Panto returns with fun for the whole family.
Mother Goose by John Hewer
Riverhead Theatre Louth
Friday 27th August 2021
The path to performance for this show has been a rocky one. It was originally created to fill the panto gap in the Louth Playgoers' calendar caused by the inability to stage a large scale show in the 2020/21 season. Instead the idea was to create a smaller scale pantomime but one that still had a traditional feel to it. Step forward John Hewer and Hambledon Productions. Lockdowns prevented the show taking up the slot at the intended time and the enforced closure of theatres persisted, preventing it becoming an Easter panto. The show then saw a glimmer of light when it was staged as a one-off performance to be recorded for care homes in May 2021. Now, it is being seen by audiences as a full show over the Bank Holiday weekend - a Summer panto.
The story is traditional but given the Hewer twist as always. If you want a double entendre from him, he's going to give you one. Not only has John Hewer written and directed the show, he also plays the unfortunate titular (Oo err!) widow and as always, demonstrates deft comedy timing. He knows how to sell and milk a gag and loves mugging for effect as the audience lovingly lap it up.
Hewer's evergreen comic foil from many a show with both Hambledon or the Louth Playgoers, is the wonderfully comic talent of Jeremy (Jerry) Smith and here he features as the miserly Squire Squeezum. One of the more obvious gags comes when Smith announces he is "Off to Squeezum 'All" but the audience lap it up. They get that they are in for a night of bad gags and pure corn.
The script even references and mocks its own sense of humour as it progresses. We meet the beautifully realised Priscilla the Goose who lays golden eggs and greed and misfortune precede a lesson to be learned about love, family, and friendship.
The fabulous Priscilla, provider of solid gold eggs rapidly goes through growth spurts unlike any known in human history but it all serves the magical plot!
The show delivers belly laugh after belly laugh for its appreciative audience. After a terrible 18 months we all need the release that a corny panto script can deliver. Some of the gags - topical when written - seem to fall a little flat as events have moved on, for example no-one seemed too interested in laughing at Dominic Cummings this time of asking but that's okay, because if you don't enjoy a gag, another will follow a minute later.
In addition to those mentioned above, audiences will have recognised the comic tones of Sue Pollard working overtime as the Narrator - quite the casting coup in the midst of a global pandemic. James Burgess plays the loveable Jimmy Goose fawning over Jessica, the Squire's daughter played by Poppy Adamson - who also doubled as the Demon Queen. Both provided deft touches demonstrating credible credentials in musical theatre as well as comedy. James' big number was "Up on the Roof" in which he showed flair and a lovely controlled tone in his vocal. Poppy had a slightly more difficult task performing in character as the Demon Queen or as the sugary-sweet Jessica but delivered all her numbers confidently, commanding the stage and never losing character, displaying her dance skills along the way.
The last member of the cast was Fairy Twilight played by Jane Crawshaw, the well-intentioned, but ever-so-slightly dotty fairy brought to mind a young Jane Horrocks with an unexpected Lancashire accent. Yey again Crawshaw shows fabulous comedic timing and sang and danced with gusto. The cast was so well-chosen and when called upon to multi-roleplay they did so with ease.
One last inclusion came in the form of a community choir who sang via a Zoom link, though recorded during the lockdowns rather than live and a group of dancers performed a socially distanced dance routine on film as they sang. It was a lovely touch and a poignant reminder of why we were sat watching a panto in August.
I loved the quality present in every aspect of this production. It had a gorgeous, typically pantomime-esque set which was both cartoonish and colourful and the addition of video backdrops and filmed footage enhanced this. Props were lovingly created and the puppets were magnificent. And no one could have asked for more from the costumes. The song and dance routines were very well choreographed for the energetic cast, and the musical direction of Christopher Peters was exemplary.
The production, though faced with huge challenges was highly successful, delivering both what audience expected and wanted. Indeed, Hambledon Productions managed to deliver what the audience needed - a flippin' good night out for the whole family and audiences should look out for John Hewer's take on Peter Pan at the Riverhead theare in January.