"There are many more lavish and spectacular pantomimes around but few, I suspect, with such unaffected warmth and heart." - The GuardianAnd so it was that a hefty gathering of our regular "gang" (Hils, Crog, Madam Arcati, John-John, Julie, Jim and I) and chums (Steve, Sian, John B, Julia) ventured to the East End for a seasonal tradition - the panto at the historic Wilton's Music Hall (oh yes we did...).
"National treasure" Roy Hudd is a master of the Music Hall genre (he is president of the British Music Hall Society, and has bequested his extensive archive on the subject to the Suffolk New College), and celebrated 56 years in showbiz in 2016 (as an actor, scriptwriter, variety performer and comedian on stage, telly and radio). Thus it is all the more surprising that, in his 80th birthday year, this is only his second foray in the part of "The Dame" (see here for our visit to his first) - a role he is perfect for.
This year's Wilton's "extravaganza" - which Mr Hudd also wrote - is an adaptation of one of the earliest of its type. The original Mother Goose, which more-or-less launched the comedic pantomime art-form so beloved of us Brits, was a production created for the "King of the Music Halls" Dan Leno in 1902, and this updated version is Mr Hudd's tribute to his hero (he takes a photo of Mr Leno with him to place on his dressing-room table wherever he performs).
And what a joyful "tribute" it is too!
As with all pantomimes, there is a subtle balance between the very silly jokes, the - inevitably these days - clumsily-inserted pop songs and the simplistic fairy-tale storyline (all appealing to the children; one little boy along the row from us sat bewitched through the whole two hours without being bored) and the innuendo, smut, satirical references and knowing asides that keep the grown-ups entertained. In the hands of this fab cast (especially Mr Hudd, Gareth Davies (as the villainous "Vanity") and (as "Silly Willy") Ian Jones), despite the inevitable ad-libs and script "fluffs", the balance is maintained throughout. We laughed till tears ran down our faces at some of the preposterous antics - as Mother Goose, suddenly coming into money through the gift of golden eggs laid by the feathered monstrosity "Priscilla the Goose", transforms herself from tatty old lady into, well, an ageing glamour-puss (quote: “I do like your dress.” reply: “I bought it for a ridiculous figure.”), and mayhem ensues.
The singing (especially Ian Parkin (the wicked Squire) and his "daughter" played by Amelia-Rose Morgan), the dancing (the boys Steven Hardcastle - also the show's choreographer - and Terique Jarrett were divertingly sexy), the boos, the hisses, the Cockney Fairy (veteran actress Julia Sutton), the costumes, the inevitable happy ending - even the children - were all thoroughly enjoyable, but among our highlights were the "set-piece" routines: the totally manic Twelve Days of Christmas, with cast members running up and down the stage to pick up the ever-increasing list of presents arriving from the wings; and, especially, the inspired "mirror routine" in which Mr Hudd and Mr Jones flawlessly "reflected" each other's every move through an invisible looking-glass.
With the assistance of Hils and Crog's "killer mulled wine", a jolly crowd, and in the magnificent surroundings of the world's oldest surviving music hall, we had a fabulous evening...
Mother Goose is at Wilton's until 31st December.