Writers:Fine Time Fontayne and Chris Lawson
Director: Chris Lawson
By a cruel twist of fate in the same week that this excellent pantomime opened, the Coliseum Theatre received the devastating news that the Arts Council was withdrawing all its funding. It’s hard to think of a producing theatre in the Northwest that works harder for its loyal audience and local community than the Coliseum. There has been much talk in recent months of Levelling Up and supporting disadvantage and if one area of the country were to benefit significantly from having a local theatre to deliver this, then surely it would be Oldham. Under the circumstances, one could forgive the Coliseum for a dip in morale but on entering the theatre the mood is wonderfully upbeat and continues to be so in the auditorium and on stage.
Written by Artistic Director, Chris Lawson and one-time Coliseum dame, Fine Time Fontayne, the script for Robin Hood, contains the usual mix of slapstick, popular songs, recycled jokes, and innuendo. Unlike other traditional pantomimes, there is no natural place for a Dame and her comic sidekick son. Lawson and Fontayne solve this problem by making the Dame a teacher in the village school. In the absence of Coliseum regular, Richard Fletcher, newcomer Charlie Ryan steps with ease into the role of Nurse Nellie. Whenever he is on stage, whatever he says and does is greeted with great hilarity. Ryan is a superb comic talent who will hopefully return to grace many more Coliseum pantos.
This version of Robin Hood is freely adapted from English folklore and although many of the characters’ names remain the same and it is set in Sherwood Forest, its humour and heart lie firmly in Oldham and the surrounding area. Returning for her sixth consecutive pantomime as principal boy and playing the role of the legendary outlaw, Robin Hood, Shorelle Hepkin is, as ever, supremely energetic, engaging and heroic. Her natural comic timing and musical talent are excellent; she is clearly an audience favourite and never more so than when giving terrific renditions of well-known songs from the modern era and yesteryear. In every panto that Hepkin appears in she simply gets better and better. In her panto debut as Maid Marian, Sarah Pearson proves to be the perfect partner for Hepkin. Together they are an adorable and charismatic duo, their chemistry lights up the stage and is a delight to behold.
The wonderful supporting cast includes former soap star, Nathan Morris as a dim-witted henchman, Ian Crowe as a delightfully camp and over-the-top Sir Guy of Gisbourne, William Travis as a madcap Friar Tuck, Sophie Ellicott, in fine voice as both Ellen A Dale and the Spirit of the Forest and resident baddie, Liz Carney, who provides a faultless turn as the villainous, tongue in cheek Sherriff of Nottingham. As usual, a talented group of young dancers add vigour and verve to the proceedings. This pantomime cast is one of the best that this reviewer has had the pleasure to see in many years.
Costumes and painted backdrops designed by award-winning designer, Celia Parks, are outstanding and a real treat for the eye. The ever-reliable Dave Bintley and his small pit band provide excellent accompaniment allowing the company to perform a wide range of ballads and high-energy musical numbers to an extremely high standard.
Although the Coliseum’s future is sadly uncertain, audiences going to see this panto are guaranteed plenty of silliness, jokes as old as time and two and a half hours of dazzling entertainment. Hopefully, the local council and people living in Oldham will get behind the Coliseum and show the Arts Council and others that this wonderful theatre must be preserved for the benefit of the wider community. If successful, this will indeed provide a perfect happily ever after.
Runs Until 7 January 2023