SNOW flurries were forecast as the panto hit town, which lent a conventionally Christmassy feel to proceedings though we are already well into March.

Fresh from the West End, this Mother Goose is on a major National tour with a star billing of the 83-year-old Ian McKellen and the Liverpudlian stand-up (and former footballer) John Bishop.

Supplying a big box office boost at its various ports of call, the panto – like the fabulous feathered friend it features - is truly a goose that goes on laying golden eggs.

Unlike, say, Aladdin or Cinderella, Mother Goose is not well-blessed with plot. What it certainly supplies, though, is an excellent vehicle for McKellen to show off his formidable skills as thespian and game-for-a-laugh cross-dresser.

Theatrical knight, companion of honour and emphatic national treasure, Sir Ian has never been one to trade in actorly pretensions of gravitas. Witness his roles, for instance, in Coronation Street, X-Men and, indeed, the RSC’s King Lear when he famously let everything hang out.

Here the focus is what he puts on rather than takes off, in a range of stunning outfits forever changing in the blink of an eye.

The setting is Mother Goose’s animal refuge in a disused Debenhams (just like ours 50 yards up the road). A ‘shih tsu’ is mentioned and the offended Ms Goose snaps back (get it?) that hers is a well-regulated institution.

Oxford Mail: Mother Goose at the New Theatre Oxford

Yes, the show never knowingly lacks vulgarity, as when the dame has her bottom greased during the slapstick baking scene with hubby Vic (Bishop) and son Jack (Oscar Conlon-Morrey).

The latter’s vigorous attentions prompt the remark – to the audience’s delight: “You didn’t do THAT in rehearsals.”

All panto ingredients are diligently displayed under director Cal McCrystal, including pounding musical numbers in which cast members and the chorus of animals (some of them puppets) shine.

Read more: Sir Ian and John Bishop laugh about their on-stage marriage in Mother Goose

There are oddly affecting moments too, as when Bishop – gently mocked throughout for his lack of acting talent- gets to deliver the whole of Shakespeare’s most famous sonnet, ‘Shall I compare thee….’

This proves that it’s words that matter – whoever says them.

(Mother Goose continues at New Theatre until Saturday March 11)