THIS is as much The Misadventures Of Old Granny Goose as The Adventures of the aforesaid ageing old bird.
Berwick Kaler and his ex-York Theatre Royal gang are back together, re-grouping like The Rolling Stones or the Friends cronies to recall the old hits – Berwick and a dummy, Berwick flying (twice), Berwick and a pool with powers that take years off his dame and, above all, Berwick going off-piste, off script – for the faithful.
Those moments, at liberty to ad-lib, are the ‘misadventures’, the ones that most delight, Berwick wandering off to the stage apron to take in the audience with mischief in his eyes, Berwick apologetically and rough-handedly correcting his misplaced stage spot, Berwick making a political jibe, Berwick winding up his fellow regulars and teasing his ensemble newbies.
What’s fresh this year? The Grand Opera House, the comeback dame’s adopted panto home for a second year, has undergone a refurbishment, new seating et al; the panto has new producers, UK Productions, overseeing costumes (an upgrade on last year), set design (standard panto scenery, smart, proficient, no York detailing) and lighting (hi-tech with a dash of pop-concert glitz).
What else? Lovely fairy lights adorning the proscenium arch; a welcome revamp of the stock ghost scene with beds disappearing and reappearing and a host of ghosts; puppy-keen Jake Lindsay’s upgrade to a more prominent role as Jakey Lad, still the butt of Berwick’s putdowns after a decade in the ranks.
And what’s more? The three lads in the dance ensemble (Spencer Hardy, Elliot OJ Hutchinson and dance captain Samuel Lithco) aping Matthew Bourne’s all-male chorus in a brief burst of Swan Lake, plus ensemble debuts for Leeds-trained Lucy Churchill and Niamh Hendron, and a new intake of children from York Stage School for babbies’ sweetness in ensemble scenes.
What’s old this year? The Grand Dame, of course, sending himself/herself up at 76, aware that unlike his character, Mrs Plum Duff, the Granny Goose of the title, he cannot turn back panto-time by taking a magical pool dip.
Instead, the drama-queen dame mock-collapses at the end of big number Barmy Girl in mock-exhaustion, play acting as he demands to be helped up. He adamantly says he can’t deliver his lines any faster when urged to do so and deliberately turns his balletic flight landing into an inelegant tumble.
What’s the (lack of!) plot this year? Well, no, Berwick hasn’t lost the plot, but it’s brief. Or, correction, devilish David Leonard’s dandy villain, the goose-fearing Lucifer Nauseus, says it is. He has to find a fairy. That’s it. The plot.
Well, like on an allotment, there’s plot aplenty, or at least by writer-director Berwick’s infamous plot-resistant standards, there is. But yes, in essence, the villain must find a fairy to do his evil bidding for him. Oh, and the dame has to be under the misconception that the Goose is a dog.
What ticks over this year? Kirsty Sparks’s choreography; Rob Thorne’s band, and especially Berwick’s double act with comic fall guy Martin Barrass (dippy son Jessie Plum Duff), partner in the ghost scene, The Lambton Worm song sheet, and rocking-chair ventriloquism routine with Boris Johnson as the dummy.
That Tory old boy scene defines the dip in madcap mayhem since peak Kaler years, being laboured (not Laboured, unlike this pun), where it needs to make more of Johnson’s blustering vocal schtick and boot him with sharper barbs about his mendacious character.
What works best this year? No surprises. Leonard’s fab-u-lous vainglorious villainy, with his devil’s swishing tail that turns into a phone, his stage-vamping swagger, that Shakespearean lead thespian voice and his comic timing. Everything done with aplomb amid the Plum Duffs.
His rendition of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day with first Suzy Cooper, then AJ Powell, is the show’s comic high point, anything but a perfect day, but witty and physically funny too.
What about Cooper and Powell this year? On good form, principal gal Suzy doubling up as both a classic Fairy and plummy Cissy Plum Duff, who is all doe-eyed over Powell’s would-be novelist, Brum Stoker (the pick of Kaler’s cast names for 2022).
What’s missing this year? The film; the water splosh scene; old-school physical slapstick; topical references (save for yesterday’s men, Johnson and Matt Hancock), and an animal costume for Barrass.
What replaces them? The jousting banter between the familiar players; the greater emphasis on song and dance (Leonard going from one song immediately into another); the comforting constant sense of nostalgia for Dame Berwick devotees.
The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose does not lay a golden egg of cracking comedy but is more of a curate’s egg, sunny side up at times, flat as a pancake on occasion. There is more than enough for the loyal legions, not enough for new converts.
“We’ve never, ever taken you for granted,” said Dame Berwick at the finale, both grateful and hopeful of a return. After all, this Kaler – and his goose – on the loose is not the oldest dame in town this Christmas.
A certain Sir Ian McKellen’s Caroline Goose, aged 83, is in residence in Mother Goose at the Duke of York’s, London, from tonight (15/12/2022) until January 29, then on tour until April 1.