Dick Whittington

By Fine Time Fontayne and Kevin Shaw 

Directed by Kevin Shaw 

Saturday night at the pantomime in Oldham with three anime loving teenagers fresh from a day at the Japanese Doki Doki Festival. What could possibly go wrong?? Well nothing apparently. Despite my concerns everyone loved it and my own initial wariness disappeared in a wave of nostalgia and general goodwill to all.

This is pantomime at its traditional best with no fancy hi tech bells and whistles. The only bell here being the one swung by the marvellous panto grand dame Saucy Sarah Suet played with warmth and wit by Fine Time Fontayne. The whole cast are enthusiastic and the energy on stage never wanes. There are some especially strong assured performances most notably Fine Time Fontayne as Sarah and Richard J Fletcher as her son Silly Billy Suet. The Rat King has Simeon Truby who is excellent as the perfect pantomime villain. His pastiche of Meatloaf’s Bat out of Hell is inspired and very funny.

The set by Celia Perkins is just lovely. All painted scenes rolling back like the beautifully illustrated pages of a children’s story book. There are lots of witty little signs and references included to keep the grown ups amused too. 

The wardrobe department have produced some bright and cheery costumes to compliment the set. The outrageous dame costumes succeed with a the obligatory pantomime wow factor. The generous bottoms on several costumes seem to be modelled on the famous rear of Kim Kardashian!!

The song and dance numbers mix the old and the new to good effect. The chorus of local children on stage dancing look like they are having a ball. Other children from the audience are brought on stage by Saucy Sarah and Billy Suet  to help out with one of the songs.  The banter and interaction with the audience feels genuine and warm rather than staged. Family groups are welcomed by name and the atmosphere in the theatre is relaxed and happy. The family next to us share our pleasure as their small boy waves his light up sword at The Rat King and whole heartedly joins in during the ghost scene. That little boys delight and enthusiasm is shared by my son’s girlfriend who is delighting in revisiting where she first saw Pantomime on  primary school trips. 

Overall Dick Whittington was an unexpected hit for a slightly unconventional family. With 80 performances aiming to entertain about 40,000 people it looks like Oldham Coliseum have paved the streets of Oldham with gold and big smiles.

11 Nov – 13 January at OLDHAM COLISEUM 

The Weir 


Written by Conor McPherson 

Directed by Adele Thomas

Co-production English Touring Theatre and Mercury Theatre Colchester

First staged at the Royal Court Theatre twenty years ago, The Weir remains an exquisite example of story telling on every level. From the first moment of this remote Irish pub opening for business to the closing of the door and dimming of the lights this is spellbinding theatre.

Nothing really happens in this quiet bar throughout the evening and yet this a night that will be woven into the local story telling traditions in years to come. The themes of loneliness, stoicism and loss are entwined in how much identity in rural Ireland is defined by the land and family. The four men are all from this remote part of County Donegal. The young publican  Brendan  and his regulars Jack and Jimmy are seemingly resigned to their solitary lives. Their individual obligations to Sisters, to the Mammy or to maintaining the local vehicles define their identities in this small isolated community. Finbar has got out, left the loneliness for marriage, commercial success and life in the neighbouring town yet he seems the most vulnerable of the four men. Newcomer Valerie has “blown in” seeking solitude as a panacea to grief.

The sharing of old stories and myths intertwined with lived experiences connect all five in ways that soothe that inner loneliness, and beautifully reveals the sensitivity in each of these four awkward local men. The relationships between the characters are perfectly pitched to reveal all the subtle elements of their shared history in this community. 

Growing up in a rural Irish village I knew every man on the Stage and every worn barstool and smoke stained lamp and old photo on the walls. The actors personify their characters as though they have drunk them in reflectively like a pint of stout or Harp. When Valerie occassionally jars in the gentle pace it is only because she is an outsider, blown in from the big city. 

As drinks are drunk and stories are told the magic of small lives richly lived is evident. This bar has no need of a jukebox, the tiny television is unused and nothing more is needed than the human voice and the wind singing under the door.

OLDHAM COLISEUM 24-28th October 

On tour