The annual pantomime at the Oxford Playhouse has been an annual favourite for many years, and I'm glad to say that this year's production of Mother Goose keeps up that tradition - and many others that continue to make panto such a staple ingredient in festive fun.
Writer and director Peter Duncan doesn't miss a step and packs the performance with feisty fairies, wicked witches, a dame in drag and plenty of songs and dance. The musical interludes were a real highspot this year - with the best choreography (by Grace Harrington) I've seen so far; the actors delivering both traditional and modern songs with great gusto and evident enjoyment.
The Duke (Nicholas Lumley) and Billy (Paul Charlton) are really funny and very good actors, but there's a bit that's scary that might not be suitable for very young children (one or two), says Alex Taylor (9). Daniel Taylor (11) thought this scene - the transformation halfway through the second half - was realistically creepy, with skeletons creeping around the first few rows. Daniel and Alex both enjoyed the childrens' chorus, and were especially full of praise for the soloist, Dad's favourite was the Wicked Witch (Ashleigh Gray) who was convincingly evil and ghoulishly glamorous.
The lighting design by Ashley Bale was particularly effective during the end of the panto, and the special effects - smoke, explosions, fireworks and especially the "flying goose" - were reminders of just how exciting live theatre can be. And how unpredictable, too! A failed special effect in the first half led to some hilarious improvisation between the excellent Mother Goose (Chris Larner) and the Duke that had the audience in stitches.
The storyline of Mother Goose is not the strongest of all the pantomimes, but Peter Duncan's script ensured that there were no dull patches, and the audience's attention was retained throughout. The only possible downside being a transplanted beheading scene from Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado. I am sorry (on at least two levels) to report that it went over most of the audiences' heads. But who cares for that? Baddies met their comeuppance, the good fairy triumphed and Mother Goose found true happiness in the arms of... well, you'll have to see it to find out!