The annual Coliseum pantomime has long been rated one of the very best in the country and it gives me great pleasure – as it will every audience from now until the New Year – to say that this year’s is well up to the standards of the house, and in some ways even exceeds them.
Fine Time Fontayne is back as Dame and renews his collaboration with Coliseum director Kevin Shaw to produce a show that will be very hard to beat as a festive family treat. It’s packed with comic turns but it also respects the story and though the cast of principals numbers just seven, it is a hand-picked crew that never misses a beat.
Firstly, it looks great, thanks to Celia Perkins’ storybook sets and a dazzling array of amusingly inventive costumes. Then there’s the pit band, just three strong but with today’s electronic wizardry it often sounds like a full orchestra and, under MD Dave Bintley, it bounds forward with so much pizazz that the audience claps along from the beginning of the overture. I was already hooked before the curtain rose.
Rose on a show that boasts two thigh-slapping principal boys and no less than three Dames. Fine Time is Baroness Bunty Hardup, who, for no reason other than the fact that the co-directors want to slip in a slapstick scene (this is panto after all), is here an ice cream heiress. It is in fact the same gentle, mischievous and empathetic Fine Time that Coliseum audiences have come to value, and thank goodness for that.
She/he is however eclipsed on this occasion by one of the very best pairs of Ugly Sisters I have ever seen. My yardstick for Uglies is John Inman and Barry Howard, who made a profession out of it in the 1970s, before they became individually famous.
Leigh Symonds and Paul David-Gough, your double act here – lascivious, cruel, ugly as sin but always grossly funny and brilliantly timed – could have been an annual occupation for you also, had there still been the commercial circuit to give you the employment. Gentlemen, you are quite brilliant, loved it.
Excellent support from Richard J Fletcher - reprising his put-upon-downtrodden-jester figure, Buttons this time; Lisa Holliman as a genuinely charming, pretty, vulnerable but sparky Cinderella; Justine Elizabeth Bailey, as a hearty and big voiced Prince Charming and versatile Liz Carney as both Dandini and the fairy godmother.
The first half needs cutting by 15 minutes, the songs aren’t familiar enough and the sound isn’t clear enough to pick up much of the lyrics. But this is repertory theatre pantomime of a very high order.