Updated: Dec 31, 2022
Fine Time Fontayne and Chris Lawson
Oldham Coliseum production
November 12, 2022-January 7, 2023; 2hr 25min
The Coliseum has been a powerhouse of panto for decades; for most of the more recent of those years the theatre has mounted an annual panto that at its best has featured some of the best comic actors in the business – actors who love panto and cultivate instant rapport with, and easy command of, the audience.
Little wonder Oldham has been mentioned in the same breath as major commercial efforts: not as vast perhaps, but often more fund. Sorry, fun: distaste for the Arts Council's shameful and inexplicable recent decision over the theatre's grant bubbled to the surface there...
This year's Coliseum Robin Hood (it's missing the ...and the Babes in the Wood bit we nonetheless see on the stage's front cloth) is sadly not one of the best I've seen here. It's not bad, but it could be so much better.
Robin Hood is anyway the worst of the panto stories that annually do the rounds, a mash-up of Robin Hood and Babes in the Wood, that invariably needs expert performers and a strong, funny script to bring out the best in it; a story offering little natural scope for the usual panto set-pieces and characters (though they do manage the bedroom and "he's behind you" set-pieces with some energy).
But Fine Time Fontayne and director Chris Lawson's script this year isn't really funny enough, with local references and political digs but too few gags and silliness for the children in the audience.
Worse, the dialogue is almost shouted and garbled by virtually all the cast, as well as being amplified far beyond necessity – leaving us to pick up indistinct phrases through a PA that actually diminishes enjoyment (and if not for the electric band, wouldn't be needed at all; the Coliseum is not a big theatre). It's as if the performers think rushing through it will make it better. It doesn't. Only after the interval do things slow down a little and the fun relax to a more appropriate pace – with the show far better for it.
The first act seems to suffer from the jitters, taken at a furious pace when a stronger comedy lead would achieve results with humour, ad-libs and charm. Dame Charlie Ryan as Nurse Nellie has the makings of a strong Dame, but takes too little charge and seems hesitant to go off-script – almost a requirement of a great Dame.
Having said that, many elements remain: Celia Perkins' wonderful story-book illustrated sets, Dave Bintley's spirited musical direction, Shorelle Hepkin and Liz Carney as Robin and the Sheriff respectively, among them.
Much of the comedy is provided by villainous pair Ian Crowe as Sir Guy and Nathan Morris as his henchman Failsworth, who has the look – and manner – of a stupid Russell Howard.
You will leave the theatre having had a positive seasonal experience, but the same ingredients could provide a far better one.
Info and tickets here