In the absence of the annual Pantomime at Albert Halls in Bolton this year due to the venues refurbishment Fame Factory Spotlight Ltd have seized the moment and brought a ‘big panto’ to Bolton at the Premier Suite in Whites Hotel at the Macron Stadium. Such was the popularity of the show tonight extra seats were being hastily set out just 5 minutes prior to the performance beginning, a great thing to see.
Despite the title ‘big panto’ this was actually a simple production with the emphasis very much on the performances and not big glitter laden sets, special effects or complicated lighting rigs. This was just pure Pantomime from start to finish and it worked just fine.
Fame Factory Spotlight have amassed an impressive cast list for Jack and the Beanstalk led by soap stars Graeme Hawley and Chelsea Halfpenny. Returning to the Panto stage for the first time in a number of years Hawley, better known as the evil John Stape in Coronation Street maintains his trouble making persona as Baron Von Tightwad, debt collector for the giant. Halfpenny, fresh from a stint in Casualty but better known for playing Amy Wyatt in Emmerdale makes her Panto debut as Fairy Cabbage. Both have mentions of their former roles littered throughout the script and Halfpenny is in impressive form especially when it comes to her singing.
Jack and Jill are played by Rochelle Ayris and Carrie Louise Hobson respectively. Both are very confident in their roles and are vocally strong together. Hobson won a ‘Search for a Star’ competition earlier this year and her prize is performing on stage at the Macron Stadium. Going off tonight’s performance this is the first of many times we will see her on stage.
Comedy comes from The Patton Brothers. Did you know the Chuckle Brothers started off as a four man group and Jimmy and Brian are the older brothers of Barry and Paul who are currently appearing at the Wolverhampton Grand this festive season? Brian plays the dim witted assistant to the Baron – Mirfin, whilst brother Jimmy plays Dame Dolly Dumpling. Both demonstrate with ease their Pantomime experience with this being their 57th production!
For me the star of the show, and indeed every show I have seen him in to date was Tam Ryan. Ryan is a firm Panto favourite, some would say a veteran, in the North West having played in the last 5 Opera House Pantomimes in Manchester. This year playing Silly Billy from the moment he took to the stage he had the audience eating out of the palm of his hand. His hapless antics and the fact he fancied Fairy Cabbage made him lovable from the off. An expert at handling an audience his interactions with them were instant and off the cuff. None more so was this demonstrated during the ‘Songsheet’ where 5 local children tested every ounce of his experience. I should mention the ‘Who, What, I Don’t Know’ sketch which was played out better than any other Pantomime I have seen this year, stunning!
A large ensemble from Apple Dance Centre in Bolton completed the line up on stage performing the choreography of Rochelle Ayris with ease and in a multitude of different costumes. I did however feel sorry for the lone boy in the dance troupe who didn’t seem to get the memo about costumes and appeared to wear different to all the others in most routines. Not his fault of course, one for the costume department to address but this did draw your eye towards him.
Of course Jack and the Beanstalk wouldn’t be so without a Pantomime Cow which tonight was present in all its glory. Add to this a superb Giant (Rob Mirfin) which provided a wow factor to the evening when he was led onto the stage during the second half.
I do have to mention a few of things I didn’t like in what was a great production on the whole. Firstly the music… I should start by saying it was superb with Paul West and Phil Jeffery playing live from high up at the back of the auditorium, it was just too loud! At times drowning out the vocals during the songs which were almost entirely sourced from this year’s pop charts including what seems to be the obligatory ‘Uptown Funk’ and ‘Shake it Up’. Secondly on the far extremities at each side of the stage there were video walls showing what was happening on stage. Now the room at the Macron was not so big that you couldn’t see what was going on and to be honest they served as a distraction for me. Finally, why was the beanstalk sited so far off stage it was hard to see, especially for those on the left hand side of the auditorium? It was that far away not even the video camera capturing the on stage action could get it in frame.
For an inaugural Pantomime at the Macron Stadium this was a great family show full of laughs and featuring a talented cast and dancers. With a years’ experience of the venue Dick Whittington is set to continue this new tradition of the biggest Pantomime in Bolton and indeed be bigger and better than ever in 2016. If you want to get ahead of the crowds and book now for next year’s show just go to www.bigboltonpanto.co.uk for more details.
Reviewer: Paul Downham
Reviewed: 29th December 2015