Oldham Coliseum’s annual pantomime is steeped in tradition. It has provided Christmas sparkle to northern audiences for over 130 years and has become a hugely popular event. This year it’s Jack and the Beanstalk, which marks the first annual panto to be directed by the Coliseum’s Artistic Director, Chris Lawson.
Yet this is no ordinary version of the classic fairy-tale. Instead, Jack and the Beanstalk has been given a refreshing update to appeal to modern audiences of all ages.
A giant is terrorising the village, sending his wife, “Manky Mavis“, to put children into a trance so that they can steal their electronic devices. The reason why the giant consumes smart phones, tablets, and 4K televisions is a complete mystery, which becomes clearer as the panto progresses. Meanwhile, Jack and his mum, Dame Dotty Trott, have fallen behind on the rent. Jack is forced to sell their cow, Hazy, for some magic beans, and the rest is history.
This is an inclusive pantomime that actively promotes diversity, so Jack isn’t the ‘chosen one’, destined to save the day. Step forward Jill Grabbmuch, who gets to become the hero. After all, there can be no Jack without a Jill!
Shorelle Hepkin thrives in this role, developing her character so that she deftly matures from an uncertain young teenager who runs away from home, to a strong, independent woman who gets to climb the beanstalk first and fight lightsaber battles in the sky. Jill is no damsel in distress, nor is she shoehorned into the show only to become a romantic interest for Jack. When she refuses his invitation for a kiss, Jack respects her decision. It is truly refreshing to see such a strong female character in a pantomime, and it should most definitely be done more often!
Sam Glen gives a buoyant performance as Jack. He is bursting with energy and is hugely expressive with his movement and his facial expressions. Glen works tirelessly as Jack, and he builds a fantastic rapport with the Coliseum’s young audience, making them feel part of “Jack’s Army“.
Everybody knows you can’t have a panto without a Dame! After eleven years playing the Pantomime Comic at Oldham Coliseum, Richard J Fletcher makes a remarkable debut as Dame Dotty Trott. His experience on this stage is clearly evident as he skilfully works the audience, ad-libbing hilarious jokes (with the odd innuendo thrown in for the adults), and flirting with married men. He sports fabulous costumes, including an Oldham Athletic dress, topped with a meat pie and a sausage roll. Nothing encapsulates the spirit of Oldham better!
However, the real star of the show is Mitesh Soni as Hazy, the coolest panto cow in town. Hazy is a free spirit, who refuses to be milked because she is vegan. Soni fully embraces this hippy lifestyle. His mannerisms and dialogue are slowed to evoke a calming, laid back disposition. He delivers inspirational, philosophical phrases that are hilariously outlandish. Wearing cow-print flares and a waistcoat, adorned with rainbow colours, Soni brilliantly conjures the era of free love; “Give peas a chance“. He also has some cracking dance mooooooooves too!
Sadly, on the night I saw Jack and the Beanstalk, there were several issues with sound. Some microphones worked intermittently, particularly Patrick Bridgman’s, which was disappointing. But, there is plenty to love about this panto.
Celia Perkins’ spectacular design explodes with colour, from the excellent costumes right through to the beanstalk itself. The sets are loaded with delightful details, such as an advert for webuyanycow.com.
Dave Bintley‘s music boasts an eclectic mixture of songs that will appeal to all ages. Starting with Giants in the Sky from Sondheim’s Into the Woods, there is also Madness, Ed Sheeran, and a rendition of Reel 2 Real’s insanely catchy I Like to Move It, which encourages audience participation.
Full credit also needs to be given to the six dancers, who are all brimming with talent. Three teams were built by auditioning local young dancers, who alternate performances. On the night I attended, the red team performed the dance routines, and their synchronisation, energy and passion was a joy to watch.
This has everything you could want from a pantomime. It has a boatload of slapstick comedy, buoyant performances from the fantastic cast, a hilarious Dame, spectacular scenery, and the best panto cow in town.
Jack and the Beanstalk is a splendid Christmas cracker that the whole family will enjoy.
It runs until 11th January. Please visit Oldham Coliseum’s website to book tickets.