It’s been a tough week for Oldham Coliseum. Having been funded by Arts Council England for decades the 137-year-old theatre was unsuccessful in securing support for the coming year.
The venue is one of only 32 regularly producing theatres in England and the last surviving professional theatre in the borough, which has been listed by the Government as a ‘Levelling Up for Culture’ area. And its commitment to entertain remained unshaken at the opening of its family pantomime Robin Hood.
Shorelle Hepkin, a familiar face at Oldham panto, returns as principal boy, Robin Hood. Her joyous energy is infectious from the start, and she takes everyone with her on this forest adventure.
The pantomime is written by previous long-time dame, Fine Time Fontayne and Chris Lawson, who also directs. It’s full of witty political and local references, silly dad jokes, slapstick routines and traditional panto shout-outs. But this year it feels even more full of music, almost like a musical pantomime.
Dave Bintley leads the live band whose music covers a whole range of hits from Dolly Parton to George Ezra. There is something for everyone here and it keeps the action moving at a rip-roaring pace.
As a dame, Fine Time Fontayne left huge shoes to fill, but Charlie Ryan as Nurse Nellie delivers his lines with a similar cheeky sparkle that has the audience in stitches. His dance to Aqua’s Barbie Girl is hilarious.
Celia Perkins, who won best costume design at the UK Pantomime Awards for the theatre’s Aladdin last year, has again created a vibrancy to aptly match the performers’ energy. And the Dame’s costumes are both clever in their references and suitably outrageous.
Liz Carney and Ian Crowe play the Sheriff and side-kick, Sir Guy of Gisbourne with an element of sci-fi villainy, their comedic injections hitting the perfect note by not being too loud and scary for little ones.
The whole cast bounce off each other brilliantly and are terrific. The final fight scene is expertly choreographed by Kaitlin Howard to create a sense of slap-stick chaos. And the dance moves of the young chorus keep the stage filled with a youthful vibe.
Indeed, it feels like there is so much talent there isn’t enough time in the two-and-a-half hours to showcase it fully. Nathan Morris (Milo in Hollyoaks) plays dumb Failsworth with great physical comedy but it isn’t until the end that we get to hear his singing voice – and what a voice it is!
Oldham Coliseum has always been our favourite family panto but this year feels even more special. For joyous Christmas cheer, this is the show to see.
Robin Hood runs at Oldham Coliseum Theatre from Saturday 12 November 2022 – Saturday 7 January 2023.