"LAUGHTER and I have forgotten each other,” sobs Mother Goose, her face a picture of dejection, “that’s how you feel when you've got an empty tummy.” Her tears literally rain down on the audience.

However, Mother Goose’s — ahem — ample girth does make you wonder how hungry she can actually be in this, Chipping Norton Theatre’s 40th birthday panto. And indeed, laughter and fun soon break out in abundance, courtesy of the first of composer Sarah Travis’s many bouncy musical numbers.

But Mother Goose still has a problem. Enter her landlord, the lecherous Baron von Rumpensmakka (say it slowly). Mrs G is behind with the rent, so he threatens to take pet Snow Goose Heidi (Evelyn Adams) and roast her up for Christmas dinner. Heidi is saved because Fairy Aurora gives her magic powers to lay golden eggs. Suddenly Mother Goose is rich.

The Chippy panto plays to a discerning audience, so writer Ben Crocker's new version of the Mother Goose story has a serious point to make. As director John Terry puts it in a programme note,we live in an age when anyone can be a celebrity, and where money can buy you the perfect face or the perfect body. But, he asks, “How far would you go to get what you want?”

Chippy's Mother Goose is in no doubt: she will spend her dosh on becoming more beautiful. She falls into the clutches of baddie Smorg the Troll, and emerges gobsmackingly made-over from his Bog of Beauty — this is one of the best panto trans-formation sequences I’ve ever seen.

Witney Gazette:

Laura Priestman as Gonk and Robert Maskell as Baron von Rumpensmakka

JJ Henry plays Mother Goose. He cut his panto teeth in Chippy last year, and now knows exactly how to engage with the audience. He can switch from sorrow to sunshine smile in an instant, doesn’t over-egg the pudding, and is never frighteningly grotesque. Robert Maskell and Luanna Priestman are a lively double act as the Baron and his sidekick Gonk, while Martyn Dempsey is suitably evil as Smorg.

In a cast with no weak links, Emilia Williams and Dominic Hodson supply the goggle-eyed love interest as Mother Gooses daughter and the Baron’s nephew Sven. The show looks gorgeous (designer Russell Craig), and is put over with infectious pizzazz.

It might go over the heads of the very young, but will bring much pleasure in the weeks ahead.

  • Mother Goose runs at The Theatre, in Chipping Norton, until January 11. For tickets, call 01608 642350 or visit chippingnortontheatre.com