TEN KEY POINTS FROM YORK THEATRE ROYAL EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TOM BIRD’S BBC RADIO YORK INTERVIEW WITH ADAM TOMLINSON THIS AFTERNOON
1. A new writer and director, with a new direction, will be appointed to make a “spectacular, fabulous, really York” Theatre Royal pantomime for 2020-2021.
2. Yes, it will still be a pantomime, not a winter show.
3. No, Berwick Kaler will not be involved as writer, co-director or dame.
4. Audience figures have declined for 11 years, from as high as 54,190 for Dick Turpin in 2008 to 30,000 so far (with two weeks to go) for Sleeping Beauty. Those “collapsing” figures have to be checked and reversed by attracting a new audience as well as retaining the regular theatregoers.
5. The current contract practice with the regular players, David Leonard, Suzy Cooper, Martin Barrass and A J Powell, is an unspoken agreement of a return for the next show, but Mr Bird wanted to be clear with those performers that this time this would not be the case. No-one is guaranteed an automatic contract renewal and no-one is on a long contract.
6. No regrets at the “halfway house” of retaining retired dame Berwick Kaler as writer and co-director for Sleeping Beauty as a chance to showcase the talents of the “amazing” cast regulars in a way audiences had not seen before, and “to some extent” this had happened. However, from ticket launch day onwards, some people had said ‘No, I’m not going to go.”
7. Refuting Berwick Kaler’s charges of “cheap sets, cheap costumes” for Sleeping Beauty, Mr Bird said the overall pantomime budget had increased. The designer [Anthony Lamble] was new, but the set and costume expenditure was the same as it was for The Grand Old Dame Of York last winter.
8. The new director and writer will need to have free rein for next winter’s pantomime, and if they were told they had to have certain actors, that would not be free rein. It should be a free shot, a state of autonomy, without any ties restricting them.
9. Could there be a U-turn, given that 1,400 people have signed an online petition to bring back Berwick? No.
Berwick had created something extraordinary over 40 years, but this is how life works: the panto needs a re-boot, one where “you don’t have to be in the club to come”.
10. The 2020-2021 pantomime will be announced at a launch on February 3.