REVIEW: Mother Goose is worth a gander

The cast of Mother Goose take a bow. Pictures by Phil Dennett
The cast of Mother Goose take a bow. Pictures by Phil Dennett
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Mother Goose, Burgess Hill Theatre Club, Martlets Hall, Burgess Hill, Friday, January 9

In January 1968 Burgess Hill Theatre Club’s first production of Mother Goose looked well and truly cooked.

Peter Gooding as panto dame Mother Goose with Priscilla Goose in Burgess Hill Theatre Club's 50th anniversary panto   pic Phil Dennett SUS-151201-145235003

Peter Gooding as panto dame Mother Goose with Priscilla Goose in Burgess Hill Theatre Club's 50th anniversary panto pic Phil Dennett SUS-151201-145235003

Fire at its Park Centre home after rehearsals had damaged the stage and dressing rooms so badly that the pantomime was threatened with cancellation, but Oakmeeds School offered a new venue.

Last Friday older theatre lovers with links to those fledgling days helped the now-thriving club celebrate its 50th panto season with great panache at the Martlets Hall.

As a young woman Elizabeth Batten had played 1968 principal boy Colin, and also Fairy Queen in the club’s first panto, Puss in Boots in 1966. Her daughter Hannah Wilson stepped into the 2015 senior chorus as a late replacement, joining her own daughter Cydney Wilson on stage.

Norma Somerville, Old Lady in 1966, and highly praised Priscilla The Goose in 1968, smiled as her granddaughter Amy Somerville charmed the enthusiastic 2015 audience as Fairy Fortuna.

Jo White, who played Naughty Child in the 1966 Puss in Boots and Jill in the 1968 Mother Goose, gave a congratulations speech as club president at a celebration reception before the show.

On stage, dancers included some from the same school as the ’60s, and this splendidly-costumed group from Drusilla Duffill Theatre School showed plenty of charm, energy and enthusiasm, as did the club’s own young dancers.

Injecting plenty of pace and action into the thoroughly modern pantomime was director Suzi Allan, a young dancer in the 1966 and 1968 shows, when only a pianist and drummer played, there were no mouth mics, lighting and scenery was more basic and costumes were home-made.

In the present technically advanced Goose Land, stand-in Donald Stewart did a suitably menacing job as much-hissed and unloved evil Montezuma after stepping late into the role for Friday’s performance when David Plank suffered the loss of his father.

David’s daughter Megan (senior chorus) and son Josh (boys chorus) also missed the first show, but all three are taking part in the rest of the run.

Among today’s heroes in the opening show Peter Gooding’s Mother Goose seemed basted with some kind of energy mix, seasoned with moments of perfectly pitched pathos that made for a magical Dame. Wise-cracking Matt Roberts as larger than life Johnny ran him close as a rabble-rouser, Chris Smith a contrasting chilled Mayor and Sophie Jones a beautiful though at times convincingly worried-looking Jenny.

Megan Roberts as heart-warming Priscilla The Goose was “nice twerk if you can get it”, rear wiggles producing regular giggles from the enthusiastic audience.

This was a top class show all round to celebrate a significant achievement, from Jaime Todd’s eye-catching sets to Sue Gooding’s classy programme design and strong playing by the band.

For sheer good fun and a joyful spirit Mother Goose is certainly worth a gander.

Tickets for Mother Goose are available from the box office at the theatre in Church Walk (Saturday and Wednesday, 10am to 1pm) or from Rosalind Wood on 01444 242984. Dates are January 16, 17, 18, 23, and 24. Prices are £10 and £9.