It`s panto time again…. oh yes it is!! And if it is a traditional family pantomime you are looking for then you simply cannot get better than those presented by Oldham Coliseum. Pantomimes there have been in the traditional mould for more years than care to remember, and although each year there is a slightly different twist or modernisation, the format of audience responses, children involvement, routines, and pageant remain the same. If the fridge aint broken – don`t fix it! This is the Coliseum`s motto when it comes to panto time, and it`s a decision I applaud wholeheartedly.

This year it was Sleeping Beauty, and I was there for the opening performance, and so things were understandably just a little iffy, it needs a few performances yet before it “beds in”but the premise and promise are great.

Directed by the Coliseum`s resident Artistic Director, Kevin Shaw, this panto is just a little lacking in fizz and sparkle. Carabosse, the evil witch, makes her first entrance to a pyro flash, as does the fairy, but these are the only sfx in the whole show, relying from then on with lighting and music. The set, by Celia Perkins, was not as fantasticor as “solid” as in previous years; and the cast doublings simply didn`;t work. From my perspective, all of this yells,Budget!, which is a huge pity if that truly is the case, since panto is surely the biggest moneyspinner of the season. Indeed this afternoon` first performance was a full house!

However, from the child`s perspective, these things would go unnoticed hopefully,and they can sit back and enjoy the antics of Richard J Fletcher's Norman Nutty, the bumbling congeniality of David Westbrook`s King Cuthbert, the very butch and brash bravado of Simeon Truby`s Dame Nutty, and let`s all boo and hiss the evil sorceress.Liz Carney`s Caabosse. These are the pantomime characters that we know and love, albeit under different names, and their characterisations were spot on. They need to allow a little more time though for the audience to hear, understand and then react to what has been said or done before continuing. there were a few instances where the dialogue or action was so swift that the children were playing catch-up. Especially the youngest.. they need the story tub-thumping into them, and they need time to understand what is happening and to be able to respond and react appropriately. So many of this afternoon`s jokes were missed because there was no pause afterwards for them to be registered and appreciated; so much of the dialogue and story was glossed over and I could see vacant and confused stares from the children; who only laughed at the physical comedy and booed at Carabosse, but not really understanding why.

There were also two cast members in this panto who were decidedly weaker links in the chain. Demi Goodman was a very weak and insipid Nutty triplet and Princess Briar Rose; and her singing voice just wasnt up to it sadly. And Sara Sadeghi certainly understood what panto is all about but failed to engage. Her Fairy dialogue was delivered too quickly and the rhyme and vocabulary perhaps too difficult for the youngsters to get – hence the need to keep on tub-thumping the plot all the time; and her shiny Queen Hermione was twee at best.

Today`;s chorus dancers ( apparently a mix between the Green and Blue teams ) were actually very good. I liked the fact that they were given so much to do, and became a definite part of the panto, rather than dancing extras. They most certainly needed more costumes though! When they are the minions of Carabosse, they need some evil servant style clothing, they simply should not be wearing the same pink leotards and tutus that they do as dancers to the King and Queen. Their lady costumes – a plainer tabard style dress copying the style worn by the princess – were also overused.

Maybe I am being too harsh, but I have seen many pantomimes now over the last few years, and know that the Coliseum has produced many of them. This too, has the ability to be in amongst them, but hasn`t quite got there yet.

I liked and appreciated the King`s song referencing many Oldham towns and places,but again, it was too fast and went over most of the audience heads. the first act was really quite long and failed to sustain the interest of the target audience throughout.

The second act was much better with more songs, more upbeat in nature, and more action. However, having a Fairy sing, I Need A Hero was wrong on many levels giving out the wrong message to kids as to what a fairy is…. the fairy already IS the heroine, surely?!.

I conclusion then, this panto certainly has the potential; but at the moment does not have the fizz and sparkle that I have seen previously from the Coliseum, and needs time to bed in, in order that the cast can better time their dialogue and actions to the audience. However for traditional panto, which is fun and child-friendly, the Coliseum still has no rival.

 

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