SIR Ian McKellen is not only one of our greatest actors but is an undisputed national treasure.

An icon of stage and screen, the Golden Globe, Tony and Laurence Olivier award-winning star has dazzled in such diverse roles as Shakespeare’s Richard III, Salieri in Amadeus, Magneto in the X-Men films and, of course, Gandalf in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings.

REVIEW: Sir Ian and his comic sidekick John Bishop are game for a laugh in side-slapping Mother Goose

So what is this stalwart of the RSC and National Theatre doing gracing the stage of the New Theatre Oxford this week – as a flamboyant dame in classic pantomime Mother Goose?

The answer is, having fun and enjoying a laugh with his onstage spouse – who also happens to be one of the country’s top comedians.

In one of the least likely collaborations in the history of theatre, legendary thespian Sir Ian has teamed up with Liverpudlian funnyman John Bishop in a panto match made in heaven – and penned by Coronation Street writer Jonathan Harvey, who was responsible for fashioning Sir Ian’s role in the soap as dodgy novelist Mel Hutchwright.

Oxford Mail: Mother Goose at the New Theatre Oxford

“There’s stand up and there’s back-to-back and propping each other up,” says Sir Ian – who stars in the unseasonally late pantomime which finihes tonight (Saturday, March 11).

“It has become a story not about one person but about two. About a marriage. And we have a son Jack. So, I think that’s going to work really well ...and John has written some good stuff around it.”

And John is relishing the role. He says: “For all of us, the story of Mother Goose is good because it allows a little bit of flexibility in the telling as opposed to other pantomimes that are quite defined, which means for me, I’ve got a part really. I am the Father Goose as it were – married to Mother Goose. And it works as a story.”

“But it’s also, right now a story of our time. People are desperate for money and desperate for fame and that is the story of Mother Goose. On that journey they lose something, and that’s what this story is: it’s trying to get people focused on what’s important.”

Sir Ian agrees: “It is thought to be a special part as although all pantomimes have a dame, this story revolves around the dame, which is not true of others. I thought, maybe exclusively, it should revolve around me, until I heard the casting and learned I had to share.”

The talented cast also includes Anna-Jane Casey as Cilla The Goose. Her anserine flight of fancy follows a starring role as Fraulein Kost in the award-winning production of Cabaret in the Kit Kat Club at the West End’s Playhouse Theatre, and parts in Chicago, Billy Elliot, Spamalot, West Side Story, Grease, Starlight Express and Cats.

While Sir Ian is thrilled to be sharing the stage with a talented cast, he is making his role as a dame very much his own.

“There are lots of sorts of dames, aren’t there?” he ponders.

Oxford Mail: Mother Goose at the New Theatre Oxford

“From men in frocks who look nothing like women, and that’s fine, right to the other end of totally convincing women. RuPaul used to be in pantomime, and Danny La Rue – who you would think was a woman, until he spoke.

“What am I doing here then? What’s the point? Well, I asked Jonathan Harvey – who has written so wonderfully for Coronation Street – and created the character I played for 10 episodes – could he think of an iconic sort of strong woman who would fit into Coronation Street called Mother Goose? And I think that is what he’s come up with.

“She’s strong, but she’s flawed. But aren’t we all.”

Oxford Mail: Mother Goose at the New Theatre Oxford

“As for the point of a man playing her, I don’t know – but there’s plenty of feminine stuff inside me and that comes to the fore.”

And what’s it like for John to be married to Sir Ian?

“Um, you know what? It’s funny. Because we spend some time together now, we get on genuinely well – but we have started to bicker. So, I think being married to Sir Ian McKellen could be a bickering experience.

“We’ll certainly stay together while we’re in Oxford, but we’ll just get divorced after that.”

Sir Ian laughs and offers him some advice on surviving marriage.

“If you just do what you’re told, everything will be alright!”

Mother Goose is at the New Theatre Oxford.

The run ends tonight (March 11)

Tickets from