AFTER 547 barren nights, the Grand Opera House, York, reopened on Monday as a ghost story blew away the cobwebs of pandemic-enforced closure at last.
Jennet Humphrey, the “Woman” in the title of The Woman In Black, has a habit of returning to this already crowded city of ghosts onregular occasions, such is the abiding popularity of Stephen Mallatratt’s stage adaptation that began life at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in novelist Susan Hill’s home town of Scarborough in December 1987.
From that premiere, Robin Herford is still directing the award-garlanded fright-night and Michael Holt’s brilliantly atmospheric set is still adding to the chill factor with its clever use of gauze, a shadowy stairwell, passages, a mysteriously locked door and the faded grandeur of a disused theatre.
No matter how often you see the show, Rod Mead’s original sound design, now realised on tour by Sebastian Frost, unfailingly will tantalise, taunt, tease and terrify you. Every time!
Likewise, cast members Robert Goodale and Antony Eden are back in Black, albeit working in partnership for the first time on this revived tour of Mallatratt’s two-hander. Goodale was in the company for the last York visit, in November 2019, at the Theatre Royal, one of myriad old haunts for Eden too, who played there in February-March 2013 en route to notching up more than 1,000 performances.
Familiar faces were in the dress circle too. Not the Grand Opera House’s resident ghost, but the ghosts of Theatre Royal pantomimes past, now first-night guests in their new home, as Berwick Kaler, David Leonard, Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell gathered ahead of this winter’s Dick Turpin Rides Again.
First, however, it was time for The Woman In Black’s pony and trap to be ridden again. I say ‘pony and trap’, but it is in fact a wicker trunk. Goodale’s Arthur Kipps, the haunted old solicitor seeking to exorcise the fear that has filled his soul for more than 50 years, looks puzzled.
Use your imagination, advises Eden’s now not-so-young Actor, employed by Kipps to help him turn his rambling book of notes into…well, don’t call it a performance, he says. “I’m not Olivier.”
However, “for my health, for reason”, his story must be told. “I cannot bear the burden any longer,” he says desperate to put his stultifying obsession to bed, to find a peace of mind at last, to end the curse on his family.
At this point, as Kipps and the Actor meet in a dusty old theatre, the tone is lightly humorous, Kipps’ lack of acting talent and sense of drama amusingly apparent; the Actor, sceptical and cocky.
And yet, as if the stage were made of quicksand, we are drawn into what becomes a celebration of the possibilities of theatre and the craft of acting, as much as a superbly executed, drip-drip telling of a ghost story.
In Mallatratt’s play within a play, the drama within takes over from the act of making it. Gradually, by now taking Kipps gravely seriously, Eden’s Actor becomes the young Kipps; Goodale’s stage novice Kipps becomes everyone else, from a convivial hotel manager to a taciturn pony-and-trap driver and an old lawyer, hollowed out by past encounters with the spectral woman in a black cape with a wasted face.
All the while, in his narrator’s role, old Kipps grows ever more paralysed by resurgent fears as the story unfolds of his ill-fated errand as a young solicitor to the haunted Eel Marsh House: an isolated place forever at odds with its wretched self.
The Woman In Black is old-fashioned, storytelling theatre-making, where not only Kipps, but we too, must engage our imaginations, as Herford eschews high-tech special effects. For example, Spider, a dog, is conjured simply with a click of a finger, a push of a stick, a hand stroke in mid-air, with no need for the distracting presence of a real mutt or puppet.
The terrifying theatrical re-enactment is rendered with only two chairs, a trunk of papers, a hanging rail of costume props, dust sheets over the stage apron and a frayed theatre curtain.
Then add smoke to create a disorientating murk that spreads over the auditorium, transforming the stalls into the eerie marshlands, allied to the restless, intrusive sound effects that thrive on surprise and sudden bursts of noise, from horse’s hooves to piercing screams. All the while, in Kevin Sleep’s lighting design, shadows and darkness wrestle with light for dominance, guaranteeing a sleepless night.
After month after month of silence, the Grand Opera House was being reawakened from its slumber with gasps, shrieks and nervous audience laughter, and we loved it. Goodale and Eden, wonderfully in control of delivering a storyline that is spinning beyond control, maybe forever, clearly love it too.
The Woman In Black will not be vanishing any time soon; the empty rocking chair will keep on rocking to big audiences, newcomers and veteran devotees alike
SEAN McKenzie hasn’t had a job for 18 months. An acting job, that is.
“I have been working, at Thorntons, at their Alfreton factory in Derbyshire, just off the M1,” said Sean, whose lockdown-enforced break from the boards has come to an end in York, the most famous home of chocolate of all, in the role of Rowntree worker ‘Parky’ Bell in The Park Keeper.
“I’ve been learning how to ice at Thorntons; I became one of their main ‘icers’, so if anyone has had any icing from Thorntons in the past year and a half, chances are it’s been my icing. Either me or Paul, the only other bloke doing the icing.”
The cherry on the icing on Sean’s cake is that he has returned to performing at last in York playwright Mike Kenny’s 55-minute monologue about Rowntree Park’s first park keeper, the shrill whistle-blowing James ‘Parky’ Bell, running until July 17 in the Friends Garden at the York park.
“Before this, I was last on stage playing Widow Twankey for Theatr Clwyd, with Hannah Chissick directing, who I’ve done five or six pantomimes for now,” said Sean, still sporting a lockdown beard in rehearsals as he met CharlesHutchPress in the Reading Café at Rowntree Park, beneath the very lodge where ‘Parky’ Bell and his family lived during his 24 tenure as park keeper from 1921 to 1945.
“I won’t lie, it’s scary. If nothing else, I’m honest,” said Sean, as he faced brushing off the ring rust from being out of action for 18 months. “But I’ll say this, and I know every actor says it, when doing a new piece, but it’s a beautiful piece of writing by Mike, based on the real character of James ‘Parky’ Bell.
“Bell’s story is intertwined with Mike’s own story, and there’s so much in there drawn from Mike’s life now and his past relationship with his father, and the big thing in the play is wrestling with all these things: life, death; nature; religion.
“Hopefully, it’s funny in parts, but it’s also really heartwarming, reflective and very poignant. That means, for me, as an actor, it’s an absolute gift and I just hope can deliver the gift.”
Analysing ‘Parky’ Bell’s character, as depicted by Kenny, Sean said: “He’s obviously very old school; he fought in the First World War; became a corporal, and survived the war, but what suddenly occurred to me when reading Mike’s play was that though Bell survived and came home, can you imagine what he saw in those four years?
“He had all that stuff on his shoulders, but eventually getting the job as the park keeper, after everything he’d been through, was his paradise on Earth, and in a way, he was ‘God’ there: ruling the roost, stopping trouble, stopping the littering.
“He was a strict man, a disciplinarian, who couldn’t talk about what he’d seen in wartime – ‘if you haven’t been through it, you can’t understand it, so what’s the point of telling you?’, he says at one point – but he had found his paradise, though now he’s being asked to leave it after 24 years.
“So there are elements of Prospero in The Tempest, having to let go of the magic, because being the park keeper is his identity.”
Sean has taken on such roles as sleazebag talent agent Ray Say in The Rise And Fall Of Little Voice at Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre and Leeds playwright Alan Bennett in Bennett’s Lady In The Van for Hull Truck Theatre.
He has handled lines aplenty in myriad comedy roles in the National Theatre’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime, as Bottom in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in Jim Cartwright’s two-hander Two at Derby Theatre and a long stint in War Horse at the National Theatre and British, Irish and South African tours.
The Park Keeper is, however, his first monologue. “It’s my first play for 18 months, and I’m flying solo. It feels like being Chris Bonnington or Donald Campbell,” he said. “I’ve gone from Two to one! I know an hour ‘on stage’ on your own doesn’t sound a lot, but it is!
“I got a call on the Friday from my agent, saying ‘they want you to read on Monday’, so I had two days to read it before my chat with Matt [Matt Aston, director of producers Engine House Theatre and director of Park Bench Theatre].
“I’m offered the part and that’s when the adrenaline kicks in and you think, ‘Can I do this?’. There’s a niggling voice going, ‘Can you still do this?’, but once I made the decision that yes, I could, it was a massive weight off my shoulders.”
That still left Sean with a massive pile of words to learn. “Before starting rehearsals, I did five 12-hour days to learn the script, when normally you’d have more like five weeks. So, between line learning and rehearsals, I’m doing everything in 18 days, rather than eight weeks,” said Sean, who brought a bench indoors to help him “get into character” at his village home in Heage, near Belper, in Derbyshire’s Amber Valley. “I called it my ‘Judi bench’, as I love Dame Judi Dench!”
The first week of rehearsals with Matt Aston were conducted on Zoom, focusing on the text, before the two met up in the second week in an impromptu rehearsal room at Southlands Methodist Church, and then transferring to the Friends Garden for final preparations on a park bench.
“Rather than just being a monologue, you have to try to flesh out the characters that ‘Parky’ Bell talks about,” said Sean. “There’s so much in this play, and the language he uses is not how we’d speak today; sometimes sentences would even be the other way round to now! That’s how precise Mike Kenny is.
“This is my first Mike Kenny script, and when you think what a great writer he is, how could I say ‘No’ to such a beautiful piece, with lots of comedy, lots of pathos. I really hope that after lockdown everyone will come out and enjoy it, as we do what we’ve always done, tell stories, like the ancient Greeks did, by the fire. Or in this case, the audiences bringing their own ‘fire’ in the form of Prosecco!”
Sean is “just the other side of 50 now” with a career in performing stretching back to the age of 11, raised in Blackpool, the son of Henry (“Harry”) Joseph Patrick McKenzie, the “Golden Voice Of Ireland”, who himself used the stage name of Sean McKenzie.
“I used to go and see all the Blackpool shows, all the great singers, the variety acts and the great comics, Doddy, Les Dawson and Frank Carson,” said Sean. “My dad was one of seven, I was one of four, and though I came from a singing family – my dad first sang in the group The Gale Brothers – I never wanted to be a singer; I always wanted to be an actor.
“I loved Buster Keaton, Abbott and Costello, Harold Lloyd, The Three Stooges, Will Hay and my particular favourites, Laurel and Hardy. That’s where I learnt about timing. You’ve got to have funny bones; you can’t teach timing, but I did learn it to an extent by watching.”
Sean trained at RADA but, as this interview encounter over a late lunch revealed, he is naturally humorous company. “Believe it or not, I am shy, and I know it’s a cliché, but there’s something about becoming another self on stage, and after 18 months of doing no acting, this has been a right baptism of fire,” he said.
Shy? That leaves Sean once he is on stage, when all that performing energy surges through him. “I think why I’ve survived for so long in this business is that people can rely on me. I will never sell an audience short,” he said. “Whatever I play, they always ‘get me’, even as the dame!”
He and Matt Aston have long wanted to do a show together. “About 15 years ago, I first came to him with an idea after seeing Tom Courtenay in Moscow Stations in the West End, to see if he would do it at the Nottingham Lakeside, when he was there,” recalled Sean.
“It didn’t happen but we’ve remained in contact and he came to see me playing Toad in The Wind Of The Willows. Now we’re doing The Park Keeper together.”
Did you know?
Sean McKenzie played opposite Berwick Kaler’s dame when they starred as the Ugly Sisters in Cinderella at York Theatre Royal in 1995-1996.
“He asked me to do it after we worked on a film together,” said Swan, who will be “frocking up” again this winter as dame in Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs at Stafford Gatehouse Theatre.
“I don’t wear any false eyelashes. Just a bit of red cheeks, a bit of red nose and a bit of mascara to open the eyes.”
Park Bench Theatre in The Park Keeper, The Friends Garden, Rowntree Park, until July 17. Box office: yorktheatreroyal.co.uk or on 01904 623568.
YORK portrait artist Sue Clayton is joining forces with Pocklington Arts Centre to present an outdoor exhibition, 21, in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day.
On display on the railings of All Saints Church, Pocklington, from tomorrow (19/3/2021) to April 19, the 21 portraits are all inspired by children and adults who have Down Syndrome, especially Sue’s energetic son James.
Sue, whose portraiture is marked by a vibrant palette and social purpose, has chosen the theme of 21 not only in a nod to World Down Syndrome Day (WDSD) falling on March 21, but also to symbolise the extra 21st chromosome that people with Down Syndrome have.
21 will be the second such exhibition to be staged by Pocklington Arts Centre (PAC) in lockdown after Karen Winship’s NHS Heroes outside “the Cathedral of the Wolds” from late-November to January 4.
Sue says: “I’m delighted to once again be teaming up with Pocklington Arts Centre to unveil 21 to mark World Down Syndrome Day.
“I take a huge amount of inspiration from my son James, who celebrated his 18th birthday in lockdown, so I’m very much looking forward to bringing this collection of portraits featuring children and adults with Down Syndrome at work and play to Pocklington.
“I really hope it helps to not only celebrate some incredible people but also perhaps to challenge some people’s perceptions of Down Syndrome to coincide with this international awareness-raising campaign.”
The 21 exhibition comes a year after Sue held a record-breaking attempt to create the world’s largest pair of knitted socks at PAC, where the huge socks formed the backdrop to her studio exhibition Downright Marvellous At Large.
The project involved keen knitters from the Pocklington community and beyond knitting and donating brightly coloured squares that were joined together to make the enormous odd socks.
“Why odd socks,” you ask? Odd socks are worn to mark WDSD as part of the global fundraising campaign Lots Of Socks to represent the odd number of chromosomes, whose shape matches a sock.
Sue’s original Downright Marvellous! exhibition at PAC in 2015 mainly depicted young children who have Down Syndrome, but her new portraits in part focus on the “unrepresented and significant” social presence of adults with Down Syndrome at work and at leisure. This is in keeping with her artistic vision to “represent those who are sometimes socially unseen”.
PAC director Janet Farmer says: “We’re delighted to be working with Sue Clayton once again on what promises to be a fantastic exhibition to help raise awareness of a worthwhile cause.
“Sue’s previous exhibitions at PAC have always proved to be so popular, so we’re looking forward to being able to make 21 happen as an outdoor event while the venue remains closed to the public.
“We hope as many people as possible enjoy this truly unique and inspiring collection of works.”
Sue, from Wigginton, is drawn to portraiture because “it insists upon the idea that the more you look at a face, the more you see. Every single aspect – the eyelids, the nostrils, and the complexion – reveals the personality and character of every individual person”.
After making a radical mid-career change to become a full-time artist, self-taught Sue soon gained recognition from Britain’s Got Artists in 2012 and later as Outstanding Visual Artist in the York Culture Awards for her York Heroes project in 2017-2018, shown at York Hospital.
Selected by the York public for Sue’s portrait challenge, the six “heroes” were Dame Berwick Kaler, York Theatre Royal pantomime legend; Mary Chapman, founder of Nuzzlets Animal Charity in Great Ouseburn; Professor Steve Leveson, York Against Cancer co-founder and chairman; Ian Donaghy, motivational public speaker, charity fundraiser, author and Huge singer; the late PC Suzanne Asquith, who was awarded a BEM in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for her work with young people, and Andrew Fair, the perennial friendly face on the trolleys at Sainsbury’s at Monks Cross.
Sue’s portrait of Andrew in uniform, with his yellow hi-viz jacket and orange Sainsbury’s name tag, subsequently featured on the opening episode of Grayson Perry’s Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4 during Lockdown 1 last spring.
Influenced by Rembrandt, York artist William Etty and more contemporary painters such as Jenny Saville and Tim Benson, Sue enjoys working with dynamic colours to make marks “that should not be there but somehow work”, and her modus operandi is to capture both the likeness of her subjects and their inner life.
During lockdown, she has been teaching weekly online art classes. To find out more about Sue’s classes and her work, visit sueclayton.com. For further information on World Down Syndrome Day, and how to show support by wearing odd socks on March 21, visit downs-syndrome.org.uk.
Here, CharlesHutchPress turns the spotlight on Sue Clayton with a broad canvas of questions.
How will you and James mark World Down Syndrome Day on Sunday, March 21, Sue?
“We’ll be definitely wearing our odd socks on WDSD. We’ll be donning the official design odd socks from the Down Syndrome Association, but everyone is warmly encouraged to show support by wearing any odd socks they like, with the odd socks representing the extra sock-shaped chromosome.
“We’ll also be taking part in an online disco party that starts at 3.21pm on Sunday, so beware some serious Mum dancing! The day before, James and I will be doing an online portrait workshop with James debuting as my model. All monies raised from this will go to the local Down Syndrome support group.”
What works make up the 21 portraits in 21 in 2021?
“The exhibition features seven new portraits of young people from our region, with a new sketch of James from his 18th birthday included. The other portraits have been selected from past Downright Marvellous exhibitions. There’s a range of mediums used this time from pen sketches, acrylic, oils and watercolour.”
Your past Pocklington Arts Centre exhibitions have been held indoors. This time, the works will be on show outside, becoming street art, on view to all. What extra oomph does that bring to this show?
“Pocklington Arts Centre strikes again; they are such a great asset to the community. What a fantastic initiative this is. When most artists are struggling during this time PAC are helping by funding these exhibitions.
“I’m particularly excited as I’m passionate about making art accessible for all. This way, art is shown in an open environment to people who may not go to art galleries. If people can’t go to galleries and art centres, they will come to you!
“The paintings are vibrant and positive; it’s great to think they might make people smile as they pass by All Saints Church. I’m hoping the portraits will dispense the label and instead focus on the individual.”
You say you want to “perhaps challenge some people’s perceptions of Down Syndrome to coincide with this international awareness raising campaign”. What do you think those perceptions are and how can they be changed?
“I hope to share the individual and unique character of any person I paint; these models are no exception. A misconception may be that people with Down Syndrome will live sheltered lives, never leaving the family home or having a job.
“Many adults with DS make a great contribution to society, working in paid jobs or volunteering within the community. My greatest wish for James in the future will be that he holds down a fulfilling job to him; has a strong, loving relationship and can live as independently as possible, all of which I hope for my daughter too, who doesn’t have DS.”
What are you working on and when might your next exhibition be?
“I’ll soon be working on a new commission linked with the NHS, which I am very excited about. More details to follow nearer the time.
“I’m also working on a project that incorporates both large-scale paintings of the portrait and the nude side by side. Yet again, I hope to challenge the perceptions we make of people as we view the same person in a different way: do these change and why?”
How are the Zoom art classes going?
“I’m loving delivering art classes via Zoom. I can’t believe I was so reticent at the start of lockdown; I love it now! The thing I have found lovely is the sense of community and friendship that can form in a virtual class.
“I now have people from across the UK and even have someone Zooming in weekly from the Netherlands.”
What has Zoom taught you about the possibilities of opening up to new opportunities?
“The beauty of the classes is no travelling to venues, no forgetting art materials, plus it allows freedom to experiment more with materials as everything is on hand at home.
“I do two watercolour paint-along sessions each week, which allow participants to see in detail how to create the painting. Everyone can view it easily on thier own screen.
“Also, reference photos are much easier to share and I’ve created an online gallery so we can look and share our work together, again building the sense of community. Many of my learners have had to shield, so this has been a great way to still participate and not feel so isolated during this time.
“From a personal point of view, I’ve linked to a lot of art talks myself, expanding my art history knowledge. I particularly enjoyed taking part in one from Washington DC examining Van Gogh’s letters and the paintings described within them. Great stuff!”
How have you dealt with lockdown x 3 as a creative person?
“When lockdown began this time last year, my yearning to paint portraits waned; I’m very pleased to say this didn’t last long. Discovering I could continue to teach was a real bonus as, like so many creatives, I was very anxious how I could still earn money.
“The classes have been essential on many levels. They feed my creativity as I need to think about new and exciting challenges for my learners, but it’s also a wonderful time with fellow painters as we share thoughts and ideas.
“I’ve had the challenge of two children home-schooling and having a young person with special needs 24/7 can have its ups and downs but overall it’s been good.
“I often compensate by working into the early hours but I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to do this and keep my loved ones safe.
“It’s definitely been a time to learn for me; I’ve invested in learning more about art history. Excitingly too, I’ve now found avenues to link up with models far further afield than I ever thought possible, thanks to technology.”
What do you know about yourself that you didn’t know a year ago pre-Covid?
“Hmm…tricky question! Like so many people, I’ve had to embrace tech more and never thought I would enjoy it so much. I’ve learnt to have more patience as I’ve had to time apart from my partner but equally learned our love is very strong and how thankful I am that he’s in my life.
“I know I enjoyed slowing down a little and how much I appreciate those around me. I now know that I have the scope to teach to a much wider audience and I’ve loved how much I’ve enjoyed it.”
Why has Grayson’s Art Club on Channel 4 been such a breath of fresh air for the art world in general, championing people’s art?
“Grayson Perry is just fantastic; I can’t wait to see him in York later this year [Grayson Perry: A Show For Normal People, York Barbican, September 6].
“The TV show is wholesome and heartening and really brings home the fact that art is for everyone and everyone can make it. He’s such a good communicator and shows an understanding of humankind with his empathy.
“I really like the way he shows respect for all the artists, whoever they are, allowing them time to talk about their art and listening. The connection between [his wife] Philippa and Grayson is great to see too. In a time of crisis, it truly shows the power of art, to create, to distract, to absorb, to think, to just be!”
Sue Clayton’s exhibition, 21, is on display outside All Saints Church, Pocklington, from March 19 to April 19, presented in tandem with Pocklington Arts Centre. For Sue’s short video on 21, go to: https://www.youtube.com/watch?app=desktop&v=lpoeCJW3_5I.
York Stage in Jack And The Beanstalk, John Cooper Studio, Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, until January 3 2021. Box office: yorkstagepanto.com
THIS is a York pantomime season like none before.
York Theatre Royal has, like a council politician, taken to the wards seeking votes, in this case for the audience choice of Travelling Pantomime. Dame Berwick Kaler’s comeback on board Dick Turpin Rides Again, after his headline-making crosstown transfer to the Grand Opera House, has gone into Covid-enforced hibernation for a year. Likewise, Rowntree Players have taken the winter off.
Yet, what’s this? A newcomer bean-sprouting up at Theatre @41 Monkgate, courtesy of York Stage’s debut pantomime, Jack And The Beanstalk, a show stuffed with West End talent with York and wider Yorkshire roots, bedding in nicely with socially-distanced performances for maximum audiences of 55 at the Covid-secure heart of Monkgateshire.
Once temperature tested at the doors and hands cleansed, you are led up the beanstalk-clad stairway to your brightly-coloured seat in the John Cooper Studio, a black-box theatre here configured as a traverse stage, the bubble-compliant audience sitting to either side or upstairs on the mezzanine level.
Safety division comes in the form of screens, like on Have I Got News For You, giving a different Perspextive on watching a show, but in no way impeding the view. Actors are socially distanced – they exchange elbow greetings; romance is replaced by best friendships – and audience members are close to the stage in this intimate setting, but not too close. The dame does not dispense sweets and we are asked to refrain from shouting.
Not your normal panto, then, in this all-too abnormal year, except that writer-director Nik Briggs’s 2020 vision for pantomime still has all the elements: the song and dance; the puns and punchlines; the slapstick and the transformation scene; the dame (Alex Weatherhill) and Daisy the cow; the drama-queen baddie (Ian Stroughair) and his narcissism; the topical and the local references; the daft wannabe superhero dreamer (Jordan Fox) and the fairy (Livvy Evans); the principal girl (May Tether) and her plain-speaking principles.
Then add the all-action ensemble (Matthew Ives, Danielle Mullan and Emily Taylor) and the band, a trio of musical director Jessica Douglas, fellow keyboard player Sam Johnson and York’s premier league drummer, Clark Howard, parked upstairs but omnipresent and on the button, The Great British Bake Off theme tune et al.
Briggs has called his show “a musical with pantomime braces on”; his choreographer, Gary Lloyd, a big signing from the West End and tour circuit, has coined the term “pansical”. That may suggest a slightly awkward new hybrid, but like the cult rock’n’roll pantomime at Leeds City Varieties, the musical driving force here is a winning addition to the tradition.
Ninety minutes straight through – intervals are so last year – Jack And The Beanstalk is full of beans, lovely to look at and lively too, loud at times but rarely lewd (blame the dame for those “innocent but guilty” moments, met with knowing laughter).
Surprise celebrity cameos pop up on video, and York Mix Radio’s morning team of Ben Fry and Laura Castle provide the pre-recorded countdown chat pre-show.
Briggs is breaking his duck as a pantomime writer, and his script is a little mannered by comparison with the highly experienced Paul Hendy’s way with words for the Travelling Pantomime, but he does know the notes, he does play them in the right order, and the jokes invariably hit home, especially those that play on the Covid conventions of 2020.
His reinvention of the pantomime cow is a particular joy, even if the dame’s nutty slapstick routine is hampered by having to play safe.
Briggs’s characters, bold and playful and bright, will appeal to children and adults alike. The singing is the ace card. What voices, whether Weatherhill’s operatic entry; professional debutante Tether’s arrival as Yorkshire’s next Sheridan Smith with her gift for investing personality in every line or the appealing Fox’s top-notch prowess in big numbers and ballads alike.
Evans’s Fairy Mary is fun and feisty, especially in her battles with Stroughair’s long-fingered, stove-pipe top-hatted Flesh Creep, commanding the stage with that irrepressible swagger and spectacular singing we know from his drag diva, Velma Celli.
You will never have a better chance to see Gary Lloyd’s flamboyant, fab-u-lous choreography so close up it is almost personal, dazzlingly pretty in the transformation scene, bouncing madly on and off trampolines in Stroughair’s high point, Jump (the Van Halen anthem).
Bean there, done that? Not until you have seen this new brand of York pantomime.
Review by BARSTOW TEASDALE. Copyright of The Press, York
STRICTLY Xmas Live In The Park, with a singalong songsheet led by York pantomime perennial Martin Barrass, is off.
Organiser Lesley Jones confirmed the cancellation of Sunday’s open-air Bev Jones Music Company show at the Rowntree Park amphitheatre on Facebook.
“It is with huge sadness I have had to cancel the Xmas Concert on Sunday 13th. External circumstances forced the decision,” she revealed.
“However, we will be singing at Tesco, Askham Bar, on Saturday 19th and Sunday 20th December from 1.30pm. Look out for our 2021 calendar. Thank you all as ever.”
In an earlier post, she wrote: “For many, many reasons we are beaten in this strangest of years! We must confess that we have taken the hardest decision to cancel our Strictly Live In The Park.
“You all know how I do always my best to give you the show I promise, but Covid, Tiers, illness, personal etc etc….force the decision.
“All ticket monies will be refunded in full. Roll on 2021. Keep in touch, join our Bev Jones Music Group page to find out what’s next.”
On November 29, Lesley had expressed excitement at the upcoming show’s progress. “Only two weeks to go! Tier 2 means we have the green light and we are good to go!” she posted
Strictly Xmas Live in The Park would have added up to a “3 in 1 Xmas experience” with Christmas songs through the decades, carols by candlelight and a one-of-a-kind, specially written pantomime, Once Upon A Pud.
Martin Barrass, Dame Berwick’s stalwart comic stooge, was already missing out on the Covid-cancelled Kaler comeback in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House. Now he has to forego leading the pantomime section of Strictly Xmas Live In The Park on Sunday afternoon too.
In the Covid-secure, socially distanced performance, Martin would have reactivated his first ever song-sheet in a York Theatre Royal panto – all about Yorkshire Puddings – as well as telling a few seasonal jokes.
Joining him in the festive concert’s panto sequence would have been Melissa Boyd’s Princess, Terry Ford’s villain and Charlotte Wood’s Silly Billy, plus a Dame, Fairy Godmother, Prince Charming and Jack Ass.
Favourite Christmas songs, such as Santa Baby, Jingle Bell Rock and Band Aid’s Do They Know It’s Christmas?, and a visit from Father Christmas were in Sunday’s programme too. All audience members were to be temperature tested on arrival and placed into family private bubble areas.
Rehearsals were booked in for Rufforth Institute Hall, socially distanced and under a full Covid risk assessment.
AFTER the tiers of a clown, now comes the even greater frustration of Lockdown 2 from today, knocking the growing revival of arts, culture and life in general back into hibernation.
Nevertheless, in one chink of light, Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden has decreed that theatre companies can continue rehearsing shows in Covid-secure workspaces, behind closed doors, with a view to lockdown being lifted in early December.
Whether that turns out to be a mere fairytale, only time will tell, so please forgive the unpredictability of what may or may not be happening.
Charles Hutchinson picks through the debris of Lockdown 2 to find signs of artistic life for now and the months ahead.
It’s started and it won’t finish until November 30: Aesthetica Short Film Festival online
YORK’S tenth anniversary Aesthetica Short Film Festival opened on Tuesday, switching from a spread of historic and modern locations to a digital and live-streamed festival for home entertainment, enlightenment and education on phones, TV sets, tablets and computers.
Films in competition at ASFF 2020 will span animation, documentary, drama, dance, fashion and thriller. This year they will be released in six strands this week, with no fewer than ten programmes per day under the strand titles of Just Another Day On Earth; Humans And Their Environment; Connections: People, Places and Identity; Breaking Down Barriers; Reclaiming Space: Universal And Personal and Keep On The Sunny Side Of Life.
Masterclasses, guest speakers, panel discussions, guest film programmes and an industry market are further highlights of an online festival unimpeded by the new lockdown. Go to asff.co.uk for tickets and to download the full programme.
Fighting off the new lockdown blues: Badapple Theatre’s Theatre On Your Desktop podcast
GREEN Hammerton’s Badapple Theatre Company has added a new Kate Bramley play to its Theatre On Your Desktop series as it extends its lockdown season of free podcasts.
Click on https://badappletheatreonyourdesktop.podbean.com/ for The World Is Still Next Door, artistic director Bramley’s account of some strange and wonderful goings on at the allotment as Mo and her young son search for a place to fight off the lockdown blues.
Set during four sunny days in May in deep lockdown, Bramley’s play seeks to capture the power of soundscapes to inspire imagination. “I got really interested in the idea of creating a new short piece with many voices of varying ages and accents, as well as delving into sound montages that evoke settings from our local Yorkshire all the way to Watamu Beach in Kenya,” says Kate. “With a bit of Badapple signature magic-realism thrown in for good measure.”
Travelling Pantomime, not travailing pantomime, as the show must go on…hopefully: York Theatre Royal’s alternative neighbourhood watch
YORK Theatre Royal began rehearsals in the billiards room on Tuesday for associate director Juliet Forster’s Travelling Pantomime production.
It could still be pot luck whether the first collaboration between Evolution Pantomimes and the Theatre Royal will go ahead, everything hanging on Lockdown 2’s fate, but plans are taking rapid shape to cement the itinerary for a tour of 21 York wards from December 3, plus York Theatre Royal performances too.
Just Josh magician and entertainer Josh Benson, Robin Simpson’s Dame Dolly, Anna Soden’s Fairy/Singing Captain, Faye Campbell’s Jack/Dick and Reuben Johnson’s villainous Fleshcreep/Ratticus Flinch will rehearse three pantomimes, Jack And The Beanstalk, Dick Whittington and Snow White, all scripted by Evolution’s Paul Hendy, for each show’s audience to vote for which panto they want to see.
The other Jack And The Beanstalk in York this Christmas: York Stage at Theatre @41 Monkgate, York, December 11 to 30
YORK Stage are going full team ahead with their inaugural pantomime, to be staged in the Covid-secure John Cooper Studio, where Perspex screens will be in place for the first time for the traverse staging.
Writer-director Nik Briggs has added West End choreographer Gary Lloyd to his production team, proclaiming: We’re taking our West End-worthy panto to the next level with the addition of Gary to our company.”
Jordan Fox, May Tether, Livvy Evans, Alex Weatherhill, Ian Stroughair, Danielle Mullan, Emily Taylor and Matthew Ives will be the cast bringing life to Briggs’s debut panto script.
Barrass is back: Bev Jones Music Company in Strictly Xmas In The Park, Rowntree Park, Amphitheatre, York, December 13, 2pm
MARTIN Barrass will be starring in a York pantomime after all this winter. Dame Berwick’s perennial comic stooge may be missing out on the Covid-cancelled Kaler comeback in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House, but now he will lead the pantomime section of Strictly Xmas Live In The Park.
As part of Bev Jones Music Company’s Covid-secure, socially distanced, open-air performance, Barrass will tell a few jokes and orchestrate the song-sheet rendition of You Can’t Put A Better Bit Of Batter On Your Platter Than A Good Old Yorkshire Pud.
Barrass will wear black and pink to honour the late Bev’s favourite colour combination.
Early notice: York Early Music Christmas Festival, National Centre for Early Music, York, December 4 to 13
AS the NCEM website states: “We are planning for these concerts to go ahead and are still selling tickets. If the situation changes, we will of course be in touch.”
Fingers crossed, then, for a socially distanced festival in St Margaret’s Church, Walmgate, featuring Palisander, The Marian Consort, Illyria Consort, Joglaresa, The York Waits and Bethany Seymour, Helen Charlston, Frederick Long and Peter Seymour.
Among the highlights, on December 9, festival favourites The York Waits will present The Waits’ Wassail: Music for Advent and Christmas: Carols, songs and dance from across medieval and renaissance England and Europe, played on shawms and sackbuts by York’s Renaissance town band.
A hat-trick of new shows on the East Coast: Duran Duran, Lewis Capaldi and Snow Patrol at Scarborough Open Air Theatre
IN quick succession, Duran Duran, Lewis Capaldi and Snow Patrol have been confirmed for Cuffe and Taylor’s ever-expanding programme at Britain’s biggest purpose-built outdoor concert arena.
Booked in for July 7, Birmingham glam pop band Duran Duran will introduce their first new material since 2015, alongside such favourites as Save A Prayer, Rio, Girls On Film and The Reflex.
Glaswegian singer-songwriter Lewis Capaldi sold out two nights at Scarborough OAT in 2019 and says he is “buzzing” to be returning on July 25 next summer. “It’s a great venue, the crowds there are always unreal and so here’s to another unforgettable night,” he says.
Snow Patrol’s sold-out 2020 Scarborough show had to be scrapped under Covid restrictions but Gary Lightbody’s band are now booked in for July 3 2021. Tickets for all three shows go on sale tomorrow morning at 9am via scarboroughopenairtheatre.com.
And what about?
THE Kate Rusby At Christmas tour will not be happening, ruling out her South Yorkshire pub carol concert at York Barbican on December 20.
However, in response to the Covid restrictions, the Barnsley folk nightingale has decided to go online instead, presenting Kate Rusby’s Happy Holly Days on December 12 at 7.30pm (GMT). Expect all the usual Rusby Christmas ingredients: sparkly dress, twinkling lights, her regular folk band, her “brass boys”, Ruby the reindeer and a fancy-dress finale.
Tickets go on sale on Friday (6/11/2020) via https://katerusby.com/happy-holly-day/
BUMPING into Martin Barrass last night beneath At The Mill’s magical open-air theatre tent at Stillington Mill set the mind to pondering the fate of his winter pantomime in York.
Will comic stooge Martin bounce back with Suzy Cooper, David Leonard and A J Powell in veteran Dame Berwick Kaler’s panto debut at the Grand Opera House this Christmas after their shock transfer to Qdos Entertainment from York Theatre Royal?
Here is the latest statement from Qdos, the pantomime powerhouse across the land, amid the continuing blight of Covid-19’s social-distancing requirements leaving theatres in the dark.
“We had been very clear that we required clarity from the Government regarding the re-opening of theatres by Monday, 3 August, in order for our pantomime season as we know it to take place,” the statement read.
“Based on the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s reiteration last week that the Government won’t be providing further guidance on theatres operating without social distancing until November at the earliest, we are left with no choice but to begin the consultation process with our partner theatres about the viability of each show. This is a complex process and will take several weeks to complete.
“We are not immediately announcing the postponement of all shows, however plans will be announced by individual theatres and communicated to ticket holders in due course.”
Watch this space for Qdos’s decision on whether Dame Berwick’s pantomime comeback, Dick Turpin Rides Again, will or will not ride again. What will it be: pantomime or pandemime?
QDOS Entertainment today cancelled their biggest pantomime outside London: the Birmingham Hippodrome production of Goldilocks And The Three Bears starring Jason Donovan.
Scuppered by the Covid-19 pandemic, the show is now re-scheduled for Christmas 2021, Donovan, co-star Matt Slack and all.
Qdos’s pantomime at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Sleeping Beauty, has been put to sleep too until 2021.
TODAY is World Theatre Day,
although the day-to-day world of theatre has ground to a shuddering halt, its
stages silenced by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Nevertheless, today is still the
chance to celebrate Shakespeare’s sentiment in As You Like It that “All the world’s
Shakespeare’s Melancholy Jaques went
on to mull over exits and entrances, how one man in his time plays many parts,
his acts being seven ages. Let’s turn that life model to theatre itself, and
none more so than the Grand Opera House in York, a theatre, a building, a site,
that has been through so many ages, so many stages, that seven would be an
Its life before theatre can be
traced back to 71AD as part of the Roman Quayside; 450AD, a nunnery; and Victorian
days as a “sink or stew”, brothels, crowded slum housing, until the area was
The Grand Opera House building in Cumberland Street began life as a Corn Exchange, designed in 1868 by architect G A Dean to double as a concert room, hence an ornate blue/vermillion/ gold gilding colour scheme.
Conversion to a 1,540-capacity theatre followed in 1901, undertaken by theatrical manager William Peacock, who presented the first performance at the Grand Theatre and Opera House, as it was first named, on January 20 1902 when Australian music hall entertainer Florrie Forde starred in Little Red Riding Hood.
The 1916 introduction of the
Amusement Tax was not amusing, putting all theatres at risk, but The Empire, as
it was now known, survived. Charlie Chaplin, Gracie Fields, Lillie Langtry and
Marie Lloyd played there; so too, later, did Vera Lynn, Laurel and Hardy, on
their last tour, and Morecambe and Wise.
A huge rates increase in 1945 ruined
the theatre, forcing Marie Blanche, Peacock’s daughter, to end 44 years of
family ownership by selling it to F.J. Butterworth. Audiences declined against
the competition of television, to the point where the theatre closed in 1956,
blaming the “crippling entertainment tax, when TV pays no tax”.
Ernest Shepherd of Shambles acquired the theatre in 1958, duly
adding the ‘S’ and ‘S’ to the Empire name, removing the stage and levelling the
stalls floor for roller-skating, wrestling and bingo.
The end of Empire days came in 1985, but after the India Pru Company
acquired the building in 1987, Henley-on-Thames architect Gordon J Claridge was given the
brief to restore it to its 1909 glory. The Art Nouveau wallpaper was copied;
the chandelier duplicated; the carpets rewoven from the original pattern with
the Grand Opera House motif added to the design.
Stalls boxes were restored and a new stage built; the Clifford
Street entrance was turned into a box office; Cumberland Street became the main
entrance. The £4 million renovation complete, the theatre re-opened on
September 26 1989 as the Grand Opera House, but tempted fate by presenting Macbeth
– traditionally a harbinger of bad luck in the theatre world – as the first
production, 33 years since the last professional stage performance.
Only two years later, the theatre closed suddenly, staff arriving to find the doors locked, as the curse of Macbeth did indeed strike.
E&B Productions brought to an end two and a half years of darkness
after acquiring the premises for a nominal sum, re-opening the theatre on
February 26 1993, since when the Grand Opera House has remained open, hindered
only occasionally by the River Ouse in flood.
The theatre’s ownership passed from E&B Productions to Apollo
Leisure in 1995 and American company SFX in 1999. After SFX merged with Clear
Channel in 2000, and later set up a new company, Live Nation, to focus on live entertainment,
in 2006, the latest change of hands came in 2010 when Britain’s largest
owner/operator of theatres, the Ambassador Theatre Group added the York theatre
to their roster.
The ownership baton may be passed on, but each has favoured a
programme of lavish musicals, often straight from the West End; stand-up
comedy; opera; ballet; dance; concerts; tribute acts; celebrity talks; classic
theatre; new plays; in-house youth theatre summer projects; myriad shows by
York stage companies and a star-studded commercial pantomime each Christmas.
Priscilla Queen Of The Desert, Cabaret, Chicago, Jesus Christ
Superstar, The Rocky Horror Show, Blood Brothers, Legally Blonde and Once The
Musical; the Royal Shakespeare Company in The Winter’s Tale; the National
Theatre’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, Hedda Gabler and
Jane Eyre; The Waterboys, Antony & The Johnsons, Adele at 19, Echo &
The Bunnymen; Ken Dodd so many times, Danny La Rue, Ross Noble, Jimmy Carr, Paul
Merton, Julian Clary; Sir Ian McKellen, on his 80th birthday solo tour.
The list goes on…
In the deepening shadow of Coronavirus, we await to discover when
that list will start up again, but let us hope that once more we can gather for
such upcoming shows as The Commitments, from October 26 to 31 and Strictly
Ballroom, with Strictly Come Dancing’s Kevin Clifton, from November 23 to 28.
Come the winter, all eyes will be on Berwick Kaler as the grand
old dame of York becomes the Grand’s new dame after his crosstown transfer, with
villain David Leonard, perennial principal girl Suzy Cooper, comic stooge
Martin Barrass and luverly Brummie A J Powell in tow, for Dick Turpin Rides Again
from December 12 to January 10.
There to greet them and you, unmoved by the tide of theatre
history, will be the Grand Opera House ghost: a nun in the Dress Circle.
Happy World Theatre Day, but happier still when theatre days and
nights can return.
BERWICK Kaler is back, as the Grand Old Dame of York transforms into the Grand’s new dame.
Now that the Grand Opera House will
be the home of his latest dame after 41 years at York Theatre Royal, both Dame
Berwick and Dick Turpin will ride again from December 12 to January 10 2021.
Kaler pulled on his big boots at the
Theatre Royal for the last time on February 2 2019 after announcing his
retirement from Britain’s longest-running panto damehood.
Giving that retirement its P45, in
favour of a re-boot, he will write and direct as well as star in Dick Turpin
Rides Again, as he takes back control [to borrow a Dominic Cummings mantra].
What’s more, he will be re-uniting on stage with sidekick stooge Martin
Barrass, villain David Leonard, ageless principal girl Suzy Cooper and luverly
Brummie AJ Powell.
This time, the re-formed Panto Five
will be on new terrain as the Grand Opera House owners, Ambassador Theatre
Group, team up with Qdos Entertainment, the most powerful pantomime brand in
Here Charles Hutchinson puts the questions to prolific theatre producer, director and Qdos Entertainment (Pantomimes) managing director Michael Harrison, Kaler’s fellow north easterner, who stands at number eight in The Stage’s Top 100 most influential people in theatre, no less.
Why bring back Berwick, Michael?
“The best things fall out of the sky and I wasn’t expecting this
“I’m from Newcastle and I travelled all over the place to see
pantomimes; first Newcastle and Sunderland, then Darlington, and then I started
venturing to York and further, and I loved York Theatre
“If you see all the pantos everywhere, they can become like wallpaper,
but stumbling across Berwick in York was like a breath of fresh air. I’d never
seen anything like it. Stepping out of the script, as he does, I just loved it.
“I never really thought there was a place for it in what I did but was
more than happy to see it in Berwick’s pantos, and I did try to put some of
that madness in my shows, like I have for 16 years at Newcastle Theatre Royal.”
What struck you most about Berwick’s pantos?
“I like the way he has catchphrases that you don’t have to spend three
minutes introducing to the audience because they already know them.
“I like how he returns to things from previous shows, how he uses wild
titles and how he has cast members returning every year.
“It’s no secret that our most successful pantos are where the stars keep
returning: Allan Stewart, 20-plus years at the King’s Theatre, Edinburgh; Billy
Pearce, more than 20 years at the Bradford Alhambra; Danny Adams and Clive Webb, 16
years at Newcastle Theatre Royal; Matt Slack at Birmingham Hippodrome.
“It’s true that pantomime is a celebration of local culture and that’s
why Berwick had that long run at the Theatre Royal.”
How did you feel when Berwick retired?
“The day after The Grand Old Dame Of York finished, and I was very tired
after directing three pantomimes and producing 30 shows that winter, I got very
emotional, thinking ‘this is the end of an era’. But I was also thinking ‘why
does Berwick want to retire in his early seventies, when he doesn’t have to
travel to do the show, he can go home every night?’”
How did Berwick’s dame resurrection at the Grand Opera House come to fruition?
“Mark Walters, the designer who Qdos have signed up for the London
Palladium and Newcastle Theatre Royal pantomimes and who used to design
Berwick’s pantos in York, got in touch on January 11 to say ‘Have you heard
what’s happening to the Theatre Royal panto?’ [with the news of a new creative
team being put in place].
“I woke up the next morning thinking, ‘I don’t know if this is over’.
‘Why is Berwick not coming back? One year off, now he should come back
“I wrote to Berwick and said ‘you don’t know who I am, but I put on
pantomimes and lots of other shows and I’m a massive fan of your pantos. If I
can get the Grand Opera House, would you do it? Would you talk?’.”
What happened next?
“Berwick’s agent contacted me the following day and it developed very
quickly from there.
“I just felt that Berwick’s panto was a little bit of pantomime history
that should continue.
“Qdos produce all the other Ambassador Theatre Group pantomimes, and I was
aware that Three Bears Productions’ contract was not being renewed. Normally
it’s about ‘big’ casting, but this was different. There was Berwick and all his
“It happened quickly with Berwick and then we approached the other four
[Barrass, Leonard, Cooper and Powell], and there just seemed to be a passion to
make it happen.”
Will you want more of “the same old rubbish” as Berwick calls it, or will you be seeking fresh elements to appeal to the regular Grand Opera House panto audience, who like plot, plenty for children to enjoy and popular songs?
“We want to make it a York pantomime. We have to grasp all the best bits
that have really worked for Berwick, and we also have to work out what’s the
best recipe for this opportunity to move forward in a different way.
“I remember the advice of a member of the audience in Newcastle, who
said: ‘Don’t ever change it, but keep surprising me’, and that’s what we have
to discover each time; how to do that.
“But Berwick’s panto format is very unique, and I feel that while he
wants to do it, and they all want to do it, and there’s an audience that wants
him to do it, then let’s continue doing it.
“What I do know is that more people still saw David, Martin, Suzy and AJ
in Sleeping Beauty than went to Snow White at the Opera House, by a considerable
margin, and by adding Berwick to the mix again, it will be interesting to be in
York next winter.”
Does the feisty side of Berwick, such as his “I’m b****y furious” outburst at the finale to the last night of Sleeping Beauty, worry you?
“Anybody that is passionate about what they do can have a reputation for
being demanding, but that goes with the territory.
“You expect anyone with a mind like that is going to challenge, always
wanting things to be better. I’m sure he only does it with the audience in
mind. It’s just about doing the best job for them.”
Will there be a rivalry with the York Theatre Royal panto, now to be co-produced with Evolution Productions’ Paul Hendy and Emily Wood, presenting Cinderella for 2020-2021?
“I know Paul and Emily well. They’ve sat in my house. We might all be
panto producers but there’s no rivalry there, though I’d love to know why a
repertory theatre is teaming up with a pantomime company.
“Picking the Theatre Royal cast now, it will have to be star-driven,
otherwise who will go? But Paul is a very clever panto man, so he won’t be going
into it to get it wrong.
“Besides, there are more important things going on in the world than a panto ‘rivalry. It’s really not worth falling out when it’s only four of five weeks a year.”
Could the two theatres potentially be swapping their pantomime audiences?
“If there were 31,000 who saw Sleeping Beauty without Berwick – and there’s
no surprise that ticket sales fell when someone who’s an institution isn’t
there on stage anymore – then there’ll be those 31,000 here. I think there’s no
reason why we won’t have 40,000 people coming.
“It would be great to keep some of the regular Grand Opera House panto
audience too, if they’ve never experienced a Berwick Kaler pantomime. But I
also understand those who want something more traditional, though I think the
York audience is still stronger for a Berwick Kaler pantomime than a normal storyline-driven,
“In year one, people might go and see both.”
Will you be looking to inject young talent into the Grand Opera House pantomime, alongside the established team?
“I’m always mindful of who are the pantomime stars of tomorrow because
we’re not breeding them as we once were, like when they used to do a Blackpool
summer season or a sitcom.
“Today’s comedy stars do Radio 2 and Radio 4 shows and bypass panto, so
we have to find the new stars through other ways.”
Is there a chance that Mark Walters might design the Grand Opera House show, now that the ex-York Theatre Royal panto designer has signed to the Qdos stable?
“I’m talking to Mark about it now. If it wasn’t for Mark, I wouldn’t have
put that request in to Berwick to play dame again.
“We’ve met already about Humpty Dumpty for Newcastle Theatre Royal…and we’ll
discuss Dick Turpin Rides Again too.”
As a hugely successful pantomime producer and director yourself, with the London Palladium and Newcastle Theatre Royal to your name, what makes a good panto?
“Two things, I would say: comedy and magic. Not magic tricks, but that
sense of wonderment that you can’t put your finger on.
“The best pantomimes are the funniest ones. We can get terribly criticised
for not having as much plot as we could, but the best received shows have
always been more focused on comedy, set pieces and routines.
“The plot has to be there but the show must be funny and it has to have
a wow factor about it.”
Qdos Entertainment present Berwick Kaler in Dick Turpin Rides Again at the Grand Opera House, York, from December 12 to January 10 2021. Dame Berwick and his co-stars will launch ticket sales on February 14 from 10am at the box office. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at atgtickets.com/york.
grand old dame, Berwick Kaler, is back in panto. Oh yes, he is.
Theatre Royal, his “beloved home” for 41 years? Oh, no he isn’t.
Berwick is switching to the other side, the Grand Opera House, to become the
Grand’s old dame. What’s more, he will be bringing the rest of the Not Famous
But Famous In York Five along for the ride in Dick Turpin Rides Again: villain
David Leonard; sidekick stooge Martin Barrass; ageless principal girl Suzy
Cooper and luverly Brummie A J Powell.
Tickets for the December 12 to January 10 run will go on general sale on February 14, Valentine’s Day, when fans can have a love-in with Dame Berwick in the box office, when he sells the first tickets at 10am.
A delighted Kaler
says: “Qdos Entertainment have come to the rescue of the most lauded pantomime
in the country, having found us a new home at the Grand Opera House in our
beloved City of York.
“To make this a success we need
you – the most articulate and loyal audience in the entire country. We can go
forth with a management that believes we have enhanced the reputation of a
local pantomime that has caught the imagination of young and old, from all
walks of life.”
Qdos Entertainment’s managing director Michael Harrison enthuses: “We are absolutely delighted to be embarking on an all-new pantomime partnership with our colleagues at the Ambassador Theatre Group, Grand Opera House and, of course, Berwick and the gang.
“Berwick is an undeniable master in the world of pantomime, with his own inimitable style and approach and we are delighted to be working closely with him and the cast to bring back the magic for which they are best known.”
Kaler, 73, retired from playing the Theatre Royal’s dame after 40 years last February, but has signed a three-year contract with Qdos Entertainment, the pantomime powerhouse of British theatre, who are taking over the Grand Opera House panto from Three Bears Productions from Winter 2020.
Berwick will write and direct the show, as well as pulling on his trademark big
boots, unruly wig and spectacular frocks again, after regretting his decision
to retire, breaking his run as Britain’s longest-running dame, from the moment
he announced it.
recovered from his double heart bypass in the summer of 2018, It was a
sentiment he repeated regularly, not least on the last night of The Grand Old Dame
Of York on February 2 last year, saying he “would be back like a shot” if
Now the veteran dame does return, but across the city, where he has chosen Dick Turpin Rides Again for his first Grand Opera House pantomime, revisiting a show that brought him his highest ever audience figures at the Theatre Royal: 54,000 for Dick Turpin in 2008-2009.
He last appeared on the Opera House stage as fey drag artist Captain Terri Dennis in Peter Nichols’ Privates On Parade in 1996.
an emotional, provocative speech at the finale to last Saturday’s final night
of Sleeping Beauty, the troubled Theatre Royal pantomime he had written and
co-directed this winter, but whose progress was jolted by executive director
Tom Bird’s confirmation, with a fortnight still to run, that Dame Berwick would
not be back, as writer or director, let alone as dame.
and Kaler in The Press splash had called for the dame to return, David Leonard
later backed that campaign, while Martin Barrass addressed the audience at each
show post-announcement to say “this cast and this band” would not be returning.
A public petition was launched too.
furious,” said the dame, back on his old stamping ground, in a highly charged Saturday
atmosphere, full of cheers for Kaler and boos for new panto villain Bird.
not reveal “the truth”, but said Bird – or “one man” as he called him throughout
without naming him once – was “wrong” in his decision to move on to a new
creative team when the Theatre Royal pantomime “didn’t need fixing”.
“I’ll give them three days,” he said in a cryptic ultimatum that set tongues wagging that Kaler must have something up his sleeve, while Barrass rubbed his hands when reading out a letter in the shout-outs that suggested the Panto Five should move to “the Grand”.
Those three days passed, but now Dame Berwick rises again, linking up with Qdos Entertainment, whose production facilities are based in Scarborough and Beverley, 100,000 costumes et al. Billed as “the world’s biggest pantomime producer”, with 37 years behind them, they present such big-hitting pantos as the London Palladium and Newcastle Theatre Royal shows, as well as, closer to York, Hull New Theatre.
Welcoming the new partnership of Qdos and the Kaler crew, Grand Opera House theatre director Rachel Crocombe-Lane says: “Qdos bring both world-class expertise and also a Yorkshire heart, being based in Scarborough; the perfect combination together with this talented cast.
“As a venue team, pantomime is our favourite time of year because of the friendship with the company and also the joy and devotion of our audience. We are proud of these new partnerships, excited for the future of our pantomime and will be ready altogether to really blow your Christmas socks off!’
Qdos Entertainment chairman, Nick Thomas, from Scarborough, is excited too. “I am thrilled to welcome Berwick, a true Yorkshire theatre legend, to the Qdos family. Qdos Entertainment has had a long association with Yorkshire, it is my home county, and with our production and wardrobe teams based in Scarborough and Beverley, forming this new relationship with Berwick and the Grand Opera House is especially exciting.”
Meanwhile, York Theatre Royal will be launching its 2020-2021 pantomime on Monday at high noon. Rather than declaring a pantomime civil war in York, executive director Bird says: “We wish the Grand Opera House the very best of luck. As we’ve always said, we’ll be announcing our new pantomime on Monday”.
this week, Bird told a City of York Council meeting that no performance of Sleeping
Beauty had sold out, save for the traditional last night pandemonium,
compounding a decline in attendances that had started 11 years ago.
He said the
Theatre Royal would “build a new pantomime for the city that to some extent doesn’t
rely on you having been to the pantomime for 30 years in order to get it”.
“I know how much affection there is
for our pantomime in the city. What’s prompted us to make this change is that
that affection isn’t necessarily translating into popularity,” he added. “It’s
with a very heavy heart that we make changes but it’s not something we can
Tickets for Dick Turpin Rides Again will be on general sale from February 14 on 0844 871 3024, at atgtickets.com/york and in person from the Cumberland Street theatre’s box office.ATG Theatre Card holders can buy from February 11.