What! No Wedding? Surely not!
Mother Goose is certainly an unusual Christmas entertainment. In producer Brad Fitt’s hands, it is very much a Proper Panto…but memories of the ancient Greek morality tale lie very close to the surface – with its issues of selflessness, forgiveness and how inner beauty is more important than how you look. And for today’s snap-chat youngsters, who may be struggling with self-image, it’s a tale well worth telling.
The story first appeared as a British pantomime in 1806, with the clown Joey Grimaldi in the lead role. One hundred years later, Den Leno was playing the part in Drury Lane. So, our own, beloved Brad is in good company.
What is so clever about Fitt’s production (and Paul Hendy’s writing) is how he operates in two separate realities at the same time…being totally committed to purveying the story line for the kiddies, whilst constantly taking the rise out of the genre for those of us who like to think we’re vaguely grown up.
Of course, the Dame is clearly in love within the goose … even though it’s actually “a seven-foot budgie outfit with a random villager inside it”. How random becomes evident when its legs are a different shape every time it comes on.
Naturally, the kids get all the egg jokes – “Eggs Factor”. “Don’t Egg-sert yourself”. “Why should you roll eggs down the old A5? Because it’s the best way to Atch-em”. But, for the intellectuals, there’s an allegorical dance reference to Swan Lake and a joke about Eggs-istentialism. And as Brad says (every year) “You don’t get that in the Telford Panto”.
Brad Fitt is the Rolls Royce of Dames, effortlessly purring through the panto with so much self-deprecation every mother loves him. He’s also fearless enough to be turned upside down on wires and dunked into his own Heath Robinson Beauty-Matic contraption from quite a height. Sometime this Christmas, he will notch up 500 panto performances in Shrewsbury. He’s so much part of the town’s tradition, they should oust Charles Darwin from his chair outside the Library and put Brad Fitt up there instead.
The surprise star of the show is the joyful Fairy Goodfeather, played with boundless Caribbean charisma by Lisa Davina Phillip. Her feet barely touch the ground as she gags and giggles her way through the show, embracing the audience with her wicked wit and wonderful warmth. She’s more than a match for the narcistic Demon Vanity (Matt Daines) who has the air of Simon Cowell about him. And whilst they are mining television images, I must say that seeing Eric Smith dressed as Claudia Wrinkleman is more of a shock than a surprise. Just wait till she finds out!
The much-loved routines are all present and correct…but with incremental twists in the endless quest for being “better than last year”. In the wheel barrow this time are oodles of shop signs for Billy Goose (played by a super-charged Matt Dallen) to pun about … and when the lovely Victoria McCabe joins the fellas on the infamous wooden panto bench, the game is raised again. This year the ghosts and ghoulies are not villagers in white sheets, but 3-D images that leap out from the stage right at you. And with present-day panto tradition firmly in mind, one apparition is armed with a very effective virtual water pistol. The audience all wear 3-D spectacles for this scene … and resemble a mass meeting of the Eldon John Fan Club.
It is very refreshing to see a panto that is so rarely played, the audience must pay attention to the plot. And I very much appreciated the storyline’s values in today’s increasingly vacuous society. And, of course, I laughed my socks off.
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