TRUE to form, dowager dame Berwick Kaler has advice for Jake Lindsay, the long-serving Essex lad in his York pantomime ensemble in Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse.
“Ah, Jakey lad. I keep telling you, take up painting and decorating,” teases the dowager dame, who earlier told The Press in his panto interview: “Every year I tell him, ‘go and get another career’ and he never listens. Anyway, it’s a while before you see him as Robinson Crusoe!”
It is indeed: not until the second half on Destiny Island in fact, but for all those years as the butt of Kaler’s jesting, Jake has enjoyed a gradual graduation from ensemble to “Jakey Lad” character parts, now crowned by playing the title role as well as being the leading light of the ensemble of Villagers and Pirates at the Grand Opera House.
“I’ve done 11 pantos for Berwick now, and he’s always really lovely to me off stage,” says Jake. “He’s really seen me grow up. I would have been 20-21 when I started at the Theatre Royal, when you’re like a vortex or a mirror, taking in everything. Now I don’t think I could go and do any other panto after being part of this pantomime spectacular for a decade.
“There’s a certain magnificence and magic that Berwick captures that’s in keeping with classic panto; the details that he can zoom in on. He’s always watching from the wings when he’s not on stage; he never misses a trick.
“When he directs us, he’s very clear what his vision is, and now we’re working with commercial pantomime producers [UK Productions], he’s a maestro of walking that tightrope of what we can say on stage with a certain savvy.
“It’s a delicate dance…where you have to keep up with the times, when it’s tough to know what’s too much, but that commercial edge is useful because it keeps us aware of what the boundaries are now.”
Relishing the “Jakey Lad” panto persona that “has kind of stuck”, Thurrock-born Jake enjoys adding to the diversity of a Wearside dame (Kaler), daft Yorkshire sidekick (Martin Barrass), luverly Brummie lackey (AJ Powell), pucker principal gal (Suzy Cooper) and devilishly thespian villain (David Leonard).
“It’s wonderful to be part of the team; I’ve learned so much from them,” says Jake, 31. “This style of pantomime is such an art in itself; how they carry things from year to year while embodying a new character, retaining the essence the audience first loved all those years ago. And it’s an audience where it feels like they are on stage with you.”
Trained in musical theatre, heavily focused on dance, at CPA Studios in Romford, Jake recalls his early on-stage encounters with Kaler’s dame. “Initially, when he introduced me to the audience at each show, there was genuine fear on my part! Like a father-and-son fear, more respect than fear, but let’s call it fear!” he says. “It was a genuine reaction because Berwick is such a character, but we’ve kept that going over the years.”
A switch to painting and decorating, however, will not be happening. “An apprenticeship is not on the cards but I wouldn’t rule anything out. I’ll try anything,” says Romford-based Jake.
“I’m retraining at the Collective Acting Studio to become a television actor, and I’ve been doing that since Covid. I thought I’d fallen out of love with acting at that time, but as I’ve progressed there’s a lot I want to showcase in different ways.
“Theatre is such a beautiful medium to broaden perspectives, so I’d like to broaden out into writing too, and there are a few projects that I’m exploring at the moment. I’d like to incorporate dance into that: it was my first love, more than acting. I suppose I’m a dancer first and foremost.”
In the meantime, as the pantomime programme reveals, Jake is Berwick Kaler’s understudy as the dame – Dotty Dullaly this time – in Robinson Crusoe. What does his preparation for that role entail?
“In honesty, Berwick’s ability to see what an audience likes in the first few scenes, to gauge and then respond to that, is something that can only be learned from observing him, side of stage,” he says. “Of course, they know each other so well and they have grown together, so it isn’t something that could ever be replicated.
“Prep looks like taking note from the wings and hoping I never have to practise being ready on stage in front of an audience! But knowing the core audience would always be supportive and understanding in that scenario, with a plus being that there isn’t much of a script to learn!”
If the call came to be Dotty, “I would have to give Berwick’s accent a go for a laugh – or perhaps I wouldn’t put people through that, but the beard would probably have to go.”
Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse heads for Destiny Island at Grand Opera House, York, until January 6 2024. Box office: atgtickets.com/york.
One last question, Jake
Have you had any memorable understudying experiences?
“Last year, rehearsing for the flying scene, it took a few more of the tech team to get me in the air!”
Copyright of The Press, York
In Focus: Relaxed Performance of Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse at Grand Opera House, York, on January 4
AS Christmas Day approaches, many feel rushed, but the new year could be the perfect time to relax and enjoy a pantomime show in a less formal environment.
The Grand Opera House, York, will be holding a Relaxed Performance of Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse on Thursday, January 4 at 2pm.
“This year’s panto is popular with all ages but anyone who is very young, new to the theatre environment, or struggles with staying in their seats, may find the Relaxed Performance just the thing,” says Grand Opera House theatre director Laura McMillan.
“The performance, which fits in perfectly with school holidays, enables those who would normally find a trip to the theatre daunting or stressful to come to the show and suits those with an autism spectrum condition, a learning disability or anyone who would benefit from a more relaxed environment.
“Loud bangs are removed, the lighting and sound are adjusted, and everyone is free to move around as they wish. While the environment is more calm, there will still be plenty of panto excitement to enjoy. We also create a chill-out room for anyone who would like to have time out of the auditorium.”
Ahead of this theatre visit, if any audience member would like to be prepared for what to expect, the Grand Opera House can provide a visual story via firstname.lastname@example.org
The parent of a child who visited the pantomime with his school last week said: “As a result of having it [the visual story], our son was able to sit through his first-ever full pantomime today and he loved it so much.
“I can’t explain to you how much that means to him or to us when so many things aren’t accessible and he has so many struggles. For a couple of hours, apparently he was belly laughing, booing and hissing and cheering, and knowing what was going to happen massively reduced his anxiety.”
Robinson Crusoe & The Pirates Of The River Ouse has two performances most days of the run until January 6, including a BSL (British Sign Language) interpreted show on Wednesday, December 27 at 5pm and an Audio Described performance on Thursday, December 28 at 1pm.
The Grand Opera House aims to be as accessible and inclusive as possible for all visitors, so that everyone can enjoy live entertainment at the Cumberland Street theatre.
Relaxed Performance: Thursday, January 4, 2pm
Show length: Approximately 1 hour 50 minutes, including interval
Box office: Open 90 minutes before the performance