Aladdin

Written by Fine Time Fontayne and Chris Lawson

Directed by Chris Lawson

Designed by Celia Perkins

Originally scheduled for 2020, Aladdin at Oldham Coliseum was reluctantly stored in its proverbial lamp until now. On Saturday night it burst forth with delight and relief as Chris Lawson and his team finally polished the production back into life. Aladdin the production is every bit as flamboyant and fizzing with energy and goodwill as the colourful Jinn of the Lamp, played with a psychedelic flourish by Marc Zayat.

Oldham Coliseum always delivers a festive production that is lovingly crafted to celebrate the tradition of Pantomime. Written by the theatre’s Artistic Director Chris Lawson and stalwart of Panto Fine Time Fonteyne this year’s show has a perfect balance of wholesome family entertainment full of irreverant banter that is genuinely funny but never offensive. Placed firmly in Oldham with lots of local references and of course a Panto villain from Rochdale the script is fast paced and fresh while retaining the classic ghost scene and the audience singing competition. Director Chris Lawson ensures that each scene rolls into the next like the pages of a much-loved storybook and this is ably abetted by Designer Celia Perkin’s delightfully colourful set, (The Cave of Wealth is especially beautiful and looks truly magical).

Richard J Fletcher as Widow Twankee and Sam Glen as Wishee Washee. Image by Darren Robinson

The cast do a great job on opening night and even the odd fluffed line is smoothed over with consummate professionalism. The very capable and charming Shorelle Hepkin returns as Aladdin, as does Sam Glen who plays Wishee Washee with oodles of twinkling humour. Richard J Fletcher once again dons some fabulous costumes as Widow Twankee. His Dame is a wonderful blend of earthy warmth and wicked humour, and he gets to deliver a cracking covid/fart joke that is genuinely funny. Dora Rubenstein is a feisty Princess Jasmine while Shaun Hennessy really delivers as her roué dad, the evil yet somehow lovable Emperor. Alex Phelps and Marc Zayat play off each other really well as Spirit of the Ring and Jinn of the Lamp, while also doubling as a comic duo of hapless policemen. Liz Carney is fabulous as villain Aunty Banazar oozing evil and effortlessly belting out her songs. Covid concerns mean four dancers replace the usual community chorus but they do an excellent job, especially when adding menace to the villainous high drama scenes.

Liz Carney as Aunty Banazar. Image by Darren Robinson

Aladdin is packed with popular songs delivered with passion and enthusiasm. Sweet Caroline is a real crowd pleaser that has the whole audience joining in to raise the spirits and the roof at the Coliseum. Brimming with energy and goodwill this is a family night out at the theatre that won’t disappoint. The tradition of Pantomime remains safe for generations to come as long as Oldham Coliseum remains a presence in the town.

Jack and the Beanstalk

Written by Fine Time Fontayne and Chris Lawson

Directed by Chris Lawson

Oldham Coliseum

Oldham Coliseum has long basked in its well-deserved reputation as the home of traditional pantomime. This year there are a few changes to the mix as Fine Time Fontayne steps down as Dame and hands the baton, glittery heels and frocks to Richard J Fletcher who in turn has stepped away from his role as comic, and sees Sam Glen follow in his footsteps. Acting Artistic Director Chris Lawson co-writes his first pantomime with long-term writer Fine Time Fonteyne and together they have produced a very 21st century pantomime that blends traditional slapstick routines with a thoroughly modern theme featuring tech gadgets, carbon footprints, eco warriors and a feminist heroine rescuing Oldham from a tech hungry giant.

Designer Celia Perkins has once again created a story book set that delights in colour and moving features. Amidst the “pages” are the Soggy Bottom Cottage with pop up windows that evoke Punch and Judy scenes, a moving parts giant with swivelling eyes and comic signs such as We buy any cow.com. The costumes are an eye blistering array of checks, polka dots, neon and tartan. The Dame has some memorable outfits including a spectacular ode to Oldham Athletics and a truly terrifying wedding party ensemble that once seen can not be unseen!! Elsewhere the baddies, Mavis and Malcolm Moorside have some fabulous steampunk costumes while Lord Thickpenny Grabbmuch sports dashing Victorian frock coats that evoke a sense of Dick Dastardly. There is also an eco friendly, deadlocked fairy and a vegan, peace loving cow adding fresh currency to the mix.

This tale of theft of Smart phones and TVs to power a techno giant to take over Oldham sees feminist heroine Jill be first up the beanstalk to save the day. References to Extinction Rebellion and caring for our planet add nice touches to the story without becoming preachy. The local references are amusing as this year Ashton gets an affectionate bashing instead of Rochdale, and there are a thumbs up to Oldham Athletics, and even The Inspiral Carpets’ Cowabunga is utilised. There is the familiar slapstick humour of a ghost appearing and a witty perfectly timed two hander by Richard J Fletcher and Sam Glen as Dame Dotty Trot and Jack Trot. There is also a messy scene with wallpaper paste and water guns though this feels like it needs expanding more to justify its inclusion. The audience participation is flawless which is partly due to the performers on stage but also because of a well honed audience at The Coliseum who clearly love their local pantomime tradition.

The performances are all good and Sam Glen looks very at home with his more experienced pantomime cohorts. There is loads of energy on stage and some great vocals especially from Jenny Platt as Mavis Moorside and Good Fairy Greenfield. Richard J Fletcher has clearly honed his skills as a Dame and steps into Fine Time Fontayne’s shoes like a veritable Cinderella. My favourite character has to be Mitesh Soni’s Hazy the Hippy Cow. He delights on stage with some great cow based one liners and his take on the Kelis track Milkshake, but overall it is the sheer charm of his performance that steals the show.

The musical numbers are well chosen and range through pop songs like Body Rockers I Like the way you Moo(ve) to tracks lifted from musicals such as Into The Woods and Oklahoma. The orchestra led by Dave Bintley are excellent and the additional young dancers work really hard throughout with several giving notable performances.

This is my third trip to pantomime at Oldham Coliseum and perhaps the best endorsement I can give is that my teenage and twenty something kids eagerly ask to come each year. It has become a festive family tradition in our household and I can see them making the trip up to Oldham with their own kids in the future. Watching Sam Glen on stage I thought he captured a real sense of the comic devised by Richard J Fletcher, it was lovely to later discover he had grown up watching pantomime at Oldham just like his predecessor had. It’s a nice thought to sit in the Coliseum and look around an audience of smiling families and wonder who there might be on stage in another ten years.

Oldham Coliseum 16 Nov 2019 – 11 January 2020

Images by Darren Robinson

Cinderella

Oldham Coliseum 10 Nov – 12 Jan 2019

Oldham Coliseum

Written by Fine Time Fontayne and Kevin Shaw

Directed by Kevin Shaw

It’s pantomime season once again and Cinderella breezes into Oldham Coliseum in a glittering pumpkin coach. Normally I wince at the word pantomime but last year the Coliseum converted my cynical heart to embrace the froth, frolics and sequins. This is good old fashioned slapstick peppered with plenty of modern references, catchy tunes and strong performances from seasoned panto professionals. Designer Celia Perkins has created a picture perfect storybook set which is incredibly detailed and enticingly colourful. The overall effect is as full of charm as a proverbial pantomime Prince .

The younger members of the cast deliver some good vocals and lots of energy, with Shorelle Hepkin as a warm and winsome Cinderella. Nisha Anil doubles as Dandini and Fairy Godmother bringing something special to both roles. Richard J Fletcher as Buttons gives his all throughout the show, and the pathos in his delivery of Emily Sandé’s Clown is really touching.

There are lots of amusing current cultural references in this production including recent royal weddings, Ubers and Google Alexi, however the wittiest is undoubtedly at the expense of The Kardashians. The Ugly Sisters, Fine Time Fontayne and Simeon Truby and mommie dearest Countessa Vyella Squeezepocket Sue Devaney do a deliciously mean take on those big bottomed girls and their socially ambitious mother.

Sue Devaney is in her element here producing a performance that blends a touch of Elphaba from Wicked with the Kardashians and a dollop of Celia Imrie circa Dinnerladies. She milks every moment on stage as the pantomime villain but with so much wit and flair that she rightfully steals the show.

There are the usual panto ghost scenes that whip the children up into a frenzy of excitement. A pre-Ball spa session is the perfect excuse for lots of slapstick fun and messy chaos. A well choreographed slow motion scene effectively highlights the Prince’s glass slipper hunt. The transformation of Cinderella is lit with a magical rosy glow and really does deliver whimsy and wonder.

This is good old fashioned pantomime with a big Northern heart. Oldham Coliseum deliver family fun for Christmas that scores high on the genuine feel good factor.

Oldham Coliseum 10 Nov – 12 Jan 2019