TONIGHT is press night for York pantomime stalwarts Suzy Cooper and Martin Barrass for the first time since December 2019.
They have reunited as part of the “Famous In York Five”, starring alongside grand dame Berwick Kaler, David Leonard and A J Powell in Dick Turpin Rides Again, their first pantomime for Crossroads Live since their switch to the Grand Opera House from York Theatre Royal.
“It’s a great stage for pantomime,” says principal girl Suzy, who plays Donna Donut this winter. “It’s a wonderful stage with a proscenium arch, stalls that go all the way back, a dress circle and upper circle, and it’s exciting to be back in a theatre with such a traditional auditorium. Acoustically, it’s fantastic too.”
Delayed by a year by Covid enshrouding the Cumberland Street theatre in darkness last winter, Suzy is even keener to be back among friends. “We wanted to be back together, which was really important to do: we have a very loyal audience and it’s lovely to bring our pantomime to this city that we love, and not just for those that live here but also for the people from further afield whose tradition has been to come to our panto,” she says.
“I was devastated to lose the Theatre Royal, but to be given this opportunity at the Grand Opera is like receiving a transplant, allowing us to continue this tradition.”
Comic stooge Martin – son Dunkin Donut to Berwick’s mam Dotty Donut this time – is no less enthusiastic. “This place is fantastic,” he says. “It’s a bit like Dr Who’s Tardis; you stand outside and you have no idea how big it is, but it turns out to be a full 1,000-seat theatre inside.
“It’s lovely to have ended up here, with all the legacy and longevity of Berwick Kaler’s pantomimes, and he’s been champing at the bit to get on stage again!”
Suzy is enjoying re-establishing the camaraderie of the long-running team, with Berwick restored to the fore after co-directing and writing Sleeping Beauty in the wake of his retirement from the pantomime stage in February 2019.
“We have the added edge within us of knowing people want to see us doing pantomime together again,” she says. “We are blessed: it’s hard work doing panto but we know how teamwork is important and how we are the sum of our parts.
“When we did Sleeping Beauty, we missed Berwick on stage, the audience missed him, and now we have a second chance to be together again. We need him.
“There’s this awful ‘cancel culture’ going on, and yes, things have to develop and have to change, but the idea that a show like ours, that’s been going on for so long, shouldn’t continue is a travesty. We are not dead yet!
“I’m genuinely delighted to be here, in a city that means so much to me. Last year, it just wasn’t Christmas, because I wasn’t in York.”
Assessing what Grand Opera House audiences can expect from Dick Turpin Rides Again, with Berwick taking the rains once more as writer, director and dame, Suzy says: “We’ve always said that we’re a family pantomime but we are anarchic. There’s nothing that won’t delight children, but we are unruly.
“What’s our USP [unique selling point]? Our pantomime is anarchic, it’s crazy, it’s madcap!”
Did you know?
SUZY Cooper played a “lesbian office worker” in BBC One soap opera EastEnders this year, filming in lockdown in late-January and early February for episodes that went out in March/April. “It got me out of the house and into London for the first time in four months,” she says.
Did you know too?
Suzy, who lives in London, is a yoga teacher, teaching both in person and online on Zoom. “To share my yoga has been an amazing thing to do,” she says. “They are very tough, my classes!”