Fine Time Fontayne and Kevin Shaw
Oldham Coliseum Theatre
One of the first pantos to open in the country this year is the acclaimed offering from the newly-reopened Coliseum in Oldham—and once again the bookings for next year's show have already topped £20,000 on their first day on sale.
This year, the writing team of director Kevin Shaw and dame Fine Time Fontayne tackles Cinderella, one of the most popular pantomime stories but one that is untraditional in many respects. Firstly, it does not have a single dame or a villain as in most stories, instead having the Ugly Sisters to take on these roles jointly. This version does away with the Stepmother and turns Cinderella's father Baron Hardup into a third dame—Baroness Bunty Hardup—a more recogniseable dame role for Fontayne.
Fontayne is on fine form once again, bridging the gap perfectly between the silliness for the kids and the suggestive naughtiness for the adults and making the things that go wrong at least as enjoyable as the scripted parts—after getting one joke wrong on the first attempt, he told us, "we only got this one this morning".
This production's ugly sisters—Paul David-Gough as Salmonella and Leigh Symonds as Rubella—balance the nastiness with the pantomime dame brilliantly, with full-on abuse of the audience and lots of fast-paced banter. Regular Coliseum panto comic Richard J Fletcher once again gives an impressive and very physical performance as Buttons.
Justine Elizabeth Bailey is a very traditional principal boy complete with fishnet tights and slaps to the thigh—and a bit of a giggler when things go wrong—while Lisa Holliman looks the principal girl part and has a lovely singing voice in the title role. The small but perfectly-formed cast is completed by Liz Carney doubling as Mother Glodwick (the Fairy Godmother role) and Dandini.
There are plenty of local references of course: Prince Charming is prince of Chadderton, Baroness Hardup gave a rant of sarcasm (possibly unscripted) about the tram-related road works and Rochdale comes in for quite a bit of stick. There are even references to the theatre's refurbishment, such as the dilemma over how to split the audience in half for the community song now the central aisle has gone.
There is quite a bit of unfamiliar music in this show, some of it not very memorable, and a slightly muddy sound mix doesn't help to make the rewritten words clear, but musical director Dave Bintley does an amazing job of making a three-piece sound like a full pit band. Celia Perkins's set design once more has a bright, modern children's storybook look that is great fun and the dame's many costumes are incredible creations.
Everything that you would want from a panto is here though: the slosh scene in the Baroness's ice cream factory, the "it's behind you" with a ghost in the castle, the comedian asking the audience to look after, bizarrely, a fox's tail so he can return it to its owner, the community song and so on.
Last year, I felt that the Coliseum's Dick Whittington was running a bit long for young children and that it started to drag a bit towards the end. Strangely, I never felt that this year even though the running time couldn't have been much less. Some of the rather clunky verse went on a bit, but other than that it kept moving at a fair old pace throughout and the attention from young and old hardly lapsed at all.
So while the Coliseum does stick to particular traditional elements in its pantos (including some of the jokes) it feels fresh and current enough to work for the newer generations with a very good standard of script, performances and production.
Reviewer: David Chadderton