Mother Goose, Norwich

CHARLES ROBERTS If the spirit of pantomime is to make us laugh, to involve us all, young and young of heart alike, and to give us a dollop of spectacle and dazzle, then this show is a winner hands down.


If the spirit of pantomime is to make us laugh, to involve us all, young and young of heart alike, and to give us a dollop of spectacle and dazzle, then this show is a winner hands down.

That central spirit is there in abundance, yet this isn't “just panto” – it has veins of musical comedy about it too, with dancers and routines which add sparkle and style.

But in the end there's only one proof – the roar of the kids as they step in exuberantly, from the first opening minutes, to play their part. And wow! Do they play it. At one point their enthusiasm literally set the whole theatre vibrating.

Desmond Barrit is back again as director and as dame, and as joint writer with comedian Rikki Jay. They are a terrific partnership: or as Rikki's catchword has it, they're “wicked”. Wicked, that is, whether scripted or ad-libbing, with double entendres which set the adults rocking, but which blessedly go over the kids' heads.

And some of the jokes they slide in come back as old, very old friends… and you tend, joyfully, to welcome them back accordingly. Viz: What's the difference between a buffalo and a bison? Answer: You can't wash in a buffalo. Oh groan! Oh panto delight!

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Dame Mother Goose has a more contemporary line in patter: “I'm wearing my Norwich City bra – no cups and little support”.

Then there's Rikki's groan-worthy aside to Kelly Taylor's adorable Priscilla the Goose (were a beak and feathers ever so eloquent?): “Where did you get those feet? Off the web?”

Desmond Barrit's costumes are as outrageous as his dame, though neither his lines not his outfits would afford the same pleasure without his perfect timing and ready ability to manipulate an ever-willing audience.

Rikki Jay shares the same qualities, allied with a wicked grin and constant connivance with us out front, which make him adored by all ages. I said of him in a previous Theatre Royal panto that by rights his persona should be bottled and distributed generally, to brighten and lighten mankind. This latest show only confirms his enormous appeal.

Our old friend Helen McDermott, in the fairy godmother role of Spirit of Charity, fairly works her wings off, with zestful energy, a rubber-faced sense of humour, and with a Tiller Girl high kick into the bargain. But why, for goodness sake, didn't she have a smashing dress for the final walkdown, like everybody else? She's pitted against a different kind of panto baddie from the norm, the Spirit of Vanity, as played by Jilly Johnson.

Trim and curvy Miss Johnson certainly is, but the kids seemingly couldn't make head or tail of her character. Both script and interpretation have to take the blame.

The romantic element of Jack and Jilly are provided by Matt Rawle and Sarah-Jane Bourne. Both are personable, know how to smile and have pleasing voices, but last night they were still running in third gear. Miss Bourne hits her highspot with a “my philosophy” song which is pure musical comedy.

Ref Mr Rawle, had he clapped his hands to his hips just one more time, in cardboard Errol Flynn fashion, I would very likely have screamed.

The real baddie of the show is Sir Jasper Moneybags, aided by his sidekick Bumble – Richard Gauntlett and Steve Galler respectively. They play neatly off each other, with Gauntlett in particular a thoroughly likeable rogue.

Dancing, as indicated earlier, is a crucial part of the show, with a corps of dancers, including the youngsters of the Central School of Dancing, worthy of the warmest accolades.

Overall, a hugely enjoyable show – which pleases me no end as Mother Goose marks a special milestone for me: the 30th consecutive Theatre Royal pantomime which I have reviewed. Now there's a record!

t Mother Goose runs until January 20. Box office: 01603 630000.