The story of Mother Goose is possibly the oldest story to be turned into a pantomime. It dates back to an ancient Greek legend about a goose that laid golden eggs. It is also one of the earliest pantomimes seen in Great Britain, nearly two hundred years ago.
Mother Goose can be confusing- people know about “Tales of Mother Goose”, (first read in the 17th Century in France) and “Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes”- very popular in America, but the pantomime isn’t about the nursery rhymes that were published under that title. The Pantomime is about Mother Goose herself- not the Goose, who is usually called “Priscilla”, but the part played by the pantomime Dame who is called “ Mother Goose.”
The story first appeared in 1806 as an early pantomime called “Harlequin and Mother Goose or The Golden Egg”. It opened on Boxing day and played for 92 nights, making it the most successful pantomime to date. Hastily put together in six weeks it had the great clown Joseph (Joey) Grimaldi in it, In those times the pantomime was very short, and was followed by “The Harlequinade”, the main part of the evening’s entertainment. Up to this point it was Harlequin himself who was the main character, but after “Mother Goose” all this was to change! The part most featured was the Clown, played by the very popular Grimaldi. From then on the Clown became the biggest part in Harlequinade and in Pantomime.
The pantomime of “Mother Goose” as we know it today is not as old- it is a mere 103 years old! It was at Drury Lane Theatre London in 1902 that the writer J.Hickory Wood created a new pantomime especially for the leading comedian of the day- Dan Leno. When the pantomime was finished it told the story that we know today, and created the biggest part for a Dame in any pantomime.
In previous versions Mother Goose was a mysterious character- an old crone, almost like a kindly witch. Dan Leno created a poor woman who befriends a magical goose that provides her with Golden Eggs. She is rich, but there is something she wants more than money- she wants to be young and beautiful.
The pantomime has a strong moral- Beauty & Wealth cannot bring you happiness.
The story tells of how Mother Goose is about to be thrown off her land because she cannot pay the Squire and his Bailiffs the rent. Along comes Priscilla the goose. Mother Goose loves her as a friend and doesn’t know the good fairy has sent her to help Mother Goose. Priscilla lays golden eggs, and Mother Goose is rich. Along comes the Demon King (sometimes called “Demon Discord”). He has a bet with the fairy. He claims there is no-one on earth who is happy with what they have got- no one is content. They want more. The fairy Disagrees, and uses Mother Goose as an example of goodness.
The Demon King tempts Mother Goose with the one thing she doesn’t have- youth and beauty. He persuades her to give him Priscilla in exchange for a visit to the “Pool of Beauty”. She gives him Priscilla, and enters the pool, emerging as (she thinks) a beautiful woman.
All her friends don’t like her now- they want the old Mother Goose back. Too late she realises that beauty is NOT everything, and that she must get Priscilla back. After a lot of trouble (usually going to “Goose Court” in Gooseland to plead for Priscilla, she gets her back, and all ends happily ever after.
Mother Goose is no longer the very popular pantomime it was several years ago, but each year there are more productions appearing in the country- it might well be coming back to its original popularity. Famous Dames who have played the part include Dan Leno, George Lacy, Stanley Baxter, Danny La Rue, Ronnie Corbett and Mathew Kelly as well as probably the finest modern day Mother Goose John Inman.
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This page was last updated 10th May 2007