I have a number of traditions at Christmas which make the season special. These include putting a green man bought at Canterbury Cathedral on the top of the Christmas tree while listening to Michael Buble, watching Muppet Christmas Carol, and cooking enough red onion chutney to feed an army.
Another essential is pantomime, but not just any old pantomime. Canterbury Marlowe’s panto is, for me, one of the great joys of the Christmas season and despite moving away from the city, there was no way I was going to miss it. I can categorically say that I was right to make the trip as it, once again, was absolutely brilliant.
Evolution Productions, Paul Hendy and the fabulous cast of this year’s panto once again cannot be anything but praised for this year’s production of Mother Goose. The story sees poor Mother Goose (the fabulous Ben Roddy) struggling financially having not paid her rent for 6 months and trying to look after her three children, Jill (Trinia Hill), Charlie (Dr Ranj) and Billy (Lloyd Hollett), and absolutely desperate to be taken seriously and be seen as beautiful. Having been fortunate enough to find a magic goose (named expertly by one “lucky” audience member), she finds herself wealthy enough to have whatever she wants, so all that is left is for her to become beautiful. Cue Demon Vanity (Marc Pickering) ready with the tempting fountain of youth in return for her goose. And of course, comedy ensures.
Dr Ranj, makes his panto debut as Charlie Goose and was absolutely excellent. Clearly excited about the role and loving every second, his enthusiasm and joy was contagious. Lloyd Hollett as Billy is ever the comedic expert with perfect timing, ad libbing where necessary and bringing unending energy to the stage. Meanwhile, Jenna Russel as this year’s Fairy Godmother gets to show off her voice and gets the audience ready for the forthcoming frivolities with her rhyming couplets and encouragement for audience participation. More to the point, I never trust a fairy without a hipflask!
And of course, newly inaugurated to the Hall of Dame and celebrating 10 years in the show is the truly fabulous Ben Roddy leading the show, as ever, with endless aplomb. To be honest, this does not explain well enough just how wonderful he is – you might just have to go to see for yourself!
But the star of the show for me was Marc Pickering as this year’s baddy, Demon Vanity who is obsessed with his own reflection and desperate for wealth and power. His Christopher Walken/Kenneth Williams voice (yeah I know, hard to imagine but it was wonderful) and perfectly timed hip thrusts (in time with the sound effects every single time) were truly wonderful – he might be one of the best baddies I have seen.
We also saw “Uncle” Chris Wong getting his first line in the panto after 25 years as the show’s MD and an unexpected cast member in the form of Andy – the most handsome man in the audience, who was in charge of a number of aspects of the performance – none of which went the way he’d hoped.
Of course all the Canterbury panto favourites were there – the wheelbarrow of puns, and the ghost gag bench as well as a range of brilliant songs and dance moves. There is nothing which isn’t carefully thought out in this production; the sets and lighting are bright and well designed, the costumes are just fabulous – in particular Mother Goose’s array of flamboyant and over the top dresses and wigs and the choreography was spot on. It was also lovely to see the story not only draw on current events, but provide something you don’t expect from a pantomime – some more sensitive current issues such as acceptance, self love and inner beauty, which was ultimately the moral of the story. It was also quite refreshing to not have a love story woven in or see a damsel in distress in need of rescuing by some night in shining armour.
The Marlowe’s Panto every year has bigger and bigger expectations put upon it, particularly since they do make the point of stating that “You dont get that in the Dartford panto” and a fate worse than death of being banished to the Chatham panto is threatened. But somehow, Evolution Productions, Lloyd Hollett, Ben Roddy, Chris Wong and all the supporting cast, continue to entertain, impress and make Canterbury roar with laughter at this festive time of year. Pun, gags and naughty jokes galore, as always, the Marlowe’s panto is suitable for everyone.
I for one am looking forward to another 10 years of Ben Roddy, 25 more of Chris Wong and, unmentioned in the show, many more years of Lloyd Hollett, who celebrates 30 years in show business this year. I wonder what he will get next year for his 10th year in Canterbury? I guess we will have to wait to see until next year when they perform Jack and the Beanstalk
Mother Goose is on at The Marlowe Theatre until Sunday 12 January 2020 with performance times varying from 10:30am to 7:30pm. There will also be captioned, audio-described and BSL-interpreted performances. Tickets can be found here
Book your tickets for next year’s show at the Marlowe website