The Golden Goose, Library Theatre, Manchester<img src="http://www.independent.co.uk/template/ver/gfx/threestar.gif"></img >

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The Independent Culture

Aunts, teachers and sausage-manufacturers may all have a bone to pick with Charles Way about his new version of The Golden Goose. They are all cast, along with such evils as atom bombs and cancer, into the equivalent of Room 101 in the laboratory of the mad "uninventor", Dr Siebenstein.

Without trying to pretend his goose is a swan, Way has taken the Grimm tale about the man whose youngest son finds a golden goose in the forest, and sprinkled it liberally with references to A Midsummer Night's Dream. The subsequent tale of transformation, love and magic among mortals and immortals presents a colourfully embroidered mixture of folklore and fantasy, peppered with contemporary references.

The "common" folk are reconstructed from Grimm as a widow struggling to keep her two teenage sons; and the "royals" as a dysfunctional family in which the lonely ruler - out of touch with his subjects and baffled by his two daughters - has been deserted by his wife. The fairy world, borrowed from Shakespeare, is ruled by a quarrelsome king and queen (Stephen Finegold and Rebecca Hulbert), with an athletic pair of puckish servants on hand to make mischief with the juice of a magical flower.

If some literary references passed over the heads of the young audience, it found plenty to laugh at, and even empathise with, in the central character, Dummling. In completing the increasingly impossible tasks he is set, including finding a ship that sails on sea and land, he proves that he's not as dumb as everyone thinks. The po-faced princess whom Dummling succeeds in making laugh recognises that all along, of course.

Way's lively story is well-served by the characteristically solid production values that the Library Theatre invests in its innuendo-free, stuntless festive shows. An amiable Paul Stocker leads the versatile eight-strong cast, several of whom perform quick changes to double as a human character in one kingdom, an enchanted one in another.

Effectively simple scenes, in keeping with the pop-up book from which the story is narrated on stage, range from a cartoonish forest to a frosty land of ice and snow. But Way possibly packs in more than the younger members of the audience could quite grasp. While not quite cooking his goose, he may have cracked one or two golden eggs too many in his mixing together of such a gaggle of ideas.

To 13 January (0161-236 7110)

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