Anna-Jane Casey having a laugh with Gandalf in Mother Goose

But the renowned star of shows ranging from Cats and Starlight Express to Billy Elliot and Calendar Girls has been touring the UK as Cilla Quack in the pantomime Mother Goose which arrives at The Lowry next week.

“It’s such a laugh,” said Anna-Jane, “honestly it’s brilliant.”

Mother Goose is arguably one of the most high-profile pantos ever as it also stars Sir Ian McKellen and comeidan John Bishop.

The Bolton News: Anna-Jane Casey, John Bishop and Ian McKellen (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

“I know people always bang on about how good the cast is and how well they all get on when they are trying to sell a show,” said Anna-Jane. “But in this case all of that is true and more. There are 14 people on stage and every one one of them is unbelievably talented and the fact that I get to hold hands with Magneto every day is just amazing.”

Rossendale-born Anna-Jane – sister of Natalie Casey – was a late addition to the cast.

“This wasn’t my job initially,” she said, “I was planning on having six months off while my husband – Graham Macduff – was on tour in Sister Act. I was planning to sit on my bum, look after the kids and tidy the house.”

Mel Giedroyc, who was originally due to play the goose, was forced to pull out when her mum became unwell.

The Bolton News: John Bishop, Anna-Jane Casey, Ian McKellen and Company (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

“I’d just finishing working on Cabaret with the same production company and they rang me 10 days before rehearsals were due to start

“My agent said ‘it’s a bit of a random one’ when he contacted me about it but I said that if I got to hold Ian McKellen’s hand every day until April I’d do it.”

Audiences around the country have been lapping up the show which proves that pantomimes aren’t just for Christmas.

“I can remember when I was a kid going to see the pantomime in Manchester which usually had someone like Danny la Rue or Des O’Connor in it,” said Anna-Jane, “but I’m sure they would be on almost into Easter.

“Ian had asked why that tradition of taking a panto on the road had stopped and decided to get a really good cast together with West End and regional performers and take it on tour.

“It’s brilliant. We travel all around like a little troop and it’s fantastic.”

Being part of a show that is pure fun has proved to be a heartwarming experience for Anna-Jane.

“The lovely John Bishop comes out at the beginning and sets the scene for the audience. He says it’s just a a bonkers couple of hours of fun; don’t expect anything that might change your life, it’s not deep and meaningful or will give you some insight into the political situation, this is literally two hours of having a complete laugh.

The Bolton News: John Bishop and Sir Ian McKellen (Picture: Manuel Harlan)

“And from the start everyone’s joining in, adults, children, it doesn’t matter. We’ve gone from playing smaller venues to really big houses and every single time everyone’s part of it.

“It’s a wonderful thing. You have to charm the audience into getting them involved then once you have, it’s a big communal joy. To know before you step on stage that over 2,000 people will have a right old laugh tonight is why we do this job.”

Anna-Jane is not a performer who traditionally schedules in a panto role each year.

“I did a few when I was a kid,” she said. “I think I might have done one at Burnley Mechanics back then but the last time I did a pantomime was Aladdin in Hackney when my daughter was only two or three.

“We’ve taken the kids to them and I have a lot of friends who are in them regularly so I kind of knew the rules and what I was getting into, but being part of a show like this is hilarious.

“It’s also really hard work. You are on stage running around for a couple of hours, no one gets a chance to sit down. You need your energy levels to be really high as no-one’s slacking on this show. I think we could all go and run marathons and lift weights at the end of this.”

One of the joys of being on tour with Mother Goose has been the opportunity to work closely with one of the greatest actors. Sir Ian McKellen who has done everything from Shakespeare on the stage at the RSC to playing Gandalf on screen in the Lord of the Rings.

The Bolton News: Mother Goose at the New Theatre Oxford

“He’s had so much life experience, he’s been through so much,” said Anna-Jane. “He’s been on the planet for 83 years, he’s learned how to control his emotions and bring them out when he needs to and he’s just brilliant.

“Not giving the game away but apart from being totally hilarious he does a soliloquy in the show. The place can have been in uproar beforehand but all he has to do is say the first two words and the place goes silent. It’s his voice, his attitude – he’s a wonderful, wonderful man. It’s been a pleasure to spend time with him for the past six months.”

After The Lowry, Mother Goose will have one more stop in Bristol before the run ends.

“Thinking about that is already breaking my heart not just for Ian and John but for everybody involved.” said Anna-Jane. “We’ve all been very close over the last six months. We’ll have a period of mourning I’m sure when it’s over

“But it does mean I’ll finally get to get my kitchen done, I’ll be project managing that. Then Ive got some lovely concerts to look forward to.

“The next time I’ll be in Manchester will be at the Bridgewater Hall with the Halle later in the year.”

Mother Goose, The Lowry, Salford Quays, Wednesday, April 5 to Sunday, April 9. Details from

The Bolton News | Theatre