always, we seek our biggest laughs in the ad-libs and flubs. You can measure a lot from a team’s ability to run with the absent lighting cues or line trips, and the Mother Goose team rise to the challenge, rolling it into the script itself with ease. Coaxing the crowd into showing a bit more mirth, Robert Elkin’s Bruce the Goose is a spirited role, easing a rather timid Saturday crowd into relaxing, enjoying and engaging. Raising smiles with the kids, and expectations with the adults, Stephanie McGregor’s splendid vocals as Little Red are the stand-out notes, matched only by her comedic delivery.
Regional theatre at its most colourful, Mother Goose keeps itself rooted in Panto tradition, splashing a fair whack of cultural flair into its aesthetics. Supported by a solid cast, and a town who will fall behind the theatre’s history, The Byre Theatre houses a 24-carat egg of fizzing festive joy.
Mother Goose runs at The Byre Theatre until January 4th. Tickets available from: https://byretheatre.com/events/mother-goose/
Photo Credit: Viktoria Begg