Review: Mother Goose (Wilton's Music Hall)

Roy Hudd stars in the pantomime at Wilton’s Music Hall this Christmas

The wings have fallen off at Wilton’s. Having dished up the first panto in its 157-year history last Christmas – a loving heritage effort true to the form’s music hall roots – the follow-up is a bit of a let-down. Artless, slapdash and doddery, it honks.

Mother Goose is an odd panto at the best of times: a real curate’s egg. It’s the only one led by its dame for a start, and when her feathered friend starts popping out golden eggs, the old goose is caught between the twin spirits of Virtue and Vanity and, in particular, that age-old dilemma: riches or beauty. The part’s long been considered a pinnacle of pantomime – the King Lear of Dames.

Roy Hudd, that octogenarian authority on all things vintage and vaudevillian, steps into a role specially created for the legendary Dan Leno back in 1902. He’s even modelled his Ma Goose on Leno’s, and the result is a dowdy dame wrapped in a black shawl – pretty much just an old bloke in a frock having too little fun. Hudd shakes his ankle and hoikes up his cleavage, but there’s little of the giddy man-eating mamma to her. Indeed, with a gnatty brown wig that refuses to stay pinned in place, he looks the spit of Little My’s mum.

The commitment to the classics of yesterday is endearing, but ultimately it’s quaint. If Hudd’s knackered old turns have charm it is mostly because they seem so naïve and defunct. Hard to believe that maths games once raised the roof and that mirror routines – no matter how well-drilled – had 'em rolling in the aisles.

Flyworn as they are, there’s a kindly spirit to such labours of love, so it’s baffling that Hudd all but gives up on Wilton’s USP. In addition to ye olde fare, there are pop songs served straight – "Mr Blue Sky" and "She Loves Me" amongst them – with no reference to plot and no effort at reworking. Cracker gags aside, there are hardly any actual jokes and Hudd largely stops at a smattering of celebrity names, as if topicality were merely a matter of shouting 'Ed Balls' or 'Megan Markle' once in a while. The need for new material rather spoils the vintage.

In fact, Debbie Flitcroft’s production creaks like an arthritic knees-up, and only Lee Evans lookalike Ian Jones instils any sense of energy. He’s still hampered by a script that hardly turns up. Despite a heap of contemporary concerns, from austerity to anti-aging, the plot’s not buffed to its best. My main grouse, not to snipe, is the poultry number of goose gags on offer, ducking the game altogether. The laughs come, instead, from the shambolic, teetering tone that, too often, feels like the cast are having more fun that we are. In the end, this Mother Goose is past its prime and undercooked.

Mother Goose runs at Wilton’s Music Hall until 31 December.

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