Mother Goose review – there is nothing like a dame played by Roy Hudd

Wilton’s Music Hall, London
The veteran comic is the chief delight of a warm-hearted production mixing morality, melodrama and magic

It’s been a vintage year for 80-year-olds in the British theatre. First, there was Glenda Jackson as King Lear. Now there is Roy Hudd as Mother Goose. Aside from the gender switch and the fact that both shows make jokes about eggs, there are few obvious points of comparison. All one can say is that Hudd, as writer and performer, repeats a winning formula he hit on last year at Wilton’s with Dick Whittington: old gags, familiar songs, trad storytelling and painted scenery.

In this version, loosely based on one created by Dan Leno in 1902, Mother Goose emerges as a mix of morality play and Victorian melodrama. The widowed heroine faces eviction at the hands of a cruel squire until she is given a goose that lays golden eggs. Tempted by her new-found wealth, she enters a magic pool that transforms her into a rejuvenated beauty.

By the end, however, she has rediscovered her affinity with the discarded poor. Perhaps it is a bit like King Lear after all, though less so than Cinderella, in which Cordelia is translated into the rejected heroine and Goneril and Regan into the venomous Ugly Sisters.

The chief delight is Hudd as Mother Goose. Max Beerbohm wrote of Dan Leno that “he had the indefinable quality of being sympathetic”. The same might be said of Hudd who, with his gap-toothed cheeriness, seems the last living embodiment of music hall and who shines up the hoariest of jokes. Advertising the enduring appeal of elderly widows, he says: “We don’t yell, we don’t tell and we’re very grateful.” After Mother Goose’s transformation into a peroxided sex-bomb, someone announces: “I do like your dress,” to which Hudd replies: “I bought it for a ridiculous figure.” Forever hitching up his false bosom and joshing his fellow actors, Hudd is the friendliest and most welcoming of dames.

Like all good pantomimes, this one blends past and present. There are characters called Virtue (a twinkling Julia Sutton) and Vanity (a leering Gareth Davies who takes one look at the audience and says, “Aren’t you ugly?”). The songs, ranging from Can’t Buy Me Love to The Rhythm of Life, play on nostalgia. We even get a classic mirror scene in which Mother Goose and Ian Jones as her son precisely replicate each other’s movements. And there are token nods to the present with jokes about Wayne Rooney, Meghan Markle and an imaginary TV show called I’m a Celebrity, Get Me a Career.

Debbie Flitcroft’s production keeps the story moving, Mark Hinton’s designs are highly decorative and there is good support from Ian Parkin as the wicked squire and Amelia-Rose Morgan as his virtuous daughter. There are many more lavish and spectacular pantomimes around but few, I suspect, with such unaffected warmth and heart.

• At Wilton’s Music Hall, London, until 31 December. Box office: 020-7702 2789.

Mother Goose at Wilton’s in London.
Mother Goose at Wilton’s in London. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian


Michael Billington

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Old Mother Goose review – a golden egg of a panto
Irrepressible panto dame Berwick Kaler is dunked, hoisted, soaked and squished in the rarely seen pantomime classic, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

16, Dec, 2014 @11:03 AM

Article image
Roy Hudd: a charming star immediately embraced by audiences | Michael Billington
A versatile master of stage, radio and TV, Hudd survived changes in popular taste through his good-hearted skill

Michael Billington

16, Mar, 2020 @2:48 PM

Article image
Mother Goose – review
More baddies, more glitter and a giant space monster make this golden Goose an extravagant affair, writes Alfred Hickling

Alfred Hickling

04, Jan, 2011 @9:29 PM

Article image
The Snaw Queen review – a psychedelic sugar binge
Anything goes, especially Hans Christian Andersen’s original story, in Johnny McKnight’s hyperactive festive romp

Mark Fisher

02, Dec, 2016 @2:21 PM

Article image
Dick Whittington and His Cat review – deliciously traditional cockney panto
Roy Hudd plays his first pantomime dame – amid a medley of time-tested jokes and cockney standards – in this witty, warm, unadulterated delight

Michael Billington

06, Dec, 2015 @12:15 PM

Article image
Aladdin review – Vikki Stone's brilliant villain brings out the boos
Daftness trumps topicality in a magic carpet ride that finds the actors working the audience really well, even if the dame gets a bit lost in the wash

Lyn Gardner

30, Nov, 2016 @4:21 PM

Article image
The Twits review – panto pranks in Roald Dahl's anti-beard manifesto
David Wood sensibly doesn’t try to overextend what is one of Dahl’s most concise works, but he does keep the audience – especially the bearded members – on their toes

Alfred Hickling

20, Dec, 2016 @12:12 PM

Article image
Theatre review: Mother Goose / Hackney Empire, London

Hackney Empire, London
Clive Rowe lives up to all the hype as one of the greatest of modern dames, Michael Billington

Michael Billington

09, Dec, 2008 @12:16 AM

Article image
Five of the best pantomimes for Christmas 2015
Can you go wrong with Aladdin, Dick Whittington and Snow White? Oh no you can’t…

Lyn Gardner

04, Dec, 2015 @11:00 AM

Article image
Old Mother Goose review – creative mayhem
Dame, damsel and villain camp it up, courtesy of the longest-serving Christmas team ever, writes Clare Brennan

Clare Brennan

21, Dec, 2014 @8:00 AM