Mother Goose review: a ‘cheerfully chaotic’ panto where Ian McKellen steals the show

If this is McKellen’s swansong, then ‘what a happy and glorious way to go’

Ian McKellen and John Bishop on stage
Ian McKellen and John Bishop lead a cast that ‘bursts with chemistry and charisma’

This joyful and “cheerfully chaotic” panto will be breaking with convention after Christmas by going on the road until April, said Clive Davis in The Times. And hurrah for that, because in these bleak times, it’s the kind of “knockabout entertainment that we need”.

It’s raucous, visually inventive, unashamedly traditional – and it marks a “triumphant” return to panto damehood for Sir Ian McKellen, said Nick Curtis in the Evening Standard. Wearing a series of wildly garish outfits – from frou-frou nightie to Beefeater dress – the “original great Knight out treats us to dance routines, a stream of innuendo that’s only just family-friendly”, and amusing snippets of everything from Shakespeare to Gandalf. At several points, McKellen’s onstage wife, comedian John Bishop, “looks incredulous at the sheer energy of his 83-year-old co-star”.

The rest of the cast burst with “chemistry and charisma”, said Tom Wicker in Time Out. Anna-Jane Casey, as the golden egg-laying Cilla Quack, “gives her goose some gleeful gander”, while Bishop deploys his “what am I doing here?” schtick to winning effect. But “as you’d jolly well expect”, McKellen still manages to steal the show. He produces an absolute “tour de force of self-parody, comic timing and a perfectly tuned sense of impending chaos”. It’s a performance that is “generously slapstick”, and “filled with a genuine sense of love for the genre”.

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If you only come for McKellen, you won’t be disappointed, agreed Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. But I’m afraid I found the show as a whole a bit ragged and “strained in its humour”. The double entendres “come thick and fast” but are fairly obvious, while the satire is “flaccid”.

It is “flimsier stuff than the best, time-honoured fairy-tale classics”, said Dominic Cavendish in The Daily Telegraph. But with its feel-good pop hits and musicals-derived numbers, it has such “warm-hearted zest” I found it irresistible. As for McKellen – the “greatest of panto dames” – if this turns out to be his swansong, “what a happy and glorious way to go”.

Duke of York’s Theatre, WC2, until 29 January, then touring (

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