Pantomimes are difficult to get right. There are few shows with a more varied audience; panto-goers are a real mix of people of different generations and backgrounds all with different expectations and senses of humour. Wriggly-bottomed children and sullen, dragged-along dads are a hard crowd to please. But my family were all totally won over by Oldham Coliseum’s latest festive offering, Jack and the Beanstalk.
It’s the quality of writing that impresses, particularly the way that traditional jokes are interspersed with contemporary observations. Chris Lawson’s modernising influence is evident in the witty script he’s co-written with Fine Tine Fonteyne. In their version of Jack and the Beanstalk, Giant Moorside (Mitesh Soni) steals energy-guzzling electronics from children to take to his lofty lair and the magic beans are used to poke fun at the current trend for a plant-based diet.
Though Jack (Sam Glen) is friendly and likeable, he lacks the negotiation skills and tenacity necessary to destroy the malevolent Moorside unaided. Instead, this interpretation of the story places Jack’s friend, Jill Grabbmuch (Shorelle Hepkin), at the front and centre. Allowing her to triumph offers a nicely feminist counterbalance to the traditional pantomimes where girls are merely ineffectual princesses. Hepkin is a confident, natural performer and the show’s wide-ranging music numbers (directly by Dave Bintley) provide many opportunities for her vocal talents to shine.
Jenny Platt also relishes her dual roles as the evil giant’s wife, Mavis Moorside, and Good Fairy Greenfield. It’s a testament to her versatility that many children in the audience fail to realise she’s playing both parts. Sophie Mercell is similarly excellent as the idiosyncratic Grotton.
The Coliseum panto always celebrates the local area and this year’s show doesn’t disappoint, embracing Oldham’s culture through costume as well as the script. Richard J Fletcher’s Dame Dotty Trott is resplendent in a Latics-themed outfit topped off with a pie, pea and sausage roll headpiece. Fletcher – experiencing his first Christmas as pantomime dame – builds up an easy rapport with the audience and quickly creates an atmosphere of fun and frivolity.
But undoubtedly the most inventive character of all is Hazy the Hippy Cow (played by Mitesh Soni). A Yoga-loving Vegan with a concern for climate change, Hazy is a comic creation for a millennial generation.
It’s great to see the Oldham Coliseum team succeed in devising a show that works for everyone on different levels. There’s a real sense of dynamism and progress at the Coliseum at the moment; I can’t wait to see where the green shoots will lead.
Jack and the Beanstalk is running at Oldham Coliseum until Saturday 11 January 2020. Tickets are available HERE
Photo credit: Darren Robinson