JOYCE MCMILLAN on MAW GOOSE at Oran Mor, Glasgow, and THE POKEY HAT at East Kilbride Arts Centre, for The Scotsman, 12.7.14.
Maw Goose 4 stars ****
The Pokey Hat 4 stars ****
THE LATE DAVID MACLENNAN may have been stretching a point, a bit, when he claimed to be reviving a grand old tradition of Scottish “summer panto” at A Play, A Pie And A Pint. It’s true, though, that Scotland once had a great flair for end-of-the-pier summer entertainment; and if you fancy seeing two shows that pay rich tribute to that tradition, while offering some substantial food for thought to 21st century audiences, then you could do much worse than to hurry along both to this year’s Play, Pie And Pint lunchtime summer panto Maw Goose – at Oran Mor until 26 July – and to the children’s theatre company Grinagog’s delicious current show The Pokey Hat, which is touring car-parks across Scotland in a gorgeous vanilla-and-raspberry-coloured ice cream van.
As the last panto ever penned by the great Wildcat team of David Anderson and David MacLennan, Maw Goose could have been a show tinged with melancholy. No chance of that, though, as Dave Anderson and the other three cast members – Juliet Cadzow, George Drennan and Frances Thorburn – seize the traditional, irreverent spirit of the Oran Mor political panto for adults, and give it a vigorous shake by the throat, radiating scorn for “rich bastards” at every turn of the plot.
Maw Goose is actually one of the more complex panto stories, the interesting tale of a poor woman with a heart of gold who finds riches when her goose starts to lay golden eggs, but is then distracted by the subtle temptation of vanity; and it has to be said that this Oran Mor panto, set in an around the familiar streets of Glasgow’s West End, makes a sketchy job of the second half of the tale, after a roistering first act during which Maw Goose describes herself as “no sae much the squeezed middle as the squashed erse” of Britain’s unequal society.
What the show has in abundance, though, is lashings of wit – many of the songs are terrific, including the opening number Cost Of Living Crisis – and a superb central performance from David Anderson as Maw Goose, a pantomime dame of truly memorable complexity and hilarity. And it’s both poignant and impressive to see how the whole cast – under Ron Bain’s direction – raise their game, focus their energy, and belt out this show exactly as MacLennan would have wanted to see it; right down to the closing singalong, which reminds us to enjoy ourselves, because it’s later than we think.
The Pokey Hat, by contrast, is a short and simple 35-minute show for children about the joys of ice cream, in which the three performers don stripey waistcoats and straw boaters, and make brilliant use of the spaces in and around their ice cream van to reflect on three different ways in which ice cream is bound up with our happiest memories. So there’s the scene about playing in the street and running to buy a cone from the van; there’s the scene in a traditional Glasgow Italian cafe; and there’s the scene on a seaside holiday, doon the watter.
Like Maw Goose, The Pokey Hat slightly abandons its storyline towards the end; there’s supposed to be an ice-cream competition afoot, which links only vaguely to the ice-cream stories we’ve heard. That’s a minor hiccup, though, in a show full of lovely songs and gently persuasive writing; and everyone connected with The Pokey Hat – from writer Martin O’Connor and director Clare McGarry to the three-strong cast – can take real pride in a little beauty of a show, that radiates such a powerful and loving sense of social history, in such a small space.