When it comes to family pantomime, Oldham Coliseum theatre has the magic formula to get kids immersed in the adventure and leaving on a high.
When Fine Time Fontayne announced he was stepping out of the Dame’s shoes last year it felt like a turning point for the theatre. After 11-years in the role he’d become a long-standing favourite with the public. Who could fill such big shoes?
Step forward Richard J Fletcher, another familiar face who’d played the comic character alongside Fine Time for as many years. Fletcher is used to the Coliseum stage and playing comedy to the crowd as well as making kids feel special – singing happy birthday to a young girl at the front who danced with delight. He’s also a master of the physical humour necessary to carry off the Dame. And Oldham Athletic fans are in for a treat with his first costume, topped with a meat pie and sausage roll hat.
Although Fletcher wins the prize for the most outrageous costumes, this pantomime, more than the star-led pantos, is a strong ensemble piece. Fletcher builds great rapport with the other cast, particularly Sam Glen, who plays his son and comedy side-kick, Jack. Their quick-paced take on the old Abbott and Costello sketch, Who’s on First is terrific.
Fine Time is still involved as co-writer, keeping the same winning recipe for family humour that’s at times both silly and clever, and always topical. This year the main themes are tech and climate change. And as always there are all the big hits of the year (7-year-old Zachary was thrilled to hear Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road in there) and some old musical favourites like, ‘Me Ol’ Bam-Boo’ to keep everyone happy.
Jenny Platt, in strong voice, switches well between sweet Good Fairy Greenfield and dastardly Mavis Moorside. As the villain of the piece she channels a mix of the Child Catcher from Chitty Bang Bang and the Pied Piper, hypnotising youngsters to give over their favourite tech – phones, tablets and TVs. The tech is being used to fuel the mechanics of a huge giant, who, Wizard of Oz style, keeps the people of Oldham under his control.
To the rescue come Sam Glenn and Shorelle Hepkin as Jack and Jill, the young heroes of the show – smiley, gutsy and full of energy. But to save the day they first must sell their best friend Hazy the Hippy Cow – a brilliantly chilled, comic turn from Mitesh Soni. The team manage to pack in about 15 songs from the live band, a Ghostbusters ‘It’s Behind You’ sketch, a sloppy decorator scene with water pistols at the crowd, sweet throwing, an audience sing along, a crashing giant beanstalk, and a rugby tackling all cast fight scene. The time flies by.
After two hours of dancing, singing, cheering and booing as one of Jack’s army in the audience what does young Zachary think: ‘I loved that I recognised all the music. It was epic!”★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Read our interview with Richard J Fletcher.