THEY’LL be back. All of them. Not only Dame Berwick Kaler, dastardly David Leonard and luvverly Brummie AJ Powell, but comic stooge Martin Barrass and principal gal Suzy Cooper too in The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose.
The Famous In York Five will resume pantomime business after all at the Grand Opera House after the initial pantomime ticket-launch press release left out Martin and Suzy, saying only that “further casting will be announced soon.”
“I was just finalising my contract through my agent,” clarified Martin after Wednesday’s meet-and-greet with the loyal queue that had begun forming at 3.40am outside the Cumberland Street theatre’s box office. “It was the same with Suzy, who doesn’t use an agent and does her own negotiations.”
Neither Suzy, nor AJ, was present on Wednesday but Dame Berwick, Martin and David pressed the flesh, then met the press to discuss their second year at the Opera House after their crosstown move from York Theatre Royal.
“I’m so glad Suzy will be back because I think she’s going to give us a run for our money as she’ll be playing two parts,” said Berwick.
“I gave you that idea,” interjected David. “She’s the fairy but she’s also my daughter and I don’t know she’s a fairy,” Berwick ploughed on. “Yes, that was my idea,” insisted David.
After last winter’s Dick Turpin Rides Again was produced by Crossroads Pantomimes [“the world’s biggest pantomime producer”], the Opera House panto has switched to new producers, UK Productions [“one of the country’s leading producers of musical theatre and pantomime, both nationally and internationally”].
“They’re a very good company, good on costumes and design, and they have The Kite Runner opening on Broadway,” said David.
“They’re a nice company, like a family,” said Berwick. “They were full of praise for the work we’ve done in pantomime, and I say ‘we’ because I had one discussion with Martin [producer Martin Dodd], where he thought he could easily find a replacement for one cast member…
“Martin!” interjected David. Berwick’s tongue had been in his cheek until this point, but he turned more serious to emphasise: “They’d come to York, and l’d said to them, ‘you can’t put a price on that rapport and how we’re just ordinary actors who’ve built up a reputation, and you can’t put a price on the way we work together. It’s taken us years’.
“I think the audience wouldn’t accept not having us in the show, and these Grand Opera House shows wouldn’t have happened without us all being in them.”
Berwick misses having a trapdoor for its potential comic mayhem, but describes the Opera House as “a great theatre for pantomime”. “It’s a joy to play here,” said David. “I love the vista of the seating,” said Martin. “That massive sweep of stalls, dress circle and grand circle. It’s like the West End theatre of York, and there are no bad seats.”
Covid restrictions prevented Kaler and co going walkabout in Dick Turpin Rides Again. “We couldn’t go down the steps for Covid-safety reasons,” said Berwck. “But hopefully that will be different this year.”
“The band had to be under the stage last time so that we weren’t spitting on them, but all being well they’ll be back in view in the pit.”
Berwick will be in triple threat mode once more at the age of 76 [his birthday falls on October 31], writing and directing the show as well as playing the venerable dame. Already he is bouncing script ideas off David and Martin and, as for the directorial role, he said: “I don’t have to do that much with this lot, so I can concentrate on the chorus and anyone new, if we have a ‘guest’ join us.
“They’re all family in the ensemble and they all want to come back. They had a good time with Dick Turpin Rides Again and they want another good time.”
Last winter’s pantomime played to audiences advised to wear masks. “You stopped thinking about it because you got used to it, and it didn’t affect the laughter,” said Berwick.
“I decided not to mention Covid because what would have been the point? There’s nothing funny about it.
But what I will do is never get away from being edgy in what I say on stage, though I will never insult anyone’.” Martin and David act out their mock surprise at this comment, but maybe ‘jests’ is a better word than ‘insults’ for Kaler’s adlibs and asides.
“You’ve never taken the easy line of picking on someone in the audience for what they’re wearing,” noted David.
“We’ve always taken the mick out of ourselves instead,” said Berwick. “But no in-jokes; there’s no place for those.”
Kaler and co last staged Mother Goose in 2014-2015 at York Theatre Royal under the title of Old Mother Goose. “I want it to be different. I don’t want it to be Old Mother Goose again,” said Berwick.
“Or even Mama Goose?” said David. “It’ll be The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose,” said Berwick. “The parents can tell their bairns, ‘yes, there will be a goose in it’. ‘Yes, there’ll be an old Mother Goose in it’. ‘Yes, there’ll be a goose egg in it’, but after that, leave me alone to come up with ideas.”
Whereupon Berwick, Martin and David started to recall their past encounters with Mother Goose, like the one with the motorised duck with a life of its own and…
“I remember in the first Mother Goose, we had an 8ft goose that we had to hide from the audience,” recalled Martin. “So, we put a pair of dog’s ears on it!”
The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose will run at Grand Opera House, York, from December 10 2022 to January 8 2023. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York