Goose on the loose as pantomime box office opens for the return of the ‘Famous In York Five’ at Grand Opera House

Just the ticket: Berwick Kaler, left, Martin Barrass and David Leonard launch box-office sales for The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose at the Grand Opera House, York. Picture: David Harrison

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.

Suzy Cooper as Donna Donut in Dick Turpin Rides Again last winter. Picture: David Harrison

“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’.

The Grand Opera House pantomime queue meets David Leonard, Berwick Kaler and Martin Barrass at Wednesday’s box-office launch. Picture: David Harrison

“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.

Berwick Kaler in the “Eric Sykes Bar” at Wednesday’s launch day for The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose

“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.

Pantomime stars Berwick Kaler, centre, Martin Barrass and David Leonard reunite for playful pantomime japes at the Grand Opera House. Picture: David Harrison

“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

‘I’m definitely doing it!’, says York panto star Martin Barrass. ‘See you at Opera House’

Berwick Kaler and Martin Barrass, pictured in last winter’s Dick Turpin Rides Again

YORK pantomime star Martin Barrass WILL be in this winter’s Grand Opera House show, he says.

Dame Berwick Kaler’s perennial comic sidekick has posted a reassuring message on social media after his name was missing from those confirmed for The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose’s run from December 10 2022 to January 8 2023.

The familiar team of dowager dame Kaler, dastardly villain David Leonard and “luvverly Brummie” AJ Powell have been signed up by the Ambassador Theatre Group theatre’s new pantomime producer, UK Productions, but yesterday’s press release made no reference to either Barrass or principal golden gal Suzy Cooper. “Further casting will be announced soon,” the announcement concluded.

This prompted spring-heeled Barrass to bounce back on social media: “I’m definitely doing it! Worry not! I think there was a blip in the publicity dept methinks. Either that or they’ve never heard of me lol. See you at the Opera House for the GRAND LAUNCH 13th April at 10!!”

Yesterday’s announcement stated Kaler and Leonard would be on hand at next Wednesday’s ticket sale launch.

The official confirmation on Barrass’s panto participation is awaited. Likewise, whether Suzy Cooper will or will not be returning.

Dame Berwick is back in The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose but could his pantomime team be broken up at Grand Opera House?

Grand Opera House return for Dame Berwick Kaler, pictured in last winter’s Dick Turpin Rides Again

DAME Berwick Kaler will pull on his big bovver boots for his second Grand Opera House pantomime, but will his “Famous In York Five” reunite?

The grand dame, 75, definitely will be joined in The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose by indomitable villain David Leonard and ‘luvverly Brummie’ AJ Powell, but two fellow regulars in the Kaler panto fixtures and fittings are yet to be confirmed. Or not.

“Further casting will be announced soon” is the official line. Watch this space for news of Kaler’s perennial sidekick, Martin Barrass, and principal golden gal Suzy Cooper as the Grand Opera House pantomime moves on to a new producer, UK Productions, after only one year under the Crossroads Pantomimes umbrella.

Dame Berwick and dastardly David will be on hand to launch ticket sales at the Cumberland Street theatre from 10am on Wednesday, April 13.

“I can’t wait to welcome Me Babbies and Bairns back to the Grand Opera House,” enthused Kaler, Britain’s longest-running dame. “But be warned – I’m under the not unreasonable delusion that I’m far too young to play a granny! So, brace yourself to expect the unexpected.”

Last December, Kaler returned to the York pantomime stage for the first time since February 2019, writing, directing and starring as dame Dotty Donut in Dick Turpin Rides Again alongside Barrass, Cooper, Leonard and Powell in their debut Grand Opera House panto.

Unlike so many pantomimes, they navigated the winter Covid wave without losing any performances or principal performers until the final week when both Kaler and Barrass had to step down after testing positive (despite experiencing no symptoms). In came Scotsmen Alan McHugh and Jack Buchanan, from the His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, pantomime cast, to play dame and stooge respectively.

Kaler had exited the York Theatre Royal pantomime stage bereft after 40 years, announcing The Grand Old Dame would be his farewell, but soon regretted his retirement decision, even more so after writing and co-directing the 2019-2020 show, Sleeping Beauty.

Pantomime villain David Leonard: Launching ticket sales for The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose with Berwick Kaler at the Grand Opera House on April 13

Dame Berwick and co duly signed up for Qdos Pantomimes’ new partnership with the Grand Opera House in January 2020 in the most sensational crosstown transfer since Denis Law swapped Manchester United for Manchester City in 1973.

The pandemic put a spoke in Dick Turpin’s planned return ride in 2020, and Qdos Pantomimes had been taken over by Crossroads Pantomimes by the time the show did go ahead last winter.

Now, Berwick will be back once more, presenting his second ageing variation on a Mother Goose theme after Old Mother Goose at York Theatre Royal in December 2014. It is yet to be confirmed if it will still be a traditional Kaler triple-threat show as star, writer and director or whether UK Productions will shake up the formula, not only in the casting but in the production team too.

In the meantime, the Grand Opera House publicity machine invites you to “discover for yourself why Berwick and his team have become a true rock of family entertainment over many decades with their hilarious anarchic approach to pantomime. It’s wonderfully madcap and is truly enjoyed by all ages. You may not remember the plot, but you will remember the laughs during the winter months.”

Producers UK Production have presented Christmas pantomimes across Great Britain for nigh on 30 years. During the 2022/23 season, they will produce 11 pantomimes of their own and provide productions to around another 30 nationwide.

Producer Martin Dodd said: “It is truly a privilege to be working with the legendary Berwick Kaler and his co-stars, including the deliciously devilish David Leonard and the lovely Brummie AJ Powell with further casting to be announced.

“I really am excited to be presenting this fabulously unique and much-loved pantomime that is as much a part of the York Christmas tradition as Turkey (or Goose!) and stuffing. We can promise a cracking good show full of laughter, music, and mayhem”.

The Adventures Of Old Granny Goose will run from December 10 2022 to January 8 2023. Next Wednesday morning’s general sale launch will be preceded by Priority TheatreCard Membership tickets from Monday, April 11. Prices will start at £13 at atgtickets.com/York or on 0844 871 7615.

Anarchy in the decay or the miraculous resurrection of the grandest of dames? The verdict on Berwick Kaler’s panto comeback

“Doing pantomime is a hobby now,” says comeback dame Berwick Kaler. All pictures: David Harrison

REVIEW: Dick Turpin Rides Again, The Legend Returns!, Grand Opera House, York, until January 9. Box office: atgtickets.com/york

BERWICK Kaler is at the Frank Sinatra comeback stage of his career, not the Elvis hologram with his old band taking care of business live on stage.

The panto pack has reassembled at a new home, originally at the invitation of pantomime juggernaut Qdos Entertainment, but now under the wing of Crossroads Pantomimes, Qdos’s new overlords.

This is the Berwick Kaler show as commercial pantomime in York’s commercial theatre, with costumes and set design (both uncredited) from the Crossroads stock, visual special effects by The Twins FX and pyrotechnics by Le Maitre. All such detail is of a higher quality than for the Grand Opera House pantos staged by Simon Barry’s New Pantomime Productions and Three Bears Productions.

Yet none of that matters to anyone wanting to renew acquaintances with writer-director Berwick and sidekick Martin, David, Suzy and AJ. The story here is the return to the stage of Britain’s longest-running dame for the first time since his retirement after 40 years at York Theatre Royal on February 2 2019.

Suzy Cooper’s Donna Donat

“I thought you’d retired,” comes the jest. “So did I,” replies the Wearsider, eyes looning and bulbous in that familiar way. Doing panto is a hobby now, he explains.

Berwick’s pantomimes have become as divisive as Brexit. Leave. Remain. Retire. Come back. Get Brexit Done. Get Berwick Back. Too many bridges burnt for that ever to happen at his beloved Theatre Royal, but the die-hards felt betrayed, Suzy Cooper calling it “a travesty” that such a long-running show should end so abruptly. “We are not dead yet!” she exclaimed in her interview.

Qdos and now Crossroads have made those mutual wishes of cast and devotees come true, and while pantomime may be a hobby for Berwick at 75, it is a serious business too.

His absence from the stage, when writing and co-directing Sleeping Beauty in 2019-2020, left his partners rudderless without their panto cult leader. No Berwick, no panto, and on those grounds, he had to come back if a Kaler pantomime were to retain its identity. Ironically, he has chosen to play a character called Dotty Donut, the pastry one with the hole in the middle, when he has just filled that hole.

The dowager dame and the dandy highwayman: Berwick Kaler’s Dotty Donut in discussion with Daniel Conway’s Dick Turpin

Meanwhile, across the city, York Theatre Royal and Evolution Productions are looking to create a modern, multi-cultural, topical 21st century pantomime, still oozing cheesy puns but above all with their eyes on a younger audience.

Berwick’s show is more like a greatest-hits set with the best Fleetwood Mac line-up ever back together again, albeit leaving out such big smashes as the water slapstick, the films and the Harry Gration cameo.

“Me babbies, me bairns” welcome? Tick. Rocking chair? Tick. Wagon Wheel chucking? Tick. Newcastle Brown? Tick. The fish-demanding crocodile from 2008’s Dick Turpin? Tick. Not a lot of plot? Tick. Occasional innuendos involving the show title? Tick. Dick.

Once a Berwick Kaler pantomime stood for anarchic innovation, with a waspish wag of a bossy bloke out front in big boots, an unruly wig and no garish make-up, making merry hell, full of viperish bite and joshing ad-libs.

Martin Barass, centre, returns to hapless waiter mode, as first seen in One Man, Two Guvnors, while David Leonard’s Vermin the Destroyer and A J Powell’s Luvlie Limpit survey the menu at Dotty Donut’s Ye Olde Whippet Inn

Now it is more in keeping with that cosy rocking chair, the show being nostalgic, sentimental about our shared yesterdays, slower, gentler and, like Keith Richards, just glad still to be here. It is much shorter too, at a little over two hours, with the structure being more obviously a series of set-pieces, rather than having the free-flowing unpredictably of the peak years.

Berwick’s face and frame are noticeably thinner – he even mentions it in his Dolly Parton routine – and so less comical, and you can see him reaching for the comic timing, both in his own performance and in his writing for his fellow panto players, as he re-works old jokes.

He is not helped, and nor are they, by the novel barrier of the whole audience, rather than merely Dick Turpin, being masked. This precautionary constriction in Omicron’s nascent days has a deflating impact on noise levels from the seats, on interaction too, a dehumanising device that injects an air of caution.

In the absence of excitable children to pump up the volume, the cast may well have to push harder to break down the newly extra-thick fourth wall, maybe even acknowledging the new dress code for pantomime. Berwick restricts himself to mentioning Covid once in the shout-outs.

Berwick Kaler’s Dotty Donut cracks an egg, rather than a joke, at this juncture of a recipe slapstick scene in Dick Turpin Rides Again

He takes the show very steadily, his slapstick reduced to coconuts dropping on his head and mucking around with a ball of dough, but suddenly there is a flash of the trademark Berwick when David Leonard’s microphone malfunctions, prompting the dowager dame to veer off-script with an impromptu quip.

Now, that’s timing, gold mined from a mishap, and you hope more such moments of mischief will emerge through the run when too much elsewhere has to work hard and for too long, not least the courtroom scene that was previously a high point of 2008’s Turpin premiere.

Leonard’s villainous Vermin the Destroyer is as reliably arch as ever, and his hip rap song is a riot in the company of the perky ensemble, choreographed with typical snazziness by Grace Harrington .

Suzy Cooper’s Donna Donut reprises her ditzy vampire bat from 2008, shows off her yoga moves and knowingly sends up her ageless principal girl schtick. Martin Barrass’s Dunkin Donut revisits his hapless waiter from One Man, Two Guvnors and forms a dwarf double act with Berwick, where his gift for physical comedy is frustratingly better than the script.

Devil in the detail: David Leonard’s haughty couture for his villainous Vermin the Destroyer

AJ Powell’s Luvlie Limpit is the best-developed character among the regulars, caught between good and evil as a particularly dim-witted assistant, sounding all the dimmer for that luvverly Brummie accent.

The fresh face among the regulars is Daniel Conway as an Essex lad Dick Turpin, a dandy highwayman, yes, but not so much the rogue of reputation as something of a hero keen to set the record straight. He has a lovely singing voice too, best demonstrated in the first half’s finale, You’ll Believe A Horse Can Fly!. Even a pantomime horse, in the manner of a pantomime cow.

Unlike Leonard’s errant microphone, Berwick Kaler is on best behaviour, but that is not Berwick on best form, when he has that glint in his eye for naughty interjections he can’t resist saying.

Berwick Kaler, the panto dame, is a tough act to follow. Here he is more of a tribute act to himself, and while there remains audiences for two contrasting pantos in York,  will the comeback dame saddle up again or ride off into the sunset? Box-office figures will dictate.

York Mix Radio: Hear Charles Hutchinson’s immediate post-show response to Berwick Kaler’s pantomime comeback in Dick Turpin Rides Again in a race against time to answer David Dunning’s questions before the Grand Opera House staff turn off the lights .

Head to: https://youtu.be/zRAnOa5hGp4

Suzy and Martin delighted to be back on the York panto stage in Dick Turpin Rides Again

“To be given this opportunity at the Grand Opera is like receiving a transplant,” says Suzy Cooper. Picture: David Harrison

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.

David Leonard’s Vermin the Destroyer, left, Martin Barrass’s Dunkin Donut, in waiter mode, and A J Powell’s Luvlie Lumpit making a meal of a scene in Dick Turpin Rides Again. Picture: David Harrison

“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!”

Dame Berwick Kaler returns to York stage after three years as Dick Turpin Rides Again opens today at Grand Opera House

Leaping to it: Berwick Kaler is raring to pick up the pantomime reins from today in Dick Turpin Rides Again. All pictures: David Harrison.

AFTER two dress rehearsals in one day, York’s comeback dame, Berwick Kaler, plays to an opening pantomime crowd today for the first time since December 13 2018.

Much water has passed under York’s bridges since Berwick’s farewell 40th anniversary show, The Grande Old Dame Of York.

He exited the York Theatre Royal stage for the last time in trademark boots, unruly wig and walkdown frock on February 2 2019, that night saying he would “return like a shot” if he were asked to do so.

That return, delayed by a year by Covid’s theatre shutdown, goes ahead today at Berwick’s new pantomime home after a crosstown transfer, the Grand Opera House, as he resumes panto business with vainglorious villain David Leonard, bouncy comic stooge Martin Barrass, golden gal Suzy Cooper and “luverly Brummie” A J Powell in Dick Turpin Rides Again.

“I’ve always thought the Grand Opera House is a proper theatre, absolutely right for pantomime,” says Berwick, who has appeared on the Cumberland Street stage only once before, when he played the flamboyant Captain Terri Dennis in Peter Nichols’ musical comedy Privates On Parade.

“Dick Turpin is one of the most original pantomimes ever, and I’m so excited by it,” says Berwick Kaler

“It’s no good asking me anymore when it was; it was a long time ago. I used to have the poster hanging in my loo, the one with me saluting.”

Should you or Berwick be wondering, the year was 1996, and now, 25 years on, he is back there, retirement plans cancelled. “You’re not going to believe this, but when I retired, I’d retired, and I’ve not earned a penny on stage since then, so I was retired,” he says.

“But we got this offer from Qdos Entertainment [now taken over by Crossroads Live], the biggest pantomime producer in the business, and the thing is I knew I had to be in it this time, not just write it and direct it, which I did for Sleeping Beauty [in 2019-2020 at the Theatre Royal].

“I took up the invitation to return for Martyn, David, Suzy and A J because they’re great exponents of the art of panto, who should be on stage in York.”

Recalling his experience of working on Sleeping Beauty, Berwick says: “At that time, I had no yearning to go back on stage,” he says. “It was a little too soon to start missing playing the dame. Even when I went in for rehearsals, I didn’t want to get up and do it.”

The dame and the daft lad: Berwick Kaler and Martin Barrass reunite for Dick Turpin Rides Again

Later, he would say he regretted the decision to exit stage left. “But when we got the offer to return, at first, I wasn’t sure, but now, at this stage, having said yes, I believe I’m writing better than ever. I’ve got my brain back in gear.”

Panto villain David Leonard has noted how Berwick becomes a “different animal” once he pulls on the dame’s wig and frocks, his voice taking on its stage power too. At 75, four years on from heart bypass surgery, he says, “The thing is, we have to be careful because we can’t do the full-scale slapstick like before, but there can still be slapstick, and Dick Turpin is one of the most original pantomimes ever, and I’m so excited by it.

“It was a one-off when we did it before, as my 30th Theatre Royal pantomime, and it was one of these shows that forced you to really use your imagination. It’s been great to bring it back and work on creating a new version all over again.”

“The legend returns!”, declares the show poster: a reference as much to Berwick Kaler as Dick Turpin as 49 performances lie ahead, starting at 2pm today.

Crossroads Live presents Berwick Kaler in Dick Turpin Rides Again, Grand Opera House, York, today until January 9. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.

New home, familiar faces, as Berwick, David and co return in Dick Turpin Rides Again

Ride on time: AJ Powell, left, Suzy Cooper, Berwick Kaler, David Leonard and Martin Barrass return in Dick Turpin Rides Again. Picture: David Harrison

GRAND dame Berwick Kaler reunites with David Leonard, Martin Barrass, Suzy Cooper and AJ Powell from today at their new pantomime home of the Grand Opera House, York.

The Kaler comeback was delayed by Covid’s dark shroud, putting Dick Turpin Rides Again back in the stable for a year, during which panto producers Qdos Entertainment have been acquired by global entertainment company Crossroads Live.

Even more so now, this is a new beginning for the familiar team and their faithful followers. “What we want to do is get people back into the theatre, gathering together to have a jolly good laugh,” says villain David Leonard.

“Earlier this year, I did A Little Night Music at the Buxton Festival, and it was just lovely to see people having a pre-show drink, laughing and full of expectation of going to the theatre once more and being entertained. There was such a lovely buzz.

“That will be the case at the Grand Opera House, where we know it will be a family show because generation after generation have come to our pantomimes, and we’ve had such a response on social media, with people saying, ‘we’ve got our tickets, we can’t wait’.”

Leonard, Barrass, Cooper and Powell last performed together in Sleeping Beauty in the winter of 2018-2019, their Theatre Royal finale in a show written and co-directed by Kaler.

“Pantomime is a bit like a drug,” says David. “I miss it when I’m not doing it, like last year and when I was doing Matilda in the West End, though I’ve missed theatre in general too.

“Pantomime is a bit like a drug,” says David Leonard. “I miss it when I’m not doing it.” Picture: David Harrison.

“As [theatre director] Peter Brook said, people feel better after a show, and more so than ever this year, after the pandemic lockdowns, when people want to be together, being entertained by a live show, rather than sitting at home binge-watching Netflix.”

The “famous in York five” are delighted to be working together again. “It’s a good feeling,” says David. “When we did the launch, we hadn’t seen each other for over a year. There was Berwick, in his street clothes, chatting with the photographer, then I chatted to him, gave him a hug, and it was time to do the photoshoot.

“In those six minutes, as he put his ‘dress’ on, he becomes a different animal, the lord of misrule. I remember thinking, when he stopped after 40 years, ‘why are you retiring? You always played an old dame, even in your 30s’. Now you are the dame.’

“Berwick is witty, he’s a great ad-libber, and we revolve around his planet. He provides the energy; the drive; he has this natural performer gene, with his voice going up a notch as soon as he’s on stage.

“You can only sit at home for so long reading Dickens before wanting to get back on that stage. He’s still got that desire; he still wants to do it, even after three years of not performing. It’s natural to him, like breathing.”

Looking back at Sleeping Beauty, the pantomime with the Berwick-sized hole in the middle, David says: “Being a team, without him, it was, maybe not rudderless, but it was a different experience.

“Now Berwick’s back with his joshing, and Martin is so happy about that. As the villain, I have my own agenda, I don’t care who’s playing the dame!” You should note, at this point, his tongue is pushing deep into his cheek.

“Berwick is just himself up there, a bloke in a frock, and very few actors can do that,” says David Leonard. Picture: David Harrison

The production run for Dick Turpin Rides Again is much shorter than for the team’s long, long stretches at the Theatre Royal, and the rehearsal period is leaner too. “This time we have two and a half weeks of rehearsals, but I always felt we were twiddling our thumbs before, thinking, ‘we could probably get this on in a week because we know each other so well’; we have that shorthand,” says David.

Once praised by fellow dame Roy Hudd for “being the best dame because you play the dame as a man in a frock with no make-up”, Berwick has resumed the full reins at 75 as writer, director and grand dame.

“He sets the pace, and when you’re on stage with him, you have to be very disciplined, very solid, so that he can have some air around him to allow him to ad-lib, and Suzy and Martin know that better than anyone,” says David.

“Berwick is just himself up there, a bloke in a frock, and very few actors can do that. I can’t, Martin can’t, because we’re character actors, but he’s not afraid to be himself. He’s very honest about himself, who he is, and he’s not scared of showing that to the audience.

“That’s what people love about him; they really connect with him because he’s warm and genuine; he feels it inside, and you need that in the central character.”

Kaler and co first staged Dick Turpin in 2008. “Berwick said, ‘well, he’s a bit dark’, but I said, ‘make him a hero, good versus evil’,” recalls David. “I think it ended up being our most popular show, and yet it’s a completely original panto, like Berwick’s Millennium panto, Old Mother Millie, and Robinson Crusoe. I’m really glad he’s doing this one for his comeback.”

Dick Turpin Rides Again, Grand Opera House, York, December 11 to January 9 2022. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York

Copyright of The Press, York

Out go Peter Pan and panto play, in comes Luke Adamson, digital stream filmmaker

Luke in the mirror: Luke Adamson as Fanny Wood in his film Five Minutes With Fanny

NORTH Yorkshire actor Luke Adamson is responding to theatre’s lockdown mothballing by setting up a subscription streaming service for his work.

“As the theatres are closed, I’m taking my creativity online to try and earn a living by creating Luke Adamson TV, featuring all-new content written and created by myself.

“In December alone, I’ve created three short films and live-streamed my panto play, Oh No It Isn’t!, and there’ll be at least two new films coming in January.”

Subscriptions to Luke’s streaming service start from only £5 per month and you can sign up at https://www.patreon.com/lukeadamson.

Luke had been playing Tootles in OVO and Maltings Theatre’s Peter Pan – the play, not the pantomime – at the Alban Arena, St Albans, when Hertfordshire’s move into Tier 3 status put paid to that show on December 19 after eight out of 38 performances.

A London production of the award-winning Oh No It Isn’t! had to be called off too. “It was going to have a short run at The Library Theatre in Crystal Palace, a new venue that my friend Joe [co-producer Joseph Lindoe] and I have instigated at the Upper Norwood Library Hub,” says Luke.

“We were supposed to launch the venue in March last year but… well, you know, we’re hopeful to get a full theatre programme up and running there as soon as Covid allows.

“But with the Oh No It Isn’t! run cut off by Covid, we worked our little Christmas socks off to live-stream the piece to YouTube instead.”

Luke Adamson as Tootles, fourth from left, in Peter Pan at the Alban Arena, St Albans, curtailed by Covid Tier 3 restrictions after eight performances in December. Picture copyright: Elliott Franks

Luke’s prior commitment to playing Tootles in St Albans had necessitated employing John Gregor and Sh*t-Faced Shakespeare’s Robbie Capaldi – Luke’s co-star in performances at York Theatre Royal Studio in April 2019 – for the Crystal Palace show.

“I directed the live-stream performance, which we shot there using the library’s live-streaming capability and some equipment hired in at great personal expense,” he says.

Based in London since his drama-school days at the Academy of Live and Recorded Arts in Wandsworth, Selby-born Luke had returned north to play villainous David Leonard’s daft sidekick Useless Eustace in York Theatre Royal’s Jack And The Beanstalk in 2017/2018: a performance that brought him a Great British Pantomime Award nomination no less.

Earlier, he had first appeared in Dame Berwick Kaler’s Theatre Royal pantomimes as a bairn during his Selby childhood, as well as in amateur pantos in Thorpe Willoughby.

Luke drew on those panto experiences, on stage and backstage, to write Oh No It Isn’t!, his humorous and moving account of “the best of [Ugly] sisters on stage but the worst of friends off it”.

“The play is set at the final performance of Cinderella in a moth-eaten regional theatre, where backstage tensions threaten to boil over on stage,” he says. “Will the egotism, one-upmanship and sexual politics remain confined to the dressing room?

“Will the ugly sisters keep the professional professional and the personal personal?
Will we ever find out what happened during Babes In The Wood?”

Oh No It Isn’t! explores the highs and lows of life in the theatre. “Using real anecdotes and stories, it’s an impassioned yet tender love letter to the world of performance,” says Luke.

Slapstick: Luke Adamson, standing, and Robbie Capaldi as the two warring Ugly Sisters in Adamson’s play Oh No It Isn’t at York Theatre Royal Studio in April 201

“It’s something that had been in my head for a while: writing a play set on and off stage, with the dynamic of the calm, graceful swan on stage and the feet paddling frantically off stage to keep everything afloat.

“I wanted to show the effect of the trials and tribulations that go into creating a show. Within three weeks, I wrote it, we rehearsed it and put it on stage, and we ended up getting five-star reviews.”

Oh No It Isn’t! is complemented by three shorter films so far: Five Minutes With Fanny (in reality 15 minutes!); Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge (15 minutes) and Radio Lifebuoy FM (30 minutes).

“I did them pretty much single-handedly,” says Luke. “Having done a diploma in media production at Selby College, I had all the required technical abilities. I’ve been writing scripts since 2010 and acting since, well, forever! So, it was just a case of putting it all together.

“I used my girlfriend’s Canon DSLR to shoot the video; a Zoom H1N recording device to record the audio, and edited it all together on Final Cut Pro. So far, I’ve shot most of them in or around my flat due to lockdown but did manage to shoot Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge on Waterloo Bridge one night before Christmas.”

Luke was able to call on assistance from friends. “Joe was my cameraman and security on Waterloo Bridge and I’ve used music written by my friend and actor Dan Bottomley,” he says. “I’ve also featured small performances from other friends, such as Florence Poskitt and Adam Sowter [York musical double act Fladam] in Radio Lifebuoy FM.”


Five Minutes With Fanny introduces the unsuspecting world to Fanny Wood and her world of Wetherspoons, gender politics and Only Fans. “You discover how she came to be, in this adults-only piece inspired by stories from real Only Fans models,” says Luke, who plays Fanny.

“This 15-minute monologue inspired by Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads gives you a funny, sometimes dark peek into the life of a very unique person.”

Luke Adamson as high-flying city boy Lee in a still from his film Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge

In Thoughts From Waterloo Bridge, high-flying city boy Lee takes up his annual vigil on Waterloo Bridge on Christmas Eve, having escaped the office Christmas party.

“Overlooking the late-night lights of London, he ruminates on the emptiness of his success and wonders when it was that Christmas lost its sparkle,” says Luke.

Radio Lifebuoy FM charts how a local radio DJ’s Christmas goes from bad to worse after his wife kicks him out and he is forced to host the station’s amateur singer call-in competition, We’ve Got The X(Mas) Factor. Will he manage to keep it together until he is off air?

“Inspired by shock-jock Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio and featuring a host of my talented friends and a sprinkling of favourite festive songs, this is guaranteed to put a smile on your face,” promises Luke.

Explaining how he created his film characters and revealing whether they were based on people he knew, Luke says: “In a way they’re all versions of me, but with licence to be more outrageous, more hilarious, more dark than I would be as myself.

“Fanny, in Five Minutes With Fanny, is a character I’ve been developing for a while. I remember Paul O’Grady once saying he felt much more confident and brave as Lily Savage than he ever did as himself, and that stuck with me, so I was developing Fanny with the plan of taking her on the stand-up circuit but…well, you know.”

Luke continues: “The styles of the pieces vary and are inspired by people I’ve long admired: Victoria Wood, Alan Bennett, (Steve Coogan’s) Alan Partridge, Joe Orton and Harold Pinter.

“I suppose there may be aspects of other people. I’ve always been quite observant and perceptive and I love to poke fun at very human foibles, inspired I suppose by the comedies of Anton Chekhov.”

TV star: Luke Adamson has set up Luke Adamson TV as a way of diversifying his creativity

In one of the pandemic’s more contentious statements, Chancellor Rishi Sunak suggested those working in the arts should look at pursuing alternative careers, but are there ways to diversify within the profession? Like Luke making films, for example?

“I think most jobbing actors have a massively diverse set of skills already, so it isn’t a case of having to restart and diversifying, it’s more refocussing your energies,” he suggests.

“Whereas before I would be writing most days, skimming through the Spotlight Jobs board or Backstage looking for opportunities, I’m now focussing on things that were small-time earners for me in the past: showreel editing (and script/scene writing for them); graphic design (show posters, programmes, flyers, etc); and acting or directing tuition.

“I created Luke Adamson TV as I started creating video content in the first lockdown and people were enjoying it and I thought, ‘well, this is what I’m trained to do and I’ve spent all my life honing this craft; why don’t I try and earn from it while the theatres are closed?’

“So, I upped the production values: writing proper scripts; spending money on new equipment; no more ‘one-take, it’ll do’ improvised stuff. And if only ten people subscribe, that’s £50 a month and it goes towards my food bill at least.”

New year, same Covid stranglehold, how is Luke approaching 2021 after the draining year that has gone before? “Semi-full of gin, my eyes closed, my arms outstretched and my fingers crossed,” he says.

As for his hopes for the year ahead: “To avoid bankruptcy without having to leave the industry.” A sobering final thought indeed.

Luke Adamson: Actor, director, writer, theatre programmer and Academy of Live and Recorded Arts board member

Should you be wondering, “Who is Tootles”, Luke Adamson’s role in Peter Pan?

Tootles is the humblest of the Lost Boys!” says Luke. “Often described as Peter’s favourite, he’s the one that shoots Wendy with the arrow; defends her when she decides to leave Neverland and return home; becomes the boatswain when Peter takes over the Jolly Roger, and ultimately marries Wendy when they all go back to London and grow up. He’s the most important character, in my opinion.”

Dame Berwick’s Dick Turpin Rides Again held up until December 2021 by Covid-19

Highway robbery: The curse of Covid-19 strikes again as Berwick Kaler’s comeback pantomime, Dick Turpin Rides Again, will be held up until 2021. Here Dame Berwick is pictured with A J Powell, Suzy Cooper, David Leonard and Martin Barrass at the Valentine’s Day launch at the Grand Opera House

DAME Berwick Kaler’s pantomime, Dick Turpin, will NOT Ride Again at the Grand Opera House, York, this Christmas.

Faced by the Government’s decision not to remove social-distancing requirements for theatres amid the rise in Covid-19 infections, Ambassador Theatre Group and pantomime producers Qdos Entertainment are moving Dick Turpin Rides Again to December 2021/January 2022.

Dame Berwick and his regular team of villain David Leonard, comic stooge Martin Barrass, perennial principal gal Suzy Cooper and luverly Brummie A J Cooper were to have made their Grand Opera House pantomime debut this winter after their headline-making, bittersweet crosstown transfer from York Theatre Royal.

In an official statement today, Kaler said: “Having secured the backing of the world’s leading pantomime producer Qdos, and knowing their commitment to save our acclaimed panto, I’m devastated that our loyal audience is going to have to wait until next year to see what we had planned for them.

“Hence, I would like to extend my heartfelt thanks to Qdos and the wonderful staff of the York Grand Opera House who welcomed myself, Martin, Suzy, AJ and David with open arms. Dick Turpin will ride again for Christmas 2021. It’s a long time to wait for a laugh but I can assure you it will be worth it, and we’ll all be at the Grand Opera House to greet you all.” 

Rachel Lane, theatre director of the Cumberland Street theatre, added: “With the current Government guidance still unclear on when venues can open without social distancing in place, we have decided with our pantomime partner Qdos Entertainment to postpone the production of Dick Turpin Rides Again until Christmas 2021.

“We’re delighted that Berwick, Martin, Suzy, AJ and David are still able to join us next year.  We’ll contact customers directly in due course to move their bookings on a year; they don’t need to take any action at this stage.”

Dame Berwick, who will turn 74 on October 31, had played the Theatre Royal dame over a 40-year span before making his grand exit in The Grand Old Dame Of York, waving goodbye in February 2019, but Britain’s longest-serving dame regretted his decision, even more so when he wrote and co-directed last winter’s show, Sleeping Beauty, wherein Barrass played the nearest role to a dame, The Queen.

Dame Berwick made an impromptu, emotional speech to the last-night home crowd on January 25 in an atmosphere increasingly akin to a bear pit, in the wake of executive director Tom Bird and the board’s decision to break the chain after more than four decades of the distinctive Kaler brand of pantomime comic mayhem.

Only five days later, the switch to the Grand Opera House was announced, and the familiar five assembled on February 14 to launch ticket sales for Dick Turpin Rides Again, a new beginning for comeback-dame Kaler and the Grand Opera House alike, in tandem with Britain’s biggest pantomime producer, Qdos.

On February 3, York Theatre Royal announced a new partnership with Evolution Pantomimes, regular pantomime award winners who duly chalked up another success, taking home the Best Panto award [for750 to 1,500-seat theatres] for Cinderella at Sheffield Lyceum in the 2020 Great British Pantomime Awards.

Scripted by Evolution director and producer Paul Hendy, Cinderella would have been the new partners’ debut show at the Theatre Royal until Covid-19 enforced a change of plan. Hendy will now write scripts for three pantomimes, Aladdin, Dick Whittington and Jack And The Beanstalk, for the York Theatre Royal Travelling Pantomime.

The tour starring York actor, panto comic turn and magician Josh Benson, will take in all 21 York wards in December and January, when audience members at each show will vote for which show they want to see.