Skip to main content

7th April 2023

Review: Mother Goose

Mother Goose, starring Sir Ian McKellen and John Bishop, is so wholesome and funny that even those of us who don’t like pantos will enjoy it
Review: Mother Goose
John Bishop and Sir Ian McKellen. Photo: Manuel Harlan

I’m often a little embarrassed to tell people that I’m from Burnley. People are often surprised that I, noticeably middle-class with a near-RP accent, am from the area where the BNP won their first (and only) council seat. I proceed to tell these people two things: (1) Believe it or not, there are nice parts of Burnley and Pendle, and (2) Sir Ian McKellen is from Burnley! That often shuts them up.

McKellen is an international icon but also a local one. He’s the most successful person – and the best thing, period – to come out of the area. Sure, he left when he was very young, but we still claim him as one of our own. So, when arose the opportunity to see this gay, Burnley-born megastar onstage, I jumped at the chance – even though he’s starring in Mother Goose, and I hate pantos!

McKellen stars alongside Great British comedy legend John Bishop, well-known theatre star Anna-Jane Casey (who I saw in the acclaimed Cabaret revival last year), and WhatsOnStage Award nominee Oscar Conlon-Morrey. How else could a panto tour the UK outside of the festive season?

Before the main story began, Bishop came onstage and told us that he had performed in a pantomime at this very theatre before MediaCityUK had even been built – back when Salford was rough! He told us a few rules, e.g. when bad fairies come onstage (from the stage left), boo; when good fairies come onstage (from the stage right), cheer. However, at some point in the show, Bishop remembered that he had forgotten to tell us a specific instruction!

It’s a pretty standard panto, albeit with a big budget that allows for musical-level production value –  from stunning sets to incredible costumes (especially McKellen’s dresses). The script is incredibly funny; it’s a family-friendly show but there’s plenty of adult humour. In fact, the audience was almost all adult; like me, they had come to see two icons in the flesh.

The panto’s story was surprisingly sociopolitical, and there was plenty of political humour scattered throughout the show. Bishop said something along the lines of, “Who are you? Cruella Braverman?” A short while later, a posh-talking, yellow-haired pig puppet popped out of a cupboard. “Alright, Boris, we are not having a party!” said Bishop.

The cast hilariously broke out of character on a few occasions, responding to and bouncing off of the lively audience, and sometimes outright bursting into laughter. McKellen often managed to keep a straight face, even when his cast-mates were in flood of tears, which is testament to his sheer skill as an actor.

Early on in the second act, Vic (bishop) and his wife, the titular Mother Goose (McKellen), reunite, after Mother abandoned him for stardom. The scene was surprisingly touching. “Take her back!” pled an adorable child in the audience, to “awws” from adult audience members. Bishop was visibly touched.

As a musical theatre fan, I loved all of the references (or easter eggs, if you’ll pardon the pun) to famous musicals. For instance, Cilla the Goose is imprisoned in an egg-shaped cage, with a sign that says “24601”. The Goose King even sings, “Prisoner 24601”. Later, Casey reminded us that she is a serious musical theatre star by singing ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade’, which possibly received the biggest applause of the night.

There were also references to McKellen’s impressive resume, from Lord of the Rings to Shakespeare. He even delivered a Shakespeare monologue. As somebody who cannot bare to watch traditional Shakespeare, not even when legends like McKellen star in it, I’m thrilled I got to see McKellen do Shakespeare in a pantomime! Bishop later had a go at Shakespeare – it’s quite interesting with a Scouse accent!

Towards the end of the show, Bishop broke out of character and thanked the crew, “particularly the sound guy, who took his apprenticeship this afternoon,” a sassy dig, for there had been a few sound issues throughout the course of the show.

There’s not much else to say really. It’s a panto; it’s not deep, and you know what to expect.

If, like me, you go just to see McKellen onstage, you will not be disappointed. He gives one of the funniest performances of his career, and his chemistry with Bishop is explosive.

I loved everything about this production – and I don’t like pantomimes.


Mother Goose runs at The Lowry (Lyric Theatre) until April 9, before heading to Bristol Hippodrome, from April 12 to 16, for the final stop of its UK tour.

Jay Darcy

Jay Darcy

Theatre Editor. Instagram & Twitter: @jaydarcy7. Email: [email protected].

More Coverage

The Crown Jewels review: We are not amused

The Crown Jewels is having its regional premiere at The Lowry – but not even an all-star cast and the Queen of the West End can save this royally unfunny script

Annie review: A fab-u-lous family spectacular

Annie sweeps Manchester off its feet with song, sass, and dreams. But act fast: by ‘Tomorrow’, tickets might be gone!

Great Expectations in the Raj: In conversation with Tanika Gupta

The Mancunion spoke to playwright Tanika Gupta about her newest adaptation of Dickens’s Great Expectations – a re-imagining which casts new historical and political light on the literary classic

Review: Great Expectations

Tanika Gupta’s rendition of Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations kicks off the Royal Exchange Theatre’s Autumn/Winter season with an exciting Bengali twist on a British classic