Paul Thomason finds so much to enjoy in this traditional family pantomime
Having been unable to stage this pantomime at Oldham Coliseum Theatre last year, the production team were clearly wanting to make up for lost time with the show and cast they have assembled. Making a welcome return to this year’s line-up are three familiar faces that make up the Twankee family. Richard J Fletcher, many-time Buttons-like performer but now top-class Dame, is Widow Twankee, Sam Glen is her cheery entrepreneur son, Wishee Washee and ever-improving Shorelle Hepkin as Aladdin.
Fletcher, Glen and Hepkin work great together but can also hold the audience when alone on stage.
Co-written by Oldham Dame past master Fine Time Fontayne with Director Chris Lawson, this version of Aladdin is rooted firmly within the East… East Manchester that is. The main Aladdin tale is there with the Princess Jasmine, lamp and the flying carpet still intact but the show is set in Oldham and the wilds of Belle Vue Funfair. The traditional baddie Abanazar has been replaced by Aunty Banazar, played with glee by Liz Carney who manages to get boos without petrifying the kids, even when singing Bon Jovi songs.
There are no blue genies either but there are a couple of actors who play dual roles of boys in blue and genies. Alex Phelps gives a charming display and performs the greatest stage exit you will see this Christmas as Spirit of the Ring. The Jinn of the Lamp (Mark Zayat) is vocally reminiscent of a James Corden character from an animated movie but also brings many laughs.
Shaun Hennessy provides a fun Emperor as father to Aladdin’s love interest, Princess Jasmine (Dora Rubinstein), who gets her own time to shine performing Head and Heart with the energetic backing dancers.
There is so much to enjoy in this traditional pantomime and all of the elements are there. The ghost scene always manages to raise the volume of the children in the crowd to ear-splitting levels. Widow Twankee’s outfits become more elaborate but reach a peak with the Billie Eilish green hair and dress combination. The audience participation is there all the way through and there isn’t a generation going who can’t join in with the Sweet Caroline sing-a-long. In fact, the music choices this year were excellent and spanned many decades and genres but remained upbeat, excluding any schmaltzy songs ensuring the show never slowed its pace. Extra marks must go to Dave Bintley, the Musical Director who matched the introduction of the flying carpet with Dua Lipa’s wonder song, “Levitating”.
As befits a pantomime including current affairs jokes, the pandemic did get a mention but was handled brilliantly by introducing it early but time boxing references to that one-minute slot.
The set design for the Coliseum pantomime is always bright and packed with additional visual gags and more adult references and this year is no exception. The Squidgey Games may be over for this year, but with shows like this, I’ll certainly be returning for Robin Hood in 2022.