Did you know that Mother Goose lived in the grounds of Eiderdowning College? This year’s pantomime at Cambridge Arts Theatre, is set in Cambridge. The opening scene is Cambridge Market. There will be scenes in Trinity Street and a vista of The Backs.
It’s a morality tale. Mother Goose is just your ordinary, hard-working mum, until her goose lays golden eggs. Then her fabulous wealth goes to her head. She falls from grace…tempted by a devilish fairy.
Yes, this year’s baddie is a woman. The bad fairy played by West End actress Pippa Duffy, a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music (so expect bad woman – great voice).
There is a good fairy too, of course: Fairy Virtue, played by Charlotte Wakefield (Holly Cullen in Holby City) as well as the comic character, Silly Sammy played by Steven Roberts and Priscilla the Goose played by Georgia Nicholson.
For decades, the Arts has faithfully delivered a stock four pantomimes – a new script every year (and even several new jokes) but always one of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin, or Dick Whittington.
For years, Dave Murphy, the theatre’s chief executive, who produces the Arts pantos has been looking for something to add to their repertoire.
Then came the light bulb moment. He said: “I saw the McKellen Mother Goose.” (Sir Ian McKellen and John Bishop toured the show across the country earlier this year).
Murphy said: “It has a nice plot and a nice moral message that money isn’t everything, you should be careful what you wish for, and family is important. I thought Oh, I’ll have a crack at that one.”
He said: “It’s very dame centred. It is the story of Mother Goose, it’s not the story of Aladdin or the story of Cinders – and I thought that’s nice for Matt who is such a good friend of the Arts. (That’s Matt Crosby – the absolute consummate dame – this will be his 10th dame-hood at the Arts…gliding seamlessly through the change of frocks.)
“And (said Murphy) I thought how we can make this work for us. Every year we put quite a lot of effort into making the show feel Cambridge-centred.
“We have references to local shops and local places and things that have happened recently. If you have a panto that is not particularly based anywhere, I thought why not try to bring it to Cambridge and get a really lovely set done with places our audience will recognise. We wanted the show to have the sense that it belonged to the people of Cambridge.
He added: “I was so touched that our audience came back to us after the pandemic. We have an absolutely brilliant audience who come to Cambridge. The frequency of attendance is remarkable. When external parties look at the frequency of our audiences, they can’t believe how often people come.”
As it has been for the past decade, the panto will be written by Al Lockhart Morley, who grew up nearby in St Ives.
Says Al: “Mother Goose is a little different from the more established modern panto titles – though it’s been around for just as long. It’s a morality tale at heart: forces of good and evil battling it out in some Faustian pact over poor old Mother Goose who comes from nothing to achieve beauty, wealth, and fame.
“Her fall from grace is heart-wrenching but we hope the children of Cambridge will help her get back on her feet.
After Mother Goose goes up in the world, she starts splashing the cash on status symbols – tempted by Demon Vanity
Al said: “We’ve created a whole new college, Eiderdowning College where Mother Goose is a cook but of course she yearns to open a little bakery on King’s Parade instead of selling cakes in Cambridge Market.
“The story takes us from glorious little winding city centre streets to Midsummer Common and Cambridge Market. It’s my tenth year of writing and I want it to be something truly special. This panto is really my love letter to the city.”
Mother Goose, set in Cambridge is at Cambridge Arts Theatre from Thursday, November 30 to Sunday, January 7.
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