Festive 19/20North WestPantomimeReview

Jack and the Beanstalk – Oldham Coliseum

Writers:  Fine Time Fontayne

Director: Chris Lawson

Designer: Celia Perkins

For decades the Coliseum Theatre has produced one of the region’s best-loved traditional family pantomimes. The Coliseum’s pantomimes are renowned for featuring high production values, well-written scripts and talented, hard-working casts. Acting Artistic Director, Chris Lawson in charge of his first Coliseum pantomime wisely sticks to incorporating well known traditional elements and includes a few modern twists, which for the most part work well.

This version of Jack and the Beanstalk dispenses with the more conventional principal girl and boy format. Jack is played as the traditional comic foil to the Dame and Jill, usually, a love interest takes on the role of his best friend and heroine. Instead of an ogre-like Giant we are introduced to an enormous mechanical robot and its evil inventor called Malcolm, who steals children’s mobile phones and tablets to create an electronic golden egg with which he and his partner in crime Mavis intend to use to take over the world.  There are other changes too, Daisy is renamed Hazy and is a Hippy Cow spouting New Age philosophy. Of all of the twists, this reviewer found this to be the least successful. In spite of a good solo performance by Mitesh Soni, (who also doubles as Malcolm), a talking pantomime cow is simply not as endearing or empathetic as its traditional counterpart. This is a minor quibble on what is overall a hugely enjoyable pantomime.

The small cast supplemented by local juvenile dancers maintain a frenetic pace throughout. They attack every musical number and comic routine with gusto and verve. From the opening number, a surprisingly uplifting rendition of Giants in the Sky from Sondheim’s Into The Woods, the cast work extremely hard to produce two and half hours of action-packed, fun-filled entertainment. Although some of the jokes and routines, especially the perennial ghost scene are maybe as old as the Coliseum itself, this spirited cast make them feel as if they are being performed for the first time. New boy Sam Glen excels as Jack, he strikes up an instant rapport with the audience and as demonstrated on BBC TV’s, talent show Let It Shine has a great singing voice which in solo and group numbers he shows off to great effect. As Jill, Shorelle Hepkin imbues her performance with a tomboy assuredness which enables her to quickly get the young audience on her side. Playing both the Good Fairy and the Giant’s evil assistant, Coronation Street’s Jenny Platt, switches from one role to the other with effortless ease and is totally believable in both. The musical number that she performs at the beginning of the second half is a real highlight and would not look and sound out of a place in a West End show.

Having for many years played the comic lead, Oldham born, Richard J Fletcher makes his debut as Dame taking over from Fine Time Fontayne, who still has a hand in this year’s pantomime writing the script with director, Lawson.  It must have been daunting for Fletcher to take over from Fontayne and follow in the footsteps of other legendary Coliseum Dames such as Kenneth Alan Taylor and Eric Potts but he never shows any sign of buckling under the weight of expectation. As Dame Trott, Fletcher looks as if he was born to play the part combining spot-on comic timing with great physicality and bucket loads of silliness.

As with previous Coliseum pantomimes the costumes, sets, music and choreography are all delivered to an extremely high standard. Lawson and his other pantomime debutants have made an impressive start which if they continue in this rich vein will keep Coliseum audiences happy for many years to come.

Runs until Saturday 11 January 2020 | Image: Darren Robinson

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